2902. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 20 January 1817

2902. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 20 January 1817⁠* 

Keswick 20 Jany. 1817.

My dear G.

The pantaloons (uglyissimi coloris) [1]  arrived this day, with the paper [2]  & the verses of my brother Poet the Bellman, [3]  – but the Almanacks [4]  & the Lioness [5]  were not forthcoming, to the great disappointment of the eager expectants who were looking on. The Almanacks may come in Murrays next parcel, & the Lioness, unless she weighs above two ounces (which I suppose she will not) under one of Rickmans franks. It is very very strenuously enquired for.

B I have made large additions to the article in the Quarterly, [6]  which I think may be called my Papal Forte, – (a title by the bye which you will not understand till you have read my forthcoming volume of Brazil.) [7]  The new matter relates to the Spencean Philanthropists, [8] Murray at my desire having got their publications for me, – & to Cobbett, – a chance paper or two of this villains having fallen into my hands. [9]  You will see that I have spoken very plainly upon many subjects, tho’ not upon all. Will Gifford think you let my proposal stand for putting up boroughs to auction? Windham would have agreed with me in every single point. [10] 

What will they do with these rioters if they are found guilty? – I would not hang them, – especially Watson, [11]  it will make him an object of compassion, – & nothing is so impolitic as to excite that feeling in behalf of the enemies of government. If he be found guilty (which I am inclined to doubt, from the nature of his defence, & the humour of the day) the offence is capital, – but I would as soon as possible make it known that the punishment should be commuted into transportation for life, – not waiting for popular feeling to be impressed upon the subject. The man has been made desperate by misery – I would treat him humanely, save only that his going should be compulsory & for life, – he should go as a settler, be treated as such, & encouraged to take his family with him. Governments are never aware of the how much they may gain by affecting this kind of generosity. Young Watson should be hung –without mercy for shooting Platt; [12]  – unless a fair plea of insanity could be made out.

Murray will send me down the article as soon as it is printed. The first part showing the war to have been popular, will, with certain additions, make the first chapter of the book. [13]  The personal matter, which in the review is properly placed as well as well timed, may be discarded & left to perish there. The paper will be talked of, xxxx extracted into some of the news papers, & well railed at in others. – Meantime Longman calls for the – Preface to Morte Arthur, – & I am deep in the history of the Round Table. [14]  This head of mine is curiously furnished with separate assortments of matter, – I have just finished the second vol. of Brazil [15]  – I am busy upon Sydenhams peninsular papers. [16]  – & have other occupations all as remote from each other as Morte Arthur & Sir Arthur Wellesley the dead Arthur & the living one. – The living Arthurs connections are very civil to me, & look anxiously for my book. I have a note tonight from Richard Wellesley, [17]  who has sent me books, & offers personal communication – I mean to say that he invites me to ask him any questions respecting persons or things within his knowledge. The papers which Sydenham has sent are <some of them> in the strictest sense of the term confidential. They are in the highest degree interesting.

Nash is returned to London. He is to send me a frame for a prodigiously fine drawing of W Westalls, & your honour will pay him for it. Remember also your own face, [18]  as soon as the proboscis shall have returned to its natural dimensions, which I trust it has by this time.

When I go to town, I shall not seek any interview with the Noddles, [19]  because it would be perfectly useless. Harry Inglis has made a sort of engagement for me to meet Lord Sidmouth [20]  at his house, – with Wilberforce (who has fallen in friendship with me) of the party. Wilberforce I should tell you, is one of my curmudgeons – vide Ashe’s dictionary. [21]  This will end in a good dinner; – but I would have the Noddles reminded whenever they speak well of my deserts, that I have a brother in the navy, & desire nothing so much as promotion for him. [22] 

Remember me to all at home –

God bless you



* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ 9. Stafford Row/ Buckingham Gate/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 23 JA 23/ 1817
Endorsement: 20 January 1817
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 51–53. BACK

[1] Mock Latin for ‘of the ugliest colour’. BACK

[2] In Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 18 November 1816 (Letter 2865), Southey had asked Bedford to supply him with quires of coloured paper, to aid him in making colour–coded notebooks. BACK

[3] ‘Bellman’s verses’ were the annual doggerel productions of city watchmen, recited as a means of obtaining a tip from householders at Christmas. It is not clear which poet’s work is being referred to here. BACK

[4] Southey had discovered that one of the almanacs for 1816 included pictures of his home, Greta Hall, and of Wordsworth’s, Rydal Mount. BACK

[5] On the night of 20 October 1816 one of the horses pulling the mail coach from Exeter to London was attacked by a lioness which had escaped from a menagerie. The passengers took fright; the horse was injured; and the lioness was captured. The unlikely incident became the subject of prints, newspaper reports and the children’s book, The Blue Caravan; or, the Salisbury Lioness. A Poem for the Nursery (1816). Southey’s children had seen the advertisement for this in the Courier, 6 December 1816, and Southey had asked Bedford to buy it for them. BACK

[6] Southey’s article ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278 (published 11 February 1817). BACK

[7] In the second volume of his History of Brazil (1810–1819), Southey drew on a work of advice and warning to government written by Antonio Vieira (1608–1697), Papel Forte (1648) – the title literally means ‘strong memorial’. BACK

[8] Southey’s article on ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278, dealt extensively with the works of Thomas Spence (1750–1814; DNB), such as Constitution of Spensonia, a Country in Fairy Land Situated between Utopia and Oceana (1801) and The Important Trial of Thomas Spence (1807) and those of his followers, particularly Thomas Evans (1766–1833; DNB), Christian Policy, the Salvation of Empire (1816). The ‘Society of Spencean Philanthropists’ was formed in 1814 by a number of small groups of radicals who met at various London public houses. They were devoted to the cause of land reform, but by this time contained a number of revolutionaries who led the attempted seizure of the Bank of England and the Tower of London following the public meeting at Spa Fields, London, on 2 December 1816. BACK

[9] Southey’s ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278. This (273–275) condemned some of Cobbett’s writings, particularly Political Register, 31 (8 December 1816), 733, which asserted that the organizers of the Spa Fields meeting were unconnected to the revolutionaries who attempted to use it for an insurrection. BACK

[10] This proposal did not appear in Southey’s ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278; but he did (257) refer to William Windham’s (1750–1810; DNB) speech in the House of Commons on 26 May 1809 on electoral corruption. BACK

[11] Four Spenceans were charged with treason for their part in the Spa Fields riot, but were discharged when the trial of Thomas Watson (c. 1766–1838) on 9–17 June 1817 resulted in his acquittal, following the discrediting of the evidence of a government informer. Watson was an impoverished apothecary. BACK

[12] Richard Platt (dates unknown), a warehouseman, was a bystander who was shot and wounded when he tried to prevent Watson’s son, James Watson ‘the younger’ (d. 1836), raiding a gunshop. The younger Watson had previously been treated for madness. He managed to avoid arrest and fled to America. BACK

[13] Southey proposed at this time to turn his article on ‘Parliamentary Reform’ into part of a book on the ‘State of the Nation’. The section on the war with France (Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–245) asserted its necessity and popularity. BACK

[14] The Byrth, Lyf, and Actes of Kyng Arthurwas published in two volumes by Longman in 1817. BACK

[15] The second volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819) appeared in 1817. BACK

[16] Benjamin Sydenham (1777–1828), a former soldier in India and friend of Marquess Wellesley. He was Commissioner of the Board of Excise 1809–1819. Henry Herbert Southey had made his acquaintance in Ramsgate whilst treating the Marquess. Sydenham provided Southey with the papers of his brother, Thomas Sydenham (1780–1816), another ex-Indian soldier who served in Spain 1811–1812 and as Minister Plenipotentiary at Lisbon 1814–1816, to assist with Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[17] Richard Wellesley (1787–1831), son of Marquess Wellesley, MP for a number of seats intermittently 1810–1826, Lord of the Treasury 1812 and Commissioner of Stamp Duties 1826–1831. He had worked in Spain 1808–1810 as his father’s assistant. BACK

[18] Southey wished Nash to make a portrait of Bedford for him. BACK

[19] Southey’s derisive term for government ministers. BACK

[20] Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844; DNB), Prime Minister 1801–1804, Home Secretary 1812–1822. Southey did meet him at Inglis’s house on 26 April 1817. BACK

[21] In the New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1775) compiled by John Ash (1724–1779; DNB), ‘curmudgeon’ is defined in error, because of a misreading of the definition in Samuel Johnson (1709–1784; DNB), A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), as ‘unknown correspondent’. BACK

[22] Tom Southey was farming (not very successfully) in Westmorland; but he was still a Captain in the Royal Navy, though he had never commanded a ship. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Rydal Mount (mentioned 1 time)


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