1399. Robert Southey to John May, 17 December 1807

1399. Robert Southey to John May, 17 December 1807 ⁠* 

Thursday. Dec 17. 1807.

Little did I suspect, my dear friend, when writing to you last night, [1]  what intelligence I should receive respecting you this evening! – & strangely deficient must you have supposed me to be in the common duties of friendship, finding me silent on such an occasion. I cannot forgive Harry, for leaving me, till now, in ignorance.

God be praised that the trial with which He has been pleased to visit you, heavy as it is, is the lightest of all others for a wise man. Absolute want, the want of the necessaries of life, is indeed of all evils the greatest; but, when decent comforts are left, how much better can all beyond these be spared than health, or friend, or child? [2]  To you, I trust, this is but a transient and recoverable loss; the hurricane has stript away blossom and fruit and leaf, but the tree is standing, and will put forth its buds again. My brother tells me your spirits are as I should expect them to be. Assuredly, no man ever employed wealth better; and I have something like a faith, that one who has employed it so well, will be intrusted with it again.

My debt to you shall certainly be discharged in the course of the ensuing year. I explained the state of my affairs in my yesterday’s letter. I have now only to add that, having this additional motive for exertion, I will make such arrangements, when next in London, as shall secure the performance of this duty.

Should the Prince remove to Brazil, [3]  you will, I hope, consider and reconsider the matter well before you resolve upon removing to that country. I do not say this merely from personal feelings, and the pain which it would give me to have you at such a distance; but the stability of his government, in case of such an event, is to be doubted. It appears that the Brazilians are blind enough to their own interests to prefer the French to us. This prejudice must needs be heightened by their dreadful bigotry and if they find themselves burthened with the expenses of a court, which is not very likely to be under the direction of wise ministers, no change which could take place would surprise me. There is another personal consideration which influenced me much, when it was intimated to me, some two years ago, that I, perhaps, might see South America; this is, the miserable state of medical science in that country. To a single man this should not be of weight sufficient to set against any material prospect of advantage; but to those who, like you and I, are fathers and husbands, it should seem to outweigh everything. Good as the climate of Brazil is, an English constitution does not adapt itself to so great a change without some risk; and, bad as the native physicians are, it will require many years of experience to make English practitioners better.

Perhaps I may see you ere long. I have been repeatedly invited to Sir Charles Malet’s [4]  (the uncle of a lady who is our summer neighbour, and with whom we are in habits of the closest intimacy); and that in such a way that I cannot very well refuse making a considerable bend out of my road to Bristol for the sake of going there. Should you be at Hale, that will be motive enough to lead me there. Remember me very kindly to Mrs. May, and believe me, my dear friend.

Yours very truly and affectionately,

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Hale/ Downton/ Wiltshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ DEC21/ 1807
Endorsement: N.o 132 1807/ Robert Southey/ no place 17th Decr/ rec.d 22 do./ ansd 25th do.
MS: University of Kentucky Library. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 45–46. BACK

[1] For this, see Southey to John May, 16 December 1807 , Letter 1398. BACK

[2] May had lost property and his business in the conquest of Portugal by France. BACK

[3] This came to pass on 29 November 1807, when a British squadron escorted the Portuguese Prince Regent and the Queen, his mother, across the Atlantic. BACK

[4] Sir Charles Warre Malet, 1st Baronet (1753–1815; DNB), of Wilbury House, Wiltshire, maternal uncle of Emma Peachey. BACK

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