2498. Robert Southey to John May, 9 November 1814

2498. Robert Southey to John May, 9 November 1814 ⁠* 

And therefore in his soul he felt that peace
Which follows painful duty well perform’d
Perfect & heavenly peace – the peace of God. [1] 

Keswick. 9 Nov. 1814

My dear friend

I ought ere this to have replied to your last letter. I was from home when it arrived, on a weeks visit to Wordsworth, & there it followed me. You know my employments, – but not my dissipations, which in a very natural process multiply to rob me of time as time becomes more valuable. From June to November this place is any thing rather than a retirement. The task of tuition also, tho managed with as little fatigue as possible, occupies daily an hour & half, which, tho I read by snatches even then, is lost to regular employment.

As soon as I returned from Rydale I wrote to G Coleridge, & have received from him as satisfactory a reply as could be expected or desired, tho much yet remains to be adjusted. [2]  He proposes to my consideration, two plans, – which indeed he would leave to my choice. 1. That of obtaining for Hartley the situation of Bible Clerk [3]  at one of the Oxford Colleges, where the emoluments are very considerable: to this he states & strongly feels two objections: that the person holding such a situation is actually, tho not by any statute, disqualified from gaining a fellowship in the same college, custom, & probably the want of respectability of character in the Bible Clerks to rise above their situation, having established this bar: – & that tho there is no difference in the dress (as among the Servitors) still there is a practical degradation attached to the office – men who hold it being rarely or difficultly admitted into the society of the commoners. This objection is doubtless felt the more strongly because Hartley has in so many cousins who are so well known & stand so high in the University, & has undoubtedly on that account the more force. 2dly He says that it might be preferable to send him as an independent member notwithstanding the additional expence; & at the expiration of two years, if the immediate college prospects were not promising, place him somewhere as an Usher; where from the emoluments of his situation he might support himself, & keep annually one or two terms, till he had compleated the number requisite for his degree, & for admission into Orders. To effect this he says that if Lady Beaumont & Poole would advance all that they offered for four years, in the space of two there would then be 80 £ per year, which the Ottery family would double, making thus 160 £. – I incline to this latter plan, – because I have great hopes that Hartley will make friends at College, as he has never failed to do every where else, which will make his success certain there; – & because if College Prospects fails, he cannot be made independent too soon, nor subject to the discipline of self controul too early. But I wait to see Wordsworth before I reply to G Coleridge; & I am in daily expectation of him. Meantime my poor old friend Cottle has offered an annual five guineas toward this object: & if it be necessary, Wordsworth will contribute 20 £. per year. Of Coleridge himself all I can learn is from Cottle, [4]  who tells me that a Bristol printer [5]  has bought the paper on which he expects to print a work of S. T. C’s against the Unitarians. [6] 

Now then for myself. And first I must once more thank you for taking care of me at the Insurance Office & supplying my deficits there. My great history [7]  when it appears will settle these accounts: & now the Chamberlains office may regularly be looked to. [8]  If you will at any convenient time call on Wm Nicol, [9]  he will put you in the way of settling my accounts there; & Bedford tells me the sooner this can be done the better as the Clerks want to close their books. – My youngest child has been dangerously ill since our return from Rydale, – & we of course went thro that kind of suffering which I believe none can truly comprehend but those who have experienced it – The effects have not yet so wholly left her, as to leave me entirely without anxiety, – tho I know it is my nature to be anxious over-much in these cases. – I have begun with Mr Walpole, [10]  & proceed slowly from the great disappointment in the want of his Portugueze Correspondences: it cannot have been this which he sent to the foreign office, – because the originals existed there before, & these if they existed at all, would only have been duplicates. I rather incline to think that he did not while at Lisbon preserve his correspondence as he had done in the commencement of his diplomatic career. From his French papers [11]  I have collected a few interesting facts, – & in the more important part of his life must do what I can, by help of the Commercial Treaty which he negociated, – of the Wine Company, – & the attempt at introducing the Catholics into the Factory. [12] 

My poem [13]  will either have reached you, or be lying for you in town before this letter can travel to Richmond. I have begun, & barely begun another, of which the title is A Tale of Paraguay: [14]  it is addressed to your God-daughter in a sort of Prologue & Epilogue, or in old language Proem & L’Envoy. your name comes thus naturally & properly to be introduced, – & I trust you will allow me to repeat it in some dedicatory lines. The subject of the poem is death, – & you know in what strain of thought I shall present it.

There shall be a long article of mine upon the English Poets in the next Quarterly, [15]  but some expressions in Bedfords letters have put me in a quandary lest the middle part should be lost, – which would be the loss of a weeks labour. I have just begun a paper upon the moral statistics as they may be called, to show what has been done toward real, practicable radical reform in this country, – & what remains to do. [16]  – Remember me to Mrs May – & God bless you

Yrs most affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqre/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 12NO12/ 1814’ and ‘10o’Clock/ NO.12/ 1814F.N.n
Endorsement: No. 177 1814/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 9th November/ recd. 12th do/ ansd 6th December
Watermark: J Dickinson & Co/ 1811
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 137–139. BACK

[1] And therefore … God: written in another hand. Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 7, lines 185–187. BACK

[2] Southey to George Coleridge, 12 October 1814, Letter 2485. BACK

[3] Bible Clerks were students at Oxford University who received benefits such as reduced fees or free meals in return for performing certain tasks, such as reading aloud chapters from the Bible at meals or in chapel. The term had come into use in preference to that of Servitor, as the duties attached to this office had, in the past, included acting as a servant to other students and wearing a distinctive plain black gown and round hat. BACK

[4] For Cottle’s letter, 1 November 1814, Lynda Pratt, ‘The “sad habits” of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Unpublished Letters from Joseph Cottle to Robert Southey, 1813–17’, Review of English Studies, n.s. 55 (2004), 85. BACK

[5] John Matthew Gutch (1776–1861), Bristol printer. In 1817 he was closely involved in the publication of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. BACK

[6] This is possibly connected to the magnum opus Coleridge announced to Daniel Stuart on 12 September 1814: ‘my most important Work, which is printing at Bristol, two of my friends having taken upon them the risk ... The Title is: Christianity the one true Philosophy - or 5 Treatises on the Logos, or communicative Intelligence, Natural, Human, and Divine’, E. L. Griggs, Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), III, p. 533 and n 2. BACK

[7] Possibly Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’, or his History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[8] i.e. The regular payments Southey received as Poet Laureate. BACK

[9] William Nicol (fl. 1800–1855), printer and bookseller. Nicol was also Assistant Paymaster in the Lord Steward’s office and thus had some responsibility for part of Southey’s salary. The Lord Steward, who has charge of the Royal Household’s domestic arrangements, had traditionally provided the Poet Laureate with a tierce of canary wine, as a supplement to his salary. The wine had been converted into an annual sum of £27, but this was still paid by the Lord Steward. BACK

[10] Southey was working on a memoir of Walpole (1736–1810), Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal, 1771–1800. Southey had promised to write a Life of Walpole. BACK

[11] Prior to his time in Lisbon, Walpole had served three years as secretary to the British Embassy in Paris. BACK

[12] Walpole was a central figure in re-negotiating the trading relationship between Portugal and Britain in 1786–1787, after Britain’s Treaty with France in 1786 threatened to upset the long-established export of Portuguese wine to Britain in exchange for textiles. British merchants who were Catholics were not allowed to join the British Factory in Lisbon – a subject which caused some controversy in the 1780s and 1790s. BACK

[13] Roderick, The Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[14] A Tale of Paraguay was published in 1825, and dedicated to Edith May Southey. BACK

[15] Alexander Chalmers (1759–1834; DNB), The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper (1810), Quarterly Review, 11 (July 1814), 480–504; and Quarterly Review, 12 (October 1814), 60–90. BACK

[16] Possibly a reference to Southey’s article on ‘the Poor’ in Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 187–235. BACK

Places mentioned

Rydal Mount (mentioned 2 times)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)