221. Robert Southey to John May, 4 June 1797

221. Robert Southey to John May, 4 June 1797 ⁠* 

Sunday. June 4th. 1797.

At Mr William Millers. [1]  Christ Church. Hampshire.

We were a week at Southampton, & that week was an unpleasant one. Edith was unwell for the first part, & the weather wet & windy for the last. at Lymington we only changed chaises. I wanted retirement & a bold coast, neither of which were to be found at Lymington, & the scenery of that part of the Forest appeared comparatively uninteresting after we had seen the road from Winchester to Southampton. here we are in a flat watry country. sufficiently retired, for the place is little better — or worse — than a village. but we are two miles from the beach, & the only object in sight from the windows which can associate an idea of being in the country is a thatched house opposite.

flat however as the country is, it is not altogether uninteresting. two hills near the town rise immediately from the plain, barren & dark. I know not how many little streams wind in all directions, & tho the windings of a stream thro a naked plain present no temptation to follow them, their distant gleaming relieve the uniformity of the prospect. here is one of the finest churches I ever saw; the ruins of a small priory washed by a clear rivulet stand almost in the churchyard. I shall remain here six or seven weeks & then migrate westwards.

The books with me are more than I wish when moving, & fewer than I want when settled. whilst I was packing them up, a friend brought me Robinsons Ecclesiastical Researches. [2]  he has as much wit as Jortin [3]  & yet never ceases to be serious, & with erudition at least equal to Mosheim, [4]  possesses a candour & discrimination which Mosheim wanted. have you read George Dyers life of Robert Robinson? [5]  it is the history of a very extraordinary man told with infinite simplicity by one as extraordinary as himself.

We have no acquaintance within fifty miles, & yet I never found Time pass more lightly. I sent Blackstone [6]  by the waggon to Southampton, & began a tragedy on the Martyrdom of Joan of Arc while he was on the road. my regular time for study has no room left for a new undertaking, & my poor tragedy must wait for a vacancy unless I steal the morning hours from sleep. this I hope to do. I have now to correct the Poem — & these are my purposed alterations. to omit Coleridges lines & the 9th book. the Maids knowledge of her future fate may be told to Conrade in the 4th. & the 9th may be supplied by a midnight expedition to the tent of Burgundy to detach him from the English interest. She is said to have cut off the head of Franquet d’Arras, a Burgundian, & I can inweave this fact. [7]  the manner in which the arms are discovered in the 4th book resembles clock work too much. it is miracle enough to find them, & mysterious events suit the Poet better than miraculous ones. The English ordered the herald who brought the first summons to them to be burnt. this is a fact too important to be past over, & yet I cannot spare my herald. It is very unfortunate that I cannot meet with Chapelains book. [8]  I must not be sparing of notes. the costume is strictly observed in all the battles sieges &c; but this should be pointed out, otherwise no perspicuity in the text can make the meaning obvious. The 9th book extends now to 50 pages. some of my lines [MS cut] in the beginning of the 2nd — may be inserted there — & the whole extended so as to publish seperately — the Tragedy will be printed in the same size, & both together form a volume.

Such are my purposed alterations. if any objection occur to you to these or to the other parts of the poem, I shall be thankful for the criticism. When shall you be in this part of the world?

Yrs truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: John May Esqr/ 4. Bedford Square/ London
Postmark: AJU/ 5/ 97
Endorsements: 1797 No 1./ Robert Southey/ Xstchurch/ 4 Jun/ recd: 5 do/ ansd: 9 do
MS: Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections From the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 32–34. BACK

[1] William Miller (dates unknown) was Southey’s landlord at Christchurch in 1797. BACK

[2] Robert Robinson (1735–1790; DNB), Ecclesiastical Researches (1792). BACK

[3] John Jortin (1698–1770; DNB), ecclesiastical historian and literary critic. BACK

[4] Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1693–1755), German Lutheran divine and church historian. BACK

[5] George Dyer, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Robert Robinson (1796). BACK

[6] William Blackstone (1723–1780; DNB), Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–1769). BACK

[7] Franquet d’Arras (d. 1430) was a Burgundian mercenary. He was not, as some hostile accounts claimed, beheaded by Joan of Arc. Instead, he was executed by the authorities to whom Joan handed him over after his capture at Lagny-Sur-Marne. BACK

[8] Jean Chapelain (1595–1674), La Pucelle ou la France Délivrée (1756). Southey included a summary of it in the second edition of Joan of Arc, published in 1798. BACK

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