267. Robert Southey to John May, 2 November 1797

267. Robert Southey to John May, 2 November 1797 ⁠* 

November 2. 1797.

I write from Bristol, a place where business & friendship have detained me some few days. my Joan of Arc is in the printers hands,  [1]  where it will be some three or four months. I have prefixd these lines to it

Edith! I brought thee late a humble gift
The songs of earlier youth: it was a wreath
With many an unripe blossom garlanded,
And many a weed, yet mingled with some flowers
That will not wither. now, my love, I bring
A worthier offering; thou wilt value it,
For well thou knowest it is a work that soothd
Hours of hard care & strange inquietude
With most sweet solace. & tho to mine ear
There is no music in the hollowness
Of common praise, yet I am well content
To think that I have past in such employ
The green & vigorous season of my mind,
And hope that there are those in whom the song
Has woke some not unprofitable thoughts. [2] 

I have written few things that have given so much pleasure — & what better praise can they have?

You will be somewhat surprized to hear that Coleridge thinks of becoming a dissenting minister. he has written to Estlin, his most zealous friend, to say that he believes he must turn his thoughts to the ministry, & that he has almost got over his scruples. here the matter rests — & Estlin is looking out for a congregation. a vacancy is expected at Shrewsbury — & there application will be made.

Nothing can be done in my Mothers affairs till the arrival of Thomas. the wicked measure of compelling Portugal to renounce her treaty with France, will enable my Uncle I hope, to accomplish this business without inconvenience to himself. I have heard from him, but it was wholly upon private affairs, & nothing concerning Lisbon. he wishes my youngest brother to live with me when he goes to St Pauls.

I saw Bullers death [3]  in the news-paper. — it surprized me. we are accustomed to think it dreadful for a young man to die during when his conduct is wrong. — perhaps tho a natural feeling this is a mistaken one. two young men live in wickedness. the one dies unreclaimed in his youth. the other grows old & repents. so might the first, but for the accident of death. may we not then expect the process of amendment to be carried on in the next state of existence? else — can we expect the same work to be performed in a week or in a month? The full belief of universal regeneration is become a feeling in me. now we can be happy without believing in God — I know not — or in believing him & immitigable in vengeance. — I purpose one day writing a poem upon a strange subject — the character of St Teresa. [4]  surely it is a fine one. a soul of quick feelings & ardent passions absorbed in theopathy. an infatuation — I may say a drunkenness of devotion — which we must love. I feel that the subject suits me. — & it may be a useful poem; for that which awakens one good feeling in only one heart cannot be useless.

We have had a dreadful suicide here. the whole is in the Monthly Magazine. [5]  by the by do not suspect me of stiling my lines there “A plaintive tale”. [6]  I wrote it “plain” they added the other syllable — & made it ridiculous.

God bless you. I shall be in town the 18th. but you will hear from me again. Edith would send her remembrance were she in the room.

yrs affectionately

R Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4 Bedford Square/ London
Postmark: ANO/ 3/ 97
Endorsements: 1797 No 10/ Robert Southey/ Bristol 2 Novr:/ recd: 3 do/ ansd personally; Joan of Arc and/ Coleridge
MS: Cornell University Library. ALS; 4p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The second edition of Joan of Arc, published in 1798. BACK

[2] Robert Southey, Joan of Arc, 2nd edn, 2 vols (Bristol, 1798), I, p. 5. BACK

[3] Possibly William Buller, a contemporary of Southey’s at Westminster School (adm. 1788). He died in Trinidad in 1797. BACK

[4] St Teresa of Avila (1515–1582). BACK

[5] Monthly Magazine, 4 (October 1797), 321–323, in which Joseph James (dates unknown) described his discovery of the body of a well-dressed, male stranger in the river at Seamill-dock, Bristol. James traced the dead man to his lodgings where he found a diary of his tormented state of mind written on the walls of his room. A second article, Monthly Magazine, 4 (Supplement 1797), 556–558, provided further information about the deceased’s identity. BACK

[6] Southey’s poem ‘Hannah’, Monthly Magazine, 4 (October 1797), 287. BACK

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