1124. Robert Southey to John May, 24 November 1805

1124. Robert Southey to John May, 24 November 1805 ⁠* 

My dear friend

Colonel Hill, concerning whom you enquire, is the son of my grandfather by a first marriage. [1]  After his fathers death he quarrelled with my grandmother. [2]  One cause of dispute was respecting some place, which came from her family, & which he wanted to get possession of, but which was secreted from him. He certainly behaved very ill upon the occasion. My grandfathers second marriage had been wholly to his advantage, & to the injury of the Tylers, [3]  – yet Captain Hill, as he then was, tho his father left a family of boys, even sold his fathers wardrobe, & so utterly neglected them, that my Uncle paid his own school bills when it was in his power. This occasioned a quarrel between them, after my Uncle took orders, & almost a duel. the Captain said in the course of a paper war that it was only his gown protected him, – & my Uncle replied in the same spirit – that he did not consider it a protection, & believed he was not the first coward who had worn a red coat.

My mother, in spite of these circumstances, always remembered Capt. Hill with much affection, for he had been kind to her in her childhood – being above twenty years older. & by <at> her pressing request I found him out in London in the year 98. & once breakfasted with him. He was very civil & expressed some anxiety for his relations – but it seemed to be done as a thing which he knew ought to be done in decency – rather than from any principle or real concern. He reminded me much of my Uncle in his person & is certainly a very fine old man. I should have liked him much if his heart had been in the right place. It is not in the right place; – for my poor cousin Margerett (who first opend a communication with him, as he had been of some service to her unhappy father [4] ) received kind letters from him & promises, which ended in nothing & were meant to be nothing. I found out his new lodgings when my mother was in her last illness, & left a card there; but he was then at Chatham (his usual residence) & from that time I have received no other intelligence of him than what your letter <now> communicates. In fact I have never looked for him; my former advances were made on my mothers account – I spoke of him one day at Lisbon, & saw that my Uncle retained his former feelings – he told me the story, took quicker strides as he walked across the room, & called him ‘the fellow’ – which is the harshest phrase of anger he ever permits himself to use. – He has no children – but his wife’s son will in all probability have his fortune, which, if the prize money for the Cape of Good Hope [5]  has ever been xxxxx <paid> will be considerable. his share not being less than 10,000£.

Some Sea Captain, I forget who, used to give as a toast – ‘a health to our friends & damn all the rest of our relations.’ [6]  I have a tolerable crop who would come under the maledictory part of the libation, But after all, the ties of blood are insoluable: – time which weakens most others strengthens these. Were I to see a friend after years & years of absence, the first feeling would be delight – but then comes disappointment. time has changed both – & there is no rallying point, – no common ground in which the affections have taken root. I used to think it possible to love a friend better than a brother, my opinion is quite changed. No two human beings can have fewer pursuits in common than Tom & myself – yet we have the whole recollections of fifteen years to bind us together, of our earliest sports – & our first troubles, & all other sympathies – all other bonds of union are feeble in comparison to this. The feeling which came upon me when I thought he was killed last year, was that the only being <person> in the world who could share with me those remembrances were <was> gone, – & that with me they must be unparticipated – solitary – sorrowful thoughts for ever more.

I do therefore heartily congratulate you on the birth of another child, looking upon a large family as a blessing, tho the state of society too often makes it otherwise. I fear I have little prospect of another <myself>. Edith has grown much fatter, & that change of constitution seems to indicate that she will not again be a mother. [7]  Yet I should have rejoiced in more children, having no doubt of providing for them sufficiently should I live, or of leaving them good friends & a good inheritance in my name should I die.

Tom has had a third attack of the yellow fever, – I have urged him to get to Europe if he possibly can, & not risque another summer in that pestilential climate: but it is Government who are to blame & not nature. they keep all their stores at Antigua, the most pestilential spot among all the Islands – so that the sailors call it Golgotha, [8]  & there, if a mast be sprung, or the ship wants any repairs, they are compelld to go & die like rotten sheep. Of the disputed prize money – he had heard that he was to have two thirds; Rickman on the contrary hears only one sixth, & the Courier to stop my farther remonstrances positively affirmed the sailors were to have their full share. [9]  It seems that if the Ministry really mean to take the money they are ashamed to do it openly.

The Monthly Review is manifest malice – the work of some unhappy author who either has been severely reviewed by me, or believes he has been so. [10]  I think it likely enough to be Stanier Clarke who wrote that miserable book about Maritime Discovery. [11]  The clumsy ill will of the writer made me say that he was like a blue-bottle fly wriggling his tail & fancying he was stinging with it. The Edinburgh will amuse you, tho in point of cxxx criticism – that is in knowing what is good & what bad, it is not a jot better than the other. [12]  but there is wit in it & a pleasant mixture of impertinence, self-conceit & civility. They say that ‘if Mr S. will continue to write in this way really they cannot help it!’ [13]  & the x MrJeffrey is perfectly accurate in saying so. – Wm Taylor Annualizes me in an excellent article of such praise as is worth having. [14]  My literary history would furnish an admirable illustration of the harmony of Reviews, & the impartiality of periodical criticism.

God bless you.

yrs very affectionately


Monday. Nov. 24. 1805


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: [two, one of which is illegible] 10 o’Clock /NO.28/ 1805F.N.n
Endorsement: No. 115 1805/ Robert Southey/ No place 24 Novr/ recd. 28th do/ ansd. 8th Feb. 1806
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos (ed.), The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 103–105. BACK

[1] Southey’s grandfather was named Edward Hill (1705–1765), as was this son of his first marriage, who held a commission in the marines. BACK

[2] Margaret Tyler, née Bradford (d. 1783). BACK

[3] Before Margaret Tyler married Edward Hill she had four children with her first husband, John Tyler (dates unknown). They were: Elizabeth, John, William and Edward. BACK

[4] Probably Joseph Hill (dates unknown), the brother of Southey’s mother, Margaret Southey. BACK

[5] Marines, like Royal Navy sailors, were entitled to a share of prize money from captured enemy ships and their cargos. For instance Dutch ships captured at the Cape of Good Hope in October 1797 resulted in a sum of £120,000 being shared out among British ships and their crew-members. The Cape of Good Hope was captured by the British in 1795, ceded to the Dutch in 1803, and was once more taken by British marines on 19 January 1806. BACK

[6] Untraced. BACK

[7] Southey’s assumption was incorrect. BACK

[8] The biblical name for the place of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. BACK

[9] In December 1804, the naval ship HMS Amelia, of which Thomas Southey was a lieutenant, had captured the Spanish brig Isabella and the ship Conception, both laden with wine and brandy, and the ship Commerce, laden with cotton. It was customary for naval officers to be allotted a share of the value of ships and cargo captured in armed conflict, but in this case the prize money was contested because the ships were captured before war was officially declared. Southey took up his brother’s cause to have his share reinstated and The Courier published a paragraph supporting the sailors’ claim to the prize-money on Saturday 24 August 1805. This was followed by a longer defence of their position in The Courier on 31 August 1805 under the title ‘Indemnification to the Spanish Merchants’. A ‘reply from a Spanish merchant’ appeared in The Courier for 6 September 1805. Southey’s response, that the prize money was being withheld from the sailors in a measure that was ‘impolitic, ungenerous and unjust’ was published in The Courier of 25 September 1805, p. 2. This was refuted by an editorial article in The Courier of 28 September 1805, where it was stated that there was no truth in Southey’s assertion. BACK

[10] John Ferriar (1761–1815; DNB), a Scottish physician who practised medicine in Manchester, often contributed articles to the Monthly Review, including this one on Southey’s Madoc (1805). See Monthly Review, n.s. 48 (October 1805), 113–122. BACK

[11] James Stanier Clarke (1766–1834; DNB), The Progress of Maritime Discovery, from the Earliest Period to the Close of the Eighteenth Century, Forming an Extensive System of Hydrography (1803). Southey reviewed this work in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 12–20. BACK

[12] Southey is referring to Francis Jeffrey’s review of Madoc (1805) in the Edinburgh Review, 7 (October 1805), 1–29. BACK

[13] After criticising several aspects of Madoc, Jeffrey states ‘If Mr Southey has not himself judgement and resolution to correct this error, we really do not know how to assist him’. See Edinburgh Review, 7 (October 1805), 1–29 (4). BACK

[14] Taylor reviewed Madoc in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 604–613. BACK