1996. Robert Southey to John May, 8 December 1811

1996. Robert Southey to John May, 8 December 1811 ⁠* 

What others wish in part, age wit, & wealth,
Children to propagate our name, & blood,
Chief place in City oft, unphysick’d health,
And that, which seasons all – the name of good –
In Levins were all mix’d – but all are gone
Only the good name lives – that look upon. – [1] 

Keswick. Dec. 8. 1811.

My dear friend

It is better to leave a thing undone than to do it ill. I have tried at your inscription without success, tho I have taken two days beyond the time allotted, rather than write to report my failure, – as I am last fain to do. [2]  – You know the old phrase invitâ Minervâ, [3]  – it was of no use to invite her or any body else. I could not produce any thing good, & for my own sake as well as that of the verse should have been very sorry to have had any thing which was not good recorded against me in so permanent a form. The Latin inscription is very good. [4] 

I do not remember whether I told you of my intention to write in the Quarterly upon your Society for bettering the condition of the Poor. [5]  My object is to show what has been done, is doing, & remains to be done in this country, in the real business of reform.

The Register employs me very closely. [6]  I am told that the hint in the Edinburgh Review concerning the <last vol.> is likely to be taken, & that it will be made the subject of a parliamentary motion. [7]  Whitbread [8]  & his friends however will hardly play the fool so egregiously as to bring me to the bar of the House of Commons. The little inconvenience which it would put me to would be more than repaid by the notoriety it would give to the book, – & his privilege of parliament in such a case would stand him in little stead against my privilege of the press.

God bless you

Yrs affectionately

R Southey

I am exceedingly glad to hear you have settled matters so well with D Domingos. [9]  – There have been sundry papers published at the Rio against the Correio Braziliense. [10]  I wish you could procure them for me, – & any thing else which may be published there.


* Endorsement: No. 155 1811/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 8th December/ recd. 12th do/ ansd. 14th Feb. 1812
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 122–123. BACK

[1] What others … look upon: in another hand. BACK

[2] May had asked Southey to write an inscription to be engraved on a gift for George Coleridge, to be presented on the latter’s retirement from the school at Ottery St Mary in December 1811; see Southey to John May, 24 November 1811, Letter 1988. The lines are from an anonymous epitaph to Alderman William Levins (d. 1616) in All Saints Church, Oxford. BACK

[3] i.e. ‘Nihil decet invita Minerva’: ‘Nothing is becoming, against the will of Minerva’, Cicero, De Divinatione, II, xxxviii, 80. Minerva was the Roman goddess of poetry. BACK

[4] The inscription was by John Taylor Coleridge. This was engraved on the gift for George Coleridge. BACK

[5] The Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor. The first of a series of Southeyan articles on the poor appeared in the Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. It was possibly co-authored with John Rickman. BACK

[6] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812). BACK

[7] A long aside in the Edinburgh Review, 18 (August 1811), 420–423n, had questioned whether the ‘virulent personal abuse … levelled at the most respectable members of the Legislature’ in the Edinburgh Annual Register was in breach of Parliamentary privilege and hinted that action against the author and publishers might be taken. In the event, the ‘hint’ was not acted on. BACK

[8] The radical Whig MP Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB). The Edinburgh Review, 18 (August 1811), 421–422n, had pointed him out as a particular target for abuse by the author (i.e. Southey) of the offending article in the Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[9] Domingos de Sousa Coutinho, 1st Conde e Marques do Funchal (1760–1833), member of the Portuguese legation in London 1803–1814. John May’s dealings with the diplomat were probably in connection to May family business interests in Brazil. BACK

[10] The Correio Braziliense (also known as the ‘Literary Warehouse’) was a journal in Portuguese. Edited by Hipolito Jose da Costa (1774–1823), it was printed in London and ran from 1808–1822. It was critical of the Portuguese monarchy and advocated liberal ideas. Southey possessed a complete set, no. 3203 in the Sale catalogue of his Library. The success of the Correio led to at least ten different anti-Correio publications in Lisbon and London, including the government-sponsored Reflexões sobre o Correio Braziliense (1809). BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)