423. Robert Southey to John May, 19-22 July 1799

423. Robert Southey to John May, 19–22 July 1799 ⁠* 

Friday evening. July 19. 99.

My dear friend

Since my last I have visited Burton. I went on foot, sleeping at Shaftsbury. Bowles lives within a few miles of that town, & if his character had been as interesting as his poetry I would not have passed without seeing a man to whom I am indebted for many hours of pleasure, & many interesting & I may add good & meliorating feelings. to have seen Bowles, the careless fine gentleman, would have destroyed the charm of his productions, which have already half lost their effect from my knowledge that they did not proceed, that they could not proceed, from the habitual character of the man.

We do not get possession of our cottage till Michaelmas. [1]  the place is at present habitable, we must be there to make it comfortable, by the help of papering white-limed walls, & furnishing them with books & the paraphernalia of leisure & literature. our rent will not exceed, if it come up to, eight pounds – Biddlecombe takes the premises & keeps to himself a field belonging to them. there is a garden, which we shall find unstock’d, but which stands well – it is sufficiently large to hold gooseberry & currant bushes for a great devourer of fruit-pies, to raise cabbages & potatoes enough for our consumption & allow room for a few flowers next the house, for I would not have my eyes & nose starved in the country. there is a fishpond, supplied by a spring that rises very near the house. before the door is room enough for a few flowers & shrubs between the house & road – at present the xxxx space is open & stoned. I look forward to many pleasant summers there, as much as a man can look forward who has experienced something of the uncertainty of future prospects.

In the interval till Michaelmas Edith, her younger sister & I go into Devonshire, to the Northern Coast. Ilfracombe is the place we look to for our longest residence. I am told the scenery is wild & impressive – there I expect to finish my play, which from the moment I quit this place, & our departure is fixd for Tuesday or Wednesday, will become the great object of my thoughts.

Madoc is finished; even in its uncorrected state, this is a matter of much pleasure to me, & I will lose as little time as I can in correcting & fitting it for publication. if I live it is my determination not to publish it for many years – I would build upon it my after reputation, & correct in the maturity of life what was produced in the warmth of younger years: but I am anxious to have it ready because in case of my death this work might be made of important value to my family; & to neglect it would be like neglecting to make a will where the property would otherwise be improperly disposed of. [2]  you will I think see this in the same point of view.

At present it extends to fifteen books. but in one part of my plan I have failed, & so compleatly that it will not require the sacrifice of more than three hundred lines to alter it: this was the attempt to identify Madoc with Mango Capac. [3]  therefore I mean to change the scene from South to North America, to Florida whither probably Madoc went. [4]  I have to graft the story on the N. American manners – in themselves very striking, but I have but a very dim sort of second sight into the how this is to be done, & as usual find the want of books. Mango Capac will serve me for the subject of a seperate poem hereafter, & now amuses me with vaguer outlines & views of the future. [5] 

The hours which I gain by early rising are appropriated to a poem which I write with a view to publication & immediate emolument – you have I believe heard me mention it – The Destruction of the Dom Daniel. [6]  it is an Arabian Romance –

My brother Edward is well recovered. he goes to Birmingham to the Clergyman [7]  whom I mentioned before, as soon as the bone is firmly knit enough for him to venture among school boys.

I received on Saturday Harrys half-years account from Mr Maurice, it amounts to £17.16.8. it is of no importance that the payment should pass thro my hands – & at the distance I shall be from you it would only be inconvenient. Maurices address is Normanstone near Lowestoff. Norfolk or Suffolk – I know not which is proper for Normanstone is in Suffolk & Lowestoff in Norfolk.

My miscellaneous volume of poems [8]  is nearly finished. Cottle will have directions to send one to you. you will find them of various merit, but on the whole a valuable collection in my judgement, & not the less likely to sell extensively from a number of light pieces. – We depart on Wednesday, & purpose staying a week at Minehead on our way to see the country in its neighbourhood which is said to be very beautiful. I will write to you as soon as I have a direction to send. I expect much from this journey, as to health & enjoyment – & also expect to do a great deal. Edith has been exceedingly unwell, she is to bathe. she desires to be remembered.

God bless you

yrs truly

R Southey.

Monday 22 July 99.

<If you could meet with a set of Niebuhrs Travels in French for me I should be much obliged to you. I want the book for my Dom-Daniel – & the translation is miserably mutilated.>  [9] 


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4. Tavistock Street/ Bedford Square/ London
Postmark: B/ JUL 23/ 99
Watermark: 1796
Endorsement: No. 38. 1799 No 38/ Robert Southey/ No place 19-22 July/ recd: 23 do/ ansd: 3 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. 45–47. BACK

[1] 29 September 1799. BACK

[2] A heavily revised version of Madoc was eventually published in 1805. BACK

[3] Manco Capac, in legend the first Inca. The connection between Madoc and Capac was suggested in John Williams (c.1732–1795; DNB), The Natural History of the Mineral Kingdom, 2 vols (Edinburgh, 1789), II, pp. 424–425. BACK

[4] For the idea that Madoc settled in Florida, see John Williams (1727–1798), An Enquiry into the Truth of the Tradition, Concerning the Discovery of America, by Prince Madog ab Owen Gwynedd, About the Year, 1170 (London, 1791), p. 48. BACK

[5] Southey failed in his ambition to write a poem about Manco Capac. BACK

[6] The early, working-title for Thalaba the Destroyer (1801); see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 181–188. BACK

[7] Unidentified. BACK

[8] The Annual Anthology (1799). BACK

[9] French editions included Carsten Niebuhr (1733–1815), Description de l’Arabie, trans. E. L. Mourier (1774) and Voyage en Arabie & en d’Autres Pays Circonvoisins, trans. E. L. Mourier (1776–1780). The English version was Travels Through Arabia, trans. Robert Heron (1792), but this was abridged, much to Southey’s disappointment. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 1 time)