3559. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 17 November 1820

3559. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 17 November 1820⁠* 

My dear G.

Original documents being always more satisfactory than abridgements, you will understand how I am situated with respect to the draft xxxxx by perusing the two letters which are herewith sent, (& which you may destroy when you have done with them) better than by any explanation on my part. – A mistake there has evidently been, not in me, but either in his reading, or in Mrs WRs [1]  writing 3 or 5 instead of 3 or 4. – Now as to what he recommends. Of course my draft must be withdrawn & thrown behind the fire, – the noting it, tho perfectly right according to Mr Dickies [2]  knowledge of the matter, & without the slightest fault in him, or in you, or in any one else, having been an uncomfortable circumstance, which has given me as you may suppose some vexation. I wish you therefore just to make it known to Mr Dickie that there has been a mistake, & that the note is withdrawn. Now I am not sure that it becomes me to ask leave of the bankers to draw for the 400. On the contrary if I can do without it, it will I think be better to let it stay till I shall have finished the Memoir. And having had 50£ from you, I can do without it (if I am not kept long without any payment for the SS. article, [3] ) by borrowing a hundred from Dr Bell, which I can do without scruple under these circumstances, – he having indeed in a former letter offerd me a credit upon his banker for the whole five, if it would be any accommodation.

I have only one thing more to say. In his first letter you will find that he accedes to the propriety of a determination of mine, – & you will not find to what it alludes. The matter (between ourselves) was this, he asked why I would not think of taking orders, & I gave him without delay or hesitation very sufficient reasons why such a step would be a very injudicious one – reasons which are not worth repeating here, because you may judge what they would be [4] 

Last night I resumed my hexametrical Carmen Funebre, [5]  with the intention of finishing it, & the hope of bringing in something at the close which may serve for Shields. [6]  If I complete it to my liking (as I expect) I may publish it without farther delay. The profit can be but a few pounds, but the poem will do me credit, & so will the experiment in metre, whether it take for the present or not: that it will be followed hereafter I doubt not.

King Mob, contrary to his Majestys custom, has borne his faculties meekly in this place, & my windows were not assailed on the night of the illumination. [7]  I was prepared to suffer like a Quaker, & my Governess was much more game upon the occasion than I expected. Perhaps we owed our security to the half dozen persons in town, who also chose to light no candles to the Devil. They had declared their resolution of making a fight for it, if they were attacked, & they happened to be persons of consideration & influence. So all went off peaceably. The tallow-chandler told our servant [8]  that it was expected there would be terrible great disturbances; – this was a hint to me, but I was too much a Trojan to be taken in by this man of Grease. The post man [9]  also said we had better light our windows.

It is I hope needless to say that I am truly sorry to have given you this trouble about the draft. There has been no error on my part – I followed Dr Bells directions to the letter. – If upon full knowledge of the case you think I had better draw for the 400£, I will sacrifice my opinion to yours you know I am ready enough to follow advice, except when it would lead me to Drawing Rooms.

I cannot conceive why Murray delays my first chapter. [10] 

When you see the Chief-Castrator will you tell him that Col: Pasley [11]  would be the fittest person to review Sir Howards book, [12]  – & that in his default, Dr Young [13]  would be quite competent to the scientific question, he must understand the act of destruction by parabolics as well as by potions.

Let me hear from you & concerning yourself, how you are. – We are all well thank God, & I am in better spirits than you would suppose in this beginning of the reign of King Mob.

God bless you


17 Nov. 1820.


* Endorsement: 17 Novr. 1820
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The letter deals with an embarrassing, and potentially very damaging, situation relating to the refusal by a bank in London to pay a bill of exchange presented on Southey’s behalf because an incorrect (and higher) sum had been entered on the bill. It therefore looked as if Southey had deliberately, and fraudulently, overcharged for his services. The money Southey was owed was payment for writing an ‘account’ of David Pike Watts (1754–1816), a fabulously rich wine merchant and philanthropist, who had been an important supporter of Andrew Bell’s educational schemes and owned the Storrs Hall estate on Windermere. He was also the uncle of the painter John Constable (1776–1837; DNB). The work had been commissioned by Watts’s daughter and heiress, Mary Watts-Russell (1792–1840), who had married, in 1811, another heir to a business fortune, Jesse Watts-Russell (1786–1875), MP for Gatton 1820–1826. They lived at Ilam Hall in Staffordshire and had eight children. BACK

[2] Andrew Dickie (d. 1834), confidential clerk in Coutts’s Bank and a partner from 1827. ‘Noting’ was writing on the back of the bill a note to the effect that it had been refused. This was not a legal requirement, but it was usual practice. BACK

[3] Southey’s review of The Works of the Reverend William Huntington, S. S. Minister of the Gospel, at Providence Chapel, Gray’s Inn Lane, Completed to the Close of the Year 1806 (1811) appeared in Quarterly Review, 24 (January 1821), 462–510. BACK

[4] Southey had probably told Bell that while he was a defender of the Church of England he could not subscribe to all its doctrines and so it was impossible for him to be ordained. BACK

[5] A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[6] Southey hoped that a section of the poem could serve as his New Year’s Ode for 1821, which William Shield would have to set to music in case it was performed at court. BACK

[7] Under extreme pressure from George IV, the Cabinet had reluctantly agreed to introduce a Bill of Pains and Penalties into the House of Lords to deprive the King’s wife, Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), of the title of Queen and to dissolve her marriage to the King. On the Third Reading of the Bill on 10 November 1820, the government majority was only nine votes and it seemed very unlikely the Bill could pass the House of Commons. Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, therefore had announced the Bill would be withdrawn. As was customary when a national victory was celebrated, many householders put lighted candles in their windows. This occurred at different dates in different towns, mostly between 11 November and 16 November 1820; in Keswick the celebration was on 15 November 1820. BACK

[8] Elizabeth Thompson (c. 1777–1862), the Southeys’ long-standing servant (she is buried in the Southey family grave at Crosthwaite). BACK

[9] Joseph Littledale (1749–1835), the bellman and mail-carrier at Keswick. BACK

[10] The first chapter of Southey’s History of the Peninsular War, 3 vols (London, 1823–1832), I, pp. 3–62. BACK

[11] Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), military engineer, whose Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810) was much admired by Southey. At this time Pasley was Director of the School of Military Fieldworks at Chatham and had given Southey a practical demonstration of techniques for besieging and defending fortifications on 9 May 1817. Pasley did not review Douglas’s book for the Quarterly Review. BACK

[12] The book in question was Douglas’s Observations on the Motives, Errors and Tendency of M. Carnot’s System of Defence (1819), which offered a detailed critique of Lazare Nicolas Marguerite Carnot’s (1753–1823) classic work on fortifications, Traité de la Défense des Places Fortes (1810), on issues such as the effectiveness of vertical fire by defending forces. BACK

[13] Thomas Young (1773–1829; DNB), doctor, scientist, polymath and occasional writer for the Quarterly Review. BACK

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