3400. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 10 December 1819

3400. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 10 December 1819⁠* 

My dear G.

Deliver the Ode [1]  if you please to Shields, [2]  & desire him to accommodate with music as little or as much of it as he pleases. He will probably chuse the second & last stanzas, – any but the first, which is in its place in the poem, but would not be so at Court.

With regard to your proposal you seem not to have considered the situation in which I should appear were such a thing to take wind (as the phrase is) – which most assuredly it would. Concerning the manner of the ode in question, I cannot say that I think the thing worth the additional waste of time which would be required to defend it. But for the xxxxxx fitness of expressing political opinions which are perfectly in unison with those of the Prince & his ministers, as pronounced by him in his speech, & by them in the measures which they are now adopting, [3]  I can have no doubt. My opinion is that a New Years Ode should always relate to public circumstances – & a Birth day one to the person or family of the Prince to whom it is addressed. When the latter comes upon me, I shall lower the tone to the subject. [4]  As long as I can help it I will never suffer any of these compositions to get abroad. This is, as far as I can, lessening the folly of the custom, & preparing the way for its abolition, for you may be sure it is generally supposed that I am not called upon to write as my predecessors were. If I give the composer more trouble than poor Pye [5]  did – I am sorry for it, – but I can no more xxx write like Mr Pye, than Mr Pye could write like me. His pye-crust & mine were xxxxx <not> made of the same materials. But I suppose there can be no more difficulty in fitting my rhythm to the fiddle, than there is <in> setting an anthem.

I am not so out of the world as you imagine, but know more of political intentions & opinions in high places, without seeking it, than you would suspect, & this from sundry quarters. – And this reminds me to tell you that Brooksbank [6]  is acting very indiscretely in endeavouring to propagate his religious opinions by very objectionable & offensive means: means indeed so offensive that I must notice them in the Q.R. when I enlarge the paper upon the New Churches, as I am preparing to do. [7]  Of course I shall not hint at him, nor make the slightest allusion which might imply a knowledge of the offender, but it is a strong case, & should any measures be brought forward to prevent the religion of the country from being insulted, it is very likely to be mentioned from the Bench.

At present I am reviewing Marlborough, [8]  & shall send off the first portion to Gifford in a few days. And I am going on with Wesley, [9]  in good spirits as I draw within sight of the end. – What you said about the King set my thoughts at work. [10]  I planned something which in the style of fiction will more resemble Dante [11]  than any other writer. Of the manner I shall say nothing till there is a good specimen ready, which may astonish & silence you at the same time. I have begun, & am in high good humour with the design & the fashion of the workmanship.

God bless you


Friday. 10 Dec. 1819.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 18 DE 18/ 1829
Endorsement: 10 Febry 1819 1820; Feb. <Dec.> 10. 1819
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 121–123 [where it is misdated 10 February 1819]. BACK

[1] Southey’s duty as Poet Laureate was to produce a New Year’s Ode for 1820; he had sent the ode, later published as ‘The Warning Voice. Ode I’ in The Englishman’s Library: Comprising a Series of Historical, Biographical and National Information (London, 1824), pp. 381–383, to Bedford on 3 December 1819, Letter 3395. BACK

[2] William Shield’s duty, as Master of the King’s Music, was to set part of Southey’s ode to music, though no such odes had been performed at court since 1810. BACK

[3] The government had announced their intention to suppress radical agitation in the Prince Regent’s Speech to the House of Commons on 23 November 1819, and had introduced the ‘Six Acts’ to do this on 29 November 1819. Southey’s ‘The Warning Voice. Ode I’ was an explicit defence of these measures. BACK

[4] Southey feared that when the Prince Regent acceded to the throne he, as Poet Laureate, would be required to produce an annual Birthday Ode as well as a New Year’s Ode. BACK

[5] Henry James Pye (1745–1813; DNB), Poet Laureate 1790–1813. BACK

[6] Possibly Joseph Brooksbank (1762–1825), Unitarian Minister at Haberdashers’ Hall. BACK

[7] Southey’s article on ‘New Churches’, Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591. He condemned the Unitarian Church in Hillingdon for proclaiming its disbelief in the Trinity from placards on the London to Uxbridge Road and the doctrines of the Freethinking Christian congregation of Jewin-Street, Cripplegate (570–576), but did not mention Brooksbank. BACK

[8] Southey’s review of William Coxe, Memoirs of John Duke of Marlborough, with his Original Correspondence; Collected from the Family Records at Blenheim, and Other Authentic Sources. Illustrated with Portraits, Maps, and Military Plans (1818–1819) appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (May 1820), 1–73. BACK

[9] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[10] With the demise of George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) imminent, Southey had begun his response, A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[11] Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321), Divine Comedy (1308–1321). BACK

People mentioned

George IV (1762–1830) (mentioned 2 times)
Gifford, William (1756–1826) (mentioned 1 time)