3590. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 24 December 1820

3590. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 24 December 1820⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

For once I send you an Ode which is good for something, tho you may not think it fit for its purpose, & may very likely xxx <to> be disposed to recommend some sing-song about the infant Princess Elizabeth. [1]  To which anticipated recommendation I now reply, that I could not venture upon so precarious a subject as that of an infants life, lest the infant should die & so the sing-song be like a new coloured coat in a sudden court general mourning: – & moreover that if the infant lives till the birth<day> [2]  that will be the fitter opportunity: my theory being that the New Years ode should always be national the B. Day courtly.

I desire Shield to or rather advise him, to begin at the 7th stanza, & take as much or as little of what follows as he likes. [3]  Send this to him forthwith with a few lines of civility. – I shall print it, with other such things as garnish for my Dialogues. [4]  By the bye ask Murray to show you Westalls drawings for the said Dialogues.

There is an extract in the newspaper from Belzoni which makes me long to see the book. [5] 

When you see Gifford tell him that I have not received the Notes on Rio de Janeiro, & that xx if I had them, I should be at work for him. [6] 

God bless you – a merry Xmas & a happy year.


24 Dec. 1820.



In a vision I was seized,
When the elements were hushd
In the stillness that is felt
Ere the Storm goes abroad,
Thro the air I was borne away;
And in spirit I beheld
Where a City lay beneath,
Like a valley mapp’d below,
When seen from a mountain-top.


The night had closed around
And oer the sullen sky
Were the wide wings of Darkness spread.
The City’s myriad lamps
Shone mistily below
Like stars in the bosom of a lake;
And its murmurs arose,
Incessant & deep
Like the sound of the sea
Where it rakes on a pebbly stone <shore>.


A Voice from the darkness went forth
Son of Man look below! it said
Mine eyes were opened then,
And the veil which conceals
The invisible World was withdrawn.


I lookd, & behold
As the Patriarch in his dream
Saw the Angels to & fro
Pass from Heaven to Earth
On their ministry of love, [7] 
So saw I where a way
From that great City led
To the black abyss of bale,
To the dolorous region of Death.


Wide & beaten was the way,
And deep the descent
To the adamantine gates
Which were thrown on their hinges back.
Wailing & woe were within,
And the gleam of sulphurous fires
In darkness & smoke involved.
And thro those open gates
The Fiends were swarming forth;
Hastily, joyfully,
As to a jubilee,
The Spirits of Evil were trooping up:
They filld the streets,
And they bore with them curses & plagues.
And they scattered lies abroad,
And the seeds of strife & death.


Son of Man, look up! said the Voice,
I lookd & beheld
The way which Angels tread,
Seen like a pillar of light
That slants from a broken sky.
That heavenly way by clouds was closed,
Heavy & thick & dark, with thunder charged:
And there a Spirit stood
Who raised in menacing act his aweful arm.
He spake aloud & thrilld
My inmost soul with fear.


Woe! woe! –
Woe to the City where Faction reigns!
Woe to the Land where Sedition prevails!
Woe to the Nation whom Hell deceives!
Woe! woe!
Eyes have they, & will not see;
Ears have they, & will not hear;
Hearts have they, & will not feel!
Woe to the People who close their eyes!
Woe to the People who shut their ears!
Woe to the People who harden their hearts!
Woe! woe!
The Vials are charged,
The measure is full;
The wrath is ripe;
Woe! woe!


But from that City then behold
A gracious form arose;
Her snow-white wings upon the dusky air
Shone, like the waves which glow
Around the midnight keel in liquid light.
Upward her supplicating arms were spread;
And as her face to heaven
In eloquent grief she raised,
Loose like a Comets radiant tresses hung
Her heavenly hair dispersed.


Not yet, O Lord! not yet,
O Merciful as Just!
Not yet! the tutelary Angel cried;
For I must plead with thee for this poor land, –
Guilty, but still the seat
Of genuine piety;
The mother still of noble minds,
The nurse of high desires.
Not yet, O Lord, not yet
Give thou thine anger way!
Thou who hast set thy Bow
Of Mercy in the clouds,
Not yet, O Lord, pour out
The vials of thy wrath!


Oh! for the sake
Of that religion pure & undefiled,
Here purchased by thy Martyrs’ precious blood, [8] 
Mercy, oh mercy, Lord!
For that well-orderd frame of equal Laws
Time’s goodliest monument,
Oer which thy guardian shield
So oft hath been extended heretofore,
Mercy, oh mercy Lord!
For the dear charities,
The household Virtues that in secret here,
Like sweetest violets, send their fragrance forth,
Mercy, oh mercy, Lord!


Oh! wilt thou quench the light
That should illuminate
The nations who in darkness sit
And in the shadow of death?
Oh! wilt thou stop the heart
Of intellectual Life?
Wilt thou seal the eye of the World? –
Mercy, oh mercy, Lord!


Not, for the guilty few, –
Nor for the erring multitude,
The ignorant many, wickedly misled, –
Send thou thy vengeance down
Upon a land so long the dear abode
Of freedom, knowledge, virtue, faith approved, –
Thine own beloved land!
Oh let not Hell prevail
Against her past deserts,
Against her actual worth,
Against her living hopes,
Against the prayers that rise
From virtuous hearts this hour.


Plead with me, O ye Dead, whose sacred dust
Is laid to rest within her hallowed ground,
Plead with me for your country, suffering now
Beneath such loathsome plagues [9] 
As ancient Egypt in her slime
And hot corruption, bred!
Plead with me at this hour,
All wise & upright minds,
All honourable hearts,
For ye abhor the sins
Which oer the guilty land
Have brought the gathered storm!
Plead with me Souls unborn,
Ye who are doomd upon this fateful spot
To pass your pilgrimage,
Earths noblest heritors,
Or children of a ruined realm, to shame
And degradation born,
(For this is on the issue of the hour!)
Plead with me, unborn Spirits, that the wrath
Deserved may pass away!


Join in my supplication Seas & Lands
I call upon ye all!
Thou Europe in whose cause,
Alone & undismayd
The generous Nation strove. [10] 
For whose deliverance in the Spanish fields
And that Brabantine plain [11] 
Her noblest blood was shed!
Join with me Africa, [12] 
For here hath thy redemption had its birth!
Thou India who art blest
With peace & equity,
Beneath her easy sway!
And thou America who owest
The large & inextinguishable debt
Of filial love!
And ye remotest Isles & Continent, [13] 
Where the glad tidings of the Gospel truth,
Her children are proclaiming faithfully,
Join with me now to wrest
The thunderbolt from that uplifted arm!
Plead with me, Earth & Ocean! at this hour!
Thou Ocean, for thy Queen,
And for thy benefactress, thou O Earth!


The Angel ceased;
The vision fled;
The wind arose;
The clouds were rent.
They were drifted & scattered abroad:
And as I lookd & saw
Where thro the clear blue sky the silver Moon
Moved in her light serene,
A healing influence reachd my heart
And I felt in my soul
That the voice of the Angel was heard.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer
Endorsements: 24 Decr 1820/ with Ode for 1821; 24 Decr. 1820
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 7p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s duty as Poet Laureate was to produce a New Year’s Ode for 1821; his poem was later published as ‘The Warning Voice. Ode II’ in The Englishman’s Library: Comprising a Series of Historical, Biographical and National Information (London, 1824), pp. 384–389. Princess Elizabeth of Clarence (1820–1821) was briefly third in line to the throne, after her father, William, Duke of Clarence (1765–1837; King of the United Kingdom 1830–1837; DNB). She was born on 10 December 1820 and died aged 12 weeks. As she was born six weeks prematurely, Southey was perhaps wise to be cautious about celebrating her in verse. BACK

[2] George IV’s ‘official’ birthday, next celebrated on 23 April 1821; Southey believed he would have to write birthday, as well as New Year’s Odes, as Poet Laureate in the new reign. BACK

[3] It was Shield’s duty to set some of these verses to music in case a court performance was ordered (though this practice had been suspended since 1810). BACK

[4] Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829). They did not include ‘The Warning Voice. Ode II’, but did feature six engravings from views of the Lake District by William Westall. BACK

[5] Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778–1823; DNB), explorer and pioneering Egyptologist; author of Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries Within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia (1820). Extracts were being published in the press; for example, ‘Singular Phenomena of Egypt’, Morning Chronicle, 19 December 1820. BACK

[6] Southey had proposed an article on Brazilian travel writing for the Quarterly Review; it was not written. He had probably asked Gifford to send him John Luccock (1770–1826), Notes on Rio de Janeiro, and the Southern Parts of Brazil: Taken During a Residence of Ten Years in that Country, from 1808 to 1818 (1820), no. 1645 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] The biblical patriarch, Jacob, received a vision of a ladder reaching from heaven to earth, with angels moving up and down it, Genesis 28: 10–19. BACK

[8] The Church of England and its martyrs, especially those Protestants executed in the reign of Mary I (1516–1558; Queen of England 1553–1558; DNB). BACK

[9] The ten plagues inflicted on the Egyptians to persuade them to let the Israelites leave the country, Exodus 7–12. BACK

[10] A reference to Britain’s long war against France 1793–1815. BACK

[11] The Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. Waterloo was part of the medieval Duchy of Brabant. BACK

[12] Britain had abolished the slave trade in 1807 and was trying to persuade other countries to do so. BACK

[13] The Pacific islands and Australia. BACK

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