December 19 1815: Southey’s Complaints


On December 19 1815, Robert Southey writes to his friend Grosvenor Charles Bedford. Southey is not happy at having to write a New Year’s ode as part of his Poet Laureate’s duties.

My dear Grosvenor – I am in some discomfort about the fiddlers & that unmannerly fellow Sir Wm Parsons, – fellows who have still a claim upon me, notwithstanding the implied condition upon which I first acceded to the situation, & Ally Crokers  promise that he would take an opportunity of speaking to the Prince, & hinting to him how proper a thing it would be to exempt an office of honour from a service which could only tend to bring it into disrepute. This he has never done, & I shall have my exercise to do as long as I hold the office, or till the Deus Lunus is old enough to do it, by way of exercise, for me.  What I want to know now is, whether the verses must be ready for the New Years day, or if I have as long grace this year as there was in the last; & this I pray you learn for me with as little delay as possible: that is tell me by what time I must send {them} up. Ever since my return I have been close at work, for the most part upon this poem, the title of which will be The Poets Pilgrimage to La Belle Alliance. Hitherto it proceeds much to my liking, – it is in the six lined stanza, like the unfinished marriage-poem  which you have seen, & pitched in the same Spenserian key. There is a Proem, beginning with an address to Skiddaw, passing to a picture of my return home, & so introducing the subject. Then follows the Journey, this part I may possibly finish to night, & these two parts will be about 400 lines. The Field of Battle is to come next. Then the Meditation or Lamentation; (for I have not fixed the title of this part), – the Reproof, or the Hopes of Man afterwards, & finally the Hymn of Victory, from this last the Fiddlers must be supplied; – but I should rather come to it in the regular course of composition, than lay the rest aside to get that ready like a schoolboys task.

This poem has grown under my hands, perhaps had I been aware of its extent Longman would have chosen to give it a quarto form: – for it will most probably exceed 1000 or lines, making from sixty to 70 pages, – & the notes as many more. However this is of little consequence & I have written to Mr Nash about the drawings, giving him dimensions for the small size. As soon as I hear of his arrival in London, where he is now expected, I will give you an introduction to him, & appoint you Agent in this matter between him & the Long men. – The subjects which I think of having engraved are Waterloo Church, an outer view of Hogoumont, an inner one, & a view of Ligny;  – these are all sufficiently picturesque, but I rather think Charles Bell of the Middlesex Hospital has made a better view of Hogoumont on the outside, & if it prove to be so he will give it me, [9] – the x Sirius will manage this. There is another inner view of the ruins which will make a good etching, & to which we may allow double length, & I would have etched or wooden vignettes of La Belle Alliance, La Haye Saint, & Les Quatre Bras,  places which have no beauty whatever, but which of which faithful representation will give an interest to the book. Of La Haye Saint we have no sketch, but we may take that from the panoramic print, unless another should offer from any private sketchbook. – I am very full of this poem at present, being quite in tune for it.

I gave Longman as a title to announce it by, merely La Belle Alliance, – there is a necessity for enlarging it as you have seen, & the new title is both more suitable & more excit likely to excite curiosity. Tell him therefore of the alteration when you see him, or if you think it worth while inform him of it by a note. – Part of my books are arrived in the Row, & I believe the Acta Sanctorum among them. Mr Vardon gives them a passage for me to Newcastle.

Murray has sent me Sir J Malcolms book to review, & I have read it for that purpose. It is just that kind of book which would

lead me to put more matter into a reviewal than the work itself contains, – but at a great expence of time & labour –

I have done something to Brazil  since my return, & something also to Dr Dove,  – a secret which we must keep as much as possible, – for a half years secret I think would be very probably worth half a dozen editions. There is so much of Tristram Shandy about it, that I think it will be proper to take the name of Stephen Yorickson Esqre in the title page, – this is a notion only half a day old. I would give one of my ears, if I could have both yours just now to try some of this book upon them. So much of it is done, that I shall very probably put it to press in the spring. It is very doubtful at this time whether I do not lose more than I gain by giving up so much time to reviewing; – & whenever that ceases to be doubtful, huzza for a joyful emancipation!

Remember me to all at home. We are going on well – the Venerable speaks of you as ungratefully as ever, – I have had a visit from a young American physician of New York.  He tells me that my note in the Courier respecting the attack made upon me in that city, was copied into the American papers. I think (& the intention arose from this knowledge) of exposing M Beauchamps theft of my Brazil thro the same channel, as the surest method of widely & effectually exposing him, – & an excellent advertisement to boot.

God bless you


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