1442. Robert Southey to John May, 16 April 1808

1442. Robert Southey to John May, 16 April 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 16. 1808

My dear friend

After leaving you this day fortnight I went thro the form of a supper at Salisbury, & past that sort of unquiet night which a man never fails to have at an inn, when he is to rise at five the next morning. Saturdays journey, except the first chilling stage to Hinton, was pleasant enough, & took me thro a part of Somersetshire which was new to me. About half past eight I reached Mr Southeys & was received with as much cordiality as it is in his nature to show. My Aunt Mary advised me not to ask him in plain terms to assist Harry, but rather to let Harry make the application himself, – for she thought he was hurt that Harry should address his letters to her instead of to him, & that he liked to be made of consequence. I yielded to this, & contented myself with preparing the way for his application by talking of his fair prospects, his present difficulties, & the little doubt there could be of his final success if those difficulties could be surmounted. The weather played me a sad trick during this visit. My intention was to have paid my Taunton visits on the Monday (his dinner hour rendering this impossible on the Sunday) on Tuesday to have got over to Stowey to see Poole, return the next day, & start for Bristol on Thursday, – but the rain set in with such unabating violence that I was confined to the house from Monday morning till Thursday, without any possibility of stirring out. Mine is a very accommodating disposition in most cases. I read a pocket companion of excellent length & dullness, expressly provided for such occasions, & better as a practical teacher of patience than the best commentary on the book of Job: – I talked with him of old Bristol elections & old family affairs, subjects on which his knowledge was far greater than mine, & in which the interest I felt was equal to his own, – I told him stories & heard from him others in return which some of which my friend Espriella will turn to good account, [1]  I drank his strong beer, got to bed early, & in short got thro the time with some satisfaction to him, & as little dissatisfaction as could be to myself. It is plain that he was well pleased, for he gave me 25 £, – for him a considerable gift to make, & by no means an unwelcome one for me to receive.

Thursday evening I reached Bristol & found Tom rapidly recovering, but a little in too much haste to run away from the surgeon, – for in spite of all dissuasion he would not stay behind me. [2]  I remained there till Monday, – left started that night for Birmingham in the mail; halted with Miss Barker at Sir Edward Littletons from Tuesday noon till the same hour on Wednesday, got to Manchester by the mail at 12 on Wednesday night, & left it in another mail in two hours, which brought me by two the next day to Kendal, & we reached home safely just as it became dark. I found Edith & our three children as well as my heart could wish, & xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx at finding myself once more safe & with my family about me, after an absence of nine weeks & a journey of 800 miles, I feel a thankfulness which heightens the joy it hallows.

Three tea chests of books which had for the sake of security & dispatch been sent by land were here before me. They are stored away; – my papers (the work of London hours) are put in order, & I am resuming my habitual occupations. I shall not be quite easy till some tidings arrive of the 22 cases on shipboard, – they will occasion a glorious confusion in the house, & some contrivance to find room for them. [3]  When they are all arranged I shall feel that there are as many materials collected as it will be possible for me to get thro, in the longest lease of life: – a xxx feeling more humiliating than melancholy: – there is nothing melancholy in looking forward to another world; but it is humiliating to think how little one’s knowledge can amount to in this.

God bless you. I am glad that I have seen you & Mrs May, & those sweet children of yours. Remember me to her very kindly & Edith with me. Remember me also to your brothers & make my respects to your excellent Mother. [4]  – I think with great pleasure of the three days which past in Hampshire, & shall heave many a sigh at the thoughts of your Hale strong beer, when the miserable ale of this country puts me in mind of it.

I heard of Mrs Hairs sad loss at Bristol. [5]  What news from Lisbon? – The more success of our blockade is talked of the more sensible I am of its cruelty & impolicy. How long will it be before nations shall practically acknowledge the first axioms of morality, & the plainest laws of Xtianity!

yours very affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr./ Hale/ Downton/ Wiltshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ APR20 /1808
Watermark: shield/ 1803/ T Botfield
Endorsement: No. 134 1808/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 16th April/ recd. 21st do/ ansd. 8th June
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. 115–116. BACK

[1] Southey’s proposed sequel to Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807) was not completed. BACK

[2] Thomas Southey had gone to Bristol to see John King who had treated him for haemorrhoids. BACK

[3] Having decided to remain at Greta Hall the previous year, Southey had been steadily arranging for his books, which had been stored by friends in London and the West Country, to be collected together. BACK

[4] May’s brothers included Joseph May, the first-born, of Hale manor, Wiltshire and William Henry May (1785–1849), who spent much of his life pursuing the family’s business interests in Portugal and Brazil. Their mother was Mary, née Coppendale (1745–1824). BACK

[5] With her husband, a member of the British Factory at Lisbon. In 1797 John May had considered marrying Charlotte Hair, presumably their daughter. Southey met the Hair family on both of his visits to Portugal. BACK

Places mentioned

Stowey (mentioned 1 time)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)