735. Robert Southey to John May, 23 November 1802

735. Robert Southey to John May, 23 November 1802 ⁠* 

Bristol, Nov. 23. 1802.

My dear Friend,

From the day of my last letter, I have been in a comfortless state of compulsory idleness, occasioned by a complaint in my eyes. A whole confederacy of evils attacked me immediately: swelled face – to that I applied leeches; toothache – that was cured radically; symptoms of fever – which were driven out at every sally-port. I have got rid of all, except the eye-weakness, and that is very materially amended. Lancing the lower lids was the effectual remedy; still they are weak. I am beginning to read and write, but inconveniently, and with caution.

A residence in Wales will not place me so much out of your reach as you imagine, if I succeed in obtaining Maes Gwyn, for so the house is called. I want to take it furnished, to avoid the first cost of furniture, and the encumbrance, if, by good fortune, I should be enabled to remove to a more congenial climate. 20l. is the unfurnished rent; for the use of the goods from 10l. to 15l. more may be demanded, if the landlord will let them. It is a lovely spot, in a vale among the mountains, eight miles from Neath, with canal carriage within 100 yards of the door. From Bristol to Neath is a distance of eighty miles. A friend who should leave Bristol by the mail, at one in the mid-day, might reach me at breakfast-hour the next morning. I will tell you more about it, and all its desirableness, if the business end as I wish.

I have just received a most valuable book from Lisbon, the unpublished Chronicle of Fernando, by Fernam Lopes, [1]  a MSS., by its appearance almost as old as the original work – from 250 to 300 years old. I am obliged to keep Lent with this feast before me, for my eyes are by no means equal to the task of unravelling its characters. Only one chronicle is now wanting to complete my Portuguese series.

You ask about Chatterton. [2]  The delay has been more owing to the quantity of new matter discovered than to any other cause. I daily expect to see it advertised. It makes three large volumes, instead of two, at a guinea and a half: thus, you see, Mrs. Newton, [3]  for 350 copies, will receive what, for her, is a very large sum. I have taken no notice of Croft. You will be very much pleased with a view of the front of Redcliff church, [4]  as frontispiece, showing that magnificent ascent of steps which is the finest thing of the kind in England. Mrs. Newton relates an odd dream – if, indeed, it be not a waking dream – akin in imagination and authenticity to Rowley’s Poems. She dreamt that her brother had a monument in Redcliff church, the stones whereof were cementing with a hot substance, that perpetually grew hotter and hotter, till at last it flamed out; – that, being about to dress her dinner, she had no fire, – she remembered these flames, and went to them, and warmed her food upon her brother’s monument. “Now,” says she, “my dream is out.” Surely this is too well put together to be a dream.

I must not trespass further on my eyes. We beg to be remembered to Mrs. May. [5]  Young John, [6]  I trust, goes on well, and will soon begin to find what legs were made for. As for Bonaparte, [7]  the rascal having a hard heart, I should like to try and make him tender, as they do legs of mutton, by hanging him quantum suff. [8]  God bless you.

Yours very truly,

Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; offered for sale and sold by Argosy Book Store, New York, 2007, inventory no. R21812; purchaser unknown; 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, pp. 204-205. BACK

[1] Fernao Lopes (c. 1385-after 1459), Cronica de el Rei Dom Fernando O Noveno Rei de Portugal, no. 3829 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. The Chronicle covered the reign of Fernando (1345-1383, King of Portugal 1367-1383). BACK

[2] Southey and Joseph Cottle, The Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803). BACK

[3] Mary Newton (1749-1804), the sister of Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770; DNB). She and her daughter were the beneficiaries of the Southey-Cottle edition. BACK

[4] Southey and Joseph Cottle, The Works of Thomas Chatterton, 3 vols (London, 1803), I, ‘The Base of the Tower of Redcliff Church with a View of the Muniment Room over the North Porch’, frontispiece, unpaginated. BACK

[5] John May’s wife Susanna Frances Livius (1767-1830). BACK

[6] John May (1802-1879). BACK

[7] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[8] The Latin translates as ‘as much as suffices’. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Maes Gywn, Neath (mentioned 1 time)