862. Robert Southey to John May, [7-8 December 1803]

862. Robert Southey to John May, [7-8 December 1803] ⁠* 

My dear friend

I have directed Longman & Rees to send to Tavistock Street (No 4 I think) a copy of Amadis [1]  for my Uncle which you will have the goodness to ship off when you find an opportunity. I have received two letters from him within the last three days, both are wholly collectanea of information de Historiâ & præterea nihil. [2] 

My articles in the Annual Review [3]  as far as I can recollect what are noticeable are the Travels & Voyages of Sauer – Mackenzie – Acerbi – Olivier & Fischer. Pallas & Mrs Guthrie. The Life of Lord Walpole. The Tesoro Español – Ketts Lectures (I forget the exact title of that shallow book) & the Periodical Accounts of the Baptist Mission. There are sundry smaller articles or less interesting which I cannot call to mind – among them Poetry by the author of Gebir – a French book on the origin of printing – Memoirs of Le Kain &c. [4]  I saw the book only by accident at Bristol & cannot direct you so well where to look for what is time-worthy – except that the book of Chasteaubriand [5]  is reviewed by Mrs Barbauld – the queer author of Atala who to shew the Beauties of Xtianity calls the Almighty the Great Monk of the Universe – the eternal old Batchelor. you will trace William Taylor in Pinkertons Geography, & in the Statistics. [6]  Harry tried his hand upon Soulavie [7]  – with what success I know not, for it was not told me till too late to examine.

In this years batch I have found it necessary to chastise ignorance & knavery with a very heavy hand. you will I think find some good & most just ridicule & some honest indignation in the next volume. I am now upon the history of the Methodists – & of the Methodist Mission. [8]  I look upon myself as a very good Reviewer, never losing sight of my text – pointing out always what is valuable, & sometimes enlivening what is dull. but it is dull work – & when I lay aside Madoc [9]  or the History of Portugal [10]  to write for a Review – if I were a Catholic I should expect it to be set down to my mortification count score. on the creditor side of my account with Heaven.


Thursday night.

Thus far had I written yesterday immediately on receiving yours. this evening there arrives a letter inclosing a draft on me for five pounds thirteen drawn by my brother Edward – the letter by the hand writing comes from some low tradesman – it is dated Exeter & says that Edward informed the writer I was duly advised & requests it may be accepted & returned by return of post. it had been directed to Bristol. I am very much disturbd & distressed by this circumstance. For what he can have incurred the expence God knows. & for a boy of fifteen to be taking up money in my name is a thing which must not be permitted. You know as much of his situation as I do, & if he be at Mr Barhams [11]  by invitation to spend his Xmas his washing bills are all the expences he need incur. I know not what to do & never stood so much in need of advice. my first feeling was immediately to return the draft unaccepted, that the boy may feel the consequences of his ill conduct immediately – for sure I am in my own mind that he must be made to feel sooner or later, & that if he be now encouraged to rely on me I shall never be safe. – On consulting with Coleridge I have done this – & have told the holder of the draft that not knowing the cause or occasion I could not conceive what circumstances could have justified a respectable tradesman in cashing a draft for a boy just <of> fifteen. – & I have said to Edward that he ought to know as I would always exert myself to the utmost to serve him & assist him in any worthy pursuit, so he ought to be sure that I would never become an accomplice in any immoral action by giving my after sanction. this lesson will teach him that I can act decidedly.

Could I with propriety have detained the draft I should have awaited your advice. as that could not be I think what has been done is on the whole best – painful as it is. He can have no excuse for what he has done, having without my knowledge & against my known opinion quitted the situation in which I had placed him. [12]  clothes he could not want having been fitted for the navy in August & having a new plain suit just before, & being by his own account at a private house he can have no justifiable expence to that amount. the holder of the draft says Edward told him I was advised – this was not the case – the boy thought to take me by surprize. I feel confident that if I had in this instance yielded he would have imagined me in his power & proceeded from bad to worse. As it now stands the lesson will <can> only frighten him – the man must take back whatever he has entrusted him with – & deserves some loss for having accepted a draft from a boy. – I thought to have ended the letter very differently but thus it is I am plagued & thus it will continue to be. It was my Uncles & Mothers fate before me.

God bless you.



* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ DEC 12/ 1803; 10 o’Clock/ DE. 12/ 1803 F.N.
Endorsement: No. 90 1803/ Robert Southey/ No date/ recd. 12th Decr/ ansd. 13th do
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 88-89 [dated 12 December 1803].
Dating note: Dated from internal evidence; letter was begun on 7 December and continued on Thursday 8 December 1803. BACK

[1] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[2] The Latin translates as ‘Collections from various sources on History and nothing else’. BACK

[3] Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803). BACK

[4] Southey reviewed the following in the Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803): Martin Sauer (dates unknown), An Account of a Geographical and Astronomical Expedition to the Northern Parts of Russia Performed by Joseph Billings in the Years 1785-1796 (1802), 7-17; Alexander MacKenzie (1763/4-1820; DNB), Voyages from Montreal, on the River St Laurence, through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans in the Years 1789 and 1793 (1802), 18-30; Peter Simon Pallas (1741-1811), Travels through the Southern Provinces of the Russian Empire, in the Years 1793 and 1794 (1802), 66-73; Maria Guthrie (dates unknown), A Tour Performed in the Years 1795-6, through the Taurida, or Crimea (1802), 62-66; Giuseppi Acerbi (1773-1846), Travels through Sweden, Finland and Lapland, to the North Cape, in the Years 1798 and 1799 (1802), 45-56; Guillaume Antoine Olivier (1756-1814), Travels in the Ottoman Empire, Egypt and Persia (1801), 89-101; Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (1800-1801), 207-218; Augustin Louis Josse (1763-1841; DNB), El Tesoro Espanol o Biblioteca Portatil Espanola (1802), 557-566; William Coxe, Memoirs of Horatio, Lord Walpole (1802), 599-601; Pierre Lambinet (1742-1813), Recherches Historiques, Litteraires et Critiques sur l’Origine de l’Imprimerie (1799), 704-711; Henri Louis Cain (1728-1778), Memoires de Henri Louis Le Kain (1801), 595-599; Poetry by the Author of Gebir (1802), 663-666; Frederick Augustus Fischer (1771-1829), Travels in Spain in 1797 and 1798 (1802), 35-43; and Henry Kett (1761-1825; DNB), Elements of General Knowledge, Introductory to Useful Books in the Principal Branches of Literature and Science (1802), 579-584. Southey does not name the review attributed to him in Charles Cuthbert Southey, Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), VI, p. 398 of Francis Wrangham (1769-1842; DNB), Poems (1802), 655-657. BACK

[5] Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), author of Atala (1801). His Genie du Christianisme ou Beautes de la Religion Chretienne (1802) was reviewed in Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 247-255. BACK

[6] John Pinkerton (1758-1826; DNB), Modern Geography (1802), reviewed in Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 437-448 and all the works in the section on ‘Statistics’, 413-436. BACK

[7] Jean-Louis Giraud-Soulavie (1751-1813), Historical and Political Memoirs of Louis XVI (1802), Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 308-311. BACK

[8] William Myles (1756-1828), A Chronological History of the People called Methodists (1803), Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 201-213. Southey may also be referring (inaccurately) to London Missionary Society, Transactions of the Missionary Society (1803), which he reviewed in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 189-201. BACK

[9] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

[10] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[11] 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

[12] On the brig-sloop HMS Suffisante. BACK

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