3207. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 10 November 1818

3207. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 10 November 1818⁠* 

My dear G.

The lowering of the pulse which led me to drink your honours health in a glass of gin was not produced by green tea, which, as you know I never take at breakfast, nor tea of any kind, if there be any thing else to be had. It came on without any assignable cause, & went off upon the application of the honest dram. Green tea has had this effect upon some half a score times in my life, more particularly when I have taken it in a morning. It is indeed, between ourselves, a matter of surprize {to me} that this bodily machine of mine should have continued its operations with so few derangements, considering knowing, as I well do, its excessive susceptibility to many deranging causes. The nitrous oxyd approached nearer to the notion of a neurometer than any thing which xxxxxx perhaps could be desired, & I was acted upon by a far smaller dose than any person xx upon whom it had ever been tried, when I was in the habit of taking it. [1]  – If I did not vary my pursuits & carry on many works of a totally different kind at once, I should soon be incapable of xxxx proceeding with any, so surely does it disturb my sleep, & affect my dreams, if I dwell upon one with any continuous attention. The truth is that tho some persons whose knowledge of me is scarcely skin-deep suppose I have no nerves because I have great self controul as far as regards the surface, – if it were not for great self management, & what may be called a strict intellectual regimen, I should very soon be in a deplorable state of what is called nervous disease, & this would have been the case any time during the last twenty years.

Thank God I am well at present, – & well employed: as far Brazil & Wesley both in the press, [2]  – a paper for the QR in hand, [3]  & Oliver Newman now seriously resumed, [4]  – while for light reading I am going thro Souths Sermons, [5]  & the whole British & Irish part of the Acta Sanctorum. [6]  I am quite persuaded however xx Murraymagne may boast of his liberal payment, that my time might be more profitably employed than in working for him, & so I have told him for his comfort. [7]  When first this mighty Maecenas [8]  proffered me twenty guineas a sheet instead of ten, [9]  I told him such consideration could make no possible difference in my writing, for I always wrote as well as I could. By what he afterwards said I really gave him credit for understanding me & for believing me, – but were you to see his letters, you would marvel at my patience. However it would be ridiculous to be offended by such egregious vanity, – especially as I believe he respects me as much as he is capable of respecting anybody. He had grace enough to confess when he was here that his first number would have failed had it not been for me. [10] 

Reviewing is the only work which I flag over: – it is like going to an exercise, – mere task work, & therefore it takes up twice or thrice the time that any composition would do in which my heart was engaged. If I had no reviewing I could in twelve months begin & finish a long poem, – from laying down the first timber to the fair launch of the vessel, – & yet go on with my historical works. The time which four articles require would finish Dr Daniel Dove, [11]  & judge you whether it would not be more worthily employed, & with a chance of much greater emolument. But enough of this. This quarter & the next I must work for Maecenas, – but afterwards I will do no more for him than just to keep xxxx a place in the Review for my own convenience.

In the MSS. of Wesley which passed thro Giffords hands while you were absent there was a chapter [12]  which I wished you to have seen, because both in matter & manner it is among the best things I have written. It contained a view of our religious history down to the accession of the present family, – not the facts but the spirit of the history. You will be pleased {to see} how I have relieved & diversified this book, which will be as elaborate as a Dutchmans work & as entertaining as a Frenchmans, bearing withall in its fidelity & perfect freedom the true stamp of R.S. But of that person & his concerns sat. superque. [13] 

So you are to have another Westminster Election. [14] Brougham I dare say will offer himself. I wonder Murray did not propose to me to review his letter to Sir S Romilly, [15]  – a service indeed for which I should have offered myself if Chauncy Townsend had not been here to occupy the very time that ought would have been required for it. Romilly seems clearly a case of brain fever. [16]  But it is remarkable that he & Whitbread & Paul should all have laid violent hands upon themselves. [17]  If one or two {more} of the leading Anarchists were to follow the example it would look very much like a Judicial dispensation. The state has lost nothing.


I did my best about Beresford, & should have served him if earnestness in the application could have done it. [18]  But R. had nothing in his power. Poor fellow, it is a dismal thing to be cast upon the world at his time of life.

Thank you for your trouble about the promissory note. [19]  If it be duly paid, as I have no reason to doubt, it will have been a very unexpected recovery. I want now to provide against that inability which may any day – or any moment overtake me. – You are not mistaken in thinking that the last three years have considerably changed me – the outside remains pretty much the same, but it is far otherwise within. If hitherto the day has been sufficient for the labour, as well as the labour for the day, I now feel that it cannot always, & possibly may not long be so. Were I dead there would be a provision for my family, which tho not such as I yet hope to make it, would yet be a respectable one. But if I were unable to work, half my ways & means would instantly be cut off, [20]  – & the whole of them are needed. Such thoughts did not use to visit me. My spirits retain their strength, – but they have lost their buoyancy, & that for ever. I should be the better for travelling, but that is not in my power. At present the press fetters me, & if it did not, I could not afford to be spending money when I ought to be earning it. But I shall work the harder to enable me so to do

God bless you.


Keswick 10 Nov. 1818


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 13 NO 13/ 1818
Endorsements: 10 Novr 1818; 10 Novr 1818
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey took nitrous oxide at the Pneumatic Institution in Bristol in 1799 under the supervision of Humphry Davy. For Southey’s ecstatic response to his first dose, see Southey to Thomas Southey, 12 July 1799, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part 2, Letter 421. BACK

[2] The last volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819) and his The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[3] One of three articles for the Quarterly Review on which Southey worked in late 1818 (probably the first): a review, published in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591, of Haydon’s New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818); an article on the ‘Inquiry into the Copyright Act’, published in Quarterly Review, 21 (January 1819), 196–219; and an article ‘Cemeteries and Catacombs of Paris’ which appeared in Quarterly Review, 21 (April 1819),359–398. BACK

[4] Southey’s New England epic poem, ‘Oliver Newman’. It remained unfinished and a fragment was published posthumously in 1845; see Oliver Newman: a New England Tale (Unfinished): with Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 1–92. BACK

[5] Robert South (1634–1716; DNB), controversial Hugh Church clergyman. His Twelve Sermons Preached upon Several Occasions (1692) was much reprinted and expanded. BACK

[6] The Acta Sanctorum (1643–1794), a massive, 53–volume, compendium of hagiographies, which Southey had bought in Brussels in 1817, had reached Keswick in August 1818. It was no. 207 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] Southey had received £150 (and advice from Murray on how to plan his articles) for his review of Memoirs, Illustrative of the Life and Writings of John Evelyn (1818), Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 1–54, and his essay ‘On the Means of Improving the People’, which also appeared in Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 79–118 (published 26 September 1818). Southey had made his displeasure known in a letter to John Murray, 7 October 1818, Letter 3201. BACK

[8] Gaius Cilnius Maecenas (68–8 BC), Roman patron of the arts. BACK

[9] When Southey reviewed various biographies of the naval hero, Horatio Nelson (1758–1805; DNB), in Quarterly Review, 3 (February 1810), 218–262. BACK

[10] Southey had contributed an ‘Account of the Baptist Missionary Society’ to Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226. BACK

[11] The book of comic materials that Southey had, since their schooldays, dreamed of writing with Bedford. The collaboration never bore fruit in a jointly-authored book but did lead to Southey’s The Doctor (1834–1847). BACK

[12] Chapter 9, The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 305–336. BACK

[13] ‘Enough and more than enough’. BACK

[14] The Westminster constituency had been hotly-contested at the general election of 1818, with the poll only concluding after 15 days of voting. One of the two elected MPs, the Whig lawyer, Sir Samuel Romilly (1757–1818; DNB), killed himself on 2 November 1818, so necessitating a by-election. Brougham, who sat for the small, corrupt, borough of Winchelsea, had been defeated in his attempt to win a prestigious county seat in Westmorland in 1818. However, he did not contest Westminster in the ensuing by-election. BACK

[15] Brougham’s A Letter to Sir Samuel Romilly, M.P. from Henry Brougham, Esq. M.P., F.R.S. upon the Abuse of Charities (1818). BACK

[16] Romilly became ill after the death of his wife, Anne (1773–1818), on 29 October 1818, and cut his throat. BACK

[17] Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB), the leading Whig politician, also cut his throat, on 6 July 1815, after a period of declining health. James Paull (1770–1808; DNB), briefly MP for Newtown, Isle of Wight 1805–1806, was best known for his criticisms of Marquess Wellesley’s conduct as Governor-General of India 1798–1805. He, too, cut his throat, on 15 April 1808, after gambling losses and increasing signs of derangement. BACK

[18] Southey had been attempting to find a post in the civil service for an old Westminster schoolfellow Charles Griffis Beresford (dates unknown). BACK

[19] Southey had been induced by the Ballantynes, and by their silent partner Walter Scott, to take a 1/12th financial share (valued at £209) in the publication to which they invited him to contribute – the Edinburgh Annual Register. Southey wrote the historical sections in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808–1811 (1810–1813). But he received none of the profits from these editions, was not paid for his final contribution, to the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813), and feared his share in the Register had become worthless. However, unexpectedly, the Ballantynes had repaid Southey’s investment. BACK

[20] If Southey could not work, he would lose the prospect of future earnings from writing for the Quarterly Review and future works of prose and poetry. But he would still have his government pension of £200 p.a., his salary as Poet Laureate of £100 p.a. and any income from new editions of his published works. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)