71. Robert Southey to Horace Walpole Bedford, 11 December 1793

71. Robert Southey to Horace Walpole Bedford, 11 December 1793 ⁠* 

Bristol. Wednes. Dec. 11. 93.

Your silence my dear Horace rather alarmed than surprized me, I concluded you were unhappy & that rather than communicate any disagreable intelligence you were silent. daily expectation prevented me from writing. it is not an hour since I received yours. but the weight of solitary reflection must be thrown off. learn the whole history of my situation & when you <know> what Philosophy has done for me — try my friend the same remedy.

you know my father was a tradesman. in those circumstances which enabled him for twenty years to live happily & support a family in that honourable mediocrity most to be envied. three years back he became the dupe of artifice & was ruined. he struggled in vain with misfortunes. an unfeeling brother refused assistance — & he was arrested not for his own debts but for a bill endorsed for a deceitful friend. I saw him Horace in prison. I saw him releasd just in time to reach home — meet fresh misfortunes & die of a broken heart. mine hav must either have broken or grown callous. for what I am reservd I know not. few calamities can now afflict me for to these most dreadful ones my own imprudence has added others. I contracted a debt for books when a false kindness conceald the misfortunes of my father. home you may easily imagine could be no longer agreable. I had always lived with my Aunt. she is the best of women. but unmerited injuries — & generosity (even prodigal) ill requited have soured her temper. the lodging house which my Mother supports herself by at Bath, is still more unpleasant I am compelld to associate with fools & to know they think it condescension.

When Edmund Seward invited me to Sapey I gladly went. his character commanded esteem. I saw Augusta Roberts [1]  — six days I lived in the same house — scarcely ever from her sight. the snow confined us. I was lost. when I wishd her farewell my heart was full & she was not unmoved. I brooded over an attachment which appeard innocent — I indulged dreams of future fortune. communications with Mrs Seward, rendered it easy to keep up my memory but I was dissatisfied. I wrote to Augusta. the lines were inclosed for Edmund Sewards perusal. he wrote immediately in the utmost agitation & acquainted me with his brothers Johns attachment to Augusta. he describd his own situation & with a generosity seldom equalld in Romance waited my reply declaring he would not interest himself for his brother. what remaind for me? at the expence of my happiness I preservd that of two persons more deserving. I directed him to burn my letter. desird him to forget it & promised what never can be performd to forget Augusta.

this last happened whilst I was at Brixton. compare your situation with mine Horace.

there was a period when I had almost abandond hope & resolvd to seek happiness in another world. at another time I have thought of selling myself to murder in the East Indies & relieve my family from a burden. but they look to me for future support. the church is allotted for my pursuit & when I reflect how unfit I am for the office — this appears the heaviest of my misfortunes. unfortunately my dear friend I am not stupid enough to be orthodox. doubts will intrude. I cannot stifle them I cannot find conviction & an oath <is> required at ordination — add to this that in my ideas the very existence of a priest is wrong. to obtain future support — to return the benefits I have received, I must become contemptible infamous & perjured.

on this most gloomy prospect one only ray of light appears. at the deaths of my fathers elder brother & that of Lord Somerville [2]  a very large estate reverts to me. but even of this I can obtain no more information. enquiry is vain. I would sell the reversion did I know particulars — but the whole is enveloped in mystery. a man appearingly from the country when first my father became bankrupt called & offerd to buy it. the offer was made with insolence & my fathers feelings overcame his judgement. ‘tho I have ruined myself I never will ruin my children’ said he, & turnd the man out of doors without enquiring who employed him.

my eccentricities can no longer surprize. at the age of nineteen I have known more calamity than many who deserve it more, meet with in long lives. the only society that could please me here is that of some young women sisters [3]  — with whom I was partly educated & whose histories are as melancholy as my own. the ill grounded fears of my Aunt forbid it. I see them seldom. but they know my motives & pity me. other society I have none. this city is peopled with rich fools — I might mingle with them but I cannot bow & smile where I despise folly & execrate vice. thus am I compelld to seek internal resources. I have read libraries & written volumes, & still find I have libraries to read & volumes to write. it is not for fame — it is for a temporary refuge I seek.

I have written without reserve. never before did I totally unbosom myself. judge if I can be happy. how hard must be this heart that is yet whole!

let me turn to you. never were two young men more calculated for happiness or farther from it. your situation is however preferable to mine — will you be surpassed in resolution? call up the latent energy of mind. seek refuge in study — & remember no crime can equal despair. whilst life can be of service to one existing being it is criminal to quit it. what but this witholds me either from seeking happiness in France in America or in the grave? but my family look forwards to my assistance — my brothers [4]  (two of them) will have no other support. poor Thomas is even more wretched than me. he is serving for pay in a cause he knows to be unjust! I attempt to blind his reason but it is too strong for delusion. he now affects a happiness which I know he does not feel.

yet Horace I live. I make pursuits — draw out the most extensive plans & pursue them with resolution. my heart partakes of my friends happiness & has a pang in store for his affliction. I rise <in> the morning without expecting pleasure & lie down without wishing dissolution. my mind is fortified by philosophy. the conflict was severe but passion yielded. & at this period the least part of my misery or of my happiness is selfish. I feel more for my friends. below the malice of Fortune I feel myself above her influence. she now can have but few afflictions in store. her quiver must be almost exhausted. & whatever she can inflict I can sustain.

I could draw the comparison between our situations & point out how preferable is yours. consider them yourself. you have the affection of a deserving object. nothing but her becoming worthless can deprive you of it. I forbear to enlarge but you think me wrong. suffer me to say thus much — she must be unworthy of you if any earthly power can make her false. force can always be opposed. & remember in the most hazardous attempt you are sure of one associate.

excuse this. the subject is delicate & I have said perhaps too much.

let me turn to more chearful subjects. your verses were particularly good — & they have the additional merit of novelty in manner & metre. write more. fame is a very late consideration — but let us remember that Pope acquired independance by his Homer. [5]  let me say Horace that Popes abilities were not above comparison. undertake some great work. it will take up your attention certainly — you certainly have abilities for any work. chuse either epic or a metrical romance. & in the intervals exercise yourself in the lower ranks for with us lyrics are very subordinate.

study will not so effectuately please as composition. they do best mingled without order. I speak for myself. what I have written you know. more than any author ever did at my age — in a very few years I shall out volume Lope de Vega [6]  if that were praise. I begin to wish publication. write & publish with me. we deserve success. posterity may pity our fortunes but rejoice in their consequences. write as soon as you can & in verse tho this be not. tomorrow I visit my Mother & shall take my letter book for you. you shall have a long epistle — but write before it arrives. on Sunday I return.

yrs most sincerely



* Address: Horace Walpole Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single [This letter possibly enclosed that from Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 22 November–2 December 1793; see Letter 70.]
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: EDE/ 13/ 93
Watermark: Figure of Britannia; G R in a circle
Seal: Red wax [design illegible]
Endorsement: Rec. Dec. 13. 1793
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. 35–39. BACK

[1] A friend of the Seward family. BACK

[2] James Somerville, 14th Lord Somerville (1727–1796). BACK

[5] Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB) made himself financially secure with his translations of The Iliad (1715–1720) and The Odyssey (1725–1726). BACK

[6] Carpio Lope Felix de Vega (1562–1635), prolific Spanish dramatist and poet. BACK

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