207. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey [brother], 31 March 1797

207. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey [brother], 31 March 1797 ⁠* 

March 31st 1797

My dear Tom

I have stolen time to write to you tho uncertain whether you may still be at Plymouth: but if the letter should have to follow you, well & good, if lost — little matter. I have a Booksellers job on my hands: it is to translate a volume from the French [1]  — about a months work, & the pay will be not less than five & twenty guineas. an employment more profitable than pleasant, but I should like plenty such. three or four such jobs would furnish me a house. — I wonder you could think I did not say enough in favour of Miles. [2]  he is a man who exceedingly pleased me — he has good sense, accomplishments & that openness of character which is worth every thing else — your description of the Spanish Coast about St Sebastians has very highly delighted me. I intend to versify it — put the lines in Madoc, & give your account below in the note. to me who had never seen any other but the tame shores of this island, the giant rocks of Galicia appeared stupendously sublime. they even <derived> a grandeur from their barrenness — it gives them th a majestic simplicity that fills the undistracted mind. I have in contemplation anx newxxother work upon my journey. a series of Poems, the subjects occasioned by the scenes I past, & the meditations which those scenes excited. do you perceive the range this plan includes? history — imagination — philosophy — all could be pressed into my service, & the poems would equally include landscape painting & sedition.  [3]  a noble design — & it has met with some encouragement — but Time is scarce — & I must be a Lawyer — a sort of animal that might be made out of worse materials than those with which Nature tempered my clay.

I suppose my Mother has given you the history of Margerys correspondence with Major Hill. [4]  in consequence I called upon him at his lodgings in town — he was very civil, & I breakfasted with him afterwards. he told me he should be glad to see me at Chatham — but I fancy the family connection between him & me will never extend beyond a morning visit. he gave me however — the only good cup of coffee I have tasted since I left Portugal. the old Major is a Connoisseur in Coffee. in old times, he invented a machine for roasting it, but as now a free-born Englishman is prohibited from roasting Coffee in this Land of liberty, he is obliged to content himself with the best he can buy, & he always buys it himself.

I have a letter from Bath this evening, from my Mother thro Margery her amanuensis. it tells me she is determined on quitting her house in September — & that she must live with my Aunt — as my Aunt is subject to bowel complaints that render her health very uncertain. how all this is to be I know not — for Margerys letter contains only the determination. I wish I had a house. — & it is only the want of furniture that keeps me in lodgings.

I used to pass T. Southey in the streets of Bristol sometimes; he is very much broken, & looks ten years older than he is. if John S wears as badly, some one or other would have good prospects. not xx[MS scuffed] I — for he knows that I am seditious & married, & honours me with his hearty hatred. so let him! — now if I were ever to attain to eminence in the law & so become opulent before his death he would leave me the bulk of his fortune no doubt, — because I was in a situation — not to want it.

Harry has been tormented with chilblains as you used to be, & has now a wound in his leg in consequence. my Mother thinks therefore of having him home. I know not how what kind of a school he is at but he does not like it at all himself. Edward ought to be sent to St Pauls, where he is promised. to be admitted. Maber (Ld Butes [5]  chaplain) was under master there, & did this for him. Maber is the person meant by M. in my letters — & the adventure of the bee-hive (Page 60) [6]  actually happened to him.

Should I publish the series of poems I mentioned, it is my intention to annex prints from the sketches my Uncle took upon my our road. I sometimes regret, that after leaving the College Green I have never had encouragement to go on with drawing. the evening, when Shad & I were so employed, was then the pleasantest part of the day, & I began at last to do tho know something about it. I would gladly get those drawings but my Aunt never lets any thing go, & the greater part of my books & all those drawings, & my coins with a number of things of little intrinsic value, but which I should highly prize, are all locked up in the Green. the poor old theatre is going to ruins, for which I have worked so many hours, & which so deeply interested me on[MS torn] such are the revolutions of private life! & such strange alterations do a few years produce!

My aunt told Peggy it was pretty well in me to write a book about Portugal who had not [MS torn b]een there six months. for her part she had been there as long again & yet [MS torn] she could not write a book about it. so apt are we to xxxx xxplore measure knowledge by time. I employed my time there in constant atte[MS torn n]tion, seeing every thing & asking questions, & never went to bed without writing down the information I had acquired during the day. I am now tolerably versed in Spanish & Portugueze Poetry, & am writing a series of essays upon the subject in the Monthly Magazine — a work which probably you do not see.

farewell. I hope you may soon come to Portsmouth that we may see you. Ediths love.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: Mr T Southey/ Phoebe Frigate/ Plymouth [illegible destination inserted in another hand]/ or elsewhere/ Single
Stamped: [partial] Penny P/ pd 1d/ [illegible]
Postmark: [partial] BRI/ Ap/1/1797
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 307–309 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey translated the second volume of On the French Revolution. By M. Necker (1797). BACK

[2] A friend of the Bedford family who lived at Vanbrugh Fields, Greenwich. His first name is not recorded. BACK

[3] This plan did not materialise. BACK

[4] The older half-brother of Herbert Hill. Southey gives a detailed account of him, and of their meeting in 1797, in a letter to John May, 24 November 1805. BACK

[5] John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute (1744–1814; DNB). BACK

[6] Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (Bristol, 1797), pp. 60–61. BACK

Places mentioned

College Green, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)