593. Robert Southey to John May, 26 July 1801

593. Robert Southey to John May, 26 July 1801 ⁠* 

Sunday, July 26. 1801.

My dear Friend,

Your letter found me on the point of setting out for Worcester, to meet Wynn, with whom I was to take counsel as to my future destination. He will procure for me the place of secretary to some legation in the south of Europe, – probably to Naples. [1]  This will be a permanent establishment, with a prospect and probability of something better; it will settle me, also, in a good climate, which I feel an object of more importance than I could wish. I know not what the salary may be – small certainly, but certainly more than adequate to the official duty, which will allow me ample leisure for my historical pursuits.

I perceive, by your account, that a bill for 30l., which I exchanged at Falmouth, had not then reached you; my two journeys in Portugal, the return home, and, above all, the heavy expense of the books which I have purchased will account for the balance, and, I trust, acquit me of all extravagance. In the spring, my appointment will probably take place, the person who at present holds the office at the Neapolitan court [2]  (or rather the Sicilian, for Palermo is the residence) being then expected to remove. I shall then, I trust, soon be able to lighten myself of all debts, though the sense of obligation, as it ought, will ever remain. An unhappy circumstance precludes me from immediately lessening the balance. The costs of my cousin Margaret’s illness – a year’s heavy illness – must be defrayed by me: she may yet linger some months, though recovery is impossible, and from me her support must also continue to be derived. Under this pressure I need not apologise for delay. I have written to my London publisher, proffering him another poem, [3]  to be ready for the press by the end of the winter, but requesting a part of the payment now, an offer to which he doubtless will accede. On this I should have lived and sequestered my quarterly remittances to you. But for these demands I am in deep water; but I can swim, and happily there is land in sight.

You will ask why I treat for a poem rather than for the materials which, with so much cost and labour, I have procured in Portugal. To Portugal I must one day return, to correct those materials when they are digested, and to gather what remains. It is even possible that I may one day hold an official situation in that country. To publish any thing now would be barring the doors of the archives against me: my first volume must touch popery to the quick. Thus have I a year’s labour lying dead. These, then, are my plans. I am about soon to visit Coleridge at Keswick; his house will hold us, and there I shall devote myself to labour as unremitting as will be consistent with health and prudence.

I look with anxiety for Lisbon news. Should my uncle return to England, as I hope and expect, it will relieve me from a weight of much anxiety. He is much pleased with the prospects which are opening upon me. If they only gave me a prudent opportunity of seeing Italy, that were much; but they also afford rational expectations of opulence, while they bestow immediate independence.

You have not mentioned your sister, [4]  and I inquire for her with hesitation and fear.

We move for Cumberland as soon as my business is transacted with Longman, and my affairs here settled. In the autumn it is possible that I shall pass a few weeks with Wynn, in Wales, and take my long-intended journey in the steps of “Madoc.” I dream of Sicily, – of reading Theocritus, [5]  and taking a peep down the crater of Mount Etna. Direct to me as before. I would thank you for Harry, if the language of thankfulness were not so scanty. There are not bells enough to ring a change. I hope he will do well: he has made his own choice, and must make his own way. [6]  Edith desires to be remembered. God bless you.

Yours affectionately,

Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, 164-166; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 177-178 [in part]. BACK

[1] The proposal by Wynn that Southey should become Secretary to Sir William Drummond (c. 1770-1828; DNB), classical scholar, poet and diplomat; Charge d’Affaires in Denmark 1800-1801, Minister-Plenipotentiary in Naples 1801-1803 and 1807-1808, and Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1803. BACK

[2] Arthur Paget (1771-1840; DNB), Minister-Plenipotentiary in Naples 1800-1801 and Austria 1801-1806; Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire 1807-1809. BACK

[3] Southey offered Longman either Madoc, a version of which had been written in 1797-1799, or The Curse of Kehama, which he had begun in Portugal. BACK

[4] May had five sisters; the identity of the one mentioned here is uncertain. BACK

[5] Theocritus (3rd century BC), Greek poet from Sicily. BACK

[6] Henry Herbert Southey had rejected Herbert Hill’s suggestion that he enter the church, in favour of embarking on a medical career. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)