2381. Robert Southey to John May, 18 February 1814

2381. Robert Southey to John May, 18 February 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. Feby. 18. 1814.

My dear friend

If time gallops with the thief on his way to the gallows, [1]  I am sure he goes a smart canter with me, who am in a very different situation. The weeks & the months pass on so rapidly, that if it were not for the newspapers, & the day of the month for the psalms, – & the regular recurrence of household expences – which are as constant as Time & Tide in their way, I should hardly believe so long an interval had pa elapsed since my return from London.

The Power of Attorney I executed & sent back to Turner about three weeks ago. That you may have no unnecessary trouble I will take <care> that you shall be informed thro Harry when the Chamberlains Office makes its payments, – always I believe later than the Exchequer. [2]  The first quarter will be almost wholly consumed in fees. – My business with Ballantyne [3]  remains unsettled, – the elder brother however writes in a way which disarms me, & I wait with hope as well as patience the effect of his promises, – tho it is perfectly clear that the money which I embarked in the work will is lost. Another volume will be published, [4]  but I know not who writes the history, – he will find it a more arduous task than he expects if he discharges it with fidelity. If I do any thing for it, it will be for the miscellaneous volume, to which I may possibly contribute something.

I have not lost sight of the Memoir of Mr Walpole, [5]  – but I have not recovered sight of his papers. When they return from Coxe [6]  I shall proceed regularly with them. I have been am reading this Archdeacons history of the Spanish Bourbons, [7]  – like his Austrian volumes [8]  it is written upon the curious & novel principle that the history of nations is comprized in the squabbles of cabinets & the dispatches of Embassadors. Whatever is out of the circle of diplomacy is extramundane to William Coxe! – Nevertheless his books have their use, but never in the course of all my reading did I feel so little respect for any author who communicated to me any thing which I desired to know.

Roderick [9]  is in the press, & most of my time is devoted to it, – yet my progress is not very rapid. Indeed I am no longer a rapid writer either in prose or verse, & the quantity which I produce is accumulated by dribletts, – as fortunes are made in low retail trades. Ten lines cost me more thought & as much time as a hundred were wont to do fifteen <or 20> years ago. This is the effect of maturity, – which & in all things the stage next beyond maturity is decay. I am, God be praised, in the full strength of my faculties, & have good reason to be satisfied with the use which has been made of them, – but the sense of the chances & changes to which we are all liable is so ever present to my mind, that if I possessed an income equal to my expenditure I should most assuredly renounce all those periodical & minor composition of every kind, & devote x myself without interruption to the completion of my historical works & the great poems which I have planned, – in the hope of living to feel that being able one day to feel that my work was fully & fairly done.

Bedford has not written to me about the Busts [10]  – (for he has to look after them) but I conceive that the reason why nothing has been heard concerning them is that the winter set in so unusually soon, & has continued with such unusual severity, – frost agreeing as ill with this <kind of> plaister work as with masonry.

I am exceedingly glad to hear that the Brazil ship arrived safe, – the business wore an ugly aspect & must have added very much to those disquieting causes of disquietude by which you have so long been harrassed. Most happy should I be to learn that Worthingtons [11]  conduct were fairly cleared up.

I have had two or three letters from my brother Edward, the contents of which you may probably have heard from Henry. Their complection is very bad, – nonetheless he is not married, – & this discovery renders it impracticable to get him a respectable engagement in his own wretched profession, – as I could not recommend him under these circumstances to a regular theatre, – the character of the women being very properly considered of importance in all country theatres. Wynn therefore, as the only remaining alternative, has written to Spain to procure him a commission in the Spanish service, & the answer may be expected in a week or two from this time. In my own mind I am almost certain that the result of this attempt will be the same as it has been in all the former instances; it ought however to be made, however hopeless I may think it consider it.

Coleridge when last he was heard of was at Bristol, & promised to come down here, – as soon as he could get money for the journey. His conduct utter neglect of his wife & children is becoming now so <every day more> serious a in its consequences that I will not say it deserves the bitterest condemnation. He leaves her with only 75 £ a year & that subject to income tax to support herself & her daughter, & two boys [12]  at school. Still I hope he may by do something when he comes here.

Edith begs to be remembered – remember us both to Mrs May – oh how I wish that we could see you & your little girls [13]  here –

believe me my dear friend

yrs very affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqre/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 21FE21/ 1814’ and ‘10o’Clock/ FE.21/ 1814F.N.n
Watermark: C Wilmott/ 1807
Endorsement: No. 170 1814/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 18 Feby./recd. 21st do/ ansd 14th Ap:
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. 128–130. BACK

[1] As You Like It, Act III, scene 2, line 327. BACK

[2] Southey’s salary as Poet Laureate was paid by the Lord Chamberlain’s office. BACK

[3] Southey’s dispute with the Edinburgh Annual Register’s publisher John Ballantyne and its printer, James Ballantyne. BACK

[4] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1812 (1814). Southey did not contribute to this publication. The historical section was taken over by the Scottish lawyer and writer, James Russell (1790–1861; DNB). BACK

[5] Robert Walpole (1736–1810), Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal, 1771–1800. BACK

[6] Coxe had written lives of Robert, 1st Earl of Orford (1676–1745; DNB) and Horatio (Horace) Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717–1797; DNB), and was considering a life of Jose I (1714–1777; King of Portugal 1750–1777). BACK

[7] William Coxe’s Memoirs of the Kings of Spain (1813). BACK

[8] William Coxe’s History of the House of Austria (1807). BACK

[9] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[10] Southey had sat for a bust in October 1813. The sculptor was James Smith (1775–1815). BACK

[11] John Worthington (dates unknown) was May’s business partner in Brazil. BACK

[13] Susanna (b. 1805) and Charlotte (b. 1812) May. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)