2693. Robert Southey to John May, 7 January 1816

2693. Robert Southey to John May, 7 January 1816⁠* 

Keswick. 7 Jany. 1816

My dear friend

As this is the first letter which I have addressed to you since the entrance of the new year, let me begin, according to good old custom, with wishing you as many returns as you can enjoy, & as happy ones as you deserve, which will xxxx or to express the same thing in other words as I desire.

A kalender month has now elapsed since my return, – I have settled into my usual pursuits, & this corpus of mine with an adaptability which is more remarkable than that of the mind, & for which I have great reason to be thankful, conforms as <perfectly> well to the almost total inactivity to which inclination, x avocation, & bad weather have combined to tempt it. I who scarcely ever walked during my whole stay in town was every morning on my feet till the hour of a late dinner, & scarcely ever walked less than ten or twelve miles per day, have certainly not walked ten miles since I returned to Cumberland; – the soles of my shoes have been spared at the expence of the seat of my pantaloons.

During this time I have almost exclusively been occupied upon my poem, [1]  – & when you hear that I have written above 800 lines you will not think that I have made an ill use of my time; – the season is past when I could have written that quantity in a week. The subject has grown under my hands, & without departing from my original plan, much more has been introduced into it than it was at my orig first intention to have introduced. The title which I have fixed upon is A Poets Pilgrimage to the Field of Belle Alliance. [2]  I now think of adapting to it the first part of the introduction which was written for the marriage poem, – which is to the same metre, & accords perfectly with the tone & manner. [3]  And I think also of addressing the poem rather than the Tale of Paraguay to you, for two reasons, – first because the address to my daughter has in itself something the character of a dedication, [4]  – & secondly, the first in weight, this work will first be ready, – & life is so uncertain a thing, that it is never prudent to wait for a second opportunity of doing what we are desirous to do. [5]  There may yet be 3 or 400 lines to write, – but I shall not take it off the anvil till it is compleated. There will be six parts beside the Proem, & a concluding Hymn for Victory. The Journey, Brussels, the Field of Battle (these are written) – Belgium the New Kingdom (or some such title, – this I am now writing) – the Return, (a home picture which is also finished) – & a concluding part which may possibly divide itself under the two heads of the Lamentation & the Reproof, – or be included in one as the Prospect. [6] 

Murray writes me word that Twedells Remains had previously been assigned to another critic, – a Cambridge man, – who I hope will have a Cambridge feeling upon the subject. [7]  There will be nothing of mine in the present next number except that account of Mr A.D.L.F.G. which I think you saw at the doctors. [8]  – I have read those letters of Mr Yeatman [9]  with great interest, & a melancholy feeling which the recollection of names & places could not fail to excite. He was evidently a very amenable & a very accomplished man, I would not go thro Sherburne without looking for his grave. The perusal of these papers has given occasion to some feelings which I shall have a fit opportunity of expressing in the Memoir of Mr Walpole, – my next employment in chief when this poem is off my hands. [10] 

Hartley Coleridge is here for the vacation. I have seen a letter from his Uncle George, full of the best advice given in the most affectionate for manner. Derwent is also at home for the holy days. He has actually a passion for the mathematical studies, & has made such progress in Euclid [11]  & algebra, that I cannot but deeply regret the insuperable difficulties which appear of placing him at Cambridge. Of the father we know nothing, – & when I think how totally he has abandoned his family my predominant feeling concerning him is indignation.

Your God-child, thank God, has recovered her health & her gaiety. Long as the break in her lessons had been, she had forgotten nothing, except a little of that connection between the fingers & those ugly characters in music books which I dare say are as much Hebrew to you as they are to me. A few days recovered this. She finds not more difficulty in Cæsar [12]  than I did at her age, & reads off an old Spanish historian into English with great fluency. Herbert began Homer with the new year.

Some of my books sailed from London for Newcastle on the 30th & I have hopes that the Acta Sanctorum are among them. [13]  There has been no weather to endanger them during since that time, & I hope they are either safe in the Tyne, or on xxxx their land journey.

Remember me to Mrs May & believe me my dear friends

yours most affectionately

Robert Southey

Remember me to John Coleridge when you see him. If I remember it when next I write I will say something about Rodericks dog, in reference to his remarks upon that incident in the poem & Homers Argus. [14] 


* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/Surry/ No 4 Tavistock Street/ Bedford Square
Postmarks: RICHMOND/ 10 JA/1816; [partial] 10 OCLOCK/ JA 10; 7 OCLOCK/ JA 10
Endorsement: No 185 1816/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 7th January/ recd 10th do/ ansd 11th do
MS: Beinecke Library, GEN MSS 298, Series I, Box 1, folder 14. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). BACK

[2] Southey preferred the name of ‘Belle Alliance’ for the battle fought on 18 June 1815, but he was persuaded to refer to it as ‘Waterloo’. BACK

[3] In 1814 Southey, as Poet Laureate, had started a poem celebrating the forthcoming marriage of the Prince Regent’s only child, Princess Charlotte, to the Hereditary Prince of Orange, William (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849). The poem had not been published because the royal engagement was broken off in June 1814. Southey did not reuse these stanzas in The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo; instead he reworked them into The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816) to celebrate Charlotte’s marriage to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (1790–1865; DNB). BACK

[4] A Tale of Paraguay (1825) was prefaced by a poem, entitled ‘Dedication. To Edith May Southey’. BACK

[5] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (London, 1816), [unpaginated], was dedicated to John May, ‘in testimony of the highest esteem and affection’. BACK

[6] In its final version, The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo consisted of a ‘Proem’ and Two Parts. Part One contained four Books: ‘Flanders’; ‘Brussels’; ‘The Field of Battle’; and ‘The Scene of War’. Part Two also contained four Books: ‘The Tower’; ‘The Evil Prophet’; ‘The Sacred Mountain’; and ‘The Hopes of Man’. The proposed ‘Hymn for Victory’ was abandoned and the ‘Return’ became the ‘Proem’. BACK

[7] The review in the Quarterly Review, 14 (October 1815), 225–236, of Remains of the late John Tweddell, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, being a Selection of his Letters, Written from Various Parts of the Continent, Together with a Republication of his Prolusiones Juveniles; to which is adjoined an Appendix, Containing Some Account of the Author’s Journals, MS. Collections, Drawings, &c. and of their Extraordinary Disappearance. Prefixed is a brief Biographical Memoir by the Editor (1815). John Tweddell (1769–1799; DNB) had been educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he had a distinguished career and was elected a Fellow in 1792. The review’s author was Charles James Blomfield, also educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. BACK

[8] André Delagrave (1774–1849), Campagne de l’Armée Francaise en Portugal, dans les Années 1810–11, &c. par Mr A. D. L. G., Officier Supérieur Employé dans l’État–Major de cette Armée (1815). This review was not published in the Quarterly Review. BACK

[9] Harry Farr Yeatman (1751–1796), Rector of Kilve 1784–1796. Kilve was close to many of the sites of Southey’s childhood and youth in Somerset. Yeatman was buried at Stock Gaylard, only eight miles from Sherborne. These references to him may be connected to the fact that his son, Harry Farr Yeatman (1786–1861), was about to publish Brent Knoll, a Poem (1817), which mentioned Yeatman senior. BACK

[10] Here Southey refers to a proposed memoir of Robert Walpole (1736–1810), the British envoy to Portugal 1771–1800; Southey had been sent Walpole’s papers by May. BACK

[11] Euclid (4th century BC), Greek mathematician, whose Elements was still the foundation of the study of geometry. BACK

[12] Gaius Julius Caesar (100 BC–44 BC), Commentarii de Bello Gallico, used as a textbook for those beginning the study of Latin. BACK

[13] In 1815 in Brussels Southey had bought what he hoped was the massive, 53–volume, compendium of hagiographies entitled Acta Sanctorum (1643–1794), no. 207 in the sale catalogue of his library. In fact he had only bought the 6–volume abridgement (1783–1794), no. 152 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[14] The parallels were between Theron, the dog in Southey’s Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), and the faithful dog Argus in Homer’s Odyssey, Book 17, lines 290–327. The elderly Argus recognises Odysseus on his return and then dies. In Southey’s poem (Book 15, lines 241–279) Theron sees through Roderick’s disguise. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)