2708. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 4 February 1816

2708. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 4 February 1816⁠* 

Keswick. 4 Feby. 1816

My dear G.

I have an official from the Treasury [1]  this evening telling me, as you anticipated that the prayer of my petition is inadmissible. [2]  To be sure it is much better they should repeal the duty than grant an exemption from it speciali gratiâ, [3]  – but if they will do neither the one nor the other, the Devil reward them say I.

Is it true that the Princess Charlotte is likely to be married? you will guess why I wish to know. [4]  Tho if I had not written half a marriage poem I certainly would not begin one; because for between ourselves I have not been well used about the Laureateship, – they require task verses from me, not to keep up the custom of having been befiddled, [5]  but to keep up the task, – instead of putting an end to this foolery in a fair & open manner, which do would the court credit, & save me a x silly expense of time & trouble. I shall compleat what I have begun – because it is begun, & to please myself, not to obtain favour with any body else, – but when these things are done, if they continue to look for New Years Odes from the Laureate, they shall have nothing else.

Tom has been here for the last fortnight, looking about for a house. I cannot write verses of in the presence of any person – except my wife or my children: – Tom therefore, without knowing it has impeded my Pilgrimage. [6]  But I can prosify let who will be present, & Brazil [7]  is profiting by this interruption.

Were you not here when poor Lloyd introduced M. Simond? – And have you seen the said M Simonds ‘Travels in England by a native of France?’ [8]  You will like the liveliness & the pervading good sense; & you will smile at the complacency with which he abuses Handel – Xxxx Raphael, & Milton. [9]  He honours me with a couple of pages, an amusing mixture of journalizing, personal civility, & critical presumption. My poems & Miltons he says have few reader readers altho they have many admirers. he quotes applies to me the famous speech of the Cardinal to Ariosto Dove Diavolo &c [10]  – & thinks I write nonsense, – xxxx however it is better than Miltons, but Miltons love & theology being both coarse & material, whereas I have tenderness & spirituality!!! He sets down two or three things which I told him, states my opinions as he is pleased to suppose, & concludes that the reason why I disapprove of Mr Malthuss writings is that I do not understand them. [11]  Bravo M. Simond! Yet in the main it is a fair & able book, & I wonder how so sensible a man can write with such consummate self assurance upon things above his reach.

I long to have my Brazilian history finished that that of the war may go to press in its stead; [12]  & could I abstain from Reviewing, three months would accomplish this desirable object, – but ‘I must live’ – as the French libeller said to Richelieu, [13]  – & unlike the Cardinal I know you will see the necessity for my so doing. However I am in a fair train, & verily believe that after the present year I shall & the Constable shall travel side by side in good fellowship. [14]  – You will be glad to hear that I have got the correspondence of the Portugueze Committee with the official details of the conduct of Massenas army & the consequent state of the people & the country. [15]  If I live to compleat this work I verily hope believe it will tend more to mitigate the evils of war hereafter, by teaching men in command what ineffaceable infamy will pursue them if they act as Barbarians.

Remember me to Henry, your Mother & Miss Page. I wish you could ascertain for me whether the Comedias de Gil Vicente (a Portugueze) [16]  are in the Kings Library, [17]  & also the Portugueze Cancioneiro of Resende. [18]  Wm Nicol [19]  perhaps could discover with little trouble by referring to the catalogue or ask the Librarian [20] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 7 FE 7/ 1816
Endorsement: 4 February 1816
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 25. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 148–150 [in part]. BACK

[1] Unidentified. BACK

[2] Southey had asked for the customs duty on the books he had bought on his continental journey in 1817 to be removed or reduced. BACK

[3] ‘As a special privilege’. BACK

[4] Southey had written, in March–June 1814, fifty stanzas celebrating the engagement of Princess Charlotte, only child of the Prince Regent, to William, Hereditary Prince of Orange (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849). He had to abandon the poem when the engagement was broken off, but he was able to reuse most of it in his Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816), which celebrated Charlotte’s marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1790–1865; King of the Belgians 1831–1865) on 2 May 1816. BACK

[5] Traditionally, the Poet Laureate’s New Year Odes were set to music and performed at Court. BACK

[6] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo was published in May 1816. BACK

[7] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[8] Louis Simond (1767–1831), Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, During the Years 1810 and 1811 (1815); reviewed by Southey in the Quarterly Review, 15 (July 1816), 537–574. BACK

[9] Simond heard the music of Georg Frederic Handel (1685–1759; DNB) at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, noting ‘it is not the first time I have had the misfortune to be tired of Handel’s music’, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, During the Years 1810 and 1811, 2 vols (London, 1815), I, p. 183; the pictures of Raphael (1483–1520) were described as ‘hard like cut tin’, I, p. 110; and Simond’s dislike of John Milton (1608–1674; DNB) was expressed in his assessment of Southey, I, pp. 350–354. BACK

[10] When Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533) presented his Orlando Furioso (1532) to the Cardinal Ippolito d’Este (1509–1572), the Cardinal exclaimed ‘Dove diavolo, Messer Ludovico, avete pigliato tante coglionerie?’: ‘Where the devil, Master Ludovico, have you found all this stuff?’. BACK

[11] The political economist Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), whose pessimism on the subject of population increase Southey intensely disliked, e.g. in Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. BACK

[12] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832) was delayed by his reviewing and by his History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[13] Southey was referring to Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642), Chief Minister of France 1624–1642. However, he had probably mistaken the story because he had confused an earlier paragraph on Richelieu with the account of this incident in George Ensor (1769–1843), The Independent Man: Or, An Essay on the Formation and Development of Those Principles and Faculties of the Human Mind Which Constitute Moral and Intellectual Excellence, 2 vols (London, 1806), II, p. 321. The libeller was actually Pierre-François Guyot Desfontaines (1685–1745), who defamed the minister Marc-Pierre de Voyer de Paulmy, Comte d’Argenson (1696–1764) and, when questioned, gave the explanation Southey records. D’Argenson replied that he did not see the necessity of Desfontaine living. BACK

[14] To ‘outrun the constable’ was to live beyond one’s means, so Southey was suggesting his income would match his expenditure. BACK

[15] The Napoleonic Marshal André Massena (1758–1817) led the French campaign against Portugal in 1810 and 1811; Southey narrates his actions in History of the Peninsular War (London, 1823–1832), II, pp. 710–784. The House of Commons in 1811 voted £100,000 to relieve the civilian population of Portugal and a committee was appointed by Sir Charles Stuart (1779–1845; DNB), the British Envoy to Portugal 1810–1814, to distribute the money. One of its members was Southey’s friend, the English merchant in Lisbon, John Bell. BACK

[16] The Portuguese playwright and poet Gil Vicente (c. 1465–c. 1536). His plays were not published until 1562, when they were ordered into five categories, one of which was ‘Comedies’. BACK

[17] The library of over 65,000 volumes assembled by George III (1738–1820; King of the United Kingdom 1760–1820; DNB). It was given to the nation in 1823. BACK

[18] The Cancioneiro Geral (1516), collected by Garcia de Resende (1470–1536). BACK

[19] William Nicol (d. 1855?) was the son and business partner of George Nicol (1740?–1828; DNB), who was Bookseller to the King, 1781–1820. BACK

[20] Sir Frederick Augusta Barnard (1743–1830; DNB), Royal Librarian 1774–1828. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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