3649. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 March 1821

3649. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 March 1821⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

Here is a large packet for you, & a little trouble, – but little however & that little of great service. It is that you will call at No 10 in the Strand (near Northumberland House & on the same side of the way) & there pay 18£, – a legacy of poor Mrs Wilsons, to Mr Christian her foster-brother. [1]  If the old Gentleman should be there, you may witness the receipt, & send it back to me; – if he is not pay the money to his son, or any person who will receive it, & leave the receipt & letter.

You see I am in good time, with an Ode [2]  which is not good. But it will do. Shield wrote to me last week, explaining the oporose [3]  nature of his task, – which he says will occupy a laborious transcriber the greater part of a week! I set too therefore without delay. The first half is tolerable, & if it were worth while two more stanzas of that strain might be added. The rest is bad enough.

On farther thought the easier & shorter method seems to be that I should send Mr Christians letter unsealed, that you may inclose the 18£, & leave it at his shop, without farther trouble.

-----

I leave the Ode open, not because it is worth looking at, but because you probably will like to look at it. Do not keep it more than a day, because in replying to Shields letter, I promised him that he should have it in a week, & that term will be up on Tuesday.

No news yet of the Vision [4] 

God bless you

RS.

9 March. 1821.

To

The King

This Poem is respectfully inscribed

by

His Majesty’s

Most dutiful subject & servant

Robert Southey

Ode

For St George’s Day

1

Wild were the tales which fabling monks of old
Devised to swell their hero’s holy fame,
When in the noble army they enroll’d
St George’s doubtful name. [5] 
Of arrows & of spears they told
Falling rebated from his mortal mould:
And how the burning fiery furnace-blast
To him came tempered, like a summer breeze
When at the hour of evening it hath past
O’er gurgling tanks & groves of orange trees:
And how the reverential flame
Condensing like a robe of honour playd
In gorgeous folds around his glorious frame.
And how the Heathen in their frantic strife
With water then alike in vain essay’d
His inextinguishable life. [6] 

2.

What marvel if the Christian Knight
Thus, for his dear Redeemer’s sake,
Defied the purpled Pagan’s might? [7] 
Such boldness well might he partake;
For he beside the Libyan lake
Silene, [8]  with the Infernal King
Had coped in actual fight.
The Old Dragon on terrific wing
Assaild him there with Stygian sting,
And arrowy tongue & potent breath
Exhaling pestilence & death.
Dauntless in faith the Champion stood,
Opposed against the rage of Hell
His Red-Cross shield, & wielding well
His sword, the strife pursued;
First with a wide & rending wound
Brought the maimd monster to the ground:
Then pressing with victorious heel
Upon his scaly neck subdued,
Plunged & replunged the searching steel;
Till from the shameful overthrow
Howling the incarnate Demon fled;
And left that form untenanted,
And hid in Hell his humbled head,
Still trembling in the realms below
At thought of that tremendous foe.

3

Such tales monastic fablers taught;
The kindred strain the Minstrels caught;
A web of finer texture they
Wrought in the rich romantic lay;
Of magic caves & woods they sung,
Where Kalyb [9]  nursed the boy divine;
And how those woods & caverns rung
With cries from many a demon tongue,
When breaking from the Witches cell,
He bound her in her own strong spell.
And of the bowers of Ormandine [10] 
Where thrall’d by art St David lay
Sleeping inglorious years away,
Till our St George with happier arm
Released him, & dissolved the charm.
But most the Minstrels loved to tell
Of that portentous day,
When Sabra [11]  at the stake was bound,
Her brow with sweetest garlands crownd
The Egyptian Dragons prey,
And how for her the English Knight,
Invincible at such a sight,
Engaged that fiendish beast in fight,
And oer the monster triple-scaled
The good sword Askalon [12]  prevail’d.

4

Such legends Monks & Minstrels feign’d
And easily their wondrous tales obtaind,
In those dark days, belief;
Shrines to the Saint were reard & temples rose,
And states & kingdoms for their Patron chose
The Cappadocian Chief. [13] 
Full soon his sainted name hath won
In fields of war a wide renown.
Spain saw the Moors confounded fly
Before the well-known slaughter cry,
St George for Arragon! [14] 
And when the Catalans [15]  pursued
Their vengeful way with fire & blood,
The Turk & treacherous Greek were taught
To know that fearful shout
For them with rage & ruin fraught
In many a dolorous rout.
Twas in this heavenly Patrons trusted strength,
That Maltas old heroic Knights defied [16] 
The Ottoman in all his power & pride.
Repulsed from her immortal walls at length
The baffled Misbeliever turnd with shame;
And when in after years in dreams he heard
That all-too-well remembered battle word
Woke starting at St George’s dreadful name
And felt cold sweats of fear suffuse his trembling frame.

5.

But thou O England to that sainted name,
Hast given its proudest praise, its loftiest fame.
Witness the field of Cressy, [17]  & the day
When vollying thunders rolld unheard on high.
For in that memorable fray,
France had ears only for the Conquerors cry,
St George, St George for England! St George & Victory!
Bear witness Poictiers! [18]  when again the foe
From that same hand received his overthrow.
In vain essayd “Mont Joye St Denis” [19]  rung
From many a boastful tongue.
And many a hopeful heart in onset brave,
Their courage in the shock of battle quaild
His dread response when sable Edward [20]  gave,
And England and St George again prevaild.
Bear witness Agincourt, [21]  where once again
The bannerd Lillies on the ensanguind plain
Were trampled by the fierce pursuers feet;
And France doomd ever to defeat
Against that foe, beheld her myriads fly
Before the appalling cry;
St George, St George for England, St George & Victory

6.

That cry in many a field of fame
Thro glorious ages held its high renown.
Nor less hath Britain proved the sacred name
Auspicious to her crown.
Troubled too oft her course of fortune ran
Till when the Georges came [22] 
Her happiest age began.
Beneath their just & liberal sway,
Old feuds & factions died away,
One feeling through her realms was known,
One interest of the Nation & the Throne.
Ring then ye bells upon St Georges day,
From every tower in glad accordance ring;
And let all instruments full, strong, or sweet,
With touch of modulated string,
And soft or swelling breath, & sonorous beat,
The happy name repeat,
While heart & voice their joyous tribute bring
And speak the Peoples love for George our King.

——


Notes

* Endorsements: 9 March 1821/ 9 March 1821; Ode for St George’s Day/ 1821
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 26. ALS; 8p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Joseph Christian (1743/4–1829) was born at Keswick but moved to London, where he ran a linen draper’s shop. His son was Henry Curwen Christian (1780–1846), who was in business with his father. BACK

[2] Southey’s ‘Ode for St George’s Day’, unpublished until Poetical Works, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), III, pp. 258–262, and written for George IV’s official birthday on 23 April 1821. BACK

[3] ‘burdensome’. BACK

[4] Southey’s A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[5] St George was probably a Christian soldier who was martyred in c. AD 303. Nothing further is known of him for certain, hence his ‘doubtful name’. He has been confused with a number of other Georges, including the Egyptian, George of Cappadocia (d. 361). BACK

[6] Greek and Latin legends about St George date back to the fifth and sixth centuries and pay a great deal of attention to the seven years of torture he miraculously survived at the hands of his pagan persecutors. BACK

[7] St George was probably martyred during the persecution of Christians under Diocletian (c. 244–311; Roman Emperor 284–305). BACK

[8] The idea that St George had defeated a dragon seems to have arisen in the Near East in the tenth or eleventh centuries. Jacobus de Voragine (c. 1230–1298), Golden Legend (c. 1260) was the first book to suggest that St George’s fight with the dragon had occurred at Silene in Libya. BACK

[9] Medieval elaborations of St George’s adventures were summarised in Richard Johnson (1573–c. 1659), The Most Famous History of the Seven Champions of Christendom (c. 1596–1616), which drew heavily on the late-medieval poem, ‘Sir Bevys of Hampton’. In Johnson’s work, Kalyb is an enchantress who steals St George when he is a baby. He finally overcomes her when he reaches adulthood and imprisons her in a rock. BACK

[10] When on a journey from Persia to Egypt, St George enters the realm of the wizard, Ormandine. The wizard was keeping St David (patron saint of Wales) captive under a spell that could only be broken by a hero from the north who could draw a magic sword from a stone. St George was able to do this and free his friend. BACK

[11] The daughter of the Sultan of Egypt, who St George rescues from a dragon. BACK

[12] The medieval name for St George’s sword; possibly derived from the Palestinian city of Ascalon. BACK

[13] St George was believed to come from Cappadocia in eastern Turkey. BACK

[14] St George is the patron saint of Aragon and was often invoked in wars against the Moors. BACK

[15] St George is also the patron saint of Catalonia. His name was used as a war cry by the Catalan Company of mercenaries in their wars in Turkey and Greece 1302–1388. BACK

[16] St George is also the patron saint of Malta. The Knights of St John, who ruled the island 1530–1798, repulsed a number of attacks from the Ottoman Empire, most famously in 1565. BACK

[17] English victory over France in 1346 during the Hundred Years War. It was possibly one of the first battles in which cannon were used, hence the ‘vollying thunders’. BACK

[18] Another English victory over France, in 1356. BACK

[19] The French battle cry, referring to the oriflamme, or sacred banner, kept at the tomb of St Denis, the patron saint of France. BACK

[20] Edward, Prince of Wales (1330–1376; DNB), victor at Crecy and Poitiers. BACK

[21] Site of another famous English victory in 1415. BACK

[22] The beginning of the Hanoverian dynasty in 1714 with George I (1660–1727; King of Great Britain 1714–1727; DNB). BACK

People mentioned

George IV (1762–1830) (mentioned 2 times)
Wilson, Molly (?–1820) (mentioned 1 time)

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