1286. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14 March 1807

1286. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14 March 1807 ⁠* 

Mar. 14. 1807.

Patience – where <there> is no remedy, say my friends the Portugueze. You will consider it as an especial act of forbearance that I do not dip my pen in the very gall of bitterness.

I write this post to London ordering the following Cancels [1] 

P. 468–9 of vol 3. because Joseph Warton did not write that sonnet, & there is no occasion why it should be printed twice in the same volume. [2] .

P. 55–6 of the same volume – because Lord Chesterfields [3]  song is in the style of Little Moore. [4]  You I know think me over-scrupulous – but for that very reason you should have been particularly cautious how you selected any thing immoral & sent it into the world under the sanction of my name. As for my literary character I am sufficiently careless about it, – so much so that even the errors which deface almost every page of this book – & which upon my soul I believe are more numerous than ever appeared before in any one work, do not give me five minutes concern – but this not is not the case with respect to my character as a xxxxxxx moralist; – of that I am as jealous as a soldier of his honour.

P. 246 & 401 Vol 1. to be cancelled for indecency. that in 394–5 – may or may not be cut out also as the publishers please, – I have recommended them to cancel it, but not peremptorily ordered it, because it is the subject which is offensive – not the way in which it is treated. But had I been on the spot to have supplied its place, it should certainly have gone.

P 231–2. Vol 1. to rectify an abominable error, & to state the real history of the poem.

The gap made by Chesterfield [5]  I supply by adding something to Cunningham [6]  – which likewise gets rid of an extract from Anderson, [7]  – the last man in the world from whom to quote an opinion in poetry. Whether they will apply to you for specimens from Hinchcliffe, [8]  Gildon, [9]  & Joseph Warton, or look them out themselves I know not – I have told them that any thing may be put in which fits this gap – so it be but decent. There is a safe test for such things – as I told you when speaking upon these very poems in London – that which a woman would not like to read aloud ought not to be inserted. That the book should go into the world with these pieces in it after what I have said & written upon the subject is very – very – very provoking

Among the sins of omission those of Burns [10]  & Russel [11]  may especially be noticed, the latter is the best English sonnet-writer. I am surprized that you have struck out that Jack-the-Giant-Killer skit upon Leonidas [12]  – which was one of the most curious things in the book. – The omissions are so very numerous, that if I thought it in the least probable that the <unhappy> purchasers of these three volumes would buy a supplementary one, I would publish it; – & in an after edition arrange the supplementary authors in their order & make room for them by omitting dull pieces. [13] 

Send me all the rejected materials that I may see about arranging them: xx xxxxxx xxx xxx xxxxxxxx for a new edition – if we should ever have that opportunity of redeeming ourselves. [14] 

Your biographies are in general good. they are disfigured by some modern barbarisms & affectations which are however so common that I suppose they will not affect a Reviewers stomach. I seriously disapprove of nothing except the articles of Chatterton [15]  & Chesterfield. [16]  The fate of the former is no disgrace to any body, as I shall very shortly have occasion to observe & as for the latter, my opinion of him is precisely that which Cowper which has expressed. [17] 

As for the printers [18]  errors they are so numerous that I dare not make a list of them; nor say any thing about them except that he shall never murder my English more. – Such works as this must by their very nature be imperfect at first, but if the printer had had Beelzebub himself for his Devil, & old Horney had taken that opportunity to revenge himself upon me for my misdeeds, the book could not have been worse handled – Certainly if I could have thought he had got into you so often, to make you leave undone those things which you ought to have done, & do those things which you ought not to have done, – change specimens for the worse & emasculate biographies – I would <have> recommended your worship to <have> called at the nearest Roman Catholick Chapel, & washed your hands in the holy water.

Oh dear dear – Grosvenor. Oh dear dear – Oh dear dear! Zounds & the Devil – Oh dear dear – Οιμοι Οιμοι Οτοττοτοι! Zounds! [19] 


* MS: Bodleian Library, Eng. Lett. c. 24. AL; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 419–421. BACK

[1] Southey’s letter concerns the proofs for the anthology he edited with Grosvenor Charles Bedford of Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807), which to his dismay was published with numerous errors. BACK

[2] As a result of this advice, Joseph Warton’s (1722–1800; DNB) ‘Ode to Content’ appeared on these pages BACK

[3] Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694–1773; DNB). BACK

[4] Thomas Moore had published in 1801 a collection of love poems, Poems by the Late Thomas Little, thought by some to be immoral. BACK

[5] Chesterfield was in the end represented only by one poem, ‘Advice to a Lady in Autumn’, Specimens of the Later English Poets, 3 vols (London, 1807), III, pp. 52–54. BACK

[6] John Cunningham’s (1729–1773; DNB) poem ‘Evening’ did indeed replace Chesterfield on these pages. BACK

[7] The extract from Robert Anderson (1750–1830; DNB), ed., The Works of the British Poets, with Prefaces Biographical and Critical (1792–1807) was removed. BACK

[8] William Hinchcliffe (1692–1742) was represented in the Specimens of the Later English Poets, 3 vols (London, 1807), I, pp. 399–404, by ‘On Seeing Philesia at her Window, Viewing a Wedding’, ‘To Philesia, a Day Before Her Coming to Town’, and ‘A Song of Thanksgiving’. BACK

[9] Charles Gildon (c.1665–1724; DNB): poet and critical writer, slated in Alexander Pope’s (1688–1744; DNB) The Dunciad (1728) and Epistle to Arbuthnot (1735). See Specimens of the Later English Poets, I, pp. 243–246. BACK

[10] Robert Burns (1759–1796; DNB). BACK

[11] George Russel (1728–1767; DNB). BACK

[12] In The Athenaeum, 4 (1808), 224–225, Southey quoted this skit on the epic poem Leonidas (1737) by Richard Glover (1712–1785; DNB): ‘Book 1. A poetico-historical account how Jack went to an old witch to enquire how to make himself glorious. How the old witch told him, he must be knocked on the head at the Straits of Gibraltar; How Jack, who laughed at all witchcraft, followed the old witch’s advice, but first took leave of his wife and family. 2. How Jack travelled and travelled till he came to the Straits. How the giant sent word to Jack he would eat him up. How Jack bade him kiss his ----. 3. How the giant brought all the world to fight against little Jack. 4. 5. How Jack’s men fought with the giant’s men; but neither Jack nor the giant did any thing. 6. 7. How prince Prettyman fell in love, and how Miss Airy killed herself for the man she never spoke to. 8. 9. How Jack, who for a long while said nothing, said his prayers, went out, and was knocked on the head. BACK

[13] A supplementary volume was planned, but did not appear. BACK

[14] There was no second edition of the Specimens. BACK

[15] Southey had edited the poetry of Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB) for a posthumous edition designed to benefit his living relatives: Southey and Joseph Cottle, The Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803). The ‘article’ on Chatterton, in its final form, appeared on p. 420 of the second volume of Specimens. BACK

[16] The article on Chesterfield appeared on p. 52 of the third volume of Specimens. BACK

[17] ‘Thou polish’d and high-finish’d foe to truth, / Gray beard corrupter of our list’ning youth; / To purge and skim away the filth of vice, / That so refin’d it might the more entice, / Then pour it on the morals of thy son / To taint his heart, was worthy of thine own’: William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB), The Progress of Error (1782), lines 341–346. BACK

[18] The book was printed by S. Hollingsworth (first name and dates unknown) of Crane Court, Fleet Street. BACK

[19] ‘Oh dear, oh me, oh me, lackaday…Zounds!’ written in larger letters. BACK

People mentioned

Moore, Thomas (1779–1852) (mentioned 1 time)