524. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 May 1800

524. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 May 1800 ⁠* 

Lisbon. May 9. 1800

My dear Grosvenor

I say nothing of how I arrived & how I am settled, & quid novi, [1]  I have seen. Wynns letter by the last packet will have told you this. – You did not get my Epictetus. [2]  Rickman could not find it in the box he opened, & to have searched the other required a key, which key was locked up in Hampshire, & the key of the Hampshire lock was in Bristol, & I heard all this at Falmouth. – but I can no doubt procure you here some monks book in praise of celibacy, from which you may learn that because there are no marriages in heaven, there ought to be none on earth or you may read Origen [3]  who no doubt must have considered the subject attentively. – or you may go & take your tea at Stockwell, & damn Epictetus & Origen & me & the monks all together.

Who were the father & mother of Love is an a point of genemythology undetermined. he was probably hatched in the great mundane egg – which by the by accounts for his wings – & that egg was probably a ducks egg, for his pinions are mightily like a flappers. what would have happened if Ahriman – (the Persians write him Ahriman, [4]  always upside down) – what would have happened I say if this Evil Spirit had poached that egg it would require a new Apocalypse to explain but <in that case> you would not be xxxx going to tea at Stockwell. leaving then the parentage of Love unsettled, the parish registers being very defective upon this subject, & there being nothing about him in the book of Genesis, all I can discover of his infancy is that Idleness was <is> his nurse. Mathesis [5]  would kill starve him by dry nursing – & Chemistry would certainly kill him in experimenting. Poetry indeed is an excellent nurse, for she makes a pet & a plaything of him.

Love certainly infects by inoculation. in blind people indeed it may be caught by contact like the itch. but starving which is the preparatory for the small pox, serves as a preventative against the other disease – a Catholic Lent would be a fair dose. in one respect it resembles the rheumatism – that of never being xxx acute & chronic at the same time.

Now in what mood will this find you? in rain or in sunshine? in the hot or the cold ague fit? I am writing it in a wet day – & – our Lady forgive me! with the history of our Lady of Guadalupe [6]  lying under my elbow. in any mood however you will know that however lightly I may write nonsense, the interest with which I expect tidings of you is serious.

Poor Haines [7]  is dead. I felt pain at the intelligence & disappointment for I had intended to have crossed the water & told him of his English friends. four years have altered Lisbon & the little world in which I moved. deaths & removals – where is one? dead! another? in England! a third? at Madrid. a fourth? God knows where. & the momentary feeling passes away like an electric shock – sudden & transitory! so we feel for our acquaintances – so others in their turn will feel for us. the place of every one is soon supplied, as one plant grows in the place of another. our very feelings change also. do you know Spensers Cantos of Mutability? [8]  they are such as only Spenser, whose name I write with the reverence of idolatrous love, x could have written.

We are still busy in the ceremonials of first visits, & a week must yet pass before I feel full leisure. I rise early & take my siesta after dinner. letter writing has been a serious employment since my arrival & has almost monopolized my time, so many persons are there who expect to hear of me & who would interpret silence into neglect or unkindness. I have yet hardly half done this task work which keeps me from more important employments. A summer here will be new to me, & the grand Corpus Christi procession & the Bull fights. Edith has every thing to see & as you may suppose is highly amused by the strangeness of every thing. Our servants understand no English – she no Portugueze – so I am interpreter – but enough for these purposes is soon & inevitably acquired, for my part instead of losing my knowledge in England, I am far better acquainted with the language than when I left the country. reading has done this for me. & I now gain ground every day.

John May is about to send me some books here – if your Musæus [9]  be bound & you will send it for him to No 4 Tavistock Street Bedford Square, it may come with them. I forgot to mention this to him – & if you will therefore send him a note with it, it will supply my forgetfulness.

God bless you Grosvenor.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer / Westminster / Single
Stamped: [partial] LISBO
Postmarks: [partial] PE/ 18; REIGN/ MA
Endorsement: Lisbon 9 May 1800
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 23. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 89–91. BACK

[1] The Latin translates as ‘what’s new’. BACK

[2] Epictetus (55–135), Greek Stoic philosopher. His thought was preserved in his pupil, Lucius Flavius Arrianus’s (c.86–after 146) Enchiridion, or ‘Handbook’ of Epictetus’s thought. BACK

[3] Origen (185–254), early Christian theologian and ascetic. He was believed to have castrated himself. BACK

[4] Ahriman: Written upside down. The destructive spirit in Zoroastrian theology. BACK

[5] Learning, especially mathematics. BACK

[6] The monastery at Guadalupe in Spain contained a 12th-century statue of the Virgin Mary (‘our Lady of Guadalupe’), famous for its miracles and apparitions. BACK

[7] Unidentified; a friend of the Bedford family whom Southey had met on his first visit to Portugal; see Robert Southey to Charles Grosvenor Bedford, 8 December [1796], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part 1, Letter 190. BACK

[8] Edmund Spenser (1552–1599; DNB), three cantos on ‘Mutability’ are all that survive of what would have been the seventh book of the Faerie Queene (1590–1596). BACK

[9] Grosvenor Bedford, Musaeus. The Loves of Hero and Leander (1797). BACK

People mentioned

Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
May, John (1775–1856) (mentioned 1 time)