1002. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14 December 1804

1002. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14 December 1804 ⁠* 

My Ass John is a John Ass, & he hath taken it in his head as Adam did before him in Paradise, that it is not good for him to be alone. So that being most heroically in love with some unknown asinine fair one, he set off this morning in quest of her, like a Prince in the Persian Tales. Now it fell out that at this unhappy time there came a man over the bridge riding upon just such a beast as the adventurer was seeking. John beheld her, galloped after into the middle of the town, & there attacked the rider, – Amor vincit omnia [1]  man is not always the Lord of the Creation as the Lion & the Louse can prove & in their conflict John unassed his enemy & fairly threw him in the dirt. A great uproar arose, the beholders did not behave as by all the feelings & laws of chivalry they were bound to do; they were neither moved by the valour of John, nor by his generosity for he scorned to tread upon the fallen, but they were prepared to take vengeance for their fellow—when like Venus in the Iliad our Nanny came in time to save her charge from being oppressed by numbers. [2] 

Quid vero faciendum est? quid Diabolus faciam? [3]  Τι Δαιμων  [4]  had he been a Catholic Ass he might have been entered in one of the Monastic orders as many of his brethren have been before him; or had he been Italian, been taught to bray treble. but being English & Protestant, – what is to be done? – as for turning pimp to him – I scorn it. – This Love hath made him like the nightingale. it is now two hours after dark, & he is this minute pouring out his strains – poetically I am sure, for tho the language be unintelligible to me the metre is obvious – he using the octave measure.

Here is a tale for Duppa.


You will think I shall never have done troubling you about the Galatea. [5]  but hear me & judge whether I ought not to do so once more. – On the receipt of yours which lightened my heart of a heavy load, I wrote to the Editor of the Whitehaven paper requesting him to inform me x what would how he had received his information, stating to him mine, & inferring a reasonable belief that Michael Birbeck the Master was safe as well as Tom, which I wished him to communicate to his father. [6]  This intelligence xxxxx threw the poor old man, who it seems is dotingly fond of his son, into an agony of joy – it was like raising him from the dead he said – But the Doctor, who is an able & excellent good man is afraid that Birbeck is Masters Mate instead of Master, for the old mans story of his situation is not very clear as he knows nothing of the navy – & if so the news of his death, which came in a letter from one of his friends at Antigua may be true. [7]  Now Grosvenor see if Michael Birbecks name be among the slain – I am sure you will willingly do it – & God grant the result may prove favourable, – How little do we think of the private misery which war occasions till some xxx single instance of the thousands & tens of thousands falls within our own immediate knowledge!

It is far the best way to begin printing at once. [8]  The pleasure of progression is a good stimulus. one always goes the last miles of a journey with the most willing speed. When the Emperor of the Franks [9]  arrives in town I shall send you some notices of later Rhymes. I am now hard at reviewing – literally transmuting other peoples lead into gold for myself. – When Hamilton [10]  once sent me a very dull book requesting a good article for it – I said he had sent me dung expecting that I should raise cucumbers with it. Dont complain of the Specimens Grosvenor! if you were but to review a little you would regard your task as recreation. – Besides We shall make a pleasant book, which will look excellently well when hot pressed, & still better when dressed in a very handsome Coat.

fare you well


Friday. 14 Dec. 1804.


* Address: To/ G.C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK
Postmark: E/ DEC18/ 1804
Endorsement: 14. Dec 1804
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 23. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 364–365. BACK

[1] Meaning ‘love conquers all’, Virgil (70 BC–19 BC), Eclogues, X, line 69. BACK

[2] In The Iliad, Book 3, Aphrodite (Venus) whisks the Trojan Paris away just as he is about to lose in combat to the Greek Menelaus. BACK

[3] The Latin translates as ‘What on earth is to be done. What the devil am I to do?’ BACK

[4] The Greek translates as ‘What daemon?’ BACK

[5] Thomas Southey’s ship, HMS Galatea, a fifth-rate 32-gun frigate, had, on 14 August 1804, made an unsuccessful attempt to cut out the French privateer General Ernouf (formerly the British sloop of war Lilly) lying at the Saintes near Guadeloupe. Of the 90 men sent on the mission, 65 were killed or wounded, and Southey suspected that his brother was among the dead. The first lieutenant had been reported as dead, but Thomas was absent from the raid because he had been placed under arrest. Charles Hayman (d. 1804) was made first lieutenant in his stead and died in the attack. BACK

[6] This letter to The Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser has not survived. BACK

[7] Michael Birbeck (dates unknown) was indeed the Master and was killed in the action, according to William James (d. 1827), The Naval History of Great Britain, 5 vols (London, 1822–1824), III, pp. 274–276. BACK

[8] A reference to the project Southey undertook with Bedford and published with Longman in 1807 as Specimens of the Later English Poets. BACK

[9] A nickname for the Speaker of the House of Commons, Charles Abbott, who had the power to frank mail. Rickman, his secretary, used this facility on Southey’s behalf. BACK

[10] Samuel Hamilton (dates unknown), owner of the Critical Review 1799–1804. BACK