3191. Robert Southey to John May, 9 September 1818

3191. Robert Southey to John May, 9 September 1818⁠* 

Keswick. 9th Sept. 1818

My dear friend

I inclose a draft on Longman for £50. My next years account with him will probably prove a good one, – for the edition of Wesley may be expected to go off speedily, & perhaps in the course of the winter I may rouse myself to go on with the Tale of Paraguay as something upon which I may calculate for about two hundred pounds. [1]  During this season of the year I am always liable to interruptions, – indeed scarcely a day passes without them, & this will continue till the end of October. Wilberforce {is coming to Keswick} with his wife & his sons & his daughters, [2]  & his sons friends & his daughters friends, & his man servants & his maid servants, for he travels with a tribe about him like one of the old patriarchs except that he does not bring with him his oxen & his cattle. The most interesting person whom we have as yet seen this summer was a certain Mr. Everett, Greek Professor of Harvard College in New England, who has been spending three years on the continent, & is about to extend his travels to Athens & Jerusalem, as soon as he has xxx seen which also he considers as holy ground. Old England could not produce a mind of a better stamp. Our most amusing visitor was a Wiltshire Clergyman from the neighbourhood of Longleat, Skurray by name, [3]  a person of no great νους, [4]  but a most entertaining companion from the exuberance of his good nature & good spirits, & his dramatic talent in telling stories, which came to me with xx peculiar zest in these uttermost parts of the North for being seasoned with the true Somersetshire dialect & accent. But in the pulpit he is the greatest performer I ever remember to have heard. The word performer may properly be used, for very much more depended upon the delivery than the matter of his discourse: such indeed was the effect of his voice & manner, that it was impossible to lose a word which he said & it would have been as difficult to withdraw xxx xxx ones attention from him as to fix it upon others it frequently is to fix it upon keep it in attendance upon other preachers.

John Coleridge sent me an very excellent specimen of Oxford, such as Oxford is now. [5]  – Poor Lloyd is in the town, & spends with us all the time that he does not pass in his bed: he is as mad as ever Cowper [6]  was, & in a way more strange but quite as miserable; his notion being that he is the Man of Sin the Son of Perdition [7]  & what not,– that all the rest of mankind are gone to Heaven, nothing but spectres remaining, xx that he alone is left, without a heart, & without the possibility of dying, & that the Universe will presently fall to pieces about his ears. His delight is to talk about this to any person who will listen to him (which I will not) – but at other times, & always in the presence of strangers, his conversation is as clear, as sensible & as discriminating as it ever was.

With all these interruptions I continue to do what I can, which tho xxx sometimes it be very little in the day is always better than nothing. I am just now on xx a very interesting part of Brazilian history, – the first voyage up & down & up the Madeira. [8]  Luckily I found in one of the Portugueze Journals the title of the Corografia Brazilica, [9]  & my Uncle procured it from Lisbon just in time, – for by a little management the facts which would naturally have been stated earlier, may be introduced in a subsequent chapter. I shall be glad when the Patriota [10]  arrives, – perhaps a Tupi Dictionary of the Tupi (or Lingua Geral) might be had at the Rio. If you could get me one it would probably be useful in improving my history for a second edition, which some time or other will be required, tho very probably not in my life time. [11] 

Your god-daughter is shooting up fast, – in good health & spirits. Her mother is neither in one nor the other, – the cause of which I rather believe to be one which – after an interval of six years, – was not expected & under all circumstances for a were I to speak from my present feelings certainly not to have been wished. [12]  But we know not what is best for ourselves – & whether he gives or takes away blessed be the name of the Lord

God bless you my dear friend. Remember us to Mrs May & your daughters [13] 

& believe me

yrs most affectionately

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ John May Esqre/ 4 Tavistock Street/ Bedford Square/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Seal: [partial; obscured]
Endorsement: N. 201 1818/ (Robert Southey/ Keswick 9th September/ recd 17th T/ ansd 18th W
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1 (26). ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). A Tale of Paraguay was not finished and published until 1825. BACK

[2] Wilberforce’s wife Barbara, née Spooner (1777–1847). With their children: William Wilberforce (1798–1879), later a barrister and MP for Hull 1837–1838; Robert Wilberforce, later a clergyman and writer; Samuel Wilberforce (1805–1873; DNB), later Bishop of Winchester 1870–1873; Henry Wilberforce (1807–1873; DNB), later a journalist; Barbara Wilberforce (1799–1821) and Elizabeth Wilberforce (1801–1832). BACK

[3] Francis Skurray (1774–1848), Perpetual Curate of Horningsham, Wiltshire 1806–1823 and Lullington, Somerset 1805–1823, Rector of Winterbourne Abbas 1823–1848; author of Bidcombe Hill, a Rural and Descriptive Poem (1808), Sermons on Public Subjects and Occasions (1817) and A Metrical Version of the Book of Psalms (1827), dedicated to Wordsworth. Skurray was from Beckington in Somerset. BACK

[4] ‘Mind’, i.e. a comment on his intellectual capacity. BACK

[5] Thomas Arnold (1795–1842; DNB), educational reformer and headmaster of Rugby School, 1828–1842. He was a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, 1815–1819. BACK

[6] William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB), the poet, laboured under the obsession that he was doomed to eternal punishment. BACK

[7] 2 Thessalonians 2: 3. Phrases often interpreted as referring to the Antichrist. BACK

[8] Southey discusses the voyage down this river in his History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, 349–359. BACK

[9] Manoel Aires de Casal (1754–1821), Corografia Brazilica, ou Relação Historico-Geografica do Reino do Brazil (1817), no. 3252 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[10] In History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. v–vi, Southey thanked John May for procuring the third volume of the Brazilian journal, O Patriota (1813–1814), for him, ‘when it was not to be obtained at Lisbon’. It was no. 3641 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[11] The first volume only of the History of Brazil (1810–1819) was revised and reprinted in 1822. BACK

[12] Charles Cuthbert Southey was born on 24 February 1819. BACK

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

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)