2919. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [15 February 1817]

2919. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [15 February 1817]⁠* 

My dear G.

Do you remember that twenty years <ago> a letter directed for me at your house was carried to a paper hangers of my name in Bedford Street, [1]  – & the man found me out & put his card into my hand? Upon the strength of this acquaintance I have now a letter from this poor namesake; – soliciting charity, & describing himself & his family as in the very depth of human misery. This is not the only proof I have had of a strange opinion that I am overflowing with riches. – Poor wretched man what can I do for him! However I do not like to shut my ears & my heart to a tale of this kind. Send him I pray you a two pound note in my name, – to No 10 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth; – your servant had better take it, for fear he should have been sent to the work house before this time. When I come to town I will seek about if any thing can be done for him.

I wrote to Wynn last night to consult him about Wat Tyler, [2]  – telling him all the circumstances & desiring him, if it be best to procure an injunction, to send the letter to Turner, & desire him to act for me. Three & twenty years ago the MS was put into Ridgeways hands who promised to publish it then (anonymously unless I am very much mistaken) – & from that time to this I never heard of it, – there was no other copy in existence except the original scrawl which is now lying up stairs in an old trunk full of papers. I wish the Attorney General [3]  would prosecute the publisher for sedition, – this I really should enjoy. Happy are they who have no worse sins of their youth to rise in judgement against them.

I inclose a draft for the Docstor wherewith to pay for the forks, [4]  – the residuum will be a supply for my immediate calls on my arrival.

Government are acting like themselves – could I say xx any thing more severe? They should have begun with vigour & rigour, – & then when they had the victory have made their sacrifices ex propria motu, [5]  – with a good grace. But they ought not, on any account to have touched the official salaries, – a thing unjust & unwise, which instead of currying favour for them <with the rabble> will make them despised for their pusillanimity. [6]  I have neither pity nor patience for them. Was ever paper used like this last xx xxx article has been to please them! They have absolutely cut it down to their own exact measure, – every thing useful is xx gone & every thing original, – every thing whatever had most force in it was sure to be xx struck out. [7]  Of all the practical measures upon which I touched, one only has escaped, & that because it comes in as if by accident, the hint about transporting for sedition. [8]  – If we come out of this confusion without an utter overthrow it will be as we escaped the Gunpowder plot, [9]  – not by any aid of human wisdom, – God knows we have no right to calculate upon miracles. The prospect is very dismal, & it is provoking to think that nothing is wanting to secure us but foresight & courage. – But of what use is railing, or advising or taking thoughts for such things. I am only a passenger, – the officers must look to the ship, – if she is lost then the fault rests with them. I have nothing to answer for, & must take my share in the wreck with patience.

The Grand Murray in his grand way offers me a thousand guineas for my intended poem in blank verse, – & begs it may not be a line longer than Thomsons seasons!! [10]  – I rather think the poem will be a post-obit, – & in that case twice that sum, at least, may be demanded for it. What the Grand Personages real feelings towards me may be I cannot tell, – but he is a happy fellow, living in the light of his own glory, & as proud as a fly upon the Kings state carriage. The Review [11]  is the greatest of all works, & it is all his own creation. he prints 10,000, & fifty times ten thousand read its contents in the East & in the West. – & he never seems to recollect that not one of all those readers ever think of the Bookseller. Joy be with him & his Journal. I will treat you with his correspondence whenever you come to Keswick, – it is admirable in its kind, & will make you alternately laugh & swear. I am very far from disliking him, – vanity is the most pardonable of all faults, – & most men have it in some form or other. I should be loth to part with what little is left of the large xxxxx xxxx xxxxxx my share.

It is really amusing to see how the Rascals attack me about the Court, [12]  as if I were a regular courtier, punctual in attendance, perfect in flattery, & enjoying all that favour for <the slightest portion of> which these very Rascals would sell their souls, – if they had any! Malice never aimed at a less vulnerable mark.

God bless you


Longman has just sent me this Resurrection of Sedition. – The verses are better than I expected to find them, – which I think you will allow to be a cool philosophical remark. [13] 


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer
Endorsements: 15 Feby 1817; 15 February 1817/ Paper hanger W.T. Murray/ the Great blank verse poem/ 1000 Gs
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 238–240 [in part].
Dating note: Dating from endorsement. BACK

[1] John William Southey (dates unknown), a paper hanger and stationer, whose shop in 1794–1798 was at 35 Bedford Street, Covent Garden. He had gone bankrupt in 1809. It is possible that he was from Somerset and a very distant relative of Southey’s. BACK

[2] Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 14 February 1817, Letter 2918. In 1794 Southey sent James Ridgway (1755–1838) and Henry Symonds (1741–1816), radical booksellers and then in Newgate prison, a copy of his Jacobin drama Wat Tyler; see Robert Southey to Edith Fricker, [c. 12 January 1795], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 123. Ridgway and Symonds did not publish it and it remained in manuscript until a pirated publication, designed to embarrass the now anti-Jacobin Southey, appeared in 1817. Having taken advice from Rickman, Wynn and Turner, Southey launched a suit in Chancery so as to gain an injunction suppressing the publication. BACK

[3] Sir William Garrow (1760–1840; DNB), Attorney-General 1813–1817, and thus responsible for prosecutions of this nature. BACK

[4] Henry Herbert Southey had arranged the purchase of some silver forks for Southey. BACK

[5] ‘Of one’s own accord’. BACK

[6] Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769–1822; DNB), Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons 1812–1822 had announced a series of reductions in public expenditure, especially in the army and navy, on 7 February 1817. As part of this programme, public servants (including Bedford and Southey) were urged to give up the rise in their salaries caused by the abolition of income tax in 1816. Castlereagh also announced a select committee would be appointed to examine public expenditure. BACK

[7] Southey refers to the censorship of his article on current affairs, ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278 (published 11 February 1817). BACK

[8] Southey had suggested in ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 268 that an appropriate punishment for the radical Thomas Spence (1750–1814; DNB) when he was convicted for seditious libel in 1801 would have been transportation, rather than one year in prison. BACK

[9] The plot by a group of English Catholics to blow up parliament in 1605. BACK

[10] James Thomson (1700–1748; DNB), The Seasons (1730), the most popular blank verse poem of the eighteenth century, ran to 5423 lines. Southey began, but did not finish, a blank verse poem, entitled ‘Consolation’ on the death of his son, Herbert. Sections were published after his death as ‘Fragmentary Thoughts Occasioned by his Son’s Death’, Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 93–95, and ‘Additional Fragment, Occasioned by the Death of his Son’, Poetical Works of Robert Southey. Complete in One Volume (London, 1850), p. 815. BACK

[11] Quarterly Review (1809–1967), established by Murray in March 1809. BACK

[12] Southey’s Lay of the Laureate (1816) had reignited these charges, e.g. in the Examiner, 445 (7 July 1816) and 446 (14 July 1816). BACK

[13] A reference to Southey’s Jacobin drama of 1794, Wat Tyler, now first published in a pirate edition. BACK

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