386. Robert Southey to John May, 5 March 1799

386. Robert Southey to John May, 5 March 1799 ⁠* 

My dear friend

I congratulate you on your brothers marriage. [1]  events like this, when attended by no unpleasant circumstance, are among the most agreable we meet with in life. they create new objects for affection, & bind us by new ties to society. I am myself in want of a sister – but it will be long before any of my brothers can give me one. [2]  perhaps this is the only connection which we cannot supply. we may find in a friend the affection of a brother. if we have no children we may accustom ourselves to parental affection for those whom we can adopt.

Of my Uncles letter great part related to an order for a regimental Library which he desired me to get executed. a regimental Library sounds like a novelty & an useful one. & the catalogue contains many books which cannot be read unprofitably, but I could not help smiling at seeing it conclude with the Monk – Les Liaisons Dangereuses - & the Chevalier Faublas. [3] 

My Uncle mentions the books which he sent over to England last year. when I am settled he says it may be pleasant for me to have them in possession. they are chiefly Italian – from whence I surmise that among them may be the compleat Parnasso Italiano, [4]  which he told <me> it was his intention to send to Venice for. they will of course be highly useful to me, for in knowledge of Italian poetry I am more deficient than in any other branch of poetical reading, & my book upon Spanish & Portugueze literature requires a thorough knowledge of it. he recommends time & attention before I publish that work, both of which I assuredly shall bestow upon it. & he promises to send over as soon as he can Barbozas Bibliot. Lusit. [5]  & what other books I may want.

this is the sum of his letter. of my brothers he says he is too far distant to advise, he can only assist me with occasional money & leaves me to act according to my best judgement. as far as relates to Harry this is very well. but about Edward I can do nothing. Of Miss Tyler nothing is said. my letter is noticed in all its parts except the principal which related to her. any reply to me was certainly needless.

I look forward with as much expectation, as one whose expectations have been often frustrated can do, to being settled in London in the next winter. by continuing my present periodical labours, till that time, & furnishing my house there with the least possible expenditure I shall be enabled to do this. On my play [6]  I build no expectations – save only that if one be rejected I will try another, & so on till I out-number Calderon or Lope de Vega. [7]  the publication will always pay for my trouble. if it fails I lose nothing – if it succeeds I am in affluence.

I doubt more dislike of my subject in the Manager than in the audience. from an audience I have confidence enough to expect success, provided my name be unknown. I have settled my beginning at last & hope when I see you in May to show you a considerable part of the whole. now I am immersed in reviewing books. tomorrow I breathe from this toil, – & shall be able to proceed.

Wynn is in Wales – about to be returned for Montgomeryshire. [8]  of his Uncle & his brother he has yet no tidings. [9]  not that this increases their alarm, as it is the wind that keeps them in suspense. by this time the fr Hambro mails are probably arrived.

My Poems [10]  were delayed much beyond what I expected. they were however sent off yesterday – & you will probably therefore receive a copy to day. I inclosed yours to Carlisle.

The work on the obscure epic writers [11]  is now my amusement [MS torn] turn to it when tired of any thing else – & by Xmas shall have a volume. one of the chief circumstances which will render a London residence agreable to me, is the access I hope to procure to the Museum Library. [12] 

God bless you.

yrs affectionately.

Robert Southey.

Tuesday. March 5. 99.

Edith desires to be remembered.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4. Bedford Square/ London/ Single
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ MAR 6 99; B/ MR/ 6/ 99
Endorsement: 1799/ No. 33/ Robert Southey/ No place 5 March/ recd: 6 do/ ansd: Good Friday 22 do
MS: Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Unidentified; probably one of May’s younger brothers. His eldest brother, Joseph (1767–1830), had married in 1797. BACK

[2] None of Southey’s three surviving brothers were in a position to marry in 1799: Tom was serving in the navy; Henry Herbert and Edward were schoolboys. BACK

[3] A catalogue of scandalous fictions: Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818; DNB), The Monk (1796); Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos (1741–1803), Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782); and Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvrai (1760–1797), Les Amours du Chevalier de Faublas (1787–1790). BACK

[4] The 56-volume Venetian edition, Parnasso Italiano, overo Raccolta de’ Poeti Classici Itali (1784–1791). BACK

[5] Diogo Barbosa Machado (1682–1772), Bibliotheca Lusitania, Histórica, Critica, e Cronológica (1741–1759). BACK

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

[7] Pedro Calderon de la Barca (1600–1681), author of some 220 plays; Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (1562–1635), whose dramatic works reputedly numbered 637. BACK

[8] Wynn was returned unopposed as MP for Montgomeryshire on 14 March 1799. BACK

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

[10] Southey’s two-volume Poems (1799). BACK

[11] Southey’s work on obscure epics was never completed. BACK

[12] The library of the British Museum. BACK

People mentioned