3225. Robert Southey to John May, 28 December 1818

3225. Robert Southey to John May, 28 December 1818⁠* 

Keswick. 28 Dec. 1818

My dear friend,

I was truly glad to be assured by your last letter of what I had before suspected, that John had been more sinned against than sinning. [1]  Indeed by what I have since learnt it appears that the Master [2]  acted at the beginning with great imprudence. If, as has been stated, he ordered the boys to be locked up an hour earlier than usual, because some of them employed their time improperly, it was assuredly an act of injustice towards all the others; & any person who knows what boys at a public school are, might have anticipated the consequences. In reality one of the best things belonging to public schools is that they generate that kind of spirit, which is liable to explode upon such occasions, but which gives a master who knows how to direct it, the best hold upon his boys. In my time at Westminster if any offence had been committed by some unknown person xxx {whom} it was thought necessary to discover & punish nothing more was necessary than to send one of the Monitors round to the different forms, & ask who had done the thing, – & immediately the offender stood up & avowed himself. The Master behaved injudiciously at first, & his conduct towards John has been abominably unjust. How easily might it have happened that such a punishment might ruin a boys fairest prospects; – for instance if instead of having a good & affectionate father his fortune depended upon the will of some relation who without enquiring into the merits of the case xxx might think it {a} sufficient reason for discarding him, because he had been expelled from school. Public expulsion is {for this reason} too severe a punishment for any thing except some heinous moral offence, – But boys are so tractable when they are treated justly, & generously & kindly, that Dr Bell says it is almost always the Masters fault if they xxx require punishment at all.

We are very well satisfied with the result of Hartleys examination. [3]  Considering the disadvantages which he has had in a north-country school & an inefficient Tutor, [4]  it is almost as honourable for him to have taken xxx a second class as for one who has been regularly bred to obtain the first place. About his future prospects I am xxx by no means hopeful. There is far too much of his father in his disposition. He has neither the strength nor the richness of his mind, – but he has the same subtlety in finding reasons to justify his own habits & inclinations, – & a perverse love of paradox which never brings forth good fruits. – If his prospects at Oxford should altogether fail, I believe it would be in my power to send him out as Chaplain to Pernambuco, – (a house, & 400£ a year) an appointment every way desirable for a young man. [5]  – His brother Derwent is doing well, & I am in good hope that xxx {xxx} {a} way to Cambridge begins to open for him; [6]  One of his schoolfellows (the eldest son of poor Charles Lloyd [7] ) much to the delight of his father & mother has pressed upon him from his own abundant salary (in his grandfathers bank) 30£ a year towards his college expenses. Wordsworth & an unknown friend of Wordsworths & myself – undertake for 10£ each. When he leaves his present situation, [8]  at the close of the ensuing year, he will have sixty or seventy pounds of his own. And I have put him in a way of helping himself rather more effectually, I have set him upon translating my old friend Dobrizhoffer de Abiponibus, which Murray will print, & give him half the eventual profits. He has plenty of time for this task. I will oversee it for him, & review the book as soon as it appears, so as to give it the best chance for a sale, – which indeed I should hope my little Tale of Paraguay (taken from Dobrizhoffer) will almost secure. [9]  It is in three octavo volumes, & his probable share of profits may be estimated at xxx about 200£. He is not a little pleased with the prospect of thus working his own way. The book is a delightful one, tho it will lose something in translation, – for there is a liveliness & originality in the old Jesuits Latin which cannot be transfused. – Two of the volumes he has with him, & his sister is helping him here at home with the third, – xxx to which she is fully competent.

This is in all points of view satisfactory. – I suppose it will make me accelerate my poem, that it may be published before the story appears in prose. It is very well that I should have some such motive to spur me on, – the less time we have to spare the more careful should we be not to let that old notorious old thief Procrastination run away with any of it. What little poetry I have written of late has been in Oliver Newman, – & this I am going on with at a snails pace without laying it aside. [10]  – I shall probably ere long take up the other in good earnest & go thro with it at a heat. – But my main business at present is with Brazil, where my long labours are drawing toward their close. By the time this reaches you I shall have finished the war of the Seven Reductions. [11]  the next chapter contains the Expulsion of the Jesuits. [12]  Two more will compleat this very laborious undertaking. This is being very near the end, – & a winning horse does not push with more spirit for the goal when he has it full in view than I hasten forward toward the conclusion of a book. [13]  The life of Wesley will not be much behind hand. [14]  They are printing the notes to the first volume, & a quarter part of the second is ready for the press. – The Peninsular War [15]  will seem a mere trifle to me in comparison with the Brazil, – indeed I do not expect that the three volumes will take up so much time in composition as one of the others for in the great bulk of the work I make no second copy, – whereas every syllable of the Brazil has been transcribed, & the materials which have been collected & not used are of no inconsiderable bulk.

It is a long while since I have heard from my Uncle, – but if any thing had been amiss Harry no doubt would have informed me. In his last letter he spoke of himself as relieved from his rheumatism but very feeble. Winter I fear will bring back the one complaint, & the other is not likely to be lessened by any favourable change. I cannot turn my thought that way without perceiving many anxieties in store, – xx yet there is so much promise about the three elder boys, as greatly to lessen the apprehensions concerning them. The prospect of my brother Toms family gives me a much sadder concern. He has already six, – & they come as fast as they can come four of them are girls. [16]  It is utterly impossible that he can make the slightest provision for them, – & they are almost as much dependant upon my life as upon his. – Our writers & speculative politicians seem never to touch upon the real evils of our state of society; – the great & growing one is the increase of the educated class xx in a ratio out of all proportion to the room for it. If it does not become a part of our system of policy to provide remedies or at least alleviations for this xx it is scarcely possible that two generations more should pass way without a root & branch revolution, – were there no other causes tending toward such a catastrophe. Schemes of colonization upon a scheme which we have no statesmen bold enough to contemplate, ought not to be delayed. Another thing needful is some sort of establishment for educated women, which should have the advantages of the Convent without its vows & its superstition. More than twenty years ago Rickman & I thought of pressing this upon the public attention. [17]  And it will be the first subject which I shall take up for the Q Review, [18]  I am sure it is practicable & sure that it would be one of the greatest blessings that could be conferred upon this country could we succeed in carrying it into effect. But I am at the end of my paper – God bless you my dear friend. Remember us to Mrs May & your daughters [19]  & believe me most affectionately yours

R Southey.


* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] To/ John May Esqre/ Richmond/ Surry 4 Tavistock Street/ Bedford Square
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ 31 DE 31/ 1818; 10 o’Clock/ DE. 31/ 1818; [partial] 10 o’Clock/ DE. 31/ 1818 F
Watermark: B. E. & S. Bath 1814
Endorsement: No. 203 1818/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 28th December/ recd. 31st do
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. 170–173. BACK

[1] May’s son John (1802–1879) had been expelled from Eton for his part in ‘Palk’s Rebellion’ on 3–4 November 1818. BACK

[2] John Keate (1773–1852), clergyman and headmaster of Eton 1809–1834. One of the causes of the rebellion was his insistence that boys should be in their boarding houses one hour earlier, at 5pm. BACK

[3] Hartley Coleridge had just graduated from Merton College, Oxford with a Second Class Honours degree. His examiners had disagreed profoundly about his merits, with some wishing to award him a First and some a Fourth. BACK

[4] Hartley Coleridge had attended a school in Ambleside 1808–1815, run by John Dawes, the local clergyman. John Lightfoot (1784–1863), Principal of the Postmasters and Tutor at Merton College, Oxford was felt by Southey to have provided Hartley Coleridge with little help in his studies. BACK

[5] Henry Koster, on behalf of the expatriate community in Pernambuco, had asked Southey’s help in finding a chaplain, but it was proving difficult to produce a suitable candidate. BACK

[6] Derwent Coleridge finally entered St John’s College, Cambridge in 1820. BACK

[7] Charles Grosvenor Lloyd (1800–1850). BACK

[8] 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). Derwent Coleridge was tutor to the Hopwoods’ sons: Edward (1807–1891); Frank (1810–1890); and Hervey (1811–1881). BACK

[9] The account of the Jesuit missions in Paraguay by Martin Dobrizhoffer (1717–1791), Historia de Abiponibus, Equestri, Bellicosaque Paraquariae Natione (1784), no. 843 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, was a book of which he was especially fond. Derwent made little headway with the translation and so Sara Coleridge completed it, and her Account of the Abipones, an Equestrian People of Paraguay was published by Murray in 1822. Southey reviewed it positively in the Quarterly Review, 26 (January 1822), 277–323. Southey’s A Tale of Paraguay (1825) was based on Dobrizhoffer’s narrative. BACK

[10] Southey’s New England epic, ‘Oliver Newman’, was never completed and the fragment was published posthumously in Oliver Newman: a New England Tale (Unfinished): with Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 1–92. BACK

[11] Under the Treaty of Madrid (1750), Spanish land east of the River Uruguay was ceded to Portugal. The Jesuits were ordered to dismantle seven of their Reductions and re-build them west of the river. The Guarani inhabitants of the Reductions resisted these measures and were defeated by a joint Spanish-Portuguese force in the Guarani War of 1756–1757. These matters were covered in Chapter 39, History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. 442–504. BACK

[12] The Jesuits were expelled from Brazil in 1759 and then from Spanish America in 1767: Chapters 40 and 42, History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. 505–547, 603–617. BACK

[13] Southey’s schedule was as usual optimistic. The excessive length of the concluding chapter delayed completion; see History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. 696–879. BACK

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

[15] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). Southey already had much of the material to hand from his accounts of the war in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808–1811 (1810–1813). BACK

[16] Tom Southey’s rapidly growing family: Margaret Hill Southey (b. 1811); Mary Hill Southey (b. 1812); Robert Castle Southey (1813–1828); Herbert Castle Southey (1815–1864); Eleanor Thomasina Southey (1816–1835); Sarah Louise Southey (1818–1850). They were later joined by: Nelson Castle Southey (1820–1834); Sophia Jane Southey (1822–1859) and Thomas Castle Southey (1824–1896). BACK

[17] Robert Southey to John Rickman, 17 January 1800, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Two, Letter 479. BACK

[18] Southey advocated the idea in a review of Thomas Dudley Fosbrooke (1770–1842; DNB), British Monachism; or, Manners and Customs of the Monks and Nuns of England (1817) in the Quarterly Review, 22 (July 1819), 59–102 (90–102). BACK

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

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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