1799. Robert Southey to John May, 9 August 1810

1799. Robert Southey to John May, 9 August 1810 ⁠* 

Keswick. Jul Aug. 9. 1810.

My dear friend

Inclosed is a draft for 100 £. – the first payment I have ever been able to make towards discharging a debt of which I have never felt the weight, & shall never cease to feel the obligation. [1]  If it please God to continue to me the blessings of life & health, there is a fair prospect of my discharging the whole at no very distant period, – certainly I shall be able to remit a sim similar draft by the end of the next winter. –

The cause of my long silence has been that for more than two months I have been expecting the publication of the Ed. An. Register, – that being the circumstance <event> which <would> authorized me to draw on the publisher. The whole of the first volume is mine (that is except the Prospectus [2]  – ) & when you see the quantity & recollect the labour of weaving such disjointed materials as newspapers & parliamentary papers into a connected narrative, you will not think that 400 £ has been an overpayment. It is however good payment, & comes to me like flood tide to a spring-tide to a vessel agroun which has grounded. Henceforward I hope & expect there will be no farther necessity for my drawing upon Longman in advance, – that my publications in his hands will clear me in his books, & in the course of a few years produce some returns which however trifling at first will assuredly increase, & may not improbably enable me at last to provide an independence for my children, if not for my self.

Whatever you may think of my part in the Register in other respects you will, I am sure, be well pleased with the perfect freedom which inspires it. It will offend many persons, & will please no party, but my own heart is satisfied, & that feeling would always be to me a sufficient reward. And even if it should injure me in a political point of view (as it probably may) by cutting off the prospect of obtaining any thing from Government beyond the pitiful pension which Lord Grenville gave more truly to Wynn than to me, – still I believe that even upon the balance of world selfish prudence, tho Mr Worldly Wiseman [3]  himself were to adjust the scales, would prove in my favour. For I confidently expect that this work will materially increase my reputation among the booksellers, – & indeed as long as I continue to be engaged in it, I shall <need> no other means of support.

In the second part of the volume you will see me abundantly praised & very respectfully censured. [4]  I know not who the critic is nor can I guess. He is very showy & sufficiently shallow. It is scarcely possible for any criticism to display less discernment. – As for my contempt of the received rules of poetry, I hold the same rules which Shakespere, Spenser & Milton held before me, & desire to be judged by those rules. [5]  nor have I ever proceeded upon any principle of taste which is not to be found in all the great masters of the art, of every age & country wherein the art has been understood. When the critic specifies parts of my writings to justify his praise, he overlooks every thing which displays either a knowledge of human nature, or a power of affecting the passions, & merely looks for a specimen of rich <able> versification, – specimen of which he might have found by pricking with a pin for them. – Shallow however as all this is the praise will have its weight.

Edith was safely delivered of a daughter this day week, & is doing as well as could be wished. – You have probably heard that Tom is married. His wife is a very interesting & excellent woman –

There are only two trifling articles of mine in the last Quarterly, the Tongataboo Journal, [6]  & Grahames Georgics. [7]  In the next you will see a summary of the Obs. Portuguez [8]  – for which I am ashamed to think that I have never before thanked you.

God bless you

yrs very affectionately



* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/13 AU 13/1810; [partial]10o’C
Endorsement: No. 149 1810/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 9th August/ recd. 13th do/ ansd. 15th do.
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. 121–122; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 289–290 [misdated 5 August 1810]. BACK

[1] May had loaned Southey money to pay for Henry Herbert Southey’s education. BACK

[2] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), v–xii. BACK

[3] A character in John Bunyan (1628–1688; DNB), The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678–1684). He attempts to entice Christian away from his journey. BACK

[4] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), 421–423. Southey would have been mortified to learn that the author of this criticism was Walter Scott. BACK

[5] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), 422, had noted Southey’s ‘resolute contempt of the ordinary and received rules of poetry, and a departure from all their precepts, too shocking to all our pre-conceived opinions and expectations.’ BACK

[6] An Authentic Narrative of Four Years’ Residence at Tongataboo (1810), Quarterly Review, 3 (May 1810), 440–455. BACK

[7] James Grahame, British Georgics (1809), Quarterly Review, 3 (May 1810), 456–461. BACK

[8] Observador Portuguez (1809), Quarterly Review, 4 (August 1810), 1–24; no. 3556 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)