858. Robert Southey to John May, 2 December 1803

858. Robert Southey to John May, 2 December 1803 ⁠* 

Friday. Dec. 2. 1803.

My dear friend

From one vexation to another seems to be my destiny. the last thing I did at Bristol was to send my brother Edward to sea. I inclose [1]  you the first intelligence which I have received from him! sending his letter rather than transcribing that you may see the shocking manner in which his Aunt has suffered him to proceed, when applications were perpetually made to my Uncle for money for his school bills. he was allowed to idle as much as he pleases, kept at home three fourths of his time – & now at the age of fifteen can neither write nor spell!

I have written to say he must go to sea again. & by the same post shall write to Rickman to ask him to get him xx rated if he can. you I am sure will assist in this if it be easily in your power, & perhaps will have the goodness to ask of <consult with> Rickman if he can do it, & if speedily, to save loss of time. Another thing I will beg of you – to send him a twenty shilling bill, for his washing – that he may not seem quite thrown upon this Mr Barhams [2]  charity. we have nothing but provincial paper in circulation here of so low a value – & it is not well to send him more. His letter will tell you more than I could have made you understand. you could not have conceived that any boy of really quick understanding should have been for several years at a nominally at school & actually paying as if there & yet remain so disgracefully behind-hand. As for his Aunt she is perfectly inconceivable to all who have not the curse of being connected with her. To say she is mad is the only palliation. seriously & solemnly to think of her almost makes me believe literally & grossly in dæmoniacal possession.

I receive no letters from my Uncle – & this perhaps grieves me less than it must grieve him to receive letters from me. my last was about Harry & the next Mail will carry him this news. for myself thank God I have long had nothing <more> to tell him than that I was going on in the way to which it has pleased God to call me, patiently & perseveringly, contented with my lot, wishing little, wanting nothing, & I trust, making the best use of every dispensation. I am indeed a good deal weaned from the world by my last loss which has gone deep – it is not however that I love this world & those in it the less – tho my hopes are more in the other.

God bless you.


I open my letter to acknowledge & reply to yours. George Burnett was a very intimate friend of mine – it was with him that Harry was at Yarmouth. he has since playd the fool lamentably but is now come to himself. thro me Carlisle has fitted him for a surgeon. I am exceedingly displeased & hurt that he should think his intimacy with me an excuse for applying to you. If he actually have obtained the appointment [3]  it will be doing him a real service to assist him, & he will certainly have the means of repayment <then> – as I am sure he will the intention & principle – but if he has merely the expectation the case would materially be altered. I am mortified & vexed at the circumstance – it is taking as great a liberty with me as with you. & William Taylor will be as little pleased as myself.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ DEC 5/ 1803; 10 o’Clock/ DE. 5/ 1803 F.N.n
Watermark: WD/ 1800
Endorsement: No. 88 1803/ Robert Southey/ No place 2d Decembr/ recd./ ansd.} 5th do
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 2p,
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 85-86. BACK

[1] Southey’s enclosure – a letter or note sent to him by Edward Southey – has not survived. BACK

[2] John Foster-Barham (1763-1822), a wealthy merchant in the West India trade and partner in Plummer, Barham & Co. How Edward Southey had made his acquaintance is unclear. BACK

[3] Burnett was hoping to become a surgeon with the Militia. BACK

People mentioned

Tyler, Elizabeth (1739–1821) (mentioned 2 times)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 2 times)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 2 times)
Southey, Edward (1788–1847) (mentioned 1 time)
Carlisle, Anthony (1768–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 1 time)