3167. Robert Southey to John May, 13 July 1818

3167. Robert Southey to John May, 13 July 1818⁠* 

In a letter {to Mr Walpole [1] } dated 24 Sept. 1768 & signed Steph. Cottrell [2]  relating to the ceremonies observed with the King of Denmark [3]  on his visit to London Sir Stephen says ‘We have for the present suffered a great loss in Mr P Sharpe [4]  whose ill state of health has obliged him to go to Spa, from whence he is advised to go to the South of France to pass the winter. On this occasion he has obtained leave from Mr Chetwynde [5]  to act for him during his absence, on the same agreement as between yourself & me.

13 July 1818. Keswick.

My dear friend

In clearing out the accumulated papers of my desk this morning, this sheet came to light, with a memorandum made long since for the purpose of asking whether you know to what it alludes. It seems as if Mr Walpole had held some situation about Court, of which there is no trace in any of the papers in my possession. You will be glad to hear that I have been working with much success at these papers, extracting & arranging matter for Brazil, [6]  for the history of the Mother xxx Country; [7]  & for the Memoir. For the first of these I have found something, – for the two latter a great deal in the extracts from the correspondence of Mr W’s predecessors (as far back as Mr Worsley [8] ) & of the ministers at Madrid.

This was my main employment, as soon as I had settled the important business of Ways & Means for the quarter, (a paper upon Evelyns Memoirs [9] ) – when I was called off by the manner in which Brougham attacked me from the hustings. [10]  This is certainly not worth replying to, – for the only reply would be that I had neither written a line concerning the election, nor meddled in it more than you have done; but it is a very proper opportunity for chastising a man who has then slandered me in the face of my neighbours, & exposing him, as he deserves to be exposed. – I have got about halfway thro a William Smithiad in consequence & with this I hope & expect to xxx conclude my polemical writings; [11]  – tho indeed I should not send this into the world on any personal account if it was not so good an opportunity of xx pointing out the difference between the true means of reforming a people, & those means which can only lead to inevitable evil, in whatever manner they may terminate.

You will be surprized at the price of your books. Voyage Litteraire 15 franks. Helyot 50. Orders Monastiques, 8. [12]  In all 73 franks, – in English money £3. 0. 10s. Prince Esterhazy & Mr Rothschild will have credit for the amount of the duties among their good works, [13]  – the prime merit however belonging to Herries the late Commissary in Chief, – a very good acquaintance of his {mine}, & a very near friend of Bedfords (The whole duties upon this {my} importation would not have been less than 50£.) Other charges there are none, – they came by water the whole way, & there was room for them in my packages without any increase of cost. If I have performed this commission successfully, set down from time to time such foreign books as you are desirous of possessing, & employ me again when next I go abroad, – for I hope yet to see the Eternal City, & smell the smoke of Vesuvius.

I think as you do of the utility of our Elections, both as safe & natural channels of popular feeling, xx (safety valves in the great machine of state) & as correctives for a Ministry when it needs it. But I think once in six or seven years is quite enough for them; & I could wish as an unobjectionable species of reform, that the votes were taken in parishes or hundreds, in mercy to post-horses, & for the sake of public peace. I was not within the sphere of the whirlwind here, & as you will easily suppose had my head filled with matters much more interesting {to me} than a contest for Westmorland. [14] 

I have not seen the account of Wesley [15]  which you mention, but will send for it. My work goes on well, 256 pages printed. [16]  At present I am employed upon a chapter which interests me much, – a sketch of the religious history of England to elucidate the state of religion when Wesley began his career, & explain the causes of success, as far as external circumstances are concerned. [17]  You will be pleased with the spirit of this book, with its perfect fairness, & I think also with its philosophy. I am very fond of ecclesiastical history, & had as you know an intention once of writing a History of the Monastic Orders. [18]  My life will not be long enough for this – so I shall contract my plan, & content myself with some Sketches of Monastic History, – about two such volumes of xxxx as Wesley, skimming the cream of the matter like Gibbon, [19]  – but not like him in any other point, – except indeed in fullness of research.

Hartley is at home, & Derwent has a holyday to meet him. The former seems to think he has a fair prospect of getting a fellowship in his own College. [20]  He has been put into the way fairly, & if he fails there will be no one to blame but himself – but I hope well of him. Derwent goes on very well I know not how far the Lectures proves advantageous to the father [21] – he sent his wife 50£ some months ago, & certainly would not be wanting in this respect if he had the means. Once in two or three years he makes an effort, & at all other times trusts to the Ravens both for himself & his family. [22] 

Remember us to Mrs May & your daughters. [23]  We are enjoying delicious weather, – & such bathing. It is almost wicked to make you think of it in Tavistock Street.

{Remember me to John Coleridge & tell him if he does not visit the Lakes before he is married [24]  I shall despair of seeing him here for many years.}

God bless you

Yrs most affectionately

R Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqre/ 4. Tavistock Street/ Bedford Square/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 20 JY 20/ 1818
Watermark: J Dickinson & Co/ 1811
Endorsement: No. 200 1818/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 13th July/ recd. 20th do./ ansd. 18th September
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. 168–170. BACK

[1] Robert Walpole (1736–1810) was an extra clerk of the Privy Council from 1749–1764, and then one of four Clerks in Ordinary 1764–1810. After serving as secretary of the British embassy in Paris 1768–1771, he became the British envoy to Portugal 1771–1800. May had sent Southey Walpole’s papers and hoped he would write a memoir of Walpole. BACK

[2] Sir Stephen Cottrell (1737–1818) extra clerk of the Privy Council 1756–1767; one of four Clerks in Ordinary to the Privy Council 1767–1810. BACK

[3] Christian VII (1749–1808; King of Denmark 1766–1808). He visited England in September 1768. BACK

[4] Philip Sharpe (1716–1772), extra clerk to the Privy Council 1744–1762; one of four Clerks in Ordinary to the Privy Council 1762–1772. BACK

[5] Sir George Chetwynd (1739–1824), extra clerk to the Privy Council 1757–1772; one of four Clerks in Ordinary to the Privy Council 1772–1824. BACK

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

[7] Southey’s never-completed ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[8] Henry Worsley (1672–1740), MP for Newtown, Isle of Wight 1705–1715, Ambassador to Portugal 1714–1722, Governor of Barbados 1722–1731. BACK

[9] Southey’s review of Memoirs, Illustrative of the Life and Writings of John Evelyn (1818) appeared in the Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 1–54. BACK

[10] It was reported in The Times and Courier, 4 July 1818, that on 30 June 1818 Brougham, when campaigning for the parliamentary seat of Westmorland against the candidates favoured by Wordsworth’s patron, the Earl of Lonsdale, attacked Southey and Wordsworth. BACK

[11] Southey was dissuaded from publishing the retort to Brougham that he modelled on his pamphlet A Letter to William Smith, Esq. M. P. (1817) and termed the ‘Tender Epistle’. Parts of it were printed, without mentioning Brougham’s name, in a postscript to the second edition of Carmen Triumphale (London, 1821), pp. 45–53. BACK

[12] Edmond Martène (1654–1739) and Ursin Durand (1682–1771), Voyage Litteraire de Deux Religieux Benedictins de la Congregation de Saint Maur (1717); Hippolyte Helyot (1660–1716), Histoire des Ordres Religieux et Militaires (1792); and an unidentified work. Southey had bought these books for May, along with many of his own purchases, when he visited Brussels in 1817. BACK

[13] Prince Pál Antal Esterházy de Galántha (1786–1866), Ambassador from the Austrian Empire to the United Kingdom 1815–1842; and Nathan Mayer von Rothschild (1777–1836; DNB) the London banker, who possessed a network of agents, shippers and couriers across Europe. BACK

[14] The House of Commons was dissolved on 10 June 1818 and the resultant general election lasted about six weeks. There was a particularly virulent contest in Westmorland, where Henry Brougham challenged the dominance of the Lowther family. Parliaments lasted a maximum of seven years – the last election had been in 1812. There was only one polling station in each constituency, involving a great deal of travel for voters, especially in county constituencies. BACK

[15] It is not clear which of the many accounts of the life of John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB) May is referring to here. BACK

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

[17] Chapter 9 of Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 305–336. BACK

[18] Southey never completed this work, but continued to plan and discuss it to the end of his career. BACK

[19] Edward Gibbon (1737–1794; DNB), History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788). BACK

[20] Hartley was awarded a fellowship at Oriel College, Oxford, rather than his own college, Merton, on 14 April 1819 but lost it at the end of the probationary year on grounds of intemperance. BACK

[21] Coleridge had delivered a series of 14 lectures on European literature at the Philosophical Society of London in Fleet Street, 27 January–13 March 1818. BACK

[22] In other words, Coleridge trusted to God, rather than his own efforts, to provide sustenance, as with the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17: 6: ‘The ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank from the brook.’ BACK

[23] May’s daughters, Mary Charlotte (b. 1804), Susanna Louisa (1805–1885) and Charlotte Livius (b. 1812). BACK

[24] John Taylor Coleridge married Mary Buchanan (1788–1874), daughter of Gilbert Buchanan (1750–1833), Rector of Woodmanstone, Surrey, on 7 August 1818. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Tavistock St, London (mentioned 1 time)


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