3113. Robert Southey to John May, 7 April 1818

3113. Robert Southey to John May, 7 April 1818⁠* 

Keswick 7 April. 1818

My dear friend

I am exceedingly glad to hear that Mr Walpoles Portugueze correspondence has been discovered, [1]  altho it be among the unmoveables of the Crown. The only course to be taken in such a case is that I should write all which can be written from other materials here, & compleat the memoir in London, – obtaining leave, which there will be no difficulty in doing, to examine the books in the office. This must be toward the close of the year. I must then set my face southward in consequence of an invitation from my old Chamber-fellow at Westminster, Sir H. Bunbury to inspect his papers respecting the Peninsular war, [2]  – so I shall make a journey of business, & take London first or last as may be most convenient. Bunbury’s papers will not relate to the two first years of the war, & therefore I shall not want their information xxx xxx sooner, – those years with the needful preliminary matter will nearly occupy half of the whole narration.

I am very much obliged to John Coleridge for his communication concerning Wesley. [3]  It is desirable to be xxx accurate even in unimportant things; & this unquestionable document shows that the Wesleys were strangely inaccurate respecting a material part of their fathers history. [4]  They represent him as leaving the Dissenters & entering at Oxford at the age of sixteen, – whereas it appears that he was not less than two & twenty. John Wesley is often beautifully clear & close in his reasoning, but this is not the only instance wherein to prove that he is not always to be implicitly trusted in his relation of facts. I never suspect him of any intentional deceit, – but he eagerly believed any thing which he wished to believe, & sometimes gave himself xx no time for reflection, nor for examining the truth or credibility of what he repeated. – The first portion of MSS for his history [5]  will have arrived in town this very day, & Bedford, thro whom it is transmitted to Longman is very likely at this moment looking over it. – I have gone thro 40 volumes of the Arminian or as it is now entitled the Methodist Magazine [6]  in quest of materials for this work, & have raked up much that is useful & curious from this enormous heap of rubbish. And I have read the whole of Wesleys collected works, [7]  including Heaven knows how many sermons; – here too my labour has been richly repaid.

The reviewal of my second volume in the last Q.R. [8]  is a good specimen of the xx art of reducing books to a caput-mortuum, [9]  by putting them into a critical crucible. I see the end of my labours with no little satisfaction; – in the course {of the summer} if no unforeseen ill betide, it will be compleated. The Printer keeps me upon a short allowance of proof sheets. This volume will be I think the most diversified & amusing of the three.

My books from Milan are arrived – but I can learn nothing of those from Brussels, which are of thrice the value, & among which are your commissions. Inquiry however is making, & I live in daily hopes, not having the slightest doubt of the Booksellers honesty. [10]  Yet I xxx shall {feel} relieved from a certain degree of uneasiness whenever I learn that they are safe.

The extracts from my Journal will set out tomorrow in a box to Longmans, – which will be about three weeks on the road. Your God-daughter is now about to transcribe the whole – (a work of time for one who has much to do, & is not kept too closely in the house.) I have resolved upon having this done, that it may be left in a legible & corrected state: & as I have leisure, I purpose adding to this & my other journal [11]  a second part of after-thoughts, historical notices &c – under the title of the Traveller at Home, – xxxx xxx of this is better than interpolating the diary; – & in this way they may be made good property as a post obit. [12] 

My Uncle writes in good spirits, & I hear from him more frequently than from Henry, who is the worst of correspondents. – Derwent Coleridge is residing as tutor to some little boys with a Mr Hopwood, whose wife is sister to the late Lady John Russell. [13]  He is likely to be there two years, & will come away then with his own honourable earnings to start himself at Cambridge. I am very much pleased with his conduct, & if he continue as he has begun, shall {will} make an effort to assist him in his views tho I have given no hint of this either to him, or any of his family, lest I should be unable to fulfill the expectations which would be raised.

Xxxxx My health has been good during the winter; – my spirits as good as they ever will be, & perhaps better than I had reason to expect. But my sight is very indistinct for objects at a certain distance; – however it is not impaired for the work for which it is want most wanted. We have none of us suffered during this sickly season, – the typhus has been long in the town, that disease you know always lingers among the filthy habitations of the lower classes. It has not been generally fatal, but last week we heard that there were three persons lying dead in one cottage a mile or two off.

This property is still in the same state, – the injunction in force, the Landlord in jail, [14]  & what concerns me more, repairs wanting {to the House} & no one to make them or indemnify me for having them made. – Remember us most kindly to Mrs May & your daughters, [15]  & believe me

Yrs most affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqre/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ 10 AP 10/ 1818; [partial] 10 o’Clock/ AP/ 18
Watermark: B.E. & S. Bath 1814
Endorsement: No. 198 1818/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 7th April/ recd. 10th do./ ansd. 11th July
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. 164–166. BACK

[1] May had sent Southey the papers of Robert Walpole (1736–1810), the British envoy to Portugal 1771–1800, in the hope that Southey would be able to write a biography of Walpole. Walpole’s Portuguese correspondence was held in the Foreign Office in London. BACK

[2] Bunbury was Under-Secretary of State for War and Colonies 1809–1816 and had offered Southey material to help with his History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[3] Samuel Wesley (1662–1735; DNB), father of John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB), was a servitor at Exeter College (a poor scholar who earned his keep at Oxford by waiting on wealthy students), where he matriculated in 1684. John Coleridge was a Fellow of Exeter College 1812–1818 and so was able to provide this information from the College’s registers. Southey included this snippet 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

[4] John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB) and Charles Wesley (1707–1788; DNB) in their accounts of their father’s life, for example in The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, 16 vols (London, 1809), I, pp. 12–13. Their father, Samuel Wesley, was the son of John Wesley (1635–1678), a Nonconformist Minister; and Samuel Wesley was educated for the Nonconformist ministry at various schools and academies in London in 1678–1684 before entering Oxford and conforming to the Church of England. BACK

[5] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[6] The Arminian Magazine (1778–1797), a monthly magazine edited by John Wesley until his death and continued as the Methodist Magazine (1798–1822) and the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine (1822–1969). BACK

[7] The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, 16 vols (1809), no. 2997 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[8] Reginald Heber reviewed the second volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1817) in the Quarterly Review, 18 (October 1817), 99–128. BACK

[9] ‘Dead head’, as in the useless remains left over from an experiment in alchemy. BACK

[10] 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

[11] Southey’s Journal of a Tour in the Netherlands in the Autumn of 1815 (1902). BACK

[12] ‘Taking effect after death’; but the journal of Southey’s continental tour of May–August 1817 was not published by Southey’s descendants. The ‘Traveller at Home’ was not written. BACK

[13] Derwent Coleridge lived with the Hopwood family, well-connected Lancashire landowners, at Summerhill, near Ulverston 1817–1819. Robert Gregge Hopwood (1773–1854) had married in 1805 Cecilia Elizabeth Byng (1770–1854), daughter of John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington (1743–1813). However she was a first cousin, rather than a sister, of Georgiana Byng (1768–1801), first wife of Lord John Russell, later the 6th Duke of Bedford (1766–1839; DNB). Lady Russell had lived in Lisbon for two years for her health and was known to Herbert Hill and, possibly, John May. Derwent Coleridge was tutor to the Hopwoods’ sons: Edward (1807–1891); Frank (1810–1890); and Hervey (1811–1881). BACK

[14] Samuel Tolson Jnr (dates unknown). His bankruptcy had forced the sale of the Greta Hall estate, but the sale had not completed because of an injunction, leaving the ownership of Greta Hall in doubt. BACK

[15] Mary Charlotte (b. 1804), Susanna Louisa (1805–1885) and Charlotte Livius (b. 1812). BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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