48. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 5 May 1793

48. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 5 May 1793 ⁠* 

Sunday. May the 5th. 1793. Balliol. 10 in the morning

Bedford you shall not call our enterprize unfortunate need I again repeat that to me <it> appears in a light very very different? Christ Church would not have suited me — I should have been a grave owl amongst a set of chattering jays — here at Balliol I am as happy as — I ever can be at Oxford — the manners of an University the discipline the foundation & the superstructure are to me equally disgreable — if however Happiness is not to be found here ready made I must make what I do not find — one proof of my sincerity here is my present employment. I have you before my minds eye & as for colleges doctors proctors & bishops they are like Shakespears fools to set off the grand character.

C Collins has your letter at present so Memory must supply an answer. the letter which you call long & which indeed was upon large paper I received upon return. what you humbly name a mere hypothesis I am fully convinced of & it gives me no small pleasure to reflect that whilst you are in the current of vice & luxury & I am in the pool of illiberality & stupidity we can both think the same & exerting the same freedom of mind perhaps act the same. upon this subject I could say much but you must essay it & in the mean time o votary of Indolence take an ode to Exercise written after a walk of twenty eight miles at Chipping Norton

Stern oer yon barren hills what daring form
His loose locks waving to the western gale
Stalks on intrepid & defies the storm.
His keen dogs trace along the recent trail
Around he casts the widely-glancing eye —
The mountain roe is rousd — awakes the hunters cry.

Warriors of Morven, [1]  oft the morning air
Reechoed to your grey dogs eager cry
Meantime the female lends her friendly ear
Till Evenings milder splendour streaks the sky.
The loud horn echoes down the rocky glen
The dogs attend obedient to their Lord
Rise the blue vapours oer the distant fen
Whilst Morvens maidens spread the festive board.
Loud strikes the daring Bard the strings of song
And Rest those pleasures pays which still to toil belong.

Hark — twas the shield of war — portentous sound —
Deep rings the warning on each warriors ear —
The bloody signal flies around —
The Warriors snatch the spear.
The still stern hum bursts forth — on moves the fight
And Lochlins heroes sink to viel their shame in night
Such were o Exercise thy daring race
Such were their sports & (traind by thee) their deeds.
A long dull age of drowsy zeal succeeds
And Sloth commands around & spreads around disgrace.

Saw ye yon eagle wing his lofty flight
High soaring onward thro the upper air?
His bold eye fearless of the dazzling glare
Views unabashd the full meridian light.
Yet weak & nervelss once at rest
He lurkd within the parent nest
Till Exercise his pinions had maturd,
Till Strength & skill were gaind from many a toil <endurd>

Look on yon gaudy insects mincing pace
His well-curld head — his smoothly smurking face
The scarlet coat to catch the Ladies eye
The spangled sword that dangles at his thigh —
Poor Butterfly — art thou to guard our laws?
Art thou to fight old Englands daring cause?
Where wilt thou turn when rough the winters storm
Rolls oer (thy only pillow then) the ground?
Where wilt thou save that pretty painted form
When Death & Fear & Horror reign around?
In vain thou’lt wish PallsMalls parade to meet
To saunter up & down St James’s street —
To meet thy fellow insects of a day
*When Toils robuster sons rush on with sinewy sway


*Perhaps these lines had not been written if I had thought of sending you the ode at the time it was composed, believe me I had none of the Kellys [2]  in my eye. a scene I had lately witnessed prompted them & I am the slave of the moments impressi[MS torn]

Ye lazy walls where dull monastic Pride
Reclines on Sloths soft lap his well-wiggd head
So pleasd to shield the want of ought beside
He views the ponderous folio’s leaves outspread
How Reason mocks your snares — & points to view
Your fixed attendants long & lazy crew!
How start the spectres at her potent spear!
See sauntering Indolence appear
With haggard cheek & listless eye
And pale Ennui’s ill boding sigh —
See Pedantry with weighty book
And fixd laborious stupid look
And mad Intemperance’ bloated race
And fell Diseases haggard pace
And Lassitude with panting breath
And Lifes disgraceful shade close doggd by timeless Death.

Inspect the studious life — at break of day
Behold the youth still stretchd on downy bed
Till when the Sun sheds round his southern ray
Slow from the couch he rears his aching head —

Or chance if earlier — chance indeed how rare
Fear bids him rise to attend the morning prayer —
Behold him there half shaved & half asleep
With mind ah how unfit! Devotions vigils keep.

Morn on the sopha idly wanes away
Or at the billiard table source of woe!
To Fashions rules now Custom bids obey
And Custom bids him to the bottle go —
Tis Madness reigns. to Madness Vice succeeds
And Nights dark curtain falls on more disgraceful deeds.

Sillery [3]  were such the paths thro which thy hand
Led the young pupils of each virtuous lore
Led them the foremost in the patriot band
In Freedoms cause to strew the field with gore?
No. for to thee obedient Science came
And lovelier Virtues soul bewitching form
And Exercise prepard the youths for fame
And Labour nervd their sinews for the storm.
Nor mild Religions heavenly sway forgot
The princely boys were taught the virtues of the cot.

With faded cheeks or Arts vermillion hue
Midst gaudy Fashions gaily vested throng
See Englands damsels fill the ball rooms crew
Or list the soft Italians nerveless song.
No Health in cheeks like these blooms high
No speaking soul illumes the eye
Tis listless Fashion only they pursue —
Reason but glances round & sickens at the view.

Come sturdy Exercise again
With Naure claim thy kindred reign —
Lead me at earliest dawn of day
Oer russet heaths to sped my way
Or oer the lofty mountains head
Or where the brooks wild streams are spread.
Let Healths blithe form on thee await
& manly Strengths intrepid gait
Teach me o Genius more & more
To spurn at Fashions vicious lore
To turn with scorn from Vices crew
And Virtues charms alone pursue.

And if by Fate decreed a Wife
Should crown the comforts of my life
Ah let not Fashions tempting throng
Seduce her heedless steps along
Let not the gaudy croud entice
Nor Dissipation lead to Vice.
Her by the hand o Genius lead
Oer the flower bespangled mead
All Natures charms enrapt to see
And hear all Natures harmony
So Health shall mantle in her cheek
The Heart shall feel — the Eye shall speak —
Domestic joys her bliss shall prove
And every hour be wingd by Love.


You have it Bedford as it came from the mint of the brain with all the fantastic ornaments of the founder. the young Egalite’s [4]  deserve the tribute I have paid them & as (since then) they have forsaken the enthusiasm of Republicanism you may perhaps be more likely to believe it. the ode led me upon this & I drop it if possible for ever. Peace be to all men!

What you say of Jack the second [5]  more convinces me of what I before advanced — you own it would be improper for a bad or a weak young man & think that the beauty of the language may recommend it to one who is neither. Chastity you say is not the virtue of a man & yet Bedford you will I am sure agree that it ought to be. enthusiast as I am to Rousseau I could wish his Eloise [6]  gently corrected Mithridates [7]  swallowed antidotes for fear of poison. I swallowed one without knowing it & hope I shall always feel its effects but my prescription which suits me so admirably would excite pity in the philosopher & contempt in the fool. if all Physicians would be thus convinced & thus destroy their scraps of paper (very often lettres de cachet for committment to the narrow Bastile) humanity would be no loser. I have left C Collins to chew the cud of reflection over your letter — you will rejoice as much as I do to hear he has got the third prize. I am going to translate his verses. do me the justice to believe that the applause of Cyril Jackson [8]  confers no additional merit to them in the opinion of RS.

We have served young Wynn worse then ever his friend Martin was used returning from Abingdon by water (we were five in all) contrary to the will & convenience of all he would bathe. he did so. we hid his cloaths run the boat on shore & ran thro the wood. Compassion (better late than never) at last touchd us & we returnd. I never was so angry with myself as upon reflection the moment I beheld his fresco form. now I can laugh he was walking with the game keeper in [MS obscured] birthday suit shivering with an oil skin cap upon his head. we voted him Carde[MS torn] Wynn had too much good humour to be offended & too good a constitution to be injured. the day was very pleasant & this circumstance will now enhance the pleasure of recollection. he will learn the use of cloaths & I shall learn consideration

I would advise you to walk to the Installation as you will find a horse of no use here. Wynn will if you wish inquire concerning his innstallation. but for once use the legs which God gave you with Aristocratic principles all your thoughts & actions are from Democratic motives & I am far more proud of this similarity than if system or enthusiasm taught us both to bellow God save the King whilst Priestleys house was on fire [9]  or to yell out Ca ira whilst poor Louis [10]  was on the scaffold walk to Oxford in all the pride of Humility & for once feel that total independance upon foreign aid which Peripatetics must experience I will meet you as far as our blessed laws will permit me at least fifteen miles distant. it happens the first week in July. your brother I hope will come with you. why do not you follow his good example in corresponding I have sent you a long letter & a long ode now I expect a fair exchange of commodities your next must come soon & bring with it a cargo of verses & you shall then in return have either the Death of Odin — Mortality or Romance [11]  (the companion of Poetry). which you please. Idleness is the Devils footstool. the first link of the chain of iniquity. for me, I am resolved if possible never to suffer one moments vacancy of mind — fly from one employment to another but never permit that fatal vacuum which lies open to every thing that is evil.

Mr. Thorp Junr. enquired after you & all your family last night. I made use of your name from a motive perhaps not quite right. I wanted some conversation with the man who thro his microscope from the top of the house can distinguish the basilisk in Blenheim Park. [12]  the man seems very happy & is very civil. he expressed much pleasure (sincerely too I think) at your intended visit to Oxford. to day is a Gaudy Day. when we pay 2s. 6d for our dinner eat 6d worth of fruit & in general get drunk! drunkeness is not my foible & I have a set of sober friends few enough to put Decency to the blush good enough to support her cause. Wynn with whom I spent yesterday absolutely accuses me of want of Ambition the accusation gave me great pleasure. he wants me to wish distinction & to seek it — I want it not — I wish it not. the abilities which Nature gave me which Fashion has not cramped & which Vanity often magnifies are never neglected — I will cultivate them with diligence but only for my friends — if I can amuse & please them — if I can bring myself sometimes to their Remembrance I have attained the ne plus ultra of my ambition. Prebendaries Deaneries & Bishopricks may be hunted by the fools & rogues in black who wish them. I shall feel prouder in the coarse country jacket digging in my own garden than if tricked out with lawn sleeves or the purple tiara. & more like a minister of Christ when easing the woes of Poverty & smoothing the bed of Death than if bellowing blasphemy on the 30th of January, [13]  or supporting Intolerance on the wool sack.

yr enthusiastic friend



* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmark: MA/ 6/ 93
Watermark: Crown with G R underneath and figure of Britannia
Endorsements: Recd. May 6.—93; Ansd. May. 13.th. & 15th/ & sent by <a> Frank the 16th
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 20–23 [in part; verse not reproduced]; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, p. 182 [in part; where it is dated 6 May 1793]. BACK

[1] In the poems of Ossian, Morven was a mythical Gaelic kingdom. BACK

[2] Possibly a reference to Montague Henry Kelly, a contemporary of Southey and Bedford at Westminster School. BACK

[3] Stéphanie Félicité Ducrest de St-Aubin (1746–1830), Comtesse de Genlis, the wife of Charles-Alexis Brulart (1737–1793), Marquis de Silery. She had supervised the education of the children of the Duc d’Orleans (1747–1793) and was said to have followed the educational precepts set out in Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), Émile (1762). BACK

[4] Louis-Philippe (1773–1850; King of France 1830–1848), Duc de Chartres, and Antoine Philippe d’Orléans (1775–1807), Duc de Montpensier, two of the children of Louis Philippe, Duc de Orléans, ‘Philippe Égalité’ (1747–1793). Louis-Philippe had served in the French army, but fled into exile in April 1793. BACK

[5] Johannes Secundus (1511–1536), poet. BACK

[6] Rousseau’s Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761). BACK

[7] Mithridates VI, King of Pontus (132–63 BC; reigned 123–72 BC), who swallowed small doses of poison to build up immunity. BACK

[8] Cyril Jackson (1746–1819; DNB), Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. BACK

[9] The destruction of the house of the scientist and philosopher, Joseph Priestley (1733–1804; DNB), during the Birmingham riots, July 1791. BACK

[10] Louis XVI (1754–1793; reigned 1774–1792), was executed on 21 January 1793. BACK

[11] ‘The Death of Odin’ and ‘Romance’ both appeared in Southey and Robert Lovell’s Poems (1795); ‘Mortality’ was published under the signature ‘S.’ in the Monthly Magazine, 2 (July 1796). ‘Poetry’ was not published; a version in Southey’s hand is in the Houghton Library, MS Eng 265.2. BACK

[12] A cryptic, probably humorous, remark. The identity of the man with the microscope is unknown. The grounds of Blenheim Palace contained an observatory and also an obelisk commemorating the victories of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722; DNB), but not a basilisk; see William Fordyce Mavor (1758–1837; DNB), New Description of Blenheim, the Seat of His Grace the Duke of Marlborough (London, 1793), pp. 24, 100. The basilisk might be a reference to the owner of Blenheim, George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739–1817; DNB), who controlled the pocket-borough of Woodstock. BACK

[13] Commemoration of the execution of Charles I (1600–1649; reigned 1625–1649; DNB). BACK

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 1 time)