895. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 16 February 1804

895. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 16 February 1804 ⁠* 

Dear Grosvenor

I have seen a sight more dreamy & cheerful than any scenery that fancy ever yet devised for Faery Land. – We had walked down to the Lake side, it was a delightful day, the sun shining, & a few white clouds hanging motionless in the sky. the opposite shore of Derwent water consists of one long mountain which suddenly terminates in an arch – thus [a large ‘u’ shape drawn here] – & thro that opening you see a long valley between mountains, & bounded by mountain beyond mountain – to the right of this arch the heights are more varied & of greater elevation. Now as there was not a breath of air stirring, the surface of the Lake was so perfectly still that it became one great mirror, & all its water disappeared. the whole line of shore was represented as vividly & steadily as it existed in its actual being – the arch – the vale within – the single houses far within the vale – the smoke from their chimneys – the farthest hills – & the shadow & substance joined at their bases so indivisibly that you could make no separation even with your judgement. As I stood on the shore Heaven & the Clouds seemed lying under me I was looking down into the sky, & the whole range of mountains having one line of summits under my feet, & another above me seemed to be suspended between two firmaments. Shut your eyes & dream of a scene so unnatural & so beautiful. What I have said is most strictly & scrupulously true – but it was one of those happy moments that can seldom occur, for the least breath stirring would have shaken the whole vision & at once unrealized it. I have before seen a partial appearance, but never before did, & perhaps never again may lose sight of the Lake entirely – for it literally seemed like an abyss of sky below me – not fog & clouds as from a mountain – but the blue heaven spotted with a few fleecy pillows of cloud, that looked placed there for Angels to rest upon them.

I am treating with my Booksellers to publish a supplementary or companion work to Ellis’s Specimens, [1]  beginning where he leaves off & coming down to the present times, exclusive of the living Poets, so that my work with this should contain a brief notice of all the English Poets good bad & indifferent, with specimens of each – except the dramatic writers. If this take place it will cost me a journey to London & a months hard work there – the main part can be done here. You know Ellis’s book of course – & if you do not Nichol [2]  can show it you – (who by the by will go to the Devil for charging half a guinea a volume for it, unless he can send Ellis instead.) Now if I should make this work of which there is little doubt, you may, if so disposed, give me an opportunity of acknowledging my obligation for assistance to my friend Mr G. C. Bedford &c – in the preface, & perhaps find some amusement in the task. So tell you me your Lordships pleasure, & I will prescribe to you what to do for me, & if you should rouse yourself to any interest in the pursuit it may prove really a good prescription. By doing something to assist me you may learn to love some pursuit for yourself.

With what can Isaac Reid have filled his one & twenty volumes? [3]  comments upon Shakespeare seem to keep pace with the National Debt, & will at last become equally insufferable & out of fashion. yet I should like to see his book – & would buy it if I could. there must be a mass of English learning heaped together, & his Bio. Dramatica [4]  is so good a book that I do not think old age can have made him make a bad one. besides, this must have been the work or amusement of his life. If I travel to London to make Specimens can you procure permission for me to pass a few mornings with his books?

Did I, or not, tell you that Madoc was to be published in the ordinary way – & not by way of subscription? [5]  I just felt the ground, in acquiescence xx to the wish of others, & found my own opinion fully confirmed.

I live almost as reclusive & uniform a life as my neighbour the Bassenthwaite Toad, [6]  whose history you have seen in the newspapers. only he finds it dull & I do not, for I have books, & port wine, & a view from my window. I feel as much pleasure in having finished my reviewing as ever I did at school when my bible-exercise was done. & what sort of pleasure that was you may judge by being told that one of the damnedest dreams that ever comes athwart my brain is that I have those Latin verses to make. I xxx very often have this dream, & it usually ends in a resolution to be my own master, & not make verses, & not stay any longer at school, because I am too old. It is odd that school never recurs pleasantly in my dreams. it is always either thus – or with a notion that I cannot find my books to go in with. I never dream of Oxford, perhaps my stay there was not long enough to make an impression <sufficiently> deep. xxxx

Where do you move from Lambeth? I hope to London for your sake – such a removal might awaken your father, by being in the world he would <might perhaps> learn to feel & act with the world.

God bless you.

Yrs affectionately


Feby. 16. Thursday – 1804.



* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ FEB20/ 1804
Endorsement: 16 Feby 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.258–261 [in part]. BACK

[1] An early reference to the project that Southey undertook with Grosvenor Charles Bedford and published with Longman in 1807 as Specimens of the Later English Poets. It was intended as a companion work to George Ellis, Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790; 2nd edn 1801; 3rd edn 1803). BACK

[2] Ellis’s Specimens of the Early English Poets was published by George Nicol (1740?–1828), bookseller to George III (1738–1820, King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[3] The fifth edition of Isaac Reed’s (1742–1807; DNB), Plays of William Shakespeare was published in 1803. BACK

[4] Reed’s Biographia Dramatica, or, a Companion to the Playhouse (1782). BACK

[5] Southey’s poem Madoc, which he had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication. It was published in 1805. BACK

[6] According to The New Wonderful Museum, and Extraordinary Magazine, 2 (1804), 1043, ‘Mr John Walker, of Bassenthwaite chapel, in the county of Cumberland, on the 5th of November, 1802, inclosed a toad in a bason, and having covered the bason with a slate, deposited it about a foot beneath the surface of the earth. The bason was carefully dug up, on the 8th Feb, last, when its inhabitant was found alive; though much thinner, after its confinement of 15 months’. BACK

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