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January 4 1812: Southey on Shelley


On January 4, 1812, Robert Southey (12 August 1774 – 21 March 1843) well known poet, biographer, historian, reviewer and in general a complete man of letters wrote to his friend, Grosvenor Charles Bedford (1773-1839), about the recent visit of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.  He wrote, in part, as follows:

...Here is a man at Keswick, who acts upon me as my own ghost would do. He is just what I was in 1794. His name is Shelley, son to the member for Shoreham; with 6000l. a year entailed upon him, and as much more in his father’s power to cut off. Beginning with romances of ghosts and murder, and with poetry at Eton, he passed, at Oxford, into metaphysics; printed half-a-dozen pages, which he entitled ‘The Necessity of Atheism;’ sent one anonymously to Coplestone, in expectation, I suppose, of converting him; was expelled in consequence; married a girl of seventeen, after being turned out of doors by his father; and here they both are, in lodgings, living upon 200l. a year, which her father allows them. He is come to the fittest physician in the world. At present he has got to the Pantheistic stage of philosophy, and, in the course of a week, I expect he will be a Berkleyan, for I have put him upon a course of Berkeley. It has surprised him a good deal to meet, for the first time in his life, with a man who perfectly understands him, and does him full justice. I tell him that all the difference between us is that he is nineteen, and I am thirty-seven; and I dare say it will not be very long before I shall succeed in convincing him that he may be a true philosopher, and do a great deal of good, with 6000l. a year; the thought of which troubles him a great deal more at present than ever the want of sixpence (for I have known such a want) did me. . . . . God help us! the world wants mending, though he did not set about it exactly in the right way. God bless you, Grosvenor!

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