3771. Robert Southey to John May, 26 December 1821

3771. Robert Southey to John May, 26 December 1821⁠* 

Keswick 26. Dec. 1821

My dear friend

I return you the Power of Attorney [1]  without delay. Right glad should I be if it were for a sum equal to the whole pressure upon you at this time, – but it has not been my fortune to have means commensurate with my will. – If however I receive payment (as I expect) for my first volume [2]  in the spring, I shall be able to transfer it into your hands. The bargain made nine years ago was a thousand guineas for the work in two volumes; [3]  – it will now be in three, – & if I am not paid in proportion to the increased extent of the book, I shall think myself ill treated. But whatever I receive you shall have.

William Young [4]  whom you mention, I suppose to be a little, good natured, vulgarish, bustling man who married a sister of Mrs Arthur, [5]  & was when I was last in Lisbon, [6]  the greatest smuggler there. Harry has not detailed the circumstances to me, nor am I desirous of learning any thing concerning it, except so far as it may palliate the apparently great imprudence of your brother. [7]  – Your last report is certainly favourable. The Revolution [8]  has not had time <yet> to destroy that national honour on which you rely, & which I estimate in the Portugueze as highly you do. I have therefore good hope that these bills will be duly paid.

Edith, thank God, is so much better than when I wrote to you concerning her, that she appears hardly like the same person. She was at that time so much depress on in such a state, that I was under serious apprehensions of its terminating in mania. You may judge therefore under what a weight I wrote & how great must be the relief which I now feel.

When I have expanded the life of Cromwell, & stated facts as well as conclusions, I am well persuaded there will not remain any differences of sentiment between you & me concerning the history of that disastrous age. [9] Murray has made me a paltry offer for the work, & announced it [10]  without waiting for my answer, or asking my approbation. I did not intend that it should be announced for a considerable time. And tho, no doubt he will ultimately have the work it must be upon very different terms indeed from those which he has proposed.

Wordsworth whom I saw yesterday, told me of Lord Byrons charge of slander. I have already answered it, except that the introductory paragraph of my answer cannot be written till I see the attack. [11]  My reply will be sent to the Courier, in the form of a letter to the Editor. [12] His Lordship will not like it. Xxxxxxx when I knowing the substance of his charge, & xxx not <having> seen the form & manner of it, I have had the great advantage of writing without any feeling of irritation. – It is well for those who assail me that both from principle & disposition I detest controversial <writing> for there is nothing which I compose with so much readiness, nor with such a sense of compleat power.

Remember us to your fireside circle, – & may you & yours partake many & happy returns of this festive season. – You know the Long Parliament ordered Xmas day to be kept as a fast. [13]  I think we shall agree in sentiment upon that ordinance.

God bless you my dear friend

Yrs most affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Endorsement: No. 224 1821/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 26th December/ recd. 2d Jany. 1822/ ansd 19th April
MS: Beinecke Library, Osborn MSS File ‘S’, Folder 14145. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey had lent May his entire savings of £625 in government stocks to help May out of his financial difficulties. BACK

[2] The first volume of Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[3] See Southey to Herbert Hill, 18 July 1813, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 2283. BACK

[4] Unidentified beyond the information given here. BACK

[5] Unidentified. BACK

[6] i.e. in June 1801. BACK

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

[8] An army revolt in Porto in August 1820 led to the election of a Cortes in December 1820 and demands that the monarchy return from Brazil, where it had fled in 1807–1808 following the French invasion. John VI (1767–1826; King of Portugal 1816–1826) arrived back in Lisbon on 3 July 1821 and eventually agreed to a new liberal Constitution in October 1822. John VI appointed his son, Pedro (1798–1834; Emperor of Brazil 1822–1831), as Regent in Brazil, and Pedro summoned an elected advisory council to represent the different Brazilian provinces. These events eventually led to the separation of Portugal and Brazil on 7 September 1822, but Brazil did not become a republic or disintegrate. BACK

[9] Southey’s assessment of the life of Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658; Lord Protector 1653–1658; DNB) had appeared in the Quarterly Review, 25 (July 1821), 279–347. He was hoping to expand it into a separate work as he had previously done with his Life of Nelson (1813), which started as an article in Quarterly Review, 3 (February 1810), 218–262. This did not happen. BACK

[10] These advertisements seem to have appeared slightly later than Southey suggests, for example, ‘A Life of Oliver Cromwell. By Mr. Southey’, Gentleman’s Magazine, 92 (February 1822), 157. BACK

[11] In the ‘Appendix’ to ‘The Two Foscari’, Sardanapalus, A Tragedy. The Two Foscari, A Tragedy. Cain, A Mystery (London, 1821), p. 328, Byron had cautioned: ‘I am not ignorant of Mr. Southey’s calumnies on a different occasion, knowing them to be such, which he scattered abroad on his return from Switzerland against me and others’. Southey had visited Switzerland in his continental tour of May–August 1817. Byron believed that Southey had subsequently spread rumours that Byron and Shelley engaged in a ‘League of Incest’ during their residence in Switzerland in 1816. BACK

[12] See Southey to the Editor of the Courier, 5 January 1822. The letter appeared in the Courier on 11 January 1822. BACK

[13] During the civil war many Puritans were hostile to Christmas as a ‘pagan’ celebration. The date 25 December 1644 coincided with the regular monthly fast on which Parliamentarians and their supporters prayed for the success of their cause, and the Directory for the Public Worship of God (1645), which replaced the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, made no mention of Christmas at all. The public celebration of Christmas became an offence in 1647. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)