1015. Robert Southey to John May, 9 January 1805

1015. Robert Southey to John May, 9 January 1805 ⁠* 

Keswick. Jany 9. 1805.

My dear friend

The main reason of so long a silence on my part has been that having some tidings of my brother Tom to communicate, & being daily in expectation of a letter from him – I waited in hope of receiving it. – The boats of the Galatea attempted to cut out a sloop called the Lilly from Guadaloupe, & the attempt proved very disastrous, & so has never been gazetted. We heard this from London – in consequence I made enquiry by a friend at the Admiralty who saw a private letter from one who had been in the action & fairly inferred that as Toms name was not mentioned in it, he was safe. Shortly after, a paragraph appeared in our Whitehaven paper [1]  stating the death of the Master of the Galatea who was a native of that town. he was killed in this affair – & the paragraph stated <added> that the First Lieutenant fell also. I read this myself – & you may guess how it went thro me like an electric shock however it is never my custom to accredit things lightly. it was mentioned that the Surgeon was killed – I argued that neither Surgeon nor Master could be in the boats – consequently the xxx paragraph was erroneous in part & possibly in the whole – so I wrote again to London – tho I confess persuaded in my heart that my brother had fallen, knowing that he would be foremost in any attempt which required exertion & could lead to promotion. the answer was that a Lieutenant was slain – but of a different name – for the official account had arrived. In a few days came a letter from Tom to tell me that he had been brought to a Court Martial for disobedience of orders, neglect of duty & contempt of his Captain. [2]  the two first charges were not proved. the last was & he was sentenced to be dismissed the ship. The contempt proved was that when the Captain had charged him with the offences which were disproved clearly on the trial, he had replied I beg your pardon Sir – I must contradict you. Mark the providence – I do not use the word superstitiously – but such things induce an aweful sort of feeling – being thus under arrest he could not go in the boats, & the Lieutenant who went in his stead fell. [3]  – I have waited in hopes of adding the sequel to the story. My brother wrote from Antigua. he had that morning breakfasted with Commodore Hood [4]  – who told him to wait in the West Indies till he had seen the minutes of the trial, for the sentence only had reached him – if he thought proper. this was sufficient encouragement – as a frigate was sailing for England the next day, & no other opportunity would offer till April. Tom of course remains, knowing that the minutes which state the whole evidence are in his favour, & therefore expecting an appointment the more likely as the Commodore is the brother of Captain Hood – Toms first friend – who fell in the Mars. [5]  he has money enough to support him with oeconomy six weeks, before which the expiration of which term the minutes would in all probability arrive from Antigua. where he had been tried, & where he had immediately gone to the Commodore. – I wrote immediately to bid him draw on me [6]  – & before I wrote a second letter lest the first should miscarry – Wynn to whom I had related the story – very kindly put fifty pounds at my disposal for him. So that if his hopes fail him he will at least be enabled to clear himself from the Islands, & should he be obliged to return home for employment, I have a home for him, & some interest with one of the Lords of the Admiralty.

I have written to Harry about his mad wishes to be at Cambridge, in such a style as will, or ought to, effectually put an end to them. [7]  You are very kind in what you say of him. if need were the proposed income would amply suffice him for the whole years expences – but the bargain xxx concerning our house is broken off, & we are of course at liberty to remain. – Should an army be sent to Portugal it would be of infinite advantage to me if I could procure an civil office in the establishment. I could do the official business & my own with ease – & be enabled by living with my Uncle to save nearly the whole of the salary. There is not much chance of this under the present administration but I shall try my own strength, & also write to my Uncle – who most likely will think of it himself.

If I had known in time of <young> Mr Walpoles intention I would have retranslated the Ode of Luis de Leon [8]  for him – for it was done when I was nine years younger, & is done badly.

I also am a loser by the Critical Review. something from 10 to 30 £ the balance of a long account, which Hamilton for two years after I had ceased to write for him delayed to settle, & now it is gone. [9]  – I am busy for the Annual – but my articles this year will neither be so many nor so interesting as the last. [10]  No text could be found for a Cath Anti Catholic essay which must therefore be deferred for <to> my quartos. – They loiter with the notes to Madoc – my part has long been done. – Sir Wm Jones was a wonderful man – but he is over-rated. latterly he abandoned himself to vague speculations, & all his life long he was envious. Witness his treatment of Anquetil Du Perron, & his twice translating what he knew Wilkins had already undertaken – from a paltry desire of being first instead of cooperating with a man as learned as himself to communicate as much knowledge as they could. [11]  I have studied his Ordinances of Menu for the purpose of a chapter on the Hindoos, – & indeed all his works & all others concerning Hindostan that I could procure for materials for my next poem [12]  – which is to exhibit their mythology in the manner of Thalaba [13]  – If poetry were a marketable article I would xxxxx no longer waste that time in criticising bad books which would be so much more pleasantly occupied in writing better, but as I make no other sacrifice than that of time I am well off.

The Edithling has been vaccinated & is well. [14]  I am in excellent good health, & wish for nothing but to be with all my books about me. If my next years schemes turn out well I shall come near you & gather them together but I find it more easy to acquire fame than fortune. Madoc will soon be ready & the book a very beautiful one. Edith joins me in remembrances to Mrs May

God bless you



* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ JAN12/ 1805; 10o’Clock/ JA.12/ 1805F.N.n
Endorsement: No. 105 1805/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 9th Jany/ recd. 12 do/ ansd. 21st do
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos (ed.), The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 91–93. BACK

[1] The Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser. BACK

[2] Captain (later Admiral) Henry Heathcote (1777–1851), in command of HMS Galatea 1803–1805. BACK

[3] On 14 August 1804, the boats of Thomas Southey’s ship, HMS Galatea, made an unsuccessful attempt to cut out the French privateer General Ernouf (formerly the British sloop of war Lilly) lying at the Saintes near Guadeloupe. Of the 90 men sent on the mission 65 were killed or wounded. Southey suspected that his brother was among the dead. Thomas had been the first lieutenant but was absent from the raid because had been placed under arrest. Charles Hayman (d. 1804) was made first lieutenant in his stead and died in the attack. BACK

[4] Commodore (later Vice-Admiral) Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet (1762–1814; DNB), in command of the fleet in which Thomas Southey served. BACK

[5] Captain Alexander Hood (1758–1798), who died of a wound to the thigh, on 2 April 1798, sustained when his ship the Mars engaged the French ship Hercule off the coast of Brittany. Nearly 400 men, and both captains, died in the fight; Thomas Southey, on board the Mars, was wounded. BACK

[6] See Southey to Thomas Southey, 17 December 1804, Letter 1004. BACK

[7] See Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 8 January 1805, Letter 1013. BACK

[8] Fray Luis Ponce de León (1527–1591), the Spanish lyric poet whose ode on King Roderick (in Spanish Rodrigo), the last Visigothic king of Spain (d. 711) and the conflict with the Moors was translated by Southey in Letters Written during a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (Bristol, 1797), pp. 292–302. Robert Walpole (1781–1856) was preparing materials for his publication of Specimens of Scarce Translations of the Seventeenth Century, from the Latin Poets (London, 1805), which includes a translation into Greek of de León’s Spanish ode on the introduction of the Moors into Spain (p. 129). Walpole credits Southey’s translation of this work (p. viii). BACK

[9] Samuel Hamilton (dates unknown), owner of the Critical Review 1799–1804. Hamilton’s departure from the Critical left Southey unpaid for reviews he had written. BACK

[10] Southey reviewed, in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805): John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB), An Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa, in the years 1797 and 1798, including Observations on the Geology & Geography, the Natural History ... and Sketches of the Various Tribes Surrounding the Cape of Good Hope, Vol. II (1804), 22–33; Robert Percival (1765–1826), An Account of the Cape of Good Hope (1804), 34–41; Daniel Mackinnen (1767–1830), A Tour Through the British West Indies, in the years 1802 and 1803 giving a Particular Account of the Bahama Islands (1804), 50–56; John Barrow, Travels in China: Containing Descriptions, Observations and Comparisons Made and Collected in the Course of a Short Residence at the Imperial Palace of Yuen-min-yuen, and on a Subsequent Journey from Pekin to Canton (1804), 69–83; Sir John Froissart’s Chronicles of England, France, and the Adjoining Countries, from the Latter Part of the Reign of Edward II to the Coronation of Henry IV, trans. Thomas Johnes (1748–1816; DNB) (1804), 189–194; George Heriot (1766–1844), The History of Canada, From its First Discovery: Comprehending an Account of the Original Establishment of the Colony of Louisiana, 194–197; Part the First of An Address to the Public from the Society for the Suppression of Vice, Instituted, in London, 1802, Setting Forth, with a List of the Members, the Utility and Necessity of such an Institution, and its Claim to Public Support (1803), 225–231; Edward Ledwich (1738–1823), The Antiquities of Ireland (1804), 398–413; Original Correspondence of Jean Jacques Rousseau, with Mad. La Tour de Franqueville and M. Du Peyrou (1804), 485–488; Anna Seward, Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin, ... with Anecdotes of his Friends and Criticisms on his Writings (1804), 488–93; David Irving (1778–1850), The Lives of the Scotish Poets; with Preliminary Dissertations on the Literary History of Scotland and the Early Scotish Drama (1804), 493–499; Walter Scott, Sir Tristram: A Metrical Romance by Thomas of Ercildoune (1804), 555–563; Charles Abraham Elton (1778–1853), Poems (1804), 564–565; William Day (dates unknown), The Shepherd’s Boy: being Pastoral Tales (1804), 567–568; E. Warren (dates unknown), The Poet’s Day, or, Imagination’s Ramble (1804), 568; Cupid turned Volunteer: in a Series of Prints, Designed by her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth; and Engraved by W. N. Gardiner, B.A., with Poetical Illustrations by T. P [Thomas Park (1758/9–1834; DNB)] (1804), 568–580; Thomas Green Fessenden (1771–1837), Original Poems (1804), 571; John Blair Linn (1777–1805), The Powers of Genius (1801), 571; Thomas Clio Rickman (1761–1834; DNB), An Ode in Celebration of the Emancipation of the Blacks of Saint Domingo, November 29, 1803 (1804), 572; Robert Bloomfield, Good Tidings (1804), 574; William Robert Spencer (1770–1834; DNB), The Year of Sorrow (1804), 574–575; British Purity: or, the World we Live in. A Poetic Tale, of Two Centuries…By Lory Lucian and Jerry Juvenal, … Assisted by S. Scriblerus, etc. [pseud.] (1804), 575; William Falconer (1732–1769), The Shipwreck, (1804), ed., James Stanier Clarke (1766–1834; DNB), 577–580; William Tooke (1777–1863), ed., The Poetical Works of Charles Churchill: with Explanatory Notes and an Authentic Account of his Life, (1804), 580–585; J. Amphlett (dates unknown), Invasion: a Descriptive and Satirical Poem (1804), 585; Joseph Jefferson (1766–1824), Horae Poeticæ. Poems, Sacred, Moral and Descriptive (1804), 586–587; Alexander Campbell (1764–1824; DNB), The Grampians Desolate, a Poem in Six Books (1804), 587–591; William Crowe (bap. 1745, d. 1829; DNB), Lewesdon Hill (1804), 593–594; John Finlay (1782–1810), Wallace, or, The Vale of Ellerslie, and other Poems (1804), 594–596; Jessie Stewart (dates unknown), Ode to Dr. Thomas Percy (1804), 597; John Belfour (1768–1842), Fables on Subjects Connected with Literature. Imitated from the Spanish of Don Tomas de Yriarte (1804), 597–598; Transactions of the Missionary Society (1804), 621–634; Edward Davies (1756–1831; DNB), Celtic Researches, on the Origin, Traditions, & Language, of the Ancient Britons; with some Introductory Sketches, on Primitive Society (1804), 634–644; [Anon.] No Slaves - No Sugar: Containing New and Irresistible Arguments in Favour of the African Trade by a Liverpool Merchant (1804), 644–648; William Tennant (1758–1813), Indian Recreations, Consisting Chiefly of Strictures on the Domestic and Rural Economy of the Mahommedans and Hindoos (1803), 658–670; John Gardiner (fl. 1758–1792), Essays Literary, Political and Economical (1804), 670–674; Richard Duppa, Heads from the Fresco Pictures of Raffaele in the Vatican (1802), 918–923. BACK

[11] Sir William Jones (1746–1794; DNB), the Orientalist scholar whose Institutes of Hindu Law, or, The Ordinances of Menu appeared in 1794. In his 1771 Lettre à Monsieur A*** du P***, Jones criticised Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil Du Perron (1731–1805), the French Orientalist who in 1771 translated the Avesta from Persian into French and thus introduced Zoroastrianism to Europe. ‘Stung to patriotic anger by the Frenchman’s criticisms of Oxford scholarship’ (DNB), Jones suggested Du Perron had been fooled with forgeries by the Parsi priests on whom he had relied for his Persian texts. In Bengal, Jones collaborated with Sir Charles Wilkins (1749–1836; DNB); together the two men helped establish the Asiatick Society of Bengal in 1784. Wilkins translated the Bhagvat-geeta, or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon (1785). Southey’s remark about Jones’s competitiveness with Wilkins, scarcely warranted, was probably based on Jones’s ‘Preface’ to his translation of Sacontalá: ‘I think it proper to say, that I have already translated four or five other books, and among them the Hitópadésa, which I undertook merely as an exercise in learning Sanscrit, three years before I knew that Mr. Wilkins, without whose aid I should never have learned it [Sanskrit], had any thought of giving the same work to the publick’ (The Works of Sir William Jones, 6 vols (London, 1799), VI, p. 208). BACK

[12] In The Curse of Kehama (1810), Southey made extensive use of translations of Hindu texts. BACK

[13] In Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Southey ‘exhibits’ the ‘mythology’ of Islam; he also draws upon William Jones’s Poesos Asiaticae Commentariorium (1777) and Essay on the Poetry of the Eastern Nations (1772). See Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), III, pp. 221 and 337. BACK

[14] To provide inoculation from smallpox in the light of the publication, in An Inquiry Into the Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ (1798), of the experiments of Edward Jenner (1749–1823; DNB) on vaccinating against smallpox using cowpox serum. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)