880. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 8 January 1804

880. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 8 January 1804 ⁠* 

Sunday. 8 Jany. 1804.

Infailix homo! infailix homo! said a German to Coleridge who did not understand for whom he was inquiring by the name of Tωctωr Tωd. infailix homo! suspensum in patibulo! [1]  – Without any patibulary reflection infailix homo is the sort of exclamation that your letter prompts. Zounds if Giardini [2]  were in your inside, what an admirable solo he might play upon guts that must by this time have been fretted to fiddlestrings! I verily believe that your gripes must be organic & not as in all other men bagpipical.

The plain English of all this is that your metaphysics as you call them are to your mind what a regular course of drastic physic would be your body, very disagreabell & very weakening. that being neither a man of business, nor of fashion, nor of letters, you want object & employment in the world. In short as I have often told you that ennui is your disorder, & that if you would study Arabic Welsh or Chinese – or resolve to translate Tristram Shandy [3]  into Hebrew you would soon be a happy man.

I have written to you as often as I write to any one – except when there be an occasion of business – & this you should always remember that when x you hear any thing of me I always conclude that such intelligence will reach you thro such channels. things of most importance you always hear first. Of late I have been plagued with family vexations, & busy with reviews which is another plague – but which Deo gratias [4]  is well nigh over. I have only to say something about Lord Strangfords translation [5]  & to crack that wretched vermin Malthus, [6]  & then my years work is done.

You have heard that I am likely again to become a father. [7]  how you should have heard it before I communicated it is odd – but so it was. the fact is so. you will be for congratulating me – but I have not yet sufficiently blunted the feeling of my last loss [8]  to consider the possibility of such another as a cause for congratulation.

Did you see the first Annual Review? because you will wish to have the second wherein I have been firing away merrily. [9] 

Here we live as regularly as clockwork – indeed more regularly than our own clocks which go all paces. the old Barber has been at work for some days – I take Horaces liberty to personify the Sky [10]  & then simply barbarize the Prosopopoeia. Of the only three visitable families within reach one is fled for the winter – & the other flying – n’importe – our dog Dapper remains & he is as intimate with me as heart could wish. I want my books & nothing else – for blessed be God I grow day by day more independent of society, & feel neither a want nor a wish for it. Every thing at present looks from the window like the confectioners shops at this season in London – & Skiddaw is the hugest of Twelfth Cakes – but when I go down by the Lake side it would puzzle all my comparison-confounding fancy to tell you what it looks like there – the million – or trillion forms of beauty soon baffle all description. Coleridge is gone for Devonshire – & I was going to say I am alone – but that the sight of Shakespeare – & Spenser & Milton & the Bible on my table, & Castanheda & Barros & Osorio [11]  at my elbow tells me I am in the best of all possible company.

Do not think of getting any subscribers for Madoc. I am well convinced the plan of publishing it by subscription was foolish, & shall doubtless convince those who induced me to think of it. Have you seen the Critical Reviewal of Thalaba? [12]  I wish to see it – for it comes not only from one of my best friends, but from one of the most learned, most able & most excellent men within the circle of my knowledge – & that is no trifling praise; a man whose solitary approbation I should prefer to the utmost present popularity.

My brother Harry is at Edinburgh shining among the literati of the place – (literatuli [13]  would be a better name if I did not remember Walter Scott) & distinguishes himself as a disputant in the Medical Society. poor Tom is going for the West Indies! What are our Dunces sending troops there for? [14]  I could find in my heart to set at them – for to tell you xx the truth a set-to at the Methodists in this Review [15]  has put me in a very pamphleteering mood. Of my other brother there is a worse story. there will be nothing but shame & sorrow from him.

God bless you.


‘Make my respects to all your good family.’ What is become of that worldly-headed, Dutch-bottomed, pumpkin-hearted fellow?


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] JAN9
Endorsement: 8 Janry 1804
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 23. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 248–250 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Latin translates as: ‘wicked/unfortunate man . . . Doctor Dodd . . . hung’. Presumably a reference by the German, misunderstanding Coleridge’s accent, to Dr William Dodd (1729–1777; DNB) the Anglican priest hung for forgery despite Samuel Johnson (1709–1784; DNB) having penned a plea for clemency. BACK

[2] Felice Giardini [Degiardino] (1716–1796; DNB), violinist, singing teacher and composer who enjoyed the patronage of nobility and royalty. BACK

[3] Laurence Sterne (1713–1768; DNB), The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767). BACK

[4] Meaning ‘God’s thanks’. BACK

[5] Southey reviewed Percy Clinton Sydney, 6th Viscount Strangford (1780–1855; DNB), Poems from the Portuguese of Luis de Camoens (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 569–577. BACK

[6] Southey reviewed Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 292–301. BACK

[7] Southey’s second child, Edith May, was born on 30 April 1804. BACK

[8] The Southeys’ eldest daughter, Margaret Edith Southey, died in August 1803. BACK

[9] As well as Malthus and Strangford, the following authors were reviewed by Southey in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804): James Burney, A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean ... Illustrated with Charts (1803), 3–12; James Stanier Clarke (1766–1834; DNB), The Progress of Maritime Discovery, from the Earliest Period to the Close of the Eighteenth Century, Forming an Extensive System of Hydrography (1803), 12–20; James Curtis (dates unknown), A Journal of Travels in Barbary in 1801 ... With Observations on the Gum Trade of Senegal (1803), 20–23; Louis Maria Joseph, Count O’Hier de Grandpré (1761–1846), A Voyage in the Indian Ocean, and to Bengal ... To Which is Added a Voyage in the Red Sea, Including a Description of Mocha, and of the Trade of the Arabs of Yemen (1803), 48–54; John Davis (1774–1854), Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America, During 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, and 1802 (1803), 54–59; Lockhart Muirhead (dates unknown), Journals of Travels in Parts of the Late Austrian Low Countries, France, the Pays de Vaud and Tuscany in 1787 and 1789 (1803), 59–63; Charles William Doyle (1770–1842), A Non-Military Journal; Or, Observations Made in Egypt, by an Officer upon the Staff of the British Army: Describing the Country, its Inhabitants, their Manners and Customs (1803), 63–66; William Wittman (fl. 1799–1804), Travels in Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria, and Across the Desert into Egypt During the Years 1799, 1800, and 1801, in Company with the Turkish Army and the British Military Mission (1803), 66–71; [Ann Blund (dates unknown)], Journal of a Short Excursion among the Swiss Landscapes (1803), 79–80; Isaac King (dates unknown), Letters from France (1803), 88–90; Part the First of An Address to the Public from the Society for the Suppression of Vice, Instituted, in London, 1802, Setting Forth, with a List of the Members, the Utility and Necessity of such an Institution, and its Claim to Public Support (1803), 187; Transactions of the Missionary Society (Vol. 1, 1803), 189–201; William Myles (1756–1828), A Chronological History of the People called Methodists ... With an Appendix, Containing Two Lists of the Itinerant Preachers ... With the Last Will and Testament of the Rev. J. Wesley (1803), 201–213; William Godwin, Life of Geoffrey Chaucer ... Including Memoirs of ... John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; with Sketches of the Manners, Opinions, Arts and Literature of England in the Fourteenth Century (1803), 462–473; George Mason (1735–1806; DNB), The Life of Richard Earl Howe (1803), 499–501; Joseph Ritson (1752–1803; DNB), Ancient Engleish Metrical Romanceës (1802), 515–533; George Ellis, Specimens of the Early English Poets (3rd edn 1803), 538–542; Richard Mant (1776–1848; DNB), The Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Warton (1802), 543–546; William Hayley (1745–1820; DNB), The Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper, Esq. (1803), 457–462; Peter Bayley (bap. 1778–1823; DNB), Poems (1803), 546–552; Henry Kirke White, Clifton Grove, a Sketch in Verse, with other Poems (1803), 552–554; Josiah Walker (d. 1831), The Defence of Order, a Poem (1803), 557; The Inquiry. Part 1, 557–558; William Barnes Rhodes (1772–1826; DNB), Epigrams (1803), 558; James Woodhouse (bap. 1735–1820), Norbury Park, a Poem with Several Others Written on Various Occasions (1803), 558; Henry William Tytler (1752/3–1808), The Voyage Home from the Cape of Good Hope (1803), 559; Luke Booker (1762–1835; DNB), Calista, or a Picture of Modern Life, a Poem (1803), 564; D. A. G. B. Cassano (dates unknown), Il Fiore della Poesia Italiana (1802), 562–563; William Lisle Bowles, The Picture, Verses Suggested by a Magnificent Landscape of Rubens (1803), 582; John Peter Roberdeau (bap. 1754–1815), Fugitive Verse and Prose (1803), 582–583; George Owen Cambridge (d. 1841), Works of Richard Owen Cambridge, Esq. with an Account of his Life and Character (1803), 583–585; Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker, Baroness de Staël-Holstein (1766–1817), A Treatise of Ancient and Modern Literature (tr. 1803), 643–650; Asiatic Researches; or Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal for Enquiring into the History and Antiquities, the Arts, Science and Literature of Asia (vol. VII, 1803), 898–908. BACK

[10] See Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, I, 34, in which the poet personifies the storm – a ‘bolt from the blue’ – as the thunderbolts of Zeus. BACK

[11] Southey owned copies of: Fernao Lopes de Castanheda (c. 1500–1559), Historia do Discobrimento, e Conquista da India pelos Portuguezes (1797); Joao de Barros (1496–1570) and Diogo de Couto (c. 1542–1616), Decadas da Asia dos Feitos, que os Portuguezes Fizeram na Conquista, e Descubrimento das Terras, e Mares do Oriente (1778–1788); Jeronimo Osorio (1506–1580), De Rebus Emmanuelis Lusitanæ Regis (1791). BACK

[12] William Taylor reviewed Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) in the Critical Review, 2nd series, 39 (December 1803), 369–379. BACK

[13] A diminutive form of literati, or men of letters, intended to be derogatory. BACK

[14] Southey’s brother Thomas served as a lieutenant in the fleet sent to transport troops to defend the Windward and Leeward islands against the forces of revolutionary France. They were decimated by yellow fever. BACK

[15] See note 8. BACK

Places mentioned

Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)