Robert Lovell

Robert Southey to Grosvenor C. Beford, 14 December 1793; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 1:195-97.

Bath, Dec. 14. 1793.

The gentleman who brings this letter must occupy a few lines of it. His name is Lovel: I know him but very little personally, though long by report; you must already see he is eccentric. Perhaps I do wrong in giving him this, but I wish your opinion of him. Those who are superficially acquainted with him feel wonder; those who know him, love. This character I hear. He is on the point of marrying a young woman with whom I spent great part of my younger years; we were bred up together I may almost say, and that period was the happiest of my life. Mr. Lovel has very great abilities; he writes well: in short, I wish his acquaintance myself; and, as his stay in town is very short, you will forgive the introduction. Perhaps you may rank him with Duppa, and, supposing excellence to be at 100, Duppa is certainly much above 50. Now, my dear Grosvenor, I doubt I am acting improperly; it was enough to introduce myself so rudely: but abilities always claim respect, and that Lovel has these I think very certain. Characters, if anyways marked, are well worth studying; and a young man of two-and-twenty, who has been his own master since fifteen, and who owes all his knowledge to himself, is so far a respectable character. My knowledge of him, I again repeat, is very confined: his intended bride I look upon as almost a sister, and one should know one's brother-in-law....

What is to become of me at ordination heaven only knows! After keeping the straight path so long the Test Act will be a stumbling-block to honesty; so chance and providence must take care of that, and I will fortify myself against chance. The wants of man are so very few that they must be attainable somewhere, and, whether here or in America, matters little; I have long learnt to look upon the world as my country.

Now, if you are in the mood for a reverie, fancy only me in America; imagine my ground uncultivated since the creation, and see me wielding the axe, now to cut down the tree, and now the snakes that nestled in it. Then see me grubbing up the roots, and building a nice sung little dairy with them: three rooms in my cottage, and my only companion some poor negro whom I have bought on purpose to emancipate. After a hard day's toil, see me sleep upon rushes, and, in very bad weather, take out my casette and write to you, for you shall positively write to me in America. Do not imagine I shall leave rhyming or philosophising, so thus your friend will realise the romance of Cowley, and even outdo the seclusion of Rousseau; till at last comes an ill-looking Indian with a tomahawk, and scalps me, — a most melancholy proof that society is very bad, and that I shall have done very little to improve it! So vanity, vanity will come from my lips, and poor Southey will either be cooked for a Cherokee, or oysterised by a tiger.

I have finished transcribing Joan, and bound her in marble paper with green ribbon, and now am about copying all my remainables to carry to Oxford. Thence once more a clear field, and then another epic poem, and then another, and so on, till Truth shall write on my tomb — "Here lies an odd mortal, whose life only benefited the paper manufacturers, and whose death will only hurt the post-office."

Do send my great coat, &c. My distresses are so great that I want words to express the inconvenience I suffer. So as breakfast is not yet ready (it is almost nine o'clock), you shall have an ode to my great coat. Excellent subject, excellent trifler, — or blockhead, say you; but, Bedford, I must either be too trifling or too serious; the first can do no harm, and I know the last does no good. So come forth my book of Epistles.