323. Robert Southey to John May, 6 June 1798

323. Robert Southey to John May, 6 June 1798 ⁠* 

Norwich. June 6. 98

My dear friend

Eager as I am to return home, it will not be without regret that I shall leave this place. the pleasure I have felt in William Taylors society is such as we rarely meet with. I find in him great genius & still more uncommon acquirements unsullied with one tincture of vanity. & his attentions to a blind mother are such as immediately & irresistibly to compel every one to love him.

He has made me acquainted with the odes of Klopstock [1]  by translating them to me; & till I heard these I knew nothing of lyric poetry. all that I had previously seen were the efforts of imagination. these are the burst of feeling from one who has fed upon the scriptures till he feel thinks & feels & writes with the holy enthusiasm of Isaiah. I will show you the finest when we meet in a literal version. it is the poem alluded to in Werter when Charlotte during the thunder storm pronounces the name of Klopstock. [2] 

The society of Norwich is almost proverbially excellent. I have met with many inte persons who interest me, & received many attentions. Harry is a great favourite here, & I am glad to see that he has many such companions as I could have chosen for him. he has also learnt to be silent in company. William Taylor x has an excellent mode of noticing his faults by some good humoured allusion at an after time. he is much improved – in every thing – even in health.

I have been chiefly sedentary since we came here. Burnett is still confined with his sciatica & this was a motive & indeed an excuse, for I have books & pen & paper; & employment always enough. I shall depart on Friday, & hope to see you on Saturday morning, as you will hardly leave town before that night. If it be possible to keep the term on Saturday, I will proceed that night to Bath – but I am apprehensive that this cannot be done before Monday. you know not how anxious I am to be at home.

Your brother [3]  would have been delighted had he been with me on Sunday to have seen a picture by Carlo Dolce. [4]  it is St Cecilia when the heads of her parents are presented to her. I am no judge of paintings & speak only as to the effect they produce upon me – but I never saw any picture that so fettered the attention. her countenance is raised towards heaven – & expresses every thing that is resigned & holy, mingled with the anguish of human feelings.

You enquire concerning Lloyd. I hope that his affairs are going on well. he has seen Sophia, & her brother [5]  whose advice influenced her to break off all intercourse, now is convinced that her happiness depends on the renewal of the connection. they appear together arm in arm. I am very anxious for his happiness. what you say of him is strictly just. he wants stability, but I do not believe that there exists a purer heart. Lambe has been with him.

Edith in none of her letters mentions her own health. & I know that as far as it depends upon her spirits, my return will be the best medecine. I am very very anxious to be with her. my mother by her last account is greatly better. She has been compelled to exercise in search of a house & it has benefitted her, tho the search has hitherto been fruitless.

Tom is still at Taunton with his uncle – & I hope this visit will produce very good effects. John Southey is rich. very rich – & so it come to one of us it matters not which. [6] 

God bless you. remember me to your brother. [7] 

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4. Bedford Square/ London
Watermark: Crown and horseman
Endorsement: 1798 No. 19./ Robert Southey/ Norwich 6 June/ recd: 7 do/ ansd: personally
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 33–34. BACK

[1] Friedrich Klopstock (1724–1803), whose odes Taylor had translated. Taylor later observed that ‘the odes of Klopstock … constitute his strongest claims on fame’, Historic Survery of German Poetry, 3 vols (London, 1830), I, p. 264. BACK

[2] Johann von Goethe (1749–1832), Die Leiden des Jungen Werther (1774), Letter X. Charlotte thinks of Klopstock during a thunder storm because his ‘Spring Celebration’ (1759) contains a famous description of such an event. BACK

[3] Possibly Joseph May (1767–1830); though as John May had four brothers, identification is not certain. BACK

[4] Carlo Dolci (1616–1686). Southey saw this painting at Sprowston Hall, the home of Sir Lambert Blackwell, Bt (1732–1801), but there is no legend connected to the early Christian martyr, St Cecilia, which is similar to the scene depicted in the painting. BACK

[5] Sophia Pemberton had been advised by one of her three older brothers, Samuel (d. 1836), Thomas (d. 1830) and Edwin (dates unknown). BACK

[6] Southey’s hopes of himself or one of his brothers inheriting the fortune of their paternal uncle were misguided. Southey wrote a vitriolic poem on his uncle’s death in 1806 (in Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 18 October 1806). BACK

[7] Possibly Joseph May; though as John May had four brothers, identification is not certain. BACK

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Norwich (mentioned 1 time)