1188. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 27 May 1806

1188. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 27 May 1806 ⁠* 

A discovery of the original language, propounded to the consideration of the worshipful & right worthy Master Bedford

There was in old times a King of Egypt who did make a full politick experiment touching this question, as is discoursed of by sundry antique authors; Howbeit to me it seemeth that it falleth short of that clear & manifest truth, <the which> should be the butt of our enquiry. Now methinks, if it could be shown what is the very language which dame Nature, the common mother of all, hath implanted in animals whom we, foolishly misjudging, do term dumb, that were indeed a hit palpable, & of notable import. To this effect I have noted Latin what that silly bird who called of the Latins Anas doth utter in time of affright; for it then thinketh of the water, inasmuch as in the water it findeth its safety, & while its thoughts be upon the water so greatly desired of it, it cryeth qua-a-qua-a-qua, wherefore it is to be inferred that aqua is the very natural word for water, & the Latin therefore the primitive, natural, & original tongue. [1] 


Etymology is of most value when applied to the elements of language & it must be acknowledged that I have <here> hit upon an elementary word.

One of those critics, I forget which, who thought proper to review Thalaba [2]  without taking the trouble to understand the story, xxxx xxx noticed, as one of the absurdities of the book that Thalaba was enabled to read as <some> unintelligible letters on a ring by others equally unintelligible upon the head of a locust; an absurdity existing only in their own stupid & careless misconception, for the thing is clear enough. I remember giving myself credit for putting a very girlish sort of thing in Oneizas mouth when I made her call those locust lines Natures own language, [3]  – for I have heard unthinking people talk of a natural language – & you know the story of the woman with child <by a Dutchman> who was afraid to swear the child to an Englishman because the truth would be found out when the child came to speak Dutch.

The inclosed is inclosed [4]  because your brother Harry offered to send it from the Admiralty as a surer conveyance than the very uncertain one of the Packets. [5]  He will know probably if the Amelia be to come with the May convoy, as Tom has some hopes she may. [6]  In this case let it lie in your desk till he reaches England.

I beseech you to come to me this season. We shall see more of each other in one week when once housed together than during a seven years xx xxxx intercourse in London. And if you do not come this year the opportunity may be gone for ever, & you will never see this country so well, nor so cheerfully, after I have left it. If he were here – would be the <a> thought to damp enjoyment. you would come as a mere Laker, & pay a guide for telling you what to admire. When I go abroad it will be to remain there for a a considerable time, & you & I are now old enough to feel there the proportion which a few years bear to the not-very-many that constitute the utmost length of life. This feeling is the stronger upon me just now, as in x arranging my letters I have seen seen those of three xxxx men who are <now> all in their graves, each of whom produced no little effect upon my character & after life, – AllenLovell and poor Edmund Seward, whom I never remember without the deepest love & veneration. Come you to Keswick Bedford & make <xx> sure of a few weeks of enjoyment while we are both alive.

I wish you would get the Annual Reviews – because without them my Operas are very incompleat. [7]  my share there is very considerable. xx you would see in many of the articles more of the tone & temper of my mind than you can otherwise get at, & as it is my belief that you would like to know it in all its bearings, so is it my wish that you should. You must be my biographer if I go first. Except Wynn nobody has known me so long. & as I am born to be biographized I certainly wish it should be done by one who does know me. Documents you shall have in plenty, if indeed you need more than our correspondence already supplies. This is a subject on which we will talk some evening, when the sun is going down & has tuned us to it. If the harp of Memnon [8]  had played in the evening instead of at the uprise, it would have been a sweet emblem of our highest that state of mind to which I now refer – & which indeed I am at this minute enjoying –

But it is supper time –

God bless you, Grosvenor!

May 27. 1806.


* Address: G. C. Bedford Esqr
Endorsement: 27 May 1826 1806
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 24. AL; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 40–42 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey’s own words. BACK

[2] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 3, line 441; see Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), III, p. 52. BACK

[3] Words spoken by Oneiza, a character in Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer, Book 3, line 441. BACK

[4] A letter to Thomas Southey, for which see Southey to Thomas Southey, 22 May 1806, Letter 1186. BACK

[5] Admiralty records concerning the court martial of Thomas Southey. In January 1805 Southey learned that his brother had been found guilty at court martial of contempt of a senior officer and dismissed his ship. The circumstances of the offence were such that Commodore (later Vice-Admiral) Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet (1762–1814; DNB), who was in command of the fleet in which Thomas Southey served, promptly appointed him to a finer ship. BACK

[6] Thomas Southey was serving in the West India fleet in HMS Amelia under Captain William Charles Fahie (1763–1833). BACK

[7] Southey contributed to the Annual Review from 1802–1808. BACK

[8] The Harp of Memnon was thought to be concealed within the statue of an Egyptian pharoah and would make a sound when the first ray of sunlight struck it in the morning. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)