328. Robert Southey to John May, 15 June 1798

328. Robert Southey to John May, 15 June 1798 ⁠* 

Friday. 15 June. 98. Bath.

My dear friend

I had hoped to have given you an account of our settling by this time; but we are still on the hunt. I arrived safe, & found both my Mother & Edith better (I think) than at my departure. the auction was over, & had not been an unfavourable one; it has just produced enough to clear all the debts here, & furniture enough is reserved for the new & smaller habitation of which we are in search.

I will send you Charles Lambs last poem. it may belike fill the sheet, but the sheet could not be better filled. I reviewed his & Lloyds poems [1]  on Wednesday.

Living without God in the World [2] 


Mystery of God! thou brave & beauteous world,
Made fair with light & shade & stars & flowers,
Made fearful & august with woods & rocks,
Jaggd precipice, black mountain, sea in storms,
Sun over all, that no corival owns,
But thro Heavens pavement rides, as in despite
Or mockery of the littleness of man, –
I see a mighty arm, by Man unseen,
Resistless, not to be controuled, that guides
In solitude of unshared energies,
All these thy ceaseless miracles, o world!
Arm of the world, I view thee, & I muse
On man, who trusting in his mortal strength,
Leans on a shadowy staff, a staff of dreams.

We consecrate our total hopes & fears
To idols, flesh & blood, our love (heavens due)
Our praise & admiration: praise bestowed
By man on man, & acts of worship done
To a kindred nature, certes do reflect
Some portion of the glory & rays oblique
Upon the politic worshipper, – so man
Extracts a pride from his humility.

Some braver spirits of the modern stamp
Affect a Godhead nearer: these talk loud
Of mind & independant intellect,
Of energies omnipotent in man,
And man of his own fate artificer;
Yea of his own life lord, & of the days
Of his abode on earth, when time shall be
That life immortal shall become an art,
Or Death by chemic practices deceived
Forego the scent, which for six thousand years
Like a good hound he has followed, or at length
More manners learning, & a decent sense
And reverence of a philosophic world,
Relent, & leave to prey on carcasses.

But these are fancies of a few. the rest,
Atheists, or Deists only in the name,
By word or deed deny a God. they eat
Their daily bread, & draw the breath of heaven
Without or thought or thanks. heavens roof to them
Is but a painted ceiling hung with lamps,
No more, that light them to their purposes.
They “wander loose about,” [3]  they nothing see
Themselves except, & creatures like themselves,
Short-livd, short-sighted, impotent to save.
So on their dissolute spirits, soon or late,
Destruction cometh “like an armed man,” [4] 
Or like a dream of murder in the night,
Withering their mortal faculties, & breaking
The bones of all their pride.

You will, I think, like this poem. it is quite in Lambs peculiar stile.

We are broiling in this city of freestone. I envy you the river Avon. this evening we are to see a house in the neighbourhood in a very beautiful situation. Tom is with us. direct here till I can inform you of a new abode.

God bless you.

yrs truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr / Hales/ near Downton/ Wiltshire/ Single
Stamped: BATH
Endorsement: 1798 No. 20/ Robert Southey/ Bath 15 June/ recd: 20 do/ ansd: 7 July
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, p. 167 [in part; verses not reproduced]. BACK

[1] Southey’s review of Charles Lamb and Charles Lloyd, Blank Verse (1798), was published in the Critical Review, 24 (October 1798), 232–234. BACK

[2] Published in Southey’s Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 90–92. BACK

[3] Thomas Day (1748–89; DNB), ‘The History of Little Jack’, in The Children’s Miscellany (London, 1788), p. 57. BACK

[4] Proverbs 24: 34. BACK

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