748. Robert Southey to John May, 7 January 1803

748. Robert Southey to John May, 7 January 1803 ⁠* 

My dear friend

I have not yet thanked you for Margarets wardrobe, tho she has often been tricked out in her finery. she was just about to leave off her long cloaths when it arrived; as spring comes on her caps are to be laid aside, & she looks so much better without a cap that I feel a sort of womanly wish to have her fashion changed.

Did I not once ask you what was meant in the Church Creed by the Communion of Saints? – Father Parsons, [1]  the famous Catholic who so infested Elizabeth [2]  explains it in this sentence – “in this church is communion of saints & of merits & prayers, which no where else is to be found.” [3]  it evidently therefore refers to the Romish doctrine of supererogation. I have picked up a considerable number of Catholic books at a waste paper price, the controversial works printed at S. Omers <& Douay> & Paris & in Holland about the beginning of the 17th century. they wer contain much curious matter. one of them called An Epistle of Comfort to the Suffering Catholics, [4]  is almost as beautiful a work as I am acquainted with. Southwell the author was a Jesuit & a Poet of some much merit, who suffered death under Elizabeth. In another called the Pilgrim to Loretto [5]  there is the manifest prototype of the Pilgrims Progress. not indeed with the quaint & excellent genius of John Bunyan, [6]  but mingled with descriptive passages of no common beauty. from some of these works I have selected certain Flores Catholicæ which will make amusing notes in history.

My eyes are much better – but I am still obliged to wear a shade by day. to apply an ointment at night – & abstain from the manuscript chronicle. I am reviewing some Spanish Poems by the Conde de Norōna, [7]  of more prominent faults than beauties – yet not without beauties. Chatterton is done. [8]  I have a copy on the table – the publication has been delayed for some necessary cancelling. As you direct the copies shall be sent to you – excepting of those persons whose place of residence is affixed – but I do not remember your number in Tavistock Street. have the goodness to let me know it. Mrs Newton [9]  will clear above four hundred pounds.

I have now a house in view three miles from Bristol, in a lonely but striking situation. this I hope will suit me. my design is to furnish just enough to make it habitable at first. according to my means, & in the course of the next winter to put Madoc [10]  to press, which will supply all the articles of the second requisition, & make me clear in the world again. This I shall do by subscription – if I secure 300 copies quarto at a guinea each – & sell the remaining 200 (as I certainly can) to the booksellers, my net profit will best be less than 250 pounds. My history [11]  must all be written before any part can be published. the chapter upon Xtianity of which I have before spoken to you is now begun. you shall see it when finished.

Thank you for your offer about Tom. he says he shall apply for employment in the Spring – whenever he does he will doubtless obtain it – but Capt Markhams [12]  may certainly very materially assist him. after ten years at sea I do not consider that he likes a spell on shore. a sea life is a wretched one, & one of its worst consequences is that it unfits a man for living any other.

There is a delay in Downes’s [13]  payment so that probably you have not received any thing for my Uncle. he tells me Lady John Russell [14]  has left him a set of Picart. [15]  I shall be very glad to have it in my possession, for it is a book which I almost daily wish to consult. all the Gods of Madoc have their pretty pictures in that book – & my Hindoo friends also. it is a good thing to have more irons than one in the fire. You know that just on my return from Lisbon I began a poem in the manner of Thalaba upon the Hindoo mythology. [16]  this slowly grows – & the knowledge necessary to write it – is likewise indispensable for the history of Portugueze India.

Edith joins me in remembrance to Mrs May. [17]  I cannot wish your little boy [18]  to be better than my Margaret – who is all health & activity & good spirits & good humour.

God bless you.

yrs very affectionately

Robert Southey.

Jany. 7. 1803.


* MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 71-73. BACK

[1] Robert Parsons (1546-1610; DNB). BACK

[2] Elizabeth I (1533-1603; reigned 1558-1603; DNB). BACK

[3] Robert Parsons, A Treatise of Three Conversions of England (London, 1688), p. 217. BACK

[4] St Robert Southwell (1561-1595; DNB), An Epistle of Comfort to the Rev. Priestes and Others of the Lay Sorte Restrayned in Durance for the Catholicke Faythe (n.d), no. 2712 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[5] Louis Richeome (1544-1625), The Pilgrime of Loreto Performing his Vow to the Virgin Mary (1630), no. 2365 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[6] John Bunyan (1628-1688; DNB), Pilgrim’s Progress (1678-1684). BACK

[7] Gaspar Maria de la Nava Alvarez, Conde de Norona (1760-1815), Poesias (1799-1800). Southey’s review appeared in Critical Review, 36 (Appendix 1802), 538-549. BACK

[8] Southey’s and Joseph Cottle’s The Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803). BACK

[9] Thomas Chatterton’s (1752-1770; DNB) sister Mary Newton (1749-1804). Southey’s and Cottle’s edition of her brother’s works was produced for Mary Newton’s benefit. BACK

[10] Southey had completed a fifteen-book version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was correcting it for publication. The heavily revised poem did not appear until 1805. BACK

[11] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[12] John Markham (1761-1827; DNB), naval officer. Served on the Board of Admiralty 1801-1804 and 1806-1807 and was MP for Portsmouth 1801-1818 and 1820-1826. BACK

[13] William Downes (dates unknown), a gentleman resident in Hereford, who seems to have been in dispute with Herbert Hill over the lease of a property either owned by Hill or administered by him as Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral. See Southey to John May, 25 November 1802, Letter 736. BACK

[14] Probably Lady Georgina Russell (c. 1768-1801), wife of Lord John Russell (1766-1839; DNB), from 1802 the 6th Duke of Bedford. She spent two years in Lisbon for her health. BACK

[15] Bernard Picart (1673-1733), Ceremonies et Coutoumes Religieuses de Tous les Peuples du Monde (1723-1743). BACK

[16] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[17] Susanna Frances Livius (1767-1830). BACK

[18] John May (1802-1879). BACK

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