43. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [started before and continued on] 15 March [1793]

43. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [started before and continued on] 15 March [1793] ⁠* 

Old Homer, to read thee no more am I able
Go lie Mr Plutarch [1]  untouchd on the table
Thou favourite of Gibbon [2]  away from my sight
Greeks & Romans be gone for by Jove I must write

O Bedford how joyful I handle the pen
With what pleasure sit down thus to scribble again —
Go bid our friend Collins no longer be wise
Tell Dodd to speak truth & the Doctor no lies
Go tell Edmund Burke [3]  but to write common sense
Burn your Horace [4]  or take at my follies offence —
Forget you your goodness & Vincent his spight
But never ah never forbid me to write.

Bid the self elate author not publish his book
Seek for vice in Charles Collins or virtue in Hook
Draw the poison of sin from the sweets of Rousseau
Or look at La Fayette [5]  & mock at his woe
Bid me dress my hair & thus grown worldly wise
Yield respect to a world which I only despise
Teach Christ Church that Folly is sister to Pride
Say Mountague Kelly & Wit are allied —
Bid me like yourself Bedford sit up all night
But never ah never forbid me to write!

No Bedford — no longer oer classics Ill pore
Till Fancy & Nature are ready to snore
The gifts that she gave, I with gratitude take
Nor what Nature has made me shall Oxford unmake.

Oh if it be wrong thus in Pedantrys dome
Oer the low hills of Morven with Ossian [6]  to roam
To drop the still tear oer the page of Rousseau
To taste all the painful luxuriance of woe
To fling away Euclid [7]  & write to my friend —
Ah never ah never shall Southey amend.

What is life but a dream both of sorrow & joy
But a dream which the first breath of wind may destroy —
Tis a soft placid stream gliding gently its way
Tis a torrent that sweeps every barrier away
Stream & torrent both spring from the same viewless coast
And together at last in the ocean are lost.
Tis a feather that trembles at each breath of wind
Tis a shadow that passing leaves no trace behind
Tis the equinox storm spreading horror around
Tis the soft gentle dew that refreshes the ground
Perhaps tis a minute perhaps tis an age
Tis both tragedy comedy curtain & stage.

Perchance even now Death is pointing his dart
Eer the curtain of Night falls to finish my part
Carpe diem [8]  says Horace & why should not I
To myself the fat minions maxims apply?
Like this hour glass before me the sands of life run
Beginning to end when their course is begun
Spring & summer for autumn we spend to lay by
And preparing for life unprepard at last die.
Enjoy whilst you can for the joy Virtue brings
Have all Vices sweetness but none of her stings.

As we toil thro the troublesome ocean of life
Swell the billows around us of envy & strife
Destruction oerhovers our bark to oerwhelm
And Vice would tempt Reason to yield her the helm —
Our voyage (if safely these dangers are past
Can but end in the bay of contentment at last.

Ye Muses no no — Southey loves you too well
Eeer to bid to your hallowd delights a farewell
Still the steep road of life as he journies along
Shall he soothe & delude the long way with a song —
Still at evenings mild hour when the glitter of day
Melts thro all lights gradations to darkness away
By your placid haunts shall he often retire
With Sadness & Silence to breathe oer the lyre

Then ye Doctors rail on University-wise
Talk logic & rail whilst I sing & despise


and surely Bedford the resolution is founded upon Philosophy & common Sense — this season of life undoubtedly is of all others the most qualified for rendering us hapy but these collegiate scholars have no idea of rendering study agreable — the old monastic leaven still infects the whole substance — but reform is a dangerous word. did you never hear of bodies discovered in the ancient tumuli fresh & perfect in appearance which mouldered with a touch? the allusion is just to our universities & schools. had I been properly educated for three years I should have possessd more real learning than I have acquired in twelve.

I am now sitting without fire in a cold day waiting for Wynn to go upon the Isis “silver slipperd queen” [9]  as Warton calls her — the epithet may be classical but it certainly is ridiculous. of all poetical figure the prosopœpeia is that most like to be adopted by a savage nation & which adds most ornament & boldness to composition but in the name of common sense what appropriate idea does “silver slipperd” convey. Homers χρυσοπεδυλις [10]  probably alludes to some well known statue so habited. Nature is a much better guide than antiquity.

Wednesday. on the water I went yesterday in a little skiff which the least deviation from the balance would overset to manage two oars & yet unable to handle one! my first setting off was curious. I did not step exactly in the middle the boat tilted up & a large barge from which I embarked alone saved me from a good ducking. my arm however got compleatly wet. I tugged at the oar very much like a bear in a boat or if you can conceive any thing more awkward liken me to it & you will have a better simily.

Horse Cambel prevailed upon me last week to go to the anatomical lecture — the lecture said he is upon bones & there will be nothing any ways offensive. I went with him & found which he had said of the immediate business true. two skeletons dangling over my head did not certainly create any agreable ideas but still there was nothing to disgust. afterwards he led me down stairs & showed me who dreamt of nothing like it half a woman. in the course of my life I never saw any object so horrible anatomy I once intended to study but if it can only be learnt by overcoming every feeling & every idea of refinement ignorance will be my choice. I do not think it possible to forget what Cambel called a pretty subject.

I have looked over my letters & find that since I arrived at Oxford you have written to me once. it is a little extraordinary that you cannot find one hour to spare in so long a time. but you are busied or you are amused — you either cannot find <want> time or you want inclination. the former I wish to think the latter I am afraid to believe.

it is some days or weeks since this sheet was begun & the daily expectation of hearing from you has so long delayed it — but expectation is at last tired. unless you write in a few days I know not where you can direct to me as I spend this vacation in rambling over Worcestershire on foot with Seward who lives there. you will hear from me during my perigrinations provided I know whether you are in the land of the living or not.

poor Combe is gone home with a scrophulous eruption all over him. I miss him very much & as I was his Majestys privy counsel & the court looks dismal & desolate without him — one of this college too with whom I spent much time has been called into Cornwall to be with a brother probably by this time dead C Collins is devoted to his books & secluded from his friends — nothing but study — determined to be intimate with the dead he seems to forget the living. & as for Wynn he is too genteel to visit Balliol often. I have but few acquaintance & therefore feel the loss of Combe & J Collins more sensibly but our Balliol party still consists of four & my time passes pleasantly a letter from you now & then would improve it.

I know not whether you have heard of the Bristol failures. several of the first merchants are ruined & a total stop put to the circulation of country paper. my prophecy was too true. these are the first fruits of war. forgive the few words. God grant us all peace.

my brother is on board the Venus frigate which did lie at Deptford. if you could inform me whether or not she still lies there I should be obliged to you as I to wish to write. he is going to fight for England I wish I could wish him success. there is something very horrid in war. to think what thousands must perish to glut ambition ought to be sufficient for <ever to> quench the dangerous flame. what famine will ensue in France & Holland. Destruction will have a fine feast.

When I walk over these streets what various recollections throng upon me. what scenes Fancy delineates from the hour when Alfred [11]  first marked it as the seat of learning.

Bacons study is demolished so I shall never have the honor of being killed by its fall.  [12]  before my windows Latimer [13]  & Ridley [14]  were burnt & there is not even a stone to mark the place where a monument should be erected to religious Liberty. the battles of the Greeks & Trojans here, the metaphysical dreams of Duns Scotus [15]  & the divine Thomas Aquinas [16]  serve now to amuse the more enlightened Oxian & provoke a pitying smile of contempt. I have walked over the ruins of Godstow nunnery with sensations such as the site of Troy or Carthage would inspire. a spot so famed by our Minstrel so celebrated by Tradition & so memorable in the annals of legendary yet romantic truth cannot fail at once to sadden & to please poor Rosamund!  [17]  some unskilful imposter has painted an epitaph upon the chapel wall evidently within this century. the precise stop where she lies forgotten I know not but I certainly trod over the ground. the traces are still visible of a subterraneous passage — perhaps the scene of many a deed of darkness

but we should suppose the best surely amongst the tribe who were secluded from the world there may have been some whose motives were good amongst so many victims of compulsion & injustice. do you recollect Richardsons [18]  plan for protestant nunneries? to monastic founda[MS obscured] I have little attachment but were the colleges ever to be reformed (& reformation will not come before it is wanted) I would have a little more of the discipline kept up temperance is much wanted. the waters of Helicon [19]  are too much polluted by the wine of Bacchus [20]  ever to produce any effect with respect to its superiors Oxford only exhibits waste of wigs & want of wisdom with respect to under graduates every species of abandon[MS missing] excess. if the rulers of the realm spring from such universities god help the ruled. as for me I regard myself too much to run into the vices so common & so destructive. I have not yet been drunk nor mean to be so. what use can be made of a collegiate life I wish to make but in the midst of all when I look back to Rousseau & compare myself either with his Emilius [21]  or the real pupils of Madame Brulerck [22]  — I feel ashamed & humbled at the comparison. never shall child of mine enter a public school or University — perhaps I may not be able so well to instruct him in logic or languages but I can at least preserve from vice.

yrs sincerely

Robert Southey.

Friday. 15 March. yesterday — was one of the pleasantest days I ever recollect to have passed. Collins Lewis & myself went on the water to Godstow. we were conducted over the ruins by an old man to whom Ld Abingdon [23]  had given the liberty of showing the old nunnery & thus earning a scanty pittance for the support of age & indigence. we afterwards walked over the adjacent woods & dingles — were I so disposed I might fill a sheet of description but that task remains for Collins. we dined at a house on the bank upon craw fish mutton chops & eggs & bacon (have you forgotten our mutton chops at Brixton?) immediately after dinner we embarked & I rowed down to Oxford. the remainder of the day though very different was not upon the whole unpleasant. I was engaged to a wine party & reachd it just at five not yet cool from the labour of the oar & with every nerve strained to the highest pitch. there was no restraint — we drank as we pleased & I was thirsty. tea followed & about seven we went to walk. Arundel [24]  & myself were foremost. we walked to Maudlin Bridge & returning heard a noise & saw a bustle. we went to it & found one of our party in the hands of a gownsman & followed him to the college where to our surprize we discovered him to be the Pro Proctor. to us he was very civil, but upon our going again to see for the rest of the party begged we would remain in the college & at the same time promised that no harm should accrue to any of our friends. I have seen said he nothing improper in your conduct but the unfortunate animosity between the gownsmen & townsmen renders it particularly necessary to be careful. I do not ask your names — in short we went home & I got to bed. this morning I learnt the origin of the whole business. some children were noisy in the street. the Mayor of Oxford & his men were apprehending them & our party (only three) though staunch aristocrats were delivering the children. the right worshipful the Mayor collared Tucker [25]  & carried him across the street to the Proctor said here is the most impudent little dog in the University. Whedbourne [26]  in the mean time beat three of the Mayors men & in this juncture Arundel & myself found them. this morning Tucker & Wedbourne called on the Proctor & only met a slight reprimand whilst the behavior of the Mayor was reprehended as childish.

the morning I passed like a pupil of Rousseau. the evening like an Oxonian.

yrs sincerely.



* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single Sheet
Stamped: OXFORD
Watermark: Crown with G R underneath with the figure of Britannia
Endorsements: Recd. Mar. 16th 1793; Answd. 18th. Mar
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 175–178 [in part]. BACK

[1] Plutarch (c. AD 50–125), Greek biographer and moralist. BACK

[2] Edward Gibbon (1737–1794, DNB), historian, whose works include The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788). BACK

[3] Edmund Burke (1729/30–1797; DNB), conservative politician and author. Common Sense (1776) was the work of his radical opponent Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB). BACK

[4] Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65–8 BC). BACK

[5] The French General and politician, Marie-Paul-Joseph-Roch-Gilbert Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (1757–1834). In 1793, he was imprisoned by the Austrians. BACK

[6] James Macpherson (1736–1796; DNB) claimed to have translated the works of the Celtic bard Ossian. Morven was a mythical Gaelic kingdom. BACK

[7] Euclid of Alexandria (dates uncertain, between 325 and 250 BC), mathematician. BACK

[8] Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 1, no. 11, line 8. The Latin translates as ‘seize the day’. BACK

[9] A paraphrase of Thomas Warton (1728–1790; DNB), The Triumph of Isis, A Poem (London, [1749]), pp. 2–3. BACK

[10] The Greek can be translated as ‘golden-sandalled’, Homer’s epithet for Hera. BACK

[11] Alfred the Great (848/9–899; reigned 871–899; DNB), reputed founder of the University of Oxford. BACK

[12] Friar Bacon’s Tower (or Study), near Folly Bridge in Oxford was demolished in 1778. It was named after the philosopher Roger Bacon (c. 1214–1292?; DNB). Legend claimed that if a more learned man than Bacon passed under the tower, it would fall on him. BACK

[13] Hugh Latimer (c. 1485–1555; DNB), Bishop of Worcester, preacher, and protestant martyr. BACK

[14] Nicholas Ridley (c. 1502–1555; DNB), Bishop of London and protestant martyr. He was burned with Hugh Latimer in Oxford, opposite Balliol College. BACK

[15] Duns Scotus (c. 1265–1308), Franciscan friar and theologian. BACK

[16] Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274), Italian philosopher and Dominican friar. BACK

[17] Rosamund Clifford (b. before 1140?, d. 1175/6; DNB), mistress of Henry II (1133–1189; reigned 1154–1189; DNB). She reputedly died at Godstow convent near Oxford. She was the subject of many ballads, including ‘Fair Rosamund’; see Thomas Percy (1729–1811; DNB), Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 2nd edn, 3 vols (London, 1767), II, pp. 141–153. BACK

[18] A plan for protestant nunneries advanced by the eponymous hero of Samuel Richardson (c. 1689–1761; DNB), Sir Charles Grandison (1753–1754). BACK

[19] In Greek mythology, the waters of mount Helicon were sacred to the Muses. BACK

[20] Roman god of wine and drunkenness. BACK

[21] The eponymous hero of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s (1712–1778) Émile (1762). BACK

[22] Identified by Roland Baughman, ‘Southey the Schoolboy’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 7 (1944), 268, n. 22, as a phonetic rendering of ‘Brulart’. i.e. Stéphanie Félicité Ducrest de St-Aubin, Comtesse de Genlis (1746–1830), the wife of Charles-Alexis Brulart, Marquis de Silery (1737–1793). She had supervised the education of the children of the Duc d’Orléans (1747–1793) and was said to have followed the educational precepts set out in Rousseau’s Émile. BACK

[23] Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon (d. 1799). BACK

[24] Arundel Radford (d. 1824), a student at Exeter College, Oxford, BA 1796. BACK

[25] Possibly William Comyns Tucker (d. 1838), a student at Balliol College, Oxford, BA 1793. BACK

[26] Unidentified; presumably a contemporary of Southey’s at Oxford. BACK

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 1 time)