3042. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 November 1817

3042. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 November 1817⁠* 

My dear G.

It is so long since I have written to you that you will I dare say give me credit for having been very busy the while, & so in truth I have been, tho not in the way Murraymagne would wish, or that you perhaps expect; – for I have not been xxxxxxxx <at work for the next Q. [1] >, nor have I yet attempted to write ex officio upon the dismal occasion which has put us all in mourning, [2]  – the only occasion perhaps in which a public mourning ever carried with it so real a sense of sorrow. As soon as you left us, I finished the paper upon Lope de Vega, of which xx merely the beginning was written before. [3]  Then I set steadily to work upon the Brazil, & have been sedulously employed upon it every morning from that time; with the full intention (unless any unforeseen evil should prevent) of doing something to it (however little,) every day, till it is compleated. I have corrected four sheets, & hope to keep the press going without intermission: the better to effect this I rise as soon as it is light, & transcribe before breakfast. [4]  In the evenings I have paid off a heavy score of epistolary debts; – & with a truant disposition, as if I had nothing to consult but the inclination of the hour have taken a good serious spell at the Life of Wesley, – which bids very fair to be a singularly curious book. [5] 

I would very – very fain be excused from any threnodial service, farther than what <must> needs be prepared for the xx Mus.Doc. [6]  But I see, from one or two private letters, that is it looked for, & it is no use to grumble at a task which I must not shrink from. In thinking over the matter, which you may be sure I have been going (even in fact at the time when I would willingly have persuaded myself that it was <not> a matter of necessity to undertake the task) a notion laid strong hold upon me, of producing something in distant imitation of Boethius. [7]  In which instead of his Philosophia I should introduce Sir Thomas More, [8]  & passxx xxxx from the ostensible occasion of the book by an easy transition to a view of the prospect before us, compared with the state of things at the Reformation. [9]  An obvious objection to this is that I make use of an event which ought to be my subject, merely as an introduction to something else, – perhaps this may be handsomely obviated by frequently recurring to it, & bringing it again prominently forward at the end. You will perhaps hardly comprehend my scheme unless I explain <open> it a little more fully. There would be a mixture of verse as in Boethius, but the xxxx bulk of the composition in prose, & in colloquy between Sir T More & Meipsum: [10]  how he of all persons should xxx think of paying Meipsum a visit you must trust me to explain: but you will at once perceive that no fitter personage could be introduced, he <having> taken pretty much the same view of affairs in his age, as I do in mine. – The tone would of course be funereal, relieved by such imaginative parts as the introduction of one from another world would produce. And the main object is to show that we are rapidly approaching a crisis in society (if indeed we have not actually reached it,) as critical as that which the restoration of letters & the discovery of printing brought with them in the days of Sir Thomas More. The extent about as much as a long paper in the review, – a little volume from 150 to 200 pages. These digressions are not very convenient for one who has so many huge undertakings in hand, & has to provide for Murraymagne also – I hope you like his new title.

Oh my books! my books! Pray ask Cornaghi if he has heard any thing from Discacciati about them: that if not I may get Landor to inquire about them. [11]  And if the larger consignment from Brussels be not arrived, I must write about these xxx also.

Your pencils shall be looked after. The Grand Dormouse returned on Monday from Senhouses. Wordsworth is gone to London on business. I have not heard from xx xxxxxx <Sirius> – Heaven knows when, – he might as well be in his own star for any thing I know of him. – Pulcheria is in great favour, & sends a purr to Narses, – her countryman. [12]  – I have put on my leathern jerkin for the first time to day. – And yesterday I dined at the island, [13]  which as I certainly shall not have another invitation these six months, may xx xxx perhaps, (& how possibly!) be the last time I shall ever dine out. And the wind is blowing. On the fells it is snowing: And the torrents flowing. And the women are sewing. And the General is going. And the oats are still growing, (they have got them so slow in – ) – & my nose wants blowing, so farewell Mr Bedford.


26 Nov. 1817.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 29 NO 29/ 1817
Endorsements: 26 Novr 1817; 26 Novr 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. 80–83. BACK

[1] Quarterly Review. BACK

[2] Princess Charlotte had died in childbirth, after 18 months of marriage, on 6 November. On 27 November, the day following this letter, Southey drafted ‘Lines Written Upon the Death of the Princess Charlotte’, but these were not published until they appeared in The Amulet, or Christian and Literary Remembrancer (London, 1829), pp. 91–92. By 15 December 1817 Southey had completed a ‘Funeral Song for the Princess Charlotte’, to serve as the Poet Laureate’s New Year’s Ode for 1818; but this too was left unpublished for ten years, when it appeared in Friendship’s Offering: A Literary Album and Christmas and New Year’s Present, for 1828 (London, 1828), pp. 1–6. BACK

[3] This paper was published as a review of Lord Holland, Some Account of the Lives and Writings of Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, and Guillen de Castro (1817), Quarterly Review, 18 (October 1817), 1–46. BACK

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

[5] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[6] The Master of the King’s Music, who was required to set the Poet Laureate’s annual New Year’s Ode to music and conduct its performance at St James’s Palace, though this ritual had not taken place since 1810. Sir William Parsons had died on 19 July 1817 and been replaced by William Shield. BACK

[7] Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 480–525), De Consolatione Philosophiae, a dialogue between the author and the character of Lady Philosophy, consisting of both prose and verse. It urged endurance of life’s misfortunes and the certainty of death. BACK

[8] Sir Thomas More (1478–1535; DNB), Lord Chancellor 1529–1532 and author of Utopia (1516). He was executed for treason because he refused to accept the Reformation of the Church of England and its break with Papal suzerainty. BACK

[9] Southey’s idea bore fruit as Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829). BACK

[10] ‘Me–myself’. BACK

[11] The firm of printsellers and art dealers at Cockspur St, Charing Cross, headed by Paul Colnaghi (1751–1833; DNB). It was handling the passage through London of the consignment of books that Southey had purchased in Milan and that had been dispatched by Discacciati (dates unknown), Southey’s guide in the city. BACK

[12] Cats belonging to Southey and Bedford. Both Pulcheria (c. 398–453; Empress 450–453) and Narses (c. 478–566/574), a leading general, were central figures in the early Byzantine Empire. BACK

[13] With General Peachy, who owned Derwent Island House. BACK