309. Robert Southey to John May, 1 May [1798]

309. Robert Southey to John May, 1 May [1798] ⁠* 

Tuesday. May 1st. Bath.

My dear friend

We have of late been very uneasy respecting my brother in the Mars. The gazette relieved us by making honourable mention of him, & luckily we knew nothing of his wounds, till his own letter informed us last night. [1]  His escape has been almost miraculous – he was by the Captain when the Boatswain [2] came to ask if they should board the enemy forwards – by all means was the reply. Tom caught up a pike & ran to that part of the ship. he found them all in confusion, & as he imagined only wanting a leader. he cried out will you follow me? they answered yes by G– Sir to Hell! my brother got upon the anchor & from thence on board the Hercules – he had just made his landing good whence he received a thrust from a pike in his right thigh, & immediately a second, which made him loose his hold & he fell beneat between the two ships. as he was falling they made a third thrust at his back. the pike glanced from his shoulder blade so as to pass twice thro all his cloaths & take out a small piece of flesh. providentially as he fell he caught hold of a rope hanging from the anchor, hung by it & got upon his own deck. he then clapt his hand to the wounds on his thigh, & felt them bleeding profusely, the bloody running down his leg. he was fearful lest he should faint with loss of blood & be thrown overboard, & so made his way to the cock pit. his letter is written in high spirits – but the horrible scene he witnessed, particularly in the cock pit – has strongly impressed him. we expect him home. Ld Bridport sent him word that he would not forget him.

I have always I trust been sensible of the folly & wickedness of these war systems – & yet methinks I feel it somewhat more strongly now. here are ninety men killed & wounded in the Mars (& Tom says this number is he fears rather too little than too much) & 350 Frenchmen. What an aggregate of wretchedness when we consider the branchings of their connections!

We removed here on Saturday last. [MS torn] I was sorry to leave Bristol before Beddoes had finis[MS torn] his course of chemical lectures [3]  to which he had given m[MS torn] an admission ticket. I was sorry likewise to remove Ed[MS torn] from a situation more favourable in air & for the opport[MS torn] of exercise than this. but I found it necessary for my mothers spirits, on which her health so much depends – & also to prevent her from exposing herself to damp weather & easterly winds, which nothing but my presence could effectually do. My Mother is surprizingly better, but her health sadly fluctuates. at Midsummer the Landlord [4]  takes to the house – I have heard nothing from Lisbon – & must write thither again, upon the subject of this her removal, that the money in Mr Burns [5]  hands, which he designed to extricate her, & which I prevented from being less usefully employed, may now be thus directed. When this business is once settled I shall feel a heavy load removed from my mind.

I corrected my last proof [6]  the morning of my departure. the large copies [7]  will be got ready this week, & I go over on Friday to dispatch them, so that I hope to send you one on Monday next, with one for Burn.

When shall I begin to carry the begging box in this part of the world? [8]  I shall be in London the eighteenth & leave it the 22nd for Yarmouth.

Edith is some little better – but her health varies likewise. she desires to be remembered.

God bless you

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4. Bedford Square/ London
Stamped: BATH
Postmark: MY/ 2/ 98
Endorsement: 1798 No. 16./ Robert Southey/ Bath 1 May/ recd: 2 do/ ansd: 10 do
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. 29–30. BACK

[1] Thomas Southey had been wounded in an action between the Mars and the French ship L’Hercule on 21 April 1798. BACK

[2] Unidentified. BACK

[3] Beddoes later claimed his chemical lectures were undertaken because ‘many people’ in Bristol desired ‘philosophical information’, Contributions to Physical and Medical Knowledge, Principally from the West of England, Collected by Thomas Beddoes, M.D. (Bristol, 1799), p. 211. BACK

[4] Probably Mr Chilton (first name and dates unknown), owner of the boarding-house at 8 Westgate Buildings, Bath, and therefore Margaret Southey’s landlord; see The New Bath Directory (Bath, [1792]), p. 29. BACK

[5] Possibly William Burn (dates unknown), a member of the British Factory, Lisbon. BACK

[6] The proofs of the second edition of Joan of Arc (1798). BACK

[7] Cottle usually printed a dozen or so large copies of Southey’s writings, for him to present to friends. BACK

[8] John May and Southey were trying to raises funds for their scheme for a convalescent hospital. The scheme came to nothing. BACK

Places mentioned

Yarmouth (mentioned 1 time)