2543. Robert Southey to John May, 15 January 1815

2543. Robert Southey to John May, 15 January 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 15. Jany. 1815.

My dear friend

The parcel with Mr Walpoles [1]  papers arrived on Friday, a good specimen this of the manner in which the conveyance of goods is conducted in this part of the world. An Almocreve [2]  would bring them the same distance in less time. I waited their arrival before I replied to your last letter. That letter gave me xxxxx xxxxxx affected me much, – for I well know how much it must cost you to leave so delightful a habitation as that at Richmond. But you have the satisfaction of knowing that you are acting well, & this brings with it the peace “which passeth all understanding”, [3]  & you have the prospect of returning again to the same spot with renewed or additional enjoyment. I have been looking also for some selfish reasons to reconcile myself to the thoughts of this removal: – I shall see more of you when I visit London, – & perhaps when you have no longer so sweet a summer residence, you & Mrs May will resolve upon making us a summers visit. I long to show you this country; & am old enough to feel, when calling to mind the changes & chances of human life, that the sooner I show it you the better.

The Chamberlains Office seems to be very much in arrears. My salary oddly enough, commences from my birth day, Augt. 12. When they once begin to pay, the payments will I suppose be made with tolerable regularity, once a quarter, leaving always the quarters which they are behind-hand as a sort of post-obit. [4] 

These papers of Mr Walpoles appear to be the most valuable part of his collection, – I have merely as yet seen the nature of their contents, which seem likely to assist me materially in that period of my Portugueze history [5]  where I stand most in need of assistance. Touching himself they con will not contain much, – yet doubtless there will be something.

I hope every thing is arranged for establishing Hartley Coleridge at Oxford. The Postmastership [6]  is estimated at not less than 50 £. There will be 40 £ from Ottery, [7]  30 £ from Lady Beaumont, & 10 £ from his godfather Poole, – to which another 5 £ has since been added by my old friend Cottle. This is a great thing accomplished, & if he fail in making his own way in the world afterwards, the fault must be his own; – hitherto he has not been visited for the sins of his father. Of him we hear nothing & know nothing, – except that in all probability he is doing nothing. Sooner or later this must lead to the most deplorable consequences; – for tho by mere accident (as it may almost be called) his family are preserved from absolute want, & his children from ruin, I know not what is ultimately to x keep him from a prison.

My main occupation at present is the Brazilian history, for which I shall be very ill remunerated, – I cannot anticipate more than a fourth part of the profits which might be obtained by works that would not require half the time, or half the knowledge, or be of half the a tenth part of the value. However I owe this sacrifice not only to the purchasers of the first volume, but to my self also: & the pleasure of the pursuit must be taken into the account. [8]  You will find the volume interesting; & the overflow of my collections will <would> be sufficient for a separate volume, if there were encouragement for it. – In the last Quarterly there are two articles of mine, both cruelly mutilated, – that upon the History of English Poetry, [9]  – & Forbes’s Oriental Memoirs. [10]  I am now reviewing Lewis & Clarkes Travels, [11]  & shall review Miots History of the Egyptian Expedition. [12]  Of this book the first edition was printed in 1804; – th[MS torn] has just appeared, & contains what he could not publish then; – among other things, a detail full account of the massacre at Jaffa, [13]  to which the Author was eye-witness, & which of course is now placed beyond all possibility of doubt. The poisoning story he cannot establish in the same manner, but what he says tends to establish it. This last was a gratuitous crime in Buonaparte, for there is reason enough to conclude that if he had not thus disposed of the sick, his troops would have abandoned them. [14]  A comparison of the two editions of M. Miots book is not a little curious. I take interest enough in employments of this kind, & should like them well were it not for the consciousness that I might be much more worthily employed. However it is by no means the worst way of service which Mammon might exact in this world of his, & I am thankful that it is not my lot to be engaged in less congenial pursuits.

I am heartily glad of the peace with America, tho not pleased with the terms. [15]  For our own sake I could have wished a distinct recognition of our naval rights, & I would not have injured the New-England states by depriving <excluding> them from the fishery: this gratifies Maddison, [16]  & makes them our enemies: they (a brave, active, & enterprizing people) will naturally look to recover by war, what they have lost by war. In my view the conquest of Canada by Wolfe [17]  will prove no eventual advantage to G Britain: while the colonies were ours it was a debateable ground with France, & now it will always be a vulnerable part of the emp British dominions, – till it becomes independent itself. Had the war with America continued I think France would have recovered it. The French are of all nations the most national; – the English I fear of all nations the least so.

Remember me to Mrs May & believe me my dear friend

Yrs most affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqre/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: ‘KESWICK/ 298’
Postmark: E/ 18JA18/ 1814; [partial] 10o’Cl/ JA.1/ 1815F.N.n
Endorsement: No. 178 1815/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 15th January/ recd. 18th do/ ansd 9th March
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. 139–141. BACK

[1] Robert Walpole (1736–1810), Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal, 1771–1800. BACK

[2] A mule driver. BACK

[3] Philippians 4: 7. BACK

[4] Southey’s salary as Poet Laureate was paid by the Lord Chamberlain’s office. As his predecessor, Henry James Pye (1745–1813; DNB) had died on 11 August 1813, and Southey’s appointment was deemed to have taken effect immediately, his first quarter’s payment started on 12 August. BACK

[5] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[6] The designation given to a Scholarship at Merton College, Oxford. BACK

[7] i.e from Hartley Coleridge’s uncles. BACK

[8] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil had appeared in 1810, volume 2 followed in 1817 and volume 3 in 1819. BACK

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

[10] James Forbes (1749–1819; DNB), Oriental Memoirs (1813), Quarterly Review, 12 (October 1814), 180–227. BACK

[11] Meriweather Lewis (1774–1809) and William Clark (1770–1838), Travels to the Source of the Missouri River, and Across the American Continent to the Pacific Ocean (1814), Quarterly Review, 12 (January 1815), 317–368. BACK

[12] Jacques François Miot (1779–1858), Mémoires pour servir à l’Histoire des Expéditions en Egypte et en Syrie (1814), Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 1–55. BACK

[13] The rape and murder by French troops of the population of Jaffa after the city fell on 3 March 1799. For Miot’s first-hand account, Mémoires pour servir à l’Histoire des Expéditions en Egypte et en Syrie (Paris, 1814), pp. 140–148. BACK

[14] When Bonaparte retreated from Jaffa on 27 May 1799, he ordered that French troops who had been struck down by the plague be poisoned. See also Miot, Mémoires pour servir à l’Histoire des Expéditions en Egypte et en Syrie (Paris, 1814), p. 206. BACK

[15] The ratification in February 1815 of the Treaty of Ghent (24 December 1814), brought an end to the war between Britain and the United States. However, it left a number of issues that had sparked the conflict unresolved. America did not accept Britain’s right to impress British sailors on American ships; Britain was not willing to give American sailors access to the Newfoundland fisheries. Southey feared this might alienate New England, which had largely opposed the war with Britain. BACK

[16] James Madison (1751–1836), President of the United States of America 1809–1817. BACK

[17] James Wolfe (1727–1759; DNB), responsible for the decisive victory in 1759 that led to the British conquest of Quebec from France. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)