2044. Robert Southey to John May, 22 February 1812

2044. Robert Southey to John May, 22 February 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Feby. 22. 1812.

My dear friend

I hope Mrs May will not suffer in health by what she has lately gone thro, [1]  – other sufferings have their natural cure, & when the wound is healed, the loss of those we loved becomes ultimately our gain, connecting us with the world where we shall meet again. If I may reason from my own mind nothing can do this so effectually: all other conceptions of our future state are necessarily vague & doubtful, – tho the thought is <& in some degree painful> like the contemplation of space or of eternity xxxxxxxx. But the thought of meeting again with our parents & our children, – the playmates of our nursery & the friends of our riper years, – this is a definite expectation, – making <Heaven,> as it were, Heaven tangible & within our reach. I have felt this so strongly that it is led to a project which the Evangelicals no doubt, if it should ever be executed, will exclaim against as impious, – & which before it is attempted many <most> persons from its exceeding difficulty would in all likelihood dissuade me from attempting. It is that of making our own faith the basis of a poem, & tho to give it the interest of hope & fear, & of good & evil the action must be earthly, yet taking the point of view from our next stage of existence, & laying the scene there. [2]  Difficult unquestionably this will be, but to have conceived the thought is to have conquered half the difficulty, & the main doubt is whether I shall ever be able to find time for the undertaking.

You enquire the name of the officer mentioned in the Ed. Register. Vol. 1. [3]  I do not know it, – the story is from a newspaper, & bears every mark of truth. – I am half way thro the third volume [4]  of this very laborious work, which if it should ever be in my power to afford leisure for correcting it & adding such making such additions as later materials would supply, would be the most valuable legacy that I could bequeath to posterity. If I should ever get the office of historiographer, [5]  this will be the use which I should make of the exemption which it would afford give me.

The Epitaph [6]  which you sent is certainly very striking, that it is Miltons I think altogether improbable, – for tho the resemblance to his manner is sufficiently striking yet it is to that part of his manner which belonged to the age, not to the individual.

Do you know any thing of a journal set up in London, as I suppose by D. Domingos [7]  to co in opposition to the Correio Braz. called the Observador, or Investigador Portuguez em Londres? [8]  – I saw a number at Liverpool, & yet Longmans people cannot find it out for me.

The last Quarterly has two articles of mine, that upon Montgomerys poem, [9]  & that on the Inquisition. [10]  I am now reviewing the Travels in Iceland, [11]  & shall probably criticise Landors play of Count Julian [12]  for the next number also. There is a very illiberal attack upon the Cambridge Dr Bell in the last number, [13]  altogether unworthy of to have proceeded from a member of a Protestant Church. The principle upon which it proceeds, would inevitably lead to the suppression of every opinion which is not in according with the articles of the Establishment. xx

Coleridge has been here about three days, in good health & spirits & not looking the worse for having lost a few pounds of superfluous body. He seems to have gone thro his lectures [14]  with great success, which will most likely tempt him to repeat them.

At last I have been fortunate enough to obtain some of the books concerning Brazil of which I was most in want. [15]  Mr Gooden of St Swithins Lane xx has offerd to lend them to me, & they are now upon the road. He purchased them some at Rio Janeiro, some at Lisbon. Do you know him? The letter which I received from him is that of a sensible & well informed man. I have asked my Uncle to go & look at his manuscripts. My hope is to clear off every thing else before the summer, & thus gain the time from June to November for carrying on my second volume.

Present my respects to your good mother. – remember me to your brothers [16]  & believe me

Yrs very affectionately

R Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Hale/ Downton/ Wiltshire
Stamped: KESWICK/298
Endorsements: No 156 1812./ Robert Southey/ Keswick 22nd Feby/ recd: 26th do/ansd: 1st April
MS: Beinecke Library, GEN MSS 298, Series I, Box 1, folder 14. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Possibly Susanna May had suffered a miscarriage, or the death of a very young child. BACK

[2] This poem was not written. BACK

[3] Possibly a reference to Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 453–454, which tells the story of an unnamed British officer who, during the retreat to Corunna in 1809, took on the care of a baby after its mother’s death. BACK

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

[5] Historiographer Royal. Although it fell vacant on 23 May 1812 on the death of Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB), Southey’s very active canvassing for the job was unsuccessful and it went instead to one of his particular hate figures, James Stanier Clarke (c. 1765–1834; DNB). BACK

[6] Unidentified, as May’s letter has not survived. BACK

[7] Domingos de Sousa Coutinho, 1st Conde e Marques do Funchal (1760–1833), member of the Portuguese legation in London 1803–1814. BACK

[8] O Investigador Portuguese em Inglaterra (1811–19), no. 3409 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. It was established in opposition to the Correio Braziliense (also known as the ‘Literary Warehouse’). Edited by Hipolito Jose da Costa (1774–1823), the Correio 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. BACK

[9] Montgomery, The West Indies, and other Poems (1810) and a new edition of The Wanderer of Switzerland, and other Poems (1811), Quarterly Review, 6 (December 1811), 405–419. BACK

[10] Southey’s review of The History of the Inquisitions; including the Secret Transactions of those Horrific Tribunals (1810); Letter upon the Mischievous Influence of the Spanish Inquisition as it actually exists in the Provinces under the Spanish Government. Translated from El Español, a periodical Spanish Journal published in London (1811); Narrativa da Perseguição de Hippolyto Joseph Da Costa Pereira Furtado de Mendonça, Natural da Colonia do Sacramento, no Rio-da-Prata, prezo e Processado em Lisboa pelo pretenso Crime de Fra-Maçon, ou Pedreiro Livre (1811), Quarterly Review, 6 (December 1811), 313–357. BACK

[11] Sir George Steuart Mackenzie (1780–1848; DNB), Travels in the Island of Iceland, in the Summer of the Year 1810 (1811) and Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865; DNB), Journal of a Tour in Iceland, in the Summer of 1809 (1811), Quarterly Review, 7 (March 1812), 48–92. BACK

[12] Southey’s review of Count Julian appeared in Quarterly Review, 8 (September 1812), 86–92. BACK

[13] Quarterly Review, 6 (December 1811), 391–405. John Ireland (1761–1842; DNB), Sub-Dean (1806–1816) and then Dean (1816–1842) of Westminster Abbey provided a very hostile review of the Anglican theologian Dr William Bell’s (1731–1816; DNB), edition of Pierre Francois le Courayer (1681–1776), Traite ou l’on expose ce que l’Ecriture nous apprend de la Divinite de Jesus Christ (1810). BACK

[14] Coleridge’s lecture series on Shakespeare, Milton and the English poets had begun at Scot’s Corporation Hall, Fleet St, London, on 18 November 1811 and finished on 27 January 1812. BACK

[15] i.e. needed for The History of Brazil, 3 vols (1810–1819). BACK

[16] John May had four brothers, but Southey may mean in particular the oldest, Joseph May (d. 1830), whom he knew slightly, and the youngest, William Henry May (1785–1849), who provided help with the History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)