384. Robert Southey to John May, 26 February 1799

384. Robert Southey to John May, 26 February 1799 ⁠* 

Tuesday 26. Feby. 99.

My dear friend

My books are at last done, & will I trust be sent off this evening. I shall desire Carlisle to send yours, that one parcel may serve.

You probably guessed the reason of my not visiting town the last term. the extreme inclemency of the weather & my own state of health, prevented me; I was not well enough to go from home with comfort, or to endure the fatigue of so long a journey. since the frost has broke I find myself materially better – I have shaken off many of my most uncomfortable symptoms, & hope now, by paying my chief attention to my health during this summer, to be enabled to pay no attention at all to it in the winter.

From my Uncle I have heard nothing since I saw you. An acquaintance [1]  of Miss Tyler has a son at Lisbon, who writes word that my Uncle has been very ill but is recovering. I wrote to Dr Thomas upon Miss Tylers affairs, almost in the words of the copy you saw. he did not reply, nor was it either necessary or expected that he should. something will probably be done. at least he knows what it is that is wanting.

Harry writes in terms of much satisfaction with his new situation. [2]  I have written to Mr Maurice respecting the bent of his studies, & to himself also, requesting him to pay particular attention to mathematics. I desired him likewise to apply to French, as he is not yet too old to attain a facility in speaking it, & as, if he ever graduates, it will I hope be at a foreign University, which to me appears on every account preferable to Edinburgh. At Gottingen or Leyden a man must in his own defence acquire the language of the country; the proportion of his English students being small the less danger is there of evil example, & in general young men who go there, go seriously to pursue their studies.

Mr Grenville whose fate is so doubtful is Wynns Uncle. he has also a brother on board the Proserpine. [3]  they have every reason, he tells me, to hope they are landed, but are still in a state of dreadful suspense.

I am very glad you like my play plot. [4]  I have one doubt respecting it – the popularity of its subject. will an audience feel with its personages? is there not so much worldly interest, or indifference upon such subjects, that the feelings actuating my leading characters will be coldly comprehended & thought unnatural or ridiculous. Wynn seems to think the advantages of the story overbalance this objection, which yet he allows to be weighty. I cannot satisfy myself with a beginning. excepting this I understand the story well & how to develope it.

I have met with the title of a French poem, from the way in which it was mentioned it seems to have been but an indifferent one, which must resemble the plan of my Kalendar. [5]  L’Almanac Chantant de M. Nau. [6]  it must have appeared somewhere about 1750, & cannot I should imagine be very scarce. will you be good enough to enquire for it as you occasionally may pass any of the old French booksellers. I have derived much benefit in reading bad poems (of the Epic kind) by learning what to avoid, & sometimes found a pearl in the dunghill.

One of Coleridges children is dead. [7]  Mrs C. has been with us lately, for a fortnight. he is expected to return in May. she has received a very kind letter from George Coleridge I hear.

I shall probably pass the interval between the two next terms with Bedford, & in that case shall have frequent opportunities of seeing you. – my Almanac of the Muses [8]  will soon go to the press – pity me for being unable to find a better title – but this is the title of the French & German collections, & it will be an advantage to have this collection recognized there on the continent.

<Edith desires to be remembered.> God bless you.

yrs affectionately

R Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4 Bedford Square/ London/ Single
Stamped: [illegible]
Postmark: [partial] FE/ 27/ 99
Endorsement: 1799 No 32/ Robert Southey/ No place 26 Feby:/ recd: 27 do/ansd: 28 do
MS: Beinecke Library, GEN MSS 298, Series I, Box 1, folder 14. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Unidentified. BACK

[2] Henry Herbert Southey had become a pupil at the school run by Michael Maurice. BACK

[3] The frigate Proserpine had been wrecked off Heligoland on 31 January 1799. Its passengers included Wynn’s older brother, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn (1772–1840; DNB), and uncle, Thomas Grenville (1755–1846). Both survived the shipwreck. BACK

[4] Southey’s proposed tragedy ‘The Days of Queen Mary’; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 190–192. BACK

[5] The ‘Kalendar’, a sequence modelled on Ovid’s (43 BC–AD 17) Fasti, was never completed. BACK

[6] M. Nau (first name and dates unknown), Almanach Chantant (1750). BACK

[7] Berkeley Coleridge had died on 10 February 1799. BACK

[8] A working title for the Annual Anthology, the first volume of which appeared in 1799. BACK