1755. Robert Southey to John May, 9 March 1810

1755. Robert Southey to John May, 9 March 1810 ⁠* 

My dear friend

I am exceedingly rejoiced to hear of an authentic account of the French proceedings in Portugal. [1]  If you will send it to Rickman, he will get it franked to me, either by the Speaker, or thro Bedford by Perceval. You may remember some Catholick Legends how great sinners have been saved from & utter perdition, & let either into Purgatory, or sometimes <into> Heaven at once, for a stray act of goodness, – a chance alms, or an Ave Maria said in some lucky minute when it seemed to be the most inappropriate thing in the world. In a like manner I hope this precious Prime Minister may have th his franking services to me imparted to him as good works, – for I really do not see any other set off against the black account of his administration. – These people you know can frank any thing capable of being put under cover & seal, – & the book in question cannot possibly be too large for this most expeditious mode of conveyance. It will come just in time for my next chapter.

Upon looking over the printed sheets of the Register when they arrived the other day, I discovered an interpolation of the Editor (Ballantyne) by which he had made me subscribe to an eulogium upon Mr Pitt. [2]  You would have been well pleased with the letter which I wrote in consequence, requiring him to cancel the leaf. – a requisition which was immediately complied with & in a way to atone as much as possible for the liberty which had been taken. It is rather a melancholy thing to perceive by what an accident the political character of this book (which will have a circulation beyond any thing of the kind that has ever yet appeared) has been determined. The person engaged for the historical part was a downright courtling & Pittite. I suspect it to have been young Rose, [3]  – & indeed am almost certain. His first chapter happened to be so very dull that it frightened the Ballantynes, [4]  – they applied to me in despair, – & to their own great astonishment are thus become the Editors of opinions more manifestly unconnected with any party, & hostile to all parties, & delivered with a sincerity with <which> the greatest knave cannot doubt, & a vehemence which the veriest dolt must feel. I am now upon the siege of Zaragoza, [5]  & as I go down to the death of Sir J Moore [6]  you may see how much remains to be done. [7]  – I calculate it at five weeks work.

This evening the last proof of my History [8]  has arrived, after so many delays. I suppose the binders will yet detain it three weeks or a month. I shall order your copy to Percy Street, [9] unless you if this direction is not right as usual, let me know in your next. – Thank you for the trouble you have had concerning the Insurance. [10]  I shall draw upon Ballantyne as soon as my work is done.

God bless you

yrs in haste

R Southey.

March 9. 1810.

I open the letter lest you should have forgotten where Rickman lives. St Stephens Court – New Palace Yard. – next door to the Speakers, – & his name on the door.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr./ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/12MR12/1810’; [partial] 10 o’Clock/MR/18
Endorsement: No. 148 1810/ Robert Southey/ No place 9th March/recd. 12th do/ ansd. 21st Sept
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 120–121. BACK

[1] Observador Portuguez, Historico e Politico de Lisboa (1809), no. 3556 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Southey reviewed the book in Quarterly Review, 4 (August 1810), 1–24. BACK

[2] Ballantyne had possibly altered Southey’s observations on a speech praising William Pitt, the Younger (1759–1806; DNB) as a ‘“great man”’. As published, they read: ‘unless it were admitted as a principle that Mr Pitt could do no wrong!’, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 97. BACK

[3] Either the poet and translator William Steward Rose (1775–1843; DNB) or his brother, the diplomatist George Henry Rose (1770–1855; DNB). Their father was the Pittite loyalist MP George Rose (1744–1818; DNB). BACK

[4] The Edinburgh Annual Register’s publisher John Ballantyne and its printer, James Ballantyne. BACK

[5] The Spanish city of Zaragoza was beseiged by French forces for 61 days in June–August 1808. The French eventually retreated. BACK

[6] The British commander, Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), who was killed in battle at Corunna on 16 January 1809. BACK

[7] Southey’s account of these events occupied the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 306–459. BACK

[8] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[9] A puzzling reference, as Southey had previously sent books for May to 4 Tavistock Street in London, where he usually stayed when in town on business. BACK

[10] Southey had asked May’s advice about taking out a life insurance policy; see Southey to John May, 16 November 1809, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, Letter 1710. BACK

People mentioned