3719. Robert Southey to John May, 26 August 1821

3719. Robert Southey to John May, 26 August 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 26 Aug. 1821.

My dear friend

How little are our lots in life to be foreseen! It might reasonably have been thought that if any man could have been secured against ill fortune in his mercantile concerns, by prudence, punctuality, method & the virtues & habits which the mercantile professions requires, you, above all men, would have been uniformly & steadily prosperous. And yet to what a series of anxieties & losses have you been exposed, without any fault, – or even any thing which can justly be called incaution on your part! These are indeed severe trials, & the more so, considering by whom this recent evil has been brought on. My fear now is lest your brothers [1]  transactions should have been with those members of the late Government whose persons are obnoxious to the ruling party, & whose engagements they appear to have disowned. [2]  Money for its first necessities a revolutionary Government will have by the seizure & sale of Church lands; but the payment of its debts is not one of those things which it is likely to consider as first necessary. Nor in the present state of those poor & long mis-governed countries is it possible to tell how long the union (now little more than nominal) between Portugal & Brazil may continue, nor what course affairs may take in either. This however is both consolatory & certain, that no good man is ever the worse for the trials with which Providence may visit him. & xx the way <in> which you regard these afflictions exemplifies this.

Since I received your letter I made my proposed visit to the seacoast with the two Ediths [3]  & Cuthbert. We were at Netherhall, the solar of my friend & fellow traveller Senhouse, where his ancestors have uninterruptedly resided since the days of Edward 2d [4]  (when part of the present building is known to have been standing,) – & how much long before that God knows. Some of his deeds are of Edward the first’s reign, – some of Henry 3, & one is as far back as King John. [5]  We slept in the tower, the walls of which are nine feet thick. In the xxxx time of the great rebellion [6]  the second of two sons [7]  <of this house,> went to serve the King; [8]  the elder brother (whom illness had probably detained at home) died, [9]  & the parents [10]  then wished their only surviving child to return, lest their ancient line should be extinct. A man [11]  who held an estate under the family was sent to persuade him to this – his unwillingness to leave the service in such disastrous times being anticipated; but the result of this endeavour was that Senhouse instead of returning persuaded the messenger to remain, & follow the Kings fortune. They were at Marston Moor together, & at Naseby. [12]  In the last of those unhappy fields Senhouse was dreadfully wounded, his skull was fractured & he was left for dead. After the battle his faithful friend searched for the body, & found him still breathing. By this providential aid he was saved, his skull was pieced with a plate of metal, & he lived to continue the race. His preserver was rewarded by having his estate enfranchised, & both properties continue at this day in their respective descendants. – This is an interesting story, & the more so when related, as it was to me, on the spot. The sword which did good service in those wars is still preserved. It was made for a twofold service <use>, the back being cut so as to form a double tooth’d saw.

Netherhall stands upon the little river Ellen about a quar half a mile from the sea, but compleatly sheltered from the sea wind by a long high hill, which under cover of which some fine old trees have grown up. The Ellen rises on Skiddaw, forms the little & unpicturesque lake or rather pool which is called Overwater, near the foot of that mountain, & tho a very small stream, makes a port, where a town containing 4000 inhabitants has grown up within the memory of man, on the Senhouse estate. It was called Maryport after Senhouses grandmother, – a very beautiful woman, whose portrait is in his dining-room. [13]  His father [14]  remembered when a single summerhouse standing in a garden, was the only building upon the whole of that ground which is now covered with streets. The first sash windows in Cumberland were placed in the Tower in which we slept by the founder of this town; [15]  & when his son (who died about six years ago at the age of 84 or 5) first went to Cambridge, there was no stage coach north of York.

Old as Netherhall is, the stones of which it is built were hewn from the quarry more than a thousand years before that mansion <it> was begun, – they were taken from a Roman station [16]  on the hill between it & the sea, where a great number of Roman altars &c have been found. Some of these are described by Camden, who praises the xx Mr Senhouse of his time for the hospitality with which he received him, & the care with which he preserved these remains of antiquity. [17]  He disposed them carefully indeed, but imprudently, by building them into the front of the house, in some additions or repairs which he was making, & there during the course of two centuries they suffered much from weather. My friend in his alterations has taken them out & preserved them from farther injury. The monuments which had been found afterwards, most of them by the late Mr S. (who for many years employed a man in digging at the station) were deposited, when first I visited the family, in two spacious <& adjoining> temples of – Cloacina, [18]  – I remember sitting opposite to a tremendous Jupiter there. Lysons some years ago made drawings of them, [19]  & to the utter great distress of the family kept possession of the temples the whole day, from an early hour in the morning, without intermission, & without remorse.

It was a Bishop of this family who preached Charles the first’s coronation sermon, & the text which he took was afterwards noted as ominous, – ‘I will give him a crown of glory. [20]  The gold signet which he wore as a ring is now at Netherhall.

We were twelve days there. Your God daughter bathed every day when the weather would permit. Cuthbert was dipt once, & took the operation quietly, without the slightest murmur; but he did not like it, & made up his mind very resolutely not to be so served again. The first time he was on the beach his shoes & stockings were taken off, that he might accustom himself to the sea, & it surprized me to see the fearlessness with which he ran to & fro as the waves retired or advanced, pursuing or running from them till at last one heavier one threw him down, without disturbing his good humour, or lessening his enjoyment. My mornings were spent in a good library collected chiefly by Bp Fleming of Carlisle, [21]  who left it to his favourite grandson, the la Senhouses father. We returned on the 18th & I have been paying off heavy arrears of correspondence since. – There is a biographical letter half-written in my desk with a date which would be shamefully old, if it had been indolence which had prevented its completion, & not <the> never-ending, still-beginning occupations wherein I am engaged. [22]  You shall have it in the course of the week. – Two days more will compleat my corrections & additions to the first vol. of Brazil, they have cost me much time & labour, for which my only requital is the consciousness that the volume has been materially improved. [23]  – 43 sheets of the War are printed. [24]  I have resumed Oliver Newman, spurred to it by a present of books from Boston designed to assist me in its progress, [25]  – & thus I get on little by little with many things. Remember us to Mrs May & your daughters. [26]  Where is John? [27]  Let me hear from you, – rather I would say let me see you, if you could give yourself a respite from business – if not from care, & take a months breathing among these mountains. You & my Uncle, of all my friends, are the only ones whom I have never had under this roof. Is it quite impossible for you to get into the Carlisle mail some night, & convince yourself by actual experiment, in which how short a time that in the second day you may reach Keswick to dinner? September is one of our fine months.

God bless you – yrs most affectionately

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ John May Esqre/ 4. Tavistock Street/ Bedford Square
Stamped: [partial] P/BxxStWestmr
Postmark: 4o’Clock/ 4 SP/ 1821 EV
Endorsement: No. 221 1821/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 26th August/ recd. 4 September/ ansd. 18th do
MS: Beinecke Library, Osborn MSS File ‘S’, Folder 14142. ALS; 5p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, pp. 91–93 [in part]. BACK

[1] William Henry May (1785–1849), May’s younger brother and business partner in Brazil. BACK

[2] An army revolt in Porto in August 1820 led to the election of a Cortes in December 1820 and demands that the monarchy return from Brazil, where it had fled in 1807–1808, following the French invasion. John VI (1767–1826; King of Portugal 1816–1826) arrived back in Lisbon on 3 July 1821 and eventually agreed to a new liberal Constitution. John VI appointed his son, Pedro (1798–1834; Emperor of Brazil 1822–1831), as Regent in Brazil and Pedro summoned an elected advisory council to represent the different Brazilian provinces. These events eventually led to the separation of Portugal and Brazil in September 1822; but Brazil did not become a Republic or disintegrate. Nor did Brazil or Portugal renege on existing financial commitments. BACK

[4] Edward II (1284–1327; King of England 1307–1327; DNB). BACK

[5] Edward I (1239–1307; King of England 1272–1307; DNB); Henry III (1207–1272; King of England 1216–1272; DNB); and John (1167–1216; King of England 1199–1216; DNB). BACK

[6] The English Civil War of 1642–1651. BACK

[7] Captain John Senhouse (d. 1667) served in the royalist army. BACK

[8] Charles I (1600–1649; King of Great Britain 1625–1649; DNB). BACK

[9] Humphrey Senhouse (dates unknown). BACK

[10] John Senhouse (d. 1667) and Elizabeth Wharton (dates unknown). BACK

[11] The name of this faithful retainer is unrecorded in histories of the Senhouse family. BACK

[12] Two battles of the civil war: Marston Moor, 2 July 1644, and Naseby, 14 June 1645. Both were defeats for the royalist cause. BACK

[13] Mary Fleming (1711–1790), the daughter and co-heiress of Sir George Fleming (1667–1747; DNB) and wife of Humphrey Senhouse (1705–1770; DNB). The portrait that Southey saw was probably that of c. 1760 by a follower of Christopher Steele (1733–1768); it is now in Maryport Maritime Museum. BACK

[14] Humphrey Senhouse (1731–1814). He matriculated at Christ’s College, Cambridge, in 1749, and was later MP for Cockermouth, 1786–1790, and MP for Cumberland, 1790–1796. BACK

[15] i.e. Humphrey Senhouse (1705–1770; DNB). BACK

[16] Alauna Carvetiorum, a Roman fort and, later, town. BACK

[17] William Camden (1551–1623; DNB) discussed the Roman antiquities at Netherhall in his Britannia (London, 1599), p. 694. Camden had visited in 1599 and saw the collection made by the owner, John Senhouse (d. 1604). BACK

[18] The goddess who presided over the sewers of Rome; temples to her were, therefore, lavatories. BACK

[19] Daniel Lysons (1762–1834; DNB) and Samuel Lysons (1763–1819; DNB), Magna Britannia, a Concise Topographical Account of the Several Counties of Great Britain, 6 vols (London, 1806–1822), IV, pp. cli and clxiii. BACK

[20] Richard Senhouse (d. 1626; DNB), Bishop of Carlisle 1624–1626. His coronation sermon included a peroration that expatiated on Revelation 2: 10, ‘And I will give thee a crown of life’. It was a gloomy sermon and was later thought to presage the King’s death. BACK

[21] Sir George Fleming (1667–1747; DNB) was Bishop of Carlisle 1734–1747. His daughter Mary (1711–1790) had married Humphrey Senhouse (1705–1770; DNB). BACK

[22] Southey’s autobiographical letter to John May started on 7 April 1821 and completed on 1 September 1821; see Letter 3665. BACK

[23] A second, revised edition of the first volume of the History of Brazil (1822). BACK

[24] The first volume of Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). The printer was Thomas Davison (1766–1831). BACK

[25] Southey’s unfinished epic, ‘Oliver Newman’, set in New England. A fragment was published posthumously in Oliver Newman: a New-England Tale (Unfinished): with Other Poetical Remains by the Late Robert Southey (London, 1845), pp. 1–90. George Ticknor had sent Southey some books from Boston. BACK

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

[27] May’s son, John (1802–1879). Following his expulsion from Eton in 1818, he was being educated at Thomas Arnold’s (1795–1842; DNB) school at Laleham, near Staines. BACK

Places mentioned

Netherhall (mentioned 4 times)
Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)


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