337. Robert Southey to John May, 23-25 July 1798

337. Robert Southey to John May, 23–25 July 1798 ⁠* 

Monday. July 23. 1798

My dear friend

I agree with you in what you remark of the readiness of the wealthy to relieve distress, when they are called upon for that purpose. what was meant to be expressed in that little piece [1]  was their inattention to the state of the poor, even their ignorance of the wretchedness so common in the lower classes. Laws may do much – & nothing I think would be more beneficial than enforcing that part of the statute of Elizabeth [2]  which makes it the duty of the overseers to find employment for those who want it: but Laws will not do every thing, & their operation to be effectual must be assisted by an active benevolence on the part of the affluent, in which I think they are generally deficient. Clergymen might do much – & medical men. & it would be well if the parish offices were accepted by persons more respectable – for I believe they generally fall into the hands of the least humane part of society. xx people look up to par

Wednesday. I was prevented from proceeding on Monday. & business led me yesterday to Bristol. We are comfortably settled now, & as the weather now never tempts me to walk, my employments are regular & sedulous. I rise early, now mechanically waking at ¼ after five, as tho I had been wound up for that hour. this time before breakfast I look upon as fairly won from sleep & at my own will & pleasure. it is therefore given to Madoc. [3]  When your books are done, they shall be disposed of as you wish. I have many pieces which you have not seen, chiefly of the ballad kind; indeed nearly enough to compose another volume; [4]  from this & other regular labours I looked forward to the prospect of furnishing a small house in town next winter. but the establishment here has broken up the sinking fund, as besides my mother, I have a female cousin here, disabled from all possibility of ever settling herself in any way, by an intermitting eruption almost as dreadful as the leprosy. since my grandmothers [5]  death in 1782, she has been dependant on my mother. however as I expect still hope to accomplish the great desideratum of escaping lodgings, as I want but little & do much. The successful sale of my little volume [6]  I attribute greatly to the variety of matter which it contained. the pieces finished or chalked out for a second will be as various. I am about to write a tale upon the Arabian tradition of the Garden of Irem, [7]  & my story is a very fine one. I have also written one of the English Eclogues, [8]  which much pleases me, & I look with pleasure to the completion of these poems which will be calculated to do as much good as poems can do, by exciting proper <good> feelings, that are the germs of good actions.

I heard lately from Lloyd he was at Ipswich with a brother. [9]  you are right in what you say of his domesticating with us. [10]  it was a thing disagreable both to Edith & myself, & we merely acceded to it lest we should wound his feelings, which are always, I may say, criminally acute, & which at that time, his first seperation, required every attention. my acquaintance with him was very slight till he came down to Burton – I knew as little of him before – even less than I did of you at Lisbon. from Burton I wrote to ask him the authority for a fact relating to the Maid of Orleans [11]  – which Coleridge had repeated to me as coming from him. he answered the letter from London, hinted at present distress of mind & said he should like to see me. before an answer could reach him he was at Burton. so our intimacy began. from all that I have since known of him I believe him to be wholly free from vice, the slave of restless feelings, & with the best intentions & mental powers of the highest class I fear he will neither <be> useful to others or happy in himself.

Did I tell you that Coleridge is going to Germany with his wife & children? [12]  I have no intercourse with him – but I learn that his motive is – to learn the language. it is thought by his friends here a wild & foolish scheme – for they see little good proposed in the end, & much inconvenience & heavy expences certain.

Thomas has heard from my Uncle. he wrote to him by the Tonkins, [13]  & said nothing of his health. this letter mentions that villain Lynes [14]  conduct to his wife as the circumstance which has driven them from Lisbon. another fatal instances this of what must be expected from money marriages. I am truly sorry for her & her relations.

I have not seen that part of Lord Orfords book [15]  which you mention. the publication as a whole struck me as a sad pick-pocket business – great part of one volume was a mere auctioneers catalogue of household furniture. [16]  Among the collected books of this kind, we want Sir Wm. Jones’s books <works> published together. [17] 

Monday. At last we have a fine day – & every thing looks so lovely from our window that I wish you were here to enjoy it. I wish it was more in your way to Hale [18]  – but I think we have scenes in the neighbourhood that would repay the added distance – if your time would afford it.

Edith desires to be remembered.

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4. Bedford Square/ London/ Single
Stamped: [partial] STOL
Postmark: JY/ 28/ 98
Watermark: crown and anchor/ GR
Endorsement: 1798 No. 22./ Robert Southey/ Monday 23 July/ recd: 28 do/ ansd: 14 August
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. 34–36. BACK

[1] Southey’s ‘The Complaints of the Poor’, published anonymously in the Morning Post, 29 June 1798. The title could be a deliberate echo of George Dyer’s The Complaints of the Poor People of England (1793). BACK

[2] The 1601 Act for the Relief of the Poor. Theoretically, each parish was to have a House of Industry, where the able-bodied poor could find work, but few of these were built. BACK

[3] Southey completed a fifteen-book version of Madoc in 1799. BACK

[4] This became Poems (1799). BACK

[5] Southey’s maternal grandmother, Margaret Hill (d. 1782). BACK

[6] Southey’s Poems (1797) went into two editions in the year of its publication. BACK

[7] In Arabian legend, an earthly paradise, supposedly planted by the Genii. Southey incorporated the Garden of Irem into Thalaba the Destroyer, 2 vols (London, 1801), I, pp. 7–63. BACK

[8] Six ‘English Eclogues’ appeared in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [181]–232. Southey was probably referring to ‘The Old Mansion House’, which he sent to William Taylor on 24 July 1798 (Letter 338). BACK

[9] Robert Lloyd (1778–1811), younger brother of Charles Lloyd, was at this time working as a draper’s apprentice in Saffron Walden. BACK

[10] Charles Lloyd had lived with Robert and Edith Southey during the latter part of their stay at Burton August–September 1797. BACK

[11] Joan of Arc (c. 1412–1431). Southey’s letter to Lloyd has not survived. BACK

[12] Southey was misinformed, Coleridge’s family did not accompany him on his visit to Germany in September 1798–July 1799. BACK

[13] The Tonkins were friends of Southey’s uncle, Herbert Hill, and residents of Lisbon, Southey had met them during his stay in Portugal in 1795–1796. BACK

[14] Unidentified. BACK

[15] The Works of Horatio Walpole (1798). BACK

[16] ‘A Description of the Villa of Mr. Horace Walpole, at Strawberry-Hill bear Twickenham, Middlesex. With an Inventory of the Furniture, Pictures, Curiosities, &c.’ in The Works of Horatio Walpole, 5 vols (London, 1798), II, pp. [394]–516. BACK

[17] A six-volume edition of the Works of Sir William Jones (1746–1794; DNB) appeared in 1799. BACK

[18] The Mays’ house in Hampshire. BACK

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 4 times)