3266. Robert Southey to John May, 14 March 1819

3266. Robert Southey to John May, 14 March 1819 ⁠* 

My dear friend

I thank you for your offer, & feel the whole kindness of it. [1]  But Bedford as soon as he learnt the probability of such an event, hoping for a chance which certainly I did not look forward to with hope myself, requested that in that case he might stand in the same relation to this child as he had done to his poor brother. And so when the child was born I wrote to Wynn asking him to do the same. [2]  They have both desired that he might bear the name of Charles, & therefore it will be prefixed to Cuthbert, – the name by which he will be called. – The boy, I hope, is going on well, & is to all appearances uncommonly strong & thriving. The mother is not so well, she is compleatly lame at present. But I believe these kind of afflictions of the leg are not uncommon in such circumstances, & our Esculapius [3]  treats it so lightly, that I conclude it is only a temporary evil & of no long duration. But it is a very serious inconvenience so long as it lasts.

After an interval of nearly seven years, [4]  the cry of an infant in the house is a strange sound. – It is as you may suppose an absolute carnival for the other children. [5]  My own first feeling was thankfulness for the narrow escape of child & mother. Afterwards I have too much to recollections & forebodings left little room for joy. For setting aside the xxx passing over the frailty of an infants life, which is of all frail things the frailest, I know that according to the common chances it is little likely I should live to see him grow up, – & perhaps I may never be able to do with him, what I was doing so successfully with Herbert. To do it in the same manner will assuredly be impossible. But there is no occasion to look on to a time which very one or the other, or very possibly both of us may not live to see. Sufficient for the day are the duties thereof. – & there is no wisdom in anticipating anxieties which come quite soon enough of themselves.

I hope to be in town by the end of April. By that time I expect to have finished Brazil, [6]  & a paper for the QR. [7]  necessary for my ways & means & Wesley [8]  must be left unfinished till my return, for if I delay longer, I shall lose too much of the summer be absent from this place at the season when it is most desirable to be here. For three or four months past I have been unremittingly engaged in the Brazilian history – & now the close is very near – ten days I think will bring me down to the time of the removal of the Court [9]  – & then there remains only the concluding chapter comprizing a general view of the state of Brazil at that time. [10]  This volume will be the largest of the three, & in some respects the most curious, as containing a much greater portion of historical matter which had never before been published in any form. Indeed when I look at the materials from which it is composed I almost wonder at what I have achieved. – The completion will be a great advantage to my finances, – it has been the xxx sinking fund in which a large portion of my time has been absorbed: – no time so pleasantly, – nor so unprofitably. It is I think very doubtful whether the work will reach a second edition during my life. [11]  But I shall carefully prepare one, neglect no opportunity of consulting every document which may fall in my way, correcting what is erroneous, & adding what is deficient. For I know the value of the book, & know also that it will be acknowledged in due time. – The third volume of the Patriota has been very useful to me. [12] 

The Peninsular War will not cost me half the labour, – tho I do every thing labor with a laborious accuracy which few persons would can appreciate unless they were to see the process. I calculate upon carrying that thro the press in 18 months, [13]  & long to finish it that I may begin upon the H. of Portugal of which about two volumes in their first state, have been lying by me for full ten years. [14] 

By My brother Tom removes the end of this month, which will make a great alteration, – for I shall have a neighbour then within four miles. [15] Your god daughter is quite well, & very ingenious in finding <discovering> what she can do for the infant. Remember us to Mrs May & your daughters. [16] 

God bless you

Yrs most affectionately


Keswick. 14 March. 1819.


* Address: To/ John May Esqre/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ 18MR18/ 1819; 10o’Clock/ MR.18/ 1819 F.N.n
Watermark: F Stans/ 1815
Endorsement: No. 205 1819/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 14th March/ recd. 18th do.
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4pp.
Previously published: Charles Ramos (ed.), The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 173–174. BACK

[1] May had offered to be godfather to Charles Cuthbert Southey. BACK

[2] See Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 24 February 1819, Letter 3253. BACK

[3] Aesculapius, the god of medicine; in a Keswick context, the physician John Edmondson. BACK

[4] Isabel Southey was born on 2 November 1812 and Charles Cuthbert Southey on 24 February 1819. BACK

[5] Edith May, Bertha, Kate, and Isabel Southey and, possibly, their cousin Sara Coleridge. BACK

[6] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[7] Southey’s article ‘Cemeteries and Catacombs of Paris’, Quarterly Review, 21 (April 1819), 359–398. BACK

[8] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[9] The flight of the Portuguese court to Brazil in 1807–1808, covered in the History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. 694–695. BACK

[10] History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. 696–879. At the conclusion of this final chapter, Southey added the date ‘Keswick, June 23d, 1819’. BACK

[11] A second edition of the first volume of the History of Brazil (1810–1819) appeared in 1822. The other two volumes did not go beyond first editions. BACK

[12] The Brazilian journal O Patriota (1813–1814). In History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. v–vi, Southey thanked John May for procuring the third volume of this for him, ‘when it was not to be obtained at Lisbon’. It was no. 3641 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[13] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). Much of the material was reused from the historical sections Southey wrote for the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808–1811 (1810–1813), hence his confidence about the speed with which he could complete the project. BACK

[14] Southey’s long-planned prose magnum opus, ‘The History of Portugal’, was never completed or published. BACK

[15] Tom Southey and his family were moving to a farm in Newlands, near Keswick; his tenancy began on 25 March 1819. BACK

[16] May’s daughters, Mary Charlotte (b. 1804), Susanna Louisa (1805–1885) and Charlotte Livius (b. 1812). BACK

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