1087. Robert Southey to John May, 26 July 1805

1087. Robert Southey to John May, 26 July 1805 ⁠* 

My dear friend

Your long silence makes me uneasy, especially as I know your eyes have been severely affected, – & therefore am apprehensive that the disorder still continues. My own, since last I wrote, [1]  have had a wearying attack, from which they are hardly yet recovered. a sad & sore evil it is, – one which it is impossible ever to forget while it continues, equally & which cuts off one of our best resources. Do let me hear of you, if not from you.

The last number of the Edinburgh Review has been by mere accident dropt here, – else I never see a new book except such as come to me to be tried. [2]  I looked with some curiosity to the account of Mr Walpole’s poems. [3]  You must know that when I saw this book advertised I had thoughts of sending to A. Aikin to say I would review it, – for the sake of doing it civilly; – the main evil which ill-natured reviews do is that they give pain to the friends of an author – (I mean those who are really his friends) – & I know just enough of the Walpoles to be willing to do any silent & secret civility of this kind. – The Scotch account wants a little courtesy at its set-out, else it is in a proper spirit. I have been somewhat sorry that I did not enlarge upon the vicious colouring & character of Lord Strangfords mock translations, [4]  as nothing can be so mischievous as that kind of writing which is just not indecent, – which exhibits a profligacy of morals, thro a transparent veil of good manners. If your friend has been fairly accused of trespassing in this way, I am glad I did not send for his book.

It is long since I had any tidings of my Uncle, & his last letter complained of ill health. The last news of my brother Tom were from Jamaica whither he has gone with Admiral Cochrane [5]  in pursuit of the Rochefort squadron; [6]  & from whence he was about to return to Barbadoes. His prizes had escaped, but he feared that the general distress occasioned in the Leeward Islands by the contributions raised by the French & the havoc they made among the shipping, would materially lessen their value. [7]  – Home news I have none, – & in these cases no news is good news. the little one grows & does well. she runs about & daily enlarges her vocabulary of half-articulated words. My friend Danvers is with me, & he & I & Harry are about to explore the whole of the Lake country on foot, after which I shall accompany him on his return as far as the Yorkshire caves. [8] 

Among the few books which have yet arrived for the next years review are Lindleys voyage to Brazil, [9]  which you will probably have seen, & Villars’s Essay on the Reformation, [10]  which gained the prize of the National Institute, – a book surprisingly good, considering it is the work of a Frenchman. The Author has evidently learnt his religion in Germany – it is a good symptom xx that such a subject should have been proposed by the Institute, & still better that the premium should have been awarded to a work written upon decidedly protestant principles.

Froude [11]  is in this country, visiting his wifes brother, [12]  perhaps I spell his name wrong. I met him at dinner at your house in Bedford Square once, of which he reminded me. – We are still in daily expectation of letters from Coleridge to announce his arrival in England, which however still depends upon contingencies so out of his power, that daily disappointment neither surprises nor alarms us. He holds the situation of public Secretary (the second person in the Island) [13]  till the person to whom the reversion of the Office was given by government arrive to relieve him.

This is, as you may suppose, my idle season. I am peripateticating among the mountains, laying in appetite for my books & fireside when the solitary season comes on. Some idle time too has been occasioned by indisposition. I had not been well when my last was written, & have since been alike incapacitated for pleasure or for business by an obstinate cold which I have not yet wholly shaken off.

The reception of Madoc, [14]  as far as I can learn at this distance, is very satisfactory. Some persons indeed are disappointed by it, whose good opinion would have weighed with me. It seems to have disappointed all those who much admired Thalaba, [15]  & to have much delighted all who had no taste for Thalaba. It is easier to form a true judgement of my own poem in print, than when it lay in manuscript & was exclusively my own. I am satisfied with the execution, but cannot help feeling that I could have executed equally well a plan which should have required a higher key. – If you have not read the Lay of the Last Minstrel [16]  let me recommend it as a very delightful poem.

God bless you –

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

July 26. 1805.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: [partial] E/ [MS torn]Y29/ [MS torn]805; 10o’Clock/ JY.29/ 1805 F.N.n
Endorsement: No. 111 1805/ Robert Southey/ No place 26th July/ recd. 29th do/ ansd. 2d August
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. 99–101. BACK

[1] See Southey to John May, 22 May 1805, Letter 1069. BACK

[2] Southey is referring to his employment for the Annual Review. BACK

[3] Horace Walpole (1717–1797; DNB), Isabel, from the Spanish of Garcilasso de la Vega, with other Poems and Translations from the Greek, Italian &c. &c. (1805) was reviewed in the Edinburgh Review, 8 (July 1805), 290–300. BACK

[4] Southey reviewed Percy Clinton Sydney, 6th Viscount Strangford (1780–1855; DNB), Poems from the Portuguese of Luis de Camoens (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 569–577. BACK

[5] Admiral Sir Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane (1758–1832), appointed commander of the Leeward Island station in 1805. BACK

[6] The squadron of French ships commanded by Contre-Admiral Zacharie Allemand (1762–1828) and based at Rochefort, which slipped past the British blockade and harassed British ships in the Atlantic and West Indies. BACK

[7] In December 1804 HMS Amelia, of which Thomas Southey was a lieutenant, captured the Spanish brig Isabella and the ship Conception, both laden with wine and brandy, and the ship Commerce, laden with cotton. It was customary for naval officers to be allotted a share of the value of ships and cargo captured in armed conflict. BACK

[8] Ingleborough Cave and White Scar Cave, near Ingleton in Yorkshire. BACK

[9] Southey reviewed Thomas Lindley (dates unknown), Narrative of a Voyage to Brazil; ... with General Sketches of the Country ..., and a Description of the City and Provinces of St. Salvadore and Porto Seguro (1805) in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 27–32. BACK

[10] Southey reviewed Charles François Dominique de Villers (1765–1815), An Essay on the Spirit and Influence of the Reformation of Luther, trans. B Lambert (dates unknown) (1805) in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 177–187. BACK

[11] Robert Hurrell Froude (1770/71–1859; DNB), Church of England clergyman of Dartington, South Devon, and later Archdeacon of Totnes. BACK

[12] Froude was married to Margaret (1774/5–1821), daughter of John and Margaret Spedding of Armathwaite Hall, Keswick (DNB). Her brother was John Spedding of Mirehouse, the house and estate near Bassenthwaite lake. Spedding was a schoolmate of Wordsworth at Hawkshead. BACK

[13] Coleridge was in Malta at this time. BACK

[14] Southey’s poem Madoc was published in March 1805. BACK

[15] Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[16] Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel: A Poem (1805). BACK