3062. Robert Southey to John May, 3 January 1818

3062. Robert Southey to John May, 3 January 1818⁠* 

My dear friend

I want a piece of information which John Coleridge perhaps will xxx be kind enough to obtain for me: it is whether Samuel, the father of John Wesley, was a Servitor at Exeter College, (as I suppose he must have been) where he entered about the year 1678. [1]  By way of self indulgence I am writing in truant hours a very diligent life of Wesley, – which will form two <or perhaps three> such volumes as the life of xxxx <Nelson>; [2]  – it includes the life of Whitefield, [3]  & a full account of the Moravians, [4]  – & if I do not deceive myself it will be a very curious & substantial book. The history of Methodism which it involves is a subject of great & growing importance, – & indeed my views embrace little less than <the religious history of England for the last hundred years>

Perhaps you can procure for me from the Rio as many numbers of the Patriota as may have been published since the year 1813. [5]  The two first volumes I have, but the remainder were not to be had at Lisbon, & the publication is now discontinued. It is abominably dear & nine parts of it are the veryest rubbish, – but what information it does contain is of that nature that I would purchase at any price. I am working on steadily with my third volume, which is in the press. [6]  To day I have begun upon a manuscript which that unhappy man Joam Ribeiro found in the Madre de Deos library at Pernambuco, & Koster made a copy of it from his transcript for my use. [7]  During the last month I have kept very close to this work, which must be my main business till it is compleated.

I have received Robert Walpoles Memoirs relative to Turkey [8]  & a note from Longman informing me that it was sent by his desire. When you inform me of his address I will write to thank him for it, – I thought he had been in orders, but the title page leaves me in doubt whether he be or be not, – in the one case I should have looked for his Reverendship – in the other for the Esquireship; – set me right upon this point, that I may not make an awkward blunder in the direction. [9]  As soon as I have finished my final paper upon the state of the Poor, (the first portion of which goes off by this post for the next Review) [10]  I shall take up the Memoir of Mr Walpole in its place, as one of my daily employments, & make of it the best I can, – in the almost total want of materials for the main subject. [11]  There is a great deal of curious matter among his papers, which is important to me in many ways, – but very little that relates to his own transactions. One point however is clear as daylight that he was very ill treated by the Ministry when he applied for an increase of his appointments; [12]  – that story indeed ought to have been told in Parliament when the debate concerning the allowance to Canning & Sydenham took place. [13]  If I had wanted anything to make me dislike the cold, unfeeling, ungenerous temper of Lord Grenville it would be his conduct towards Mr Walpole on this occasion. – My next letter (& the interval will not be so long as has occurred since the last) I shall report progress in the Memoir. I am very long in brooding upon the subjects which I execute, & they sometime lie by me long in an unfinished state, – yet they are ripening the while; so that when they are taken up in earnest, it is with full power to go with thro with them.

As yet I have received no intelligence of the books from Brussels, xxx where your consignment is. If they are not discovered in London, enquiry will be made concerning them forthwith of the Brussels bookseller, [14]  – but I am in hopes that they will be heard of as Bedford would have means of asking about them this week. When they come Henry will take out yours at Longmans. The box from Milan is arrived in town, – when I had begun to despair of it, – it is a rich cargo, & contains some many books which will tempt me in my horae otiosiores [15]  to put together some supplementary notices to my journal: – from which said journal by the bye, there is a packet of your god-daughters transcriptions to send you.

Till this day no snow had fallen in the valley, – hitherto indeed the winter has been the most beautiful I ever remember. – I caught cold at church on Christmas day, & have in consequence been laid up two days this week on the sofa, with a bilious attack which it induced; – it has past off & left me nothing the worse. Since Bedford left me I have been very steadily at work, – a long paper upon Lope de Vega, somewhat uncivilly shoved aside in the last Quarterly [16]  to make room for matters which deserved no such preference, is one proof: – & good progress in the Brazilian history is another. [17]  Neither has the Peninsular war [18]  stood still, tho it is now waiting for a book from Paris, announced for October last which will contain precisely the information I want for compleating the introductory chapter, – an account of the system of education introduced by Buonaparte throughout his empire; [19]  – this I want to compleat the moral & military view of France under his tyranny. I have written also a good deal of Wesley, – so much indeed that it will probably soon go to press, – perhaps as soon as I shall have settled with Longman the form of publication. [20]  In verse I have done very little – only about a hundred lines of the Tale of Paraguay, [21]  – & my peppercorn rent for the Laureateship. [22]  Two or three days whenever I can so bestow them, will finish the first canto of the Paraguay, & as soon as it is finished I shall transcribe it & send it you.

Thank you for the Greek Epigram, which I had not before heard of. [23]  I live indeed in a happy state of ignorance & indifference of all that is said about me. These are very civil lines, & perhaps it is the first time that a man was ever called a drone by way of compliment. Apiarists however now know that the poor drones are in reality as active & as useful as any other inhabitants of the hive. As for my sting, – perhaps Mr William Smith [24]  might not exactly agree with the friendly epigrammatist.

At present, thank God, we are all well. Remember us to Mrs May & take our best wishes for many & happy years to come. believe me

Yrs most affectionately

Robert Southey.

Keswick 3 Jany. 1818.


* Address: To/ John May Esqre–/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ 6 JA 6/ 1818; 10 o’Clock/ JA. 6/ 1818 F.N.n
Watermark: Hagar & Co/ 1815
Endorsement: No. 197 1818/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 3d January/ recd. 6th do./ ansd. 12th do
Seal: [partial] black wax, with ‘S’, ‘In Labore Quies’ motto below
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos (ed.), The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 162–164. BACK

[1] Samuel Wesley (1662–1735; DNB), father of John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB), was indeed a servitor at Exeter College (a poor scholar who earned his keep at Oxford by waiting on wealthy students), though he did not matriculate until 1684. John Coleridge was a Fellow of Exeter College 1812–1818 and so had access to the College’s registers. Southey included this information in a footnote to his The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 7–8, thanking ‘a fellow of Exeter College, through the means of a common friend’ for their help. BACK

[2] Southey’s Life of Nelson was published in two volumes in 1813. BACK

[3] George Whitefield (1714–1770; DNB), an evangelical preacher and ally of John Wesley in spreading Methodism in Britain and America. His life is recounted in The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 48–56, 136–154. BACK

[4] This proselytising Protestant sect, having arrived in Britain from Saxony in the 1730s, was influential on John Wesley’s early career and thought; see The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 77–81, 175–208. BACK

[5] O Patriota, Jornal Litterario, Politico, Mercantil &c do Rio de Janeiro (1813–1814), no. 3641 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. In History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. v–vi, Southey thanked John May for procuring the third volume of O Patriota for him, ‘when it was not to be obtained at Lisbon’. BACK

[6] History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[7] Joam Ribeiro Pessoa de Melo Montenegro (1766–1817), a priest who was a member of the provisional government set up by the revolutionaries in Pernambuco, 8 March–18 May 1817. He committed suicide in the town of Paulista after the defeat of the revolutionary forces and the fall of Recife, the provincial capital. Ribeiro had found the manuscript in question in the Cathedral Library in Recife. It is no. 3840 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, where it is described as ‘Guerra Civil ou Sedissoens de Pernambuco Exemplo Memoravel aos vindouros 1710’. The document recounts the Mascate War (or ‘War of the Peddlers’) in Pernambuco in 1710–1711. BACK

[8] Robert Walpole (1781–1856; DNB), Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey (1817), no. 3098 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] Walpole was in holy orders: he was Rector of Tivetshall, Norfolk 1815–1828. However, the title page of his Memoirs merely described him as ‘Robert Walpole, M. A.’. BACK

[10] The review of the Report of the House of Commons Select Committee to consider the Poor Laws (1817) in Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 259–308, was mainly written by John Rickman. BACK

[11] Here Southey refers to a proposed memoir of Robert Walpole (1736–1810), father of the Robert Walpole who wrote Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey (1817). The senior Robert Walpole was the British envoy to Portugal 1771–1800. BACK

[12] Southey had made this point before to May; see Robert Southey to John May, 22 August 1814, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 2473. BACK

[13] George Canning was the British Ambassador to Portugal 1814–1815; Thomas Sydenham (1780–1816) was the Minister Plenipotentiary at Lisbon 1814–1816. The opposition had moved a vote of censure on 6 May 1817 concerning the costs of these posts. Canning mounted a robust defence and the opposition’s motion was lost 270–96. BACK

[14] Jean-Baptiste Ver Beyst (1770–1849), well-known Brussels book-dealer, from whom Southey had bought many books in his continental journeys of 1815 and 1817. BACK

[15] ‘Leisure hours’. BACK

[16] The article, a review of Lord Holland, Some Account of the Lives and Writings of Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, and Guillen de Castro (1817) appeared in Quarterly Review, 18 (October 1817), 1–46. BACK

[17] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[18] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[19] Jean Baptist Germain Fabry (1770–1821), Le Génie de la Révolution Considéré dans l’Education ou Mémoires pour Servir a l’Histoire de l’Instruction Publique, Depuis 1789 jusqu’à Nos Jours, 3 vols (1817–1818) contained an account of the educational reforms introduced by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; First Consul 1799–1804, Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815). BACK

[20] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[21] Southey’s verse romance A Tale of Paraguay was not completed and published until 1825. BACK

[22] Southey refers to the composition of the annual New Year’s Ode he was required to produce as Poet Laureate. ‘Funeral Song for the Princess Charlotte’ was not published until it appeared in Friendship’s Offering: A Literary Album and Christmas and New Year’s Present, for 1828 (London, 1828), pp. 1–6. BACK

[23] Unidentified. Southey had been the subject of the anonymous ‘On Mr. Robert Southey’s Letter to W. Smith, Esq. M.P.’, written in the style of a Greek epigram. It appeared in, amongst other places, the Monthly Repository, 12 (June 1817), 371: ‘Thus the veer’d Laureate of our time,/ So juicy ripe for royal rhyme,/ His lofty praise rehearses,/ “What’s the good friend of Liberty,/ The Patriot, Senator, to me?/ Great I have written verses!”’ BACK

[24] A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. was an attack on Smith. It had been published by Murray at the end of April 1817. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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