3595. Robert Southey to John May, 29 December 1820

3595. Robert Southey to John May, 29 December 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 29 Dec. 1820

My dear friend

Yesterday my eyes were delighted by the sight of that barrel, [1]  the contents of which are in due time to gladden the heart & to make the countenance chearful. Immediately upon receiving your alarming letter, I wrote to make enquiry concerning it at Kendal, & behold, there it was, & there for some weeks it had been, snug in Mr Cooksons [2]  cellar, – he having ordered a cask of cyder of the same dimensions capacity from Bristol, & having supposed this to be it. – I have now to ask the age of this “beloved beverage”, [3]  & when it will be fit for drinking, that nothing may be done hastily or rashly in an affair of so much importance.

You will have received ere this a reprint of the Carmen Triumphale &c [4]  in the same size as my other poem, of which if bound up with the Carmen Nuptiale [5]  it will form the 15th volume. Some few corrections have been made, & a postscript added to the notes, being an extract from the letter which I had begun to Brougham, after his blackguard attack upon me from the hustings at Appleby. [6]  – The first poem [7]  is a respectable copy of task verses, – originally it was something better, but the conclusion not being thought proper for an official poem, because negociations with Buonaparte were then going on, the ode was cut in half, & sprouted like a polypus, a new tail growing to the <one> portion which was published with my name as P-L; [8]  – & a new head to the other, which I sent anonymously to the newspapers, & which is now to be found in the second volume of my Minor Poems. [9]  – The three court Odes [10]  are much better. They were written very rapidly but with good will, & there are parts of them which no pains could have improved. – I have two other Odes [11]  in the same rhymeless manner, which will be printed with my Dialogues, [12]  – the one was written last Xmas, the other last week, both ex officio, but e corde [13]  also, & with somewhat of the spirit of Hebrew poetry.

I wish you could have given me a more chearful account of your own mercantile concerns, in which you are made so dependent upon a judgement inferior to your own, [14]  & which for that reason are conducted with far too little regard for your comfort & tranquillity, however they may be with regard to your interests. I cannot but think that there is time enough to provide against the threatening storm, which whether it may break or not in Brazil, ought to be guarded against. [15]  The progress of revolution is not likely to be rapid there, – the desire for it at Pernambuco was confined to the movers, & to a few great proprietors. [16]  I hope also that Portugal may get thro the crisis better than Spain [17]  is likely to do. If one of the royal family comes over, he will be received, & will have the advantage of beginning with the popular feeling in his favour. The disposition that has been indicated of uniting with Spain is also in favour of the Government, because it will provoke a Portugueze spirit; & if they only keep within bounds, till the Spaniards advance in their career, & plunge into all the horrors of revolution, that example may give them a timely warning. – In your case what I hope & trust is that your brother will wind up his affairs with the Government as soon as possible, & secure himself against any other risques than such as are inseparable from all mercantile adventure

On Xmas day I received the first four proofs of the History of the War [18]  – with a note from Murray apologizing for not giving it to Wm Nicol to print, as he had promised, – the shame of making which apology has I have no doubt been the real cause why the mss has been kept about four months in his hands. [19]  In the press however it is; & the pleasure of correcting the first proofs was a very great one. I have had no time to be born yet: but I shall endeavour to get thro that event soon. [20]  Of late I have been chiefly employed in finishing the poem in hexameters. [21]  It has exceeded 600 lines in length, & such lines hold a great deal. Last week I sent it up to Bedford on its way to Longman for publication. [22]  I have to write a preface concerning the metre, which with a few notes will make the book thick enough to be put in boards, [23]  & you will have it in the course of four or five weeks. [24] 

Your God-daughter is at Wordsworths, whither I am going on Tuesday next, for the purpose of bringing her home. At present thank God we are all tolerably well.

Remember me to Mrs May & believe me my dear friend

Yrs most affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqre/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: 10 o’Clock/ JA. 1/ 1821 F.N.n; [1 illegible]
Endorsement: No. 217 1820/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 29th December/ recd. 1st Jany. 1821/ ansd. 5th April.
Seal: [partial] red wax; arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine
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. 190–192. BACK

[1] A barrel of strong beer sent to Keswick by John May; see Southey to John May, 15 November 1820, Letter 3556. BACK

[2] Thomas Cookson (1771–1833), Kendal wool merchant and friend of Wordsworth. BACK

[3] Madoc (1805), Part Two, Book 4, line 31. BACK

[4] A combined second edition of Carmen Triumphale (1814) and Congratulatory Odes. Odes to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Russia, and His Majesty the King of Prussia (1814). It was published under the title Carmen Triumphale, for the Commencement of the Year 1814: Carmen Aulica. Written in 1814, on the Arrival of the Allied Sovereigns in England (1821). BACK

[5] The Lay of the Laureate (1816); written on the occasion of the marriage of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales. BACK

[6] Carmen Triumphale (London, 1821), pp. 45–53. This ‘Postscript’ had originally been written in 1818 as a response to Brougham’s reported attack on Southey from the hustings on 30 June 1818 during the General Election contest in Westmorland. BACK

[7] i.e. ‘Carmen Triumphale’, the first poem in the 1821 volume. BACK

[8] Southey’s first Laureate ode ‘Carmen Triumphale’ had a complex history, which he outlines here. The first version of the poem had contained a rousing finale that called on the people of France to rise up and assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815). This was clearly a potential embarrassment to the government, and in late 1813 these parts of the poem were removed on the advice of Croker and Rickman. A heavily revised version of the poem was published by Longman as Carmen Triumphale on 1 January 1814. BACK

[9] The material removed from ‘Carmen Triumphale’ in late 1813 formed the basis of a second ode, ‘Who counsels peace’, which was published in the Courier on 3 February 1814. This was not issued in Southey’s official capacity as Poet Laureate, and was therefore free (in principle at least) from the restrictions that post imposed on him. It had been retitled ‘Ode, Written During the Negociations with Buonaparte, In January 1814’ and included in Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. [215]–224. BACK

[10] The poems first published as Odes to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Russia, and His Majesty the King of Prussia (1814), and republished as ‘Carmen Aulica. Written in 1814, on the arrival of the allied sovereigns in England’ and alongside ‘Carmen Triumphale’ in the 1821 volume. BACK

[11] Southey’s official New Year Odes for January 1820 and January 1821, respectively. BACK

[12] The 1820 and 1821 odes did not appear in Southey’s Sir Thomas More: or Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829), the work that emerged from his planned ‘Dialogues’. Instead, they were first published together as ‘The Warning Voice. Ode I’ and ‘The Warning Voice. Ode II’ in The Englishman’s Library: Comprising a Series of Historical, Biographical and National Information (London, 1824), pp. 381–389. BACK

[13] i.e. written as part of his duty as Poet Laureate and also ‘From the heart’, something that was not the case with the majority of Southey’s official compositions. BACK

[14] William Henry May (1785–1849), May’s younger brother and business partner. BACK

[15] A liberal revolution in Portugal in August 1820 had led to the election of a Cortes in December 1820 and demands for the monarchy to return from Brazil, where it had fled in 1807–1808. BACK

[16] There was an unsuccessful revolution in Pernambuco March–May 1817, which aimed to make Brazil an independent republic. BACK

[17] An army revolt in January 1820 led to the restoration of the liberal Constitution of 1812 in March 1820; but Spain remained deeply divided between Royalists and Liberals. BACK

[18] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[19] William Nicol (d. c.1855), printer and bookseller. The History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832) was printed by Thomas Davison (1766–1831), the usual collaborator of its publisher John Murray, not by Nicol. BACK

[20] Southey’s series of autobiographical letters that he was sending to John May had not yet reached the time of his birth in 1774. BACK

[21] A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[22] See Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 21 December 1820, Letter 3587. BACK

[23] A Vision of Judgement (1821) was published as a quarto volume. The ‘Preface’ occupied 18 pages, the poem itself ran to 46 pages and the ‘Notes’ and ‘Specimens’ a further 31 pages. BACK

[24] A Vision of Judgement was published in early March 1821. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)