78. Robert Southey to Horace Walpole Bedford, 30 [-31] December 1793

78. Robert Southey to Horace Walpole Bedford, 30 [–31] December 1793 ⁠* 

Horace as oft in musing mood my eye
Has markd the gradual hues of fading light
When dimly darkening oer the dusky sky
Slow rising mists had mantled round the sight
My saddening soul enwrapt in kindred gloom
Has felt the pensive power & ponderd oer the tomb.

Nature whose bounteous blessings bloom around
As good as wise proclaim the important truth
Each springing flower that ornaments the ground
Each rising morn address the heart of youth
From every atom in her boundless reign
May Contemplation pour the moralizing strain

Nor ever beams the opening orb of day
Refulgent thro the shadowy viel of night
Nor ever dimly dies his refluent ray
When rising vapors viel the beam of light
But as the sage surveys the expanse of sky
He marks the mystic sign that mortal man must die

More forceful now the annual course is past
The mournful lesson sure should strike my friend
Befits to future days the ken to cast
Behove remember Time himself must end
Behoves thee now my friend to well discern
How little left to live how much is left to learn.

Steep is the path that leads to Science fane
And many a wildering maze dissects the road
And few the chosen mortals who attain
Tho sought by many be the blest abode
For Prejudice defends the toilsome way
And Custom chains the best & gives to dull Delay

Tho few the chosen mortals who attain
From every danger scaped the blest abode
Yet not devoid of pleasure or of gain
To pluck the various flowers that gem the road
Tho few may twine the laurel round their brow
The Fates the primrose wreath to many an imp allow.

And easier leads the path to that strawd roof
Where Virtue with her heavenly strain resorts
From Folly & from Fashions reign aloof
The buz of cities & the pride of courts
No wiley fiends the purposd course withstand
For Natures self my friend will thither guide thy hand.

Small is the sum of needful lore — Be Just —
Be just ye sons of earth & know not fear.
Then calmly shall the soul forsakes its dust
And sink to sleep without one guilty tear
Secure the equity of heaven to prove
Secure that Justice here assures reward above.

Look Horace thro the ample realms of space
Far as can Fancy range the world survey
In every scene thine eye this lore may trace
From every object learn that man is clay.
Mark every object that the world can give
And Nature best will teach how mortal man should <live.>

Canst thou behold the busy bee untaught
Range oer the painted plain from flower to flower
And thence his thighs with sweetest balsam fraught
Return to guard against the wintry hour
Canst thou one moment on the scene reflect
Nor know how black the crime of lingering long neglect

Yet as the busy bee but toils in vain
To heap up treasure for his treacherous Lord
Doomd for his honest labour to be slain
That man may seize unharmd the luscious hoard
Remember thus how fickle Fortunes power
That one day thus may come Misfortunes baleful hour.

Yet should thy life be doomd to taste of woe
To man is Reason best of blessings given
To spurn the wayward turns of fate below
And seek a firmer truer bliss in heaven
To know that een as dust returns to dust
So heavens etherial climes receive the good & just. [1] 


The Bee will make a tit bit of democracy ere long for Edmund Seward.

Monday. December 30. 1793. 1/2 past ten in the morning .

C Collins told me that you had relinquished your favorite employment of letter writing & I begin to believe him. your last passed one of mine on the road. I have written since that. & now have the paper before me & the pen in my hand without yet hearing from you.

five hours have elapsed since I was obliged to shut my casette but how I can hardly tell you. I have however discovered a very dangerous peculiarity in myself which may get me into some awkward scrapes unless I check it — on a walk thro Bristol streets to pay a long neglected morning visit I read a letter just received & caught myself commenting & rhapsodizing aloud! see how communicative is my disposition — a heart full of romance & a head full too, both beating away most vehemently are very dangerous in the streets. now what there is peculiar to thought meditation or love lorn fancy in folded arms, natural philosophers must determine — my musings were of the agreable order but my arms wanted sadly to cross each other.

there is much more Romance in this world than I imagined Horace & Romance is but another name for goodness — that is if people will look for it — interest interest is dinned into my ears till not only my head aches but my heart too. let the wind whistle as it will I seek the real goods of life & despise (perhaps too much) the artificial blessings. the rude traveller treads on the plant which the Botanist seeks with care — now I am a Botanist in society. curse the tulips turn away from the sunflowers — court the violets & love the roses.

so much for rhapsody. “out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh.” [2]  a little food is overpowering to the starvd man as poor Cadman [3]  will tell you. why are you silent Horace? you know how dearly I love letters in spite of CCs cold investigation of their inutility. now tomorrow I go to Bath & if you will write immediately twill be like Manna to a starved wretchd. direct No 8 Westgate Buildings Bath. never mind tho you should have written to Bristol. “idleness is the first step of the ladder of iniquity” [4]  my good things come so seldom that I am proud of them. remember that maxim my friend & be assured that business is the only antidote against melancholy. & now I am going to dinner — then to call a council in my own mind whether I shall obey Romance or Reason. Romance carries the day — then to the Play for once with pleasure. then to my toasted cheese — then to bed — up at five — walk to Bath to breakfast & then — sink into listless languor & curse the dull course of Time. “a dram of sweete is worth a pound of sour [5]  so said our Spenser — but my sweets comes by atoms & my sours by tons.

1/2 past 4. I have been reading Cowpers Homer [6]  & much satisfaction has the perusal afforded me. a quotation I had occasion to make gave me an opportunity of discovering how unlike Homer is Popes version. Achilles cuts off his hair at Patroclus tomb & apostrophises Spercheus.

Σπερχει, αχχως σοι γς πατηρ ηρησατο Πηλςυ,
Κεισε με νοςησαντα φιλην ες πατριδα γαιαν
Σοι τε χομην χερεειν ριξειν δ’ ιεερην εκατομβην [7] 

Spercheus whose waves in mazy error lost
Delightful roll along my native coast
To whom we fondly vowd at our return
These locks to fall & hecatombs to burn
Pope —  [8] 

now one translation being enough for my purpose — I do not transcribe Cowper. can there be a more licentious paraphrase than Popes is of this passage?

I could wish you to translate Lucan [9]  were it not rather a servile task & certainly but secondary praise. another epic poem must soon save me from listlessness — on what subject I am much divided. Brutus Cassibelan Arthur Egbert [MS obscured] Alfred & Odin [10]  are all fighting for pre eminence. in the meantime one song of Memory is finished & various smaller compositions fill up the hour the paper & the casette. were you at Oxford with me we could make the Body-lining of some use. by the by a metrical romance would be a good subject opportunity to wilder it away.

Tuesday morning. my departure is delayd till after breakfast & the cold interval is yours. should your letter as I expect arrive tomorrow it will be forwarded or rather backwarded to me. my casette & I are inseperable — all my guathel  [11] goes with me & Akenside [12]  & Lucan are my pocket companions. you would be astonishd at the number of volumes I have read in this manner. it is very seldom that I am without a book in my pocket. & the half & quarters of hours wasted so often in waiting amount to a great deal in the year. ten to one but I read all the way to Bath & should the sun shine it makes glad the heart of man spout vociferously to the edification of all the stage coachmen. this however only happens in abstraction. Shall you join our party at Balliol? if not what do you do with yourself? another year should not pass in solitude & what CC calls originalizing. with us you are sure of society & employment & I may say you will seldom find a better set tho Christ Church may furnish a genteeler. it is time you should determine. this seclusion of yourself you have already practised too long. experience shows me its ill effects. you must mix more with the world — study men & manners & forget melancholy in employment. Edmund Seward will be at Balliol till June next & if you enter there our party will be six in that college. your brother knows how we live & upon what friendly unceremonious terms. I will venture to affirm that we live there as agreably as any young men can live at college — come & try — put on a cap & gown break your spectacles & come to chapel with me twice a day. CC has invited me to Maize Hill but it was impossible to accept his invitation. my life here is as bad as yours with this difference — yours is choice mine necessity. since I quitted Brixton I have only walked out for the air twice. & except that have not walked two miles in the whole two months. you will call this wrong but I am chained to my casette for want of employment, & like Calypso island [13]  tis difficult to escape from it.

my hands ache with the cold & breakfast is preparing. my shirts &c are packing up & momentary interruptions disturb me. write immediately. why not write some odes &c &c? has your brother seen any of Lovells verses? I have two beautiful sonnets of his in my casette for transcription the snowdrop & the nightingale. shall I send them? his verses flow more naturally than mine but I feel pleased at finding a superior. thank God I have neither envy nor ambition.

yrs sincerely

R Southey


* Address: Horace Walpole Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single.
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: [partial] E/ 2/ 94
Watermarks: G R in a circle; figure of Britannia
Endorsement: Recd Jany. 2d. 1794
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Horace ... just: Verse written in double columns. BACK

[2] A paraphrase of Matthew 12: 34. BACK

[3] Unidentified; a friend of the Bedfords. BACK

[4] A commonplace. BACK

[5] Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599; DNB), The Faerie Queene (1590–1596), Book 1, canto 3, line 264. BACK

[6] William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB), The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, Translated into English Blank Verse, (1791). Southey borrowed the first volume from the Bristol Library Society between 23–27 December 1793 and the second from 27–30 December 1793. BACK

[7] The Greek can be translated as ‘O Spercheius, my father Peleus promised you in vain that when I returned here to my dear native land I would cut my hair for you and perform a holy hecatomb’. These are Achilles’ opening words at the funeral of Patroclus, Iliad, Book 23, lines 144–146. BACK

[8] Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB), The Iliad of Homer, 6 vols (London, 1715–1720), VI, p. 69. BACK

[9] Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (AD 39–65). Southey is possibly referring to his epic Pharsalia. BACK

[10] Southey’s list of possible subjects for an epic includes Brutus, legendary first King of Britain and great-grandson of Aeneas; Cassibelan, who led the resistance to Julius Caesar’s second invasion of Britain 54 BC; Arthur, legendary King of Britain; Egbert (d. 839; reigned 802–839; DNB), the first king of the West Saxons to be acknowledged as King of England; Alfred the Great (848/9–899; reigned 871–899; DNB); and Odin, leader of the Norse gods. BACK

[11] Welsh word for household goods. BACK

[12] Mark Akenside (1721–1770; DNB), author of the Pleasures of Imagination (1744). BACK

[13] In the Odyssey, Calypso is a nymph who detains Ulysses and his companions for seven years on her island, Ogygia. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 2 times)