605. Robert Southey to John May, 6 September 1801

605. Robert Southey to John May, 6 September 1801 ⁠* 

September 6. 1801.

My dear friend

I have bestowed more time & more labour upon the Epitaph than you would suspect from the baldness of this blank version.

If the calm mind, if youth & modesty
And virtue could deserve long happiness
And years on earth protracted, in thy bloom
O Maiden! snatched away, thou hadst not now
In the cold grave been laid. – alas the lot
Of life! alas for all the hopes she gave!
The flower at morning spread her glittering leaves
To meet the western gale, but from the North
The sudden tempest came; she felt its force,
She bowed her head beneath the nipping blast
And shrank & withered & grew pale & died. [1] 

I did not clearly enough understand the “alas Fatorum celeres merentur <morenter>” [2]  to venture an English metaphor. you will feel that ideas which have no novelty look better at in any language than our own. as the figure of your daily friend would be unfamiliarized were he drest in a toga.

Wynn & Drummond [3]  have both on maturer consideration agreed that the situation of private secretary is not enough advantagious or permanent. they are therefore using their influence to have me nominated Secretary of Legation at some Italian state. an office of more ostensible importance & to which no personal dependance is attached. that at Palermo is already filled. but will probably in the course of the next spring be vacated – if not – when peace comes there will be appointments to fill up at Milan – at Genoa – at Florence. – I know not what salary to expect – certainly but little. this however is of less consequence than getting my feet on the first step of the ladder. to the utmost of his power I well know Wynn will further my fortunes, & his rank & talents must one day make him powerful. did the prospect offer nothing beyond two hundred a year in a southern climate I should gladly accept it, but there is every probability of advancement. it will enable me more effectually to serve my family, & they can well spare my presence. William Taylor looks on to the establishment of Henry at Norwich, when he shall have graduated. it seems Martineau [4]  is much attached to him, & that whenever he shall be dubbed Doctor much of the medical practise will immediately lapse to him, for the situation of physician is only nominally filled. In his letters I see a great & manifest improvement, & it augurs very well that in a country where he was quite a stranger he should have made so many friends. he writes to his mother that he has found his name useful. you will readily believe it was the most grateful praise I ever received.

I write from Keswick where I have brought Edith to see her sister, & where I am about to leave her, & go into Wales to pass a few weeks with Wynn, & with him survey the country in the line of Madocs journeys. this as a thing needful I could no longer delay in prudence as I trust it will be long before I shall pass another autumn in England. the weather is more than unpleasant to me – & unhappily wine which is to me a necessary – almost a sine qua non of life – is a luxury here ruinously expensive. I rejoice in the prospect of returning to a better country, & indeed would most gladly take up my final abode in Portugal, if a desirable situation <there> should ever be at my acceptance.

Are my Uncles books arrived in the convoy which were consigned to Mr Burn? [5]  I am anxious about as my treasure is among them. the books which bear a high price in Portugal, are sold for little in England when they are to be met with. perhaps you might find for me Rerum Hispanicarum Scriptores. [6]  a large folio edited by Andreas Schotus if my memory fail not – & printed about 1620 at Frankfort. two moidores are its Lisbon price. here I should think it might be had for half a guinea. – by the by this manufactory for destroying old books [7]  will injure literature more than any thing that has happened since the loss of the Alexandrian Library. [8]  Our old bishops & historians & poets must all now be washed into blank paper for Mr Lanes [9]  novels!

God bless you

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

I will write from Wales & send a direction.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ SEP 9/ 1801
Endorsement: No 63. 1801/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 6 Sept:/ recd: 12th do/ ansd: 22nd do
MS: Beinecke Library, GEN MSS 298, Series I, Box 1, folder 14. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s epitaph for a relative of May’s, possibly one of his sisters; see Southey to John May, 26 July 1801, Letter 593. BACK

[2] <morenter>: Inserted in another hand. The Latin translates as ‘they deserve the swift wings of the Fates’. BACK

[3] A reference to 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

[4] Philip Meadows Martineau (1752-1829), surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and a member of the Martineau family, prominent Unitarians in Norwich. BACK

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

[6] For once, Southey’s memory for old books seems to have failed him. Andreas Schottus (1552-1629) was a Belgian Jesuit scholar; but though he wrote on Spanish history, most importantly the Hispania Illustrata (1604), he was not responsible for the work Southey mentions. This was the Rerum Hispanicarum Scriptores by Robert Beale (1541-1601; DNB), published at Frankfurt in 1579 by Andreas Weschel. Southey later obtained a copy (no. 1420 in the sale catalogue of his library). BACK

[7] The Monthly Magazine had reported that the high price of rags and paper had led London entrepreneurs to resort to two new expedients: firstly, reducing ‘to pulp all kinds of paper which have been written on’ and ‘to re-manufacture it’; secondly, ‘to obliterate the ink, &c. from the surface of the used paper, and thus convert it again into perfect white paper’ (Monthly Magazine, 10 (August 1801), 48). BACK

[8] One of the most important libraries of the ancient world, at Alexandria in Egypt. Its loss has been variously ascribed to Julius Caesar (100-44 BC), a 4th-century Christian bishop, and the Muslim conquest in the 7th century. BACK

[9] William Lane (1745/6-1814; DNB), publisher, especially of light fiction, and promoter of circulating libraries. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)