1252. Robert Southey to John May, 29 December 1806

1252. Robert Southey to John May, 29 December 1806 ⁠* 

Keswick, Dec 29. 1806.

My dear friend,

You will, perhaps, wonder that I should not sooner have thanked you for the information in your last letter, and, thro you, made my acknowledgment to Mr Burn [1]  for his friendly offices. [2]  The cause of delay has been this.

My uncle, in two letters, one written the day after the other, has urged me to lose no time in setting about and getting ready that part of my Magnum Opus [3]  which relates to Brazil; – & in consequence of the enquiries relative to that country which were made at Lisbon by the mysterious embassy, instructed me to offer to Government such information as his papers, in my possession, contained; [4]  – which he believes to be more than any other person in Europe possesses, except the Abbe du Boys, [5]  – much of whose information is derived from them. Accordingly, I wrote to Wynn, – who in return informs me of Lord Grenville’s reply – that my materials relate to the wrong side of S. America, for their present views, but that he very much recommends me to postpone the rest of my history, & set immediately to work upon this, in consequence of the present bias or the public mind. [6]  Government, he adds, has no wish to keep this sort of information private, & would rather encourage me in publishing it. – The papers in question came to me in sealed packets which I had never opened, not knowing their contents; – they were in London, – & if I had been called on to prepare an abstract from them, it would perhaps have been advisable that I should travel up to them. Till this was determined I xxx delayed writing to you. – I have now written for them, & for all my books relating to this part of the history. A good many are here already, & if neither my health nor eyes fail me expect in no very long time to report good progress in this very interesting & important work. The whole copy of Espriella [7]  will be finished & sent off to the Printer [8]  by the end of January, & the whole of what reviewing I have. Then I shall instantly begin. My mornings in February will compleat the rest of Palmerin, [9]  & then I shall do nothing else till this be compleated. The arrangement is mapped out in my own mind which is a great point done. I am in possession of almost every printed book relating to the subject except such as may be in Dutch, & have made arrangements for procuring these. [10] 

Harry is with Wm Taylor, & will I suppose, set off for London as soon as he hears from you. I shall direct him where & at what hour he may hope to see you in town, – his appearance and manners I trust will please you well. Perhaps you will take him some day to Mr Burns [11]  – I never knew a young man who was so generally admired.

Tom was here, working hard at Portugueze, when his appointment arrived. [12]  he set off instantly, – but there has been no time for me to hear that he has joined.

Your god-daughter is as healthy & as forward a child as can be wished. the young Herbert sadly troubled with wind, but still very thriving. – I was, as you may suppose, a good deal shocked at hearing of poor Isabel’s death. [13]  My uncle would be greatly affected.

Our remembrances to Mrs May. I shall not now see you so soon as I expected, – as it will hardly be advisable that I should stir from here till this work is fairly afloat. – Have you seen the Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson? [14]  Very, very rarely has any book so greatly delighted me. It is in unison with almost every feeling and every principle I have at heart.

God bless you.

R. Southey


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: [partial, illegible] A.1/ Nn; [partial, illegible] E/ 1807
Endorsement: N. 12A. 1806/ Robert Southey/ Noplace 29th Decr/ recd. 1st Janry 1807/ansd. 12th do
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1(25). ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 401–403. BACK

[1] William Burns (dates unknown), a member of the English Factory, Lisbon. BACK

[2] Southey had asked John May to help his brother Thomas secure promotion, and William Burns had applied on his behalf to John Markham (1761–1827; DNB), a naval officer who was a member of the Board of Admiralty (1801–1804 and 1806–1807) and MP for Portsmouth (1801–1818 and 1820–1826); see Southey to Thomas Southey, 28–29 September 1806, Letter 1221. BACK

[3] Southey’s projected, but never completed, ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[4] The prospective flight of the Portuguese court to Brazil (occurred 29 November 1807) prompted Southey, at his uncle Herbert Hill’s request, to begin a history of Brazil, using papers sent him by Hill and stored by Rickman; see Southey to John Rickman, 23 December 1806, Letter 1247. BACK

[5] The identity of this French cleric is unclear. It is likely that he was Abbé Francois Garnier (1722–1804), the long-standing chaplain to the French factory in Lisbon. A less likely possibility is Abbé Jean-Antoine Dubois (1765–1848), was a French Catholic missionary in India, whose long sojourn in the southern districts brought him into contact with the legacy of Portuguese Catholic colonialism there. Dubois’s manuscript history of Indian religion was purchased by the East India Company and published in English as Description of the Character, Manners and Customs of the People of India, and of their Institutions, Religious and Civil (1816). BACK

[6] Southey had asked Charles Wynn to use his position as Under Secretary of State in the Home Office, to ascertain whether the government might provide him support during the preparation of a work likely to supply useful information in the new political situation; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [15 December 1806], Letter 1243. BACK

[7] Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[8] Richard Taylor (1781–1858; DNB), printer and naturalist, who would go on to establish the publishing firm of Taylor and Francis with his son William Francis (1817–1904; DNB) in 1852. BACK

[9] Southey published an edition of Palmerin of England, by Francisco Moraes in 4 volumes in 1807. BACK

[10] See Southey to [Richard Duppa], fragment [December 1806], Letter 1248. BACK

[11] See note 1. BACK

[12] Thomas Southey had been appointed to the Pallas. Launched in 1804, she was a 32 gun fifth rate frigate, whose first captain was Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (1775–1860; DNB), under whom she was involved in the capture of many French and Spanish warships. In 1807, command passed to Captain George Miller (dates unknown). BACK

[13] May’s infant daughter. BACK

[14] Lucy Hutchinson (née Apsley; 1620–1681; DNB) and Julius Hutchinson (dates unknown), Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (1806). Southey reviewed this work in the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807), 361–378. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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