1069. Robert Southey to John May, 22 May 1805

1069. Robert Southey to John May, 22 May 1805 ⁠* 

May 22. 1805.

My dear friend

I am very sorry to learn by your brothers letter, which has just reached me, that you are suffering from a complaint, in which I can from sore experience so well sympathize. [1]  You have doubtless the best advice, – yet it may not be amiss to tell you that the remedy which I have found most efficacious was an infusion of cayenne pepper, – the infusion just strong enough to make the eye smart strongly. it was recommended to me by Dr Beddoes, & frequently proved effectual, – but as the inflammation with me lay originally in the eye lid & not only by sympathy in the eye itself.

I have been several times on the point of writing to you, & still delayed it in the expectation that another post might bring me letters from you, or from Lisbon. – The Metrical Tales are – as I believe you know – only a republication from the two volumes of the Anthology, which my Uncle has. [2]  Still there is a sort of curiosity about Title pages & Prefaces &c. which may make it worth while to send him the book, as he has expressed a wish for it, – but the copy should xxx be got in my name from Mr Longmans – which may be done without any difficulty by showing this part of the letter. have you received a copy of Madoc to be sent him likewise?

You will imagine that the news from the Leeward Islands must have been a source of considerable uneasiness to me. Nothing has yet appeared to give me any alarm for Tom’s personal safety, – but there is he has lost all he had gained. the very day on which the French arrived at Dominica, he, little dreaming of such an event, wrote to me from St Christophers, [3]  saying that he expected soon to remit me a bill of exchange for 1000£, his prize money on the lowest computation amounting to as much. these prizes were sent into St Vincents, & that island has been visited by the enemy. [4]  This however is a less evil than it will be to him to have the Commodore [5]  superseded in the command by Admiral Cochrane; [6]  for he was otherwise sure of promotion.

Harry has been with me about a fortnight, – he seems to have made the most of the winter, & to promise as fairly as we could wish. by passing the summer & great part of the autumn here, he will be able to recover his arrears, & start clear for the next term, & I trust he has prudence enough to keep so.

We go on well. the Edithling is cutting her teeth, which come very slowly. she has but four, tho nearly thirteen months old, & it is three months since the last two made their appearance. Our weather was very severe the beginning of this month, – blighting & blasting winds from the East & North East, – I had a slight attack in my bowels, which has somewhat debilitated me, & which probably I should not have had in a better climate. The country is now becoming very beautiful, & I, like other hibernating animals, have begun to crawl out of my den, & warm myself in the sunshine. If my Uncle had come to England I should have met him in London, where I am in no want of business to call me, – but without some such preponderant motive, the fatigue & expence of so long a journey will deter me from undertaking it while it can possibly be avoided. And in fact my resolution still holds to settle near London as soon as I can commands sufficient money for the necessary expences. – The sale of Madoc is quite a thing of chance, & the chances not in its favour; – so costly a book [7]  must be very fashionable to sell well; but in the world we live in books as well as men are the better received for a good appearance. I hear well of its reception – Wynn tells me it is almost as universally admired as he could desire, – adding that I could not wish more, – & thro him I have received the commendations of Fox  [8]  & of Lord Holland. Whatever be its immediate chryso-poetic [9]  powers, I have a full confidence that it will be ultimately beneficial by the character which it will establish for me, – & if I should not live to feel the benefit myself, they whom I may leave behind me will.– Some portion of my time has of late been occupied neither pleasantly, nor profitably in weeding out the faults of Joan of Arc, which is going again to press. [10]  I get on with my history, [11]  always wishing that I could get on without any interruptions, & often feeling the inconvenient & vexatious want of my books. my first volume, if my Uncle were in England, should go to press next winter, but as long as there be any hope of his coming over, or of my crossing to him I shall delay it.

We are in daily expectation of Coleridges arrival in England, [12]  & of course till he arrives under some uneasiness – the way both by sea & by land being perilous for an Englishman. – Remember us to Mrs May – I know not when I shall see you at Richmond, – but if you ever design to visit the Lakes, I hope you will do it before we leave them –

God bless you –

yrs affectionately

R Southey.

Let me hear how your eyes are – if not from yourself from your brother – to whom I beg my remembrances.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ MAY 25/ 1805; 10o’Clock / MY.25/ 1805 F.N.n
Endorsement: No. 110 1805/ Robert Southey/ No place 22d May/ recd. 25 do/ ansd. 2d August
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. 97–99. BACK

[1] It is not clear which of May’s brothers wrote on his behalf. BACK

[2] Southey’s contributions to the Annual Anthology (1799–1800) were republished under his own name in Metrical Tales and other Poems (1805). BACK

[3] The more formal name for the island of Saint Kitts, one of the Leeward Islands in the West Indies. BACK

[4] St Vincent is an island in the southern part of the Windward Islands of the West Indies. It had been ceded to the British by the French in 1763. It was customary for naval officers to be allotted a share of the value of ships and cargo captured in armed conflict, and Southey was concerned that his brother would lose his prize money from the possession of Spanish ships taken by HMS Amelia in December 1804. BACK

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

[6] Admiral Sir Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane (1758–1832) was made commander of the Leeward Island station in 1805. BACK

[7] The cost of Madoc (1805) was two guineas. BACK

[8] In his letter dated 19 February 1805 to Wynn (see letter 1040 of this edition), Southey had expressed his intention of sending Madoc to Fox, the leader of the Whigs in parliament who was also a patron of pastoral poets. BACK

[9] Ability to transmute into gold. BACK

[10] The third edition of Joan of Arc was published in 1806. BACK

[11] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’, which was never completed. BACK

[12] Coleridge had been working as the private secretary to Sir Alexander Ball (1757–1809; DNB), the naval officer governing Malta. He arrived back in England, in August 1806, but did not come back to live in Keswick. BACK