2925. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 22 February 1817

2925. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 22 February 1817⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

I must go twelve miles to make this affadavit, [1]  & of course cannot do so till Monday. The delay is unlucky but inevitable. I think this is the best mode of proceeding. At any other time I would have the thing pass, & smiled at it. Oh with what glee I wrote it! – it was only a few days work, three or four at the utmost. As John Bunyan says –

It came from mine own heart, then to my head
And thence into my fingers trickeled,
Thence to my pen, from whence immediately
On paper I did dribble it daintily, – [2] 

& xx this is an exact history of my Wat Tyler, whom I used in those days to call my Uncle Wat. [3]  I could find in my heart to compose a drama upon the same subject now in my wiser mind, – as a sort of penance, – had I but time. It is a rich subject. A little encouragement would egg me on. – & the inclination will perhaps keep me sleepless in bed for some hours turning & tossing the materials in my mind. Would not this make a curious finish to the story, if I were to follow the impulse & actually produce such an historical drama as might stand beside Roderick? [4] 

Give that poor fellow a farther two pounds for me some little time hence, if you cannot help him in any other way. [5] 

But I must have done, – for the spirit moves me, & I cannot rest till I have looked over the reign of Richard 2, [6]  & called thoughts to counsel upon this new scheme. If I had my old flux of the pen it might soon be done.

God bless you


22 Feby 1817


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ 9 Stafford Row
Endorsements: 22 Febry 1817; 22 February 1817
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 59–60. BACK

[1] In 1794 Southey sent James Ridgway (1755–1838), and Henry Symonds (1741–1816), radical booksellers 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. To pursue his suit he had to travel to Cockermouth to swear an affidavit before a Master in Chancery, a solicitor authorized to carry out routine business for the Court. BACK

[2] From the ‘Advertisement to the Reader’, lines 11–14 in John Bunyan (1628–1688; DNB), The Holy War (1682). Southey had used this quotation as an epigraph to his poems ‘Jaspar’ and ‘Lord William’ in Poems (London, 1799), p. [117]. BACK

[3] Southey’s nickname for Wat Tyler (d. 1381; DNB), leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, referencing his family connections: his mother’s mother, Margaret Bradford (1710–1782) had married firstly William Tyler (1709–1747), and Southey had no fewer than three uncles with the surname of ‘Tyler’. BACK

[4] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814) was Southey’s best-received long poem. BACK

[5] See Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 15 and 19 February 1817 (Letters 2919 and 2923): John William Southey (dates unknown), a paper hanger and stationer, whose shop in 1794–1798 was at 35 Bedford Street, Covent Garden, had delivered a letter to Southey in c. 1797–1798 which had been misdirected to him. He had gone bankrupt in 1809 and had written to Southey asking for money. It is possible that he was from Somerset and a very distant relative of Southey’s. BACK

[6] Wat Tyler had, in 1381, rebelled against the government of Richard II (1367–1400, King of England 1377–1399; DNB). BACK

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