599. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 19 August 1801

599. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 19 August 1801 ⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

The tone & temper of your letter left me in an uncomfortable mood. certainly I deserved it – but as far as negligence deserves reproof so harsh – but indeed Grosvenor you have been somewhat like the Scotch judge who included all rape robbery x murder & horsestealing under the head of sedition [1]  – so have you suspected negligence of cloaking a cold & fickle & insincere heart. dear dear Grosvenor if by any magic of ear you could hear how often your name passes my lips – or could you see how often I see your figure in my walks – the recollections – & the wishes – but what are these? – an hundred times should I have begun a letter if these had been enough to fill it – if I could have sent you the exquisite laugh when I again saw St Augustine & his load [2]  – or the smile when I read Leanders [3]  death in the newspaper – but these are unwriteable things – the gossip & the playfulness & the boyness & the happiness – I was about to write however – in conscience & truth I was – & for an odd reason. I heard a gentleman imitate Henderson [4]  – & there was in that imitation a decisiveness of pronunciation – a rolling every syllable over the tongue, a force & pressure of lip & of palate – that had my eyes been shut I could have half believed you had been reading Shakespeare to me – & I was about to tell you so, because the impression was so strong –

With Drummond [5]  it seems I go not but he & Wynn design to get for me or try to get a better birth – that of Secretary to some Italian Legation – which is permanent – & not personally attached to the Minister. Amen – I love the South, & the possibility highly pleases me & the prospect of advancing fortunes. To England I have no strong tie – the friends whom I love live so wide that I never see two in a place – & for acquaintance they are to be found every where. thus much for the future, for the present I am about to move to Coleridge, who is at the Lakes – & I am labouring somewhat blindly indeed, but all to some purpose – about my ways & means – for the foreign expedition that has restored my health has at the same time picked my pocket – & if I had not good spirits & chearful industry I should be somewhat surly & sad. So I am – I hope most truly & ardently for the last time – pen & inking for supplies & not from pure inclination – I am rather heaping brick & mortar than building – hesitating between this plan & that plan & preparing for both – I rather think it will end in a Romance, in metre Thalaban, in mythology Hindoo – by name the Curse of Kehāma, [6]  on which name you may speculate – & if you have any curiosity to see a crude outline – the undeveloped life-germ of the egg – say so – & you shall <see> the story as it is & the poem as it is to be written piecemeal.

Thus then is my time employed – or thus it ought to be – for how much is dissipated by going here & there – dinnering & tea-taking – & suppering traying or eveninging take which phrase of fashion pleases you – you may guess. – you asked me about Thalaba – owing to my absence the printer dirtily enough did not print any large paper copies – whenever a second be printed you shall have one. I stipulated for twelve copies of the poem – of which you of course had one – you will therefore either write “from his schoolfellow & friend” after your own name in it – or wait till I can write it myself. – did you get a second Anthology? [7]  – & moreover now I am on this subject my first Poems [8]  – instead of being sent into the fire – or the bog as they ought, are now a fourth time sent to press – & now large paper copies are manufacturing to suit the second volume – the which of course shall be forwarded to you –

Grosvenor I perceive no change in myself – nor any symptoms of change – I suffer only in years from what I was – & years make less difference in me than in most men. – alls things considered I feel myself a fortunate & happy man – the future wears a better face that it ever has done – & I have no reason to regret that indifference to fortune which has marked the past – By the by it is unfortunate that you cannot come to the sacrifice of one Law Book – my whole proper stock – whom I design to take up to the top of Mount Etna – for the express purpose of throwing him down, straight to the Devil. Huzza Grosvenor – I was once afraid that I should have a deadly deal of Law to forget whenever I had done with it but my brains – God bless them – never received any – they <it> purged off as it went in – ran thro like water gruel after jalap [9]  – or the Sows Doctor Halfpenny Greens Sows julep [10]  – & I am as ignorant as heart could wish. the tares would not grow –

You will direct to Keswick Cumberland – I set off on Saturday next – & shall be there about Tuesday – & if you could contrive to steal time for a visit to the Lakes you would find me a rare guide.

Rickman is about leaving London, (where he has been labouring at the Population act [11]  – which is his scheme) – to go as Secretary with Abbot [12]  to Ireland. he is an excellent fellow & will be a great man. Tom is off Ireland – scarred I fear sadly in the Copenhagen business, [13]  which had nearly cost him his life – or his eyes.

How & where is Horace? remember me also to your father & mother as one not unmindful of many happy hours passed under their roof.

I have tried to read Pyes Alfred [14]  – which is insomuch worse than Alfred the Pious [15]  as it is not bad enough to be ridiculous. If you have not seen the second volume of Wordsworths Lyrical Ballads I counsel you to buy them, & read aloud the Poems entitled The Brothers, & Michael [16]  – which especially the first – are to my taste excellent. I have never been so much affected & so well as by some passages there. – I should have liked some opinion of Thalaba from you – some fault-finding – to know if enough interest was excited – or if miracles like pantomime-tricks were so rapid as to weary & satiate.

God bless you. Ediths remembrance –

yrs as ever.

Robert Southey.

Wednesday. 19 Aug. 1801.

Yours reached me but yesterday & too late for reply.


* Address: To/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr / Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Postmark: B/ AUG 21/ 1801
Endorsements: 19 August 1801; 19 August 1801
MS: Bodleian Library, Eng. Lett. c. 23. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 157-160 [in part]. BACK

[1] Possibly Robert Macqueen, Lord Braxfield (1722-1799; DNB), who in 1793-1794 presided over the trials and sentencing, in Edinburgh, of radical activists, including Thomas Muir (1765-1799; DNB), Maurice Margarot (1745-1815; DNB) and Joseph Gerrald (1763-1796; DNB). Southey may have misunderstood the fine details of Scottish law, under which rape, robbery, murder and arson were all crimes that had to be tried in the highest court. BACK

[2] Probably an in-joke dating back to Southey’s and Bedford’s schooldays. ‘St Augustine’ could refer to a fellow ex-pupil at Westminster School (whose nickname drew on either St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) or St Augustine of Canterbury (d. 604)) or to an object (possibly a painting) Southey and Bedford both knew. BACK

[3] ‘Leander’s’ identity is uncertain. He could be the musician Thomas Leander (d. 1801), whose death at the age of 99 was reported in the London newspapers; see, for example, the Morning Chronicle, 20 May 1801. Alternatively, he may have been someone Southey and Bedford had known at Westminster School. If so, the nickname suggests he was a keen swimmer, like the Leander of Greek legend who nightly swam the Hellespont in order to visit his lover. The joke would have had extra resonance as Bedford’s translation of Musæus (fl. c. early 6th century), The Loves of Hero and Leander, had appeared in 1797. BACK

[4] Possibly John Henderson (c. 1747-1785; DNB), a famous actor who had spent his early career in Bath. BACK

[5] The proposal by Wynn that Southey should become Secretary to Sir William Drummond (c. 1770-1828; DNB), classical scholar, poet and diplomat; Charge d’Affaires in Denmark 1800-1801, Minister-Plenipotentiary in Naples 1801-1803 and 1807-1808, and Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1803. BACK

[6] For Southey’s plan for the Curse of Kehama (1810), see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 12-15. This is Southey’s first mention of the switch of title from ‘The Curse of Keradou’. He seems to have made this change in a new draft of Book 1, begun ‘Aug. 15. 1801’, Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Robert Southey Papers A.S727. BACK

[7] Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

[8] Poems (1797). Second and third editions had followed in 1797 and 1799 and a fourth in 1801. BACK

[9] A common cathartic drug. BACK

[10] Southey is recalling an event from 1793. For the saga of the Bedfords’ pig and Dr Halfpenny (first name and dates unknown), see Robert Southey and Grosvenor Charles Bedford to Nicholas Lightfoot, 27-30 September 1793, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part 1, Letter 59. BACK

[11] The Census Act of 1800 authorised the first census of 1801. BACK

[12] Charles Abbot, Lord Colchester (1757-1829; DNB), Chief Secretary for Ireland 1801-1802, The Speaker 1802-1817. BACK

[13] A British fleet had destroyed the Danish fleet at Copenhagen on 2 April 1801. Tom Southey had served as a Lieutenant on the Beltona in this action, and was listed as wounded, e.g. in Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 19 April 1801. BACK

[14] Henry James Pye (1745-1813; DNB), Alfred (1801). BACK

[15] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, an Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Books (1800). BACK

[16] William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads, 2 vols (London, 1800), II, pp. 19-45, 199-225. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)