1091. Robert Southey to John May, 5 August 1805

1091. Robert Southey to John May, 5 August 1805 ⁠* 

Monday night. August 5. 1805.

My dear friend

I am much gratified with your praise of Madoc, & disposed to acquiesce with some of your censure. It was my intention at one time to have made Erillyab arrive during the contest, & put Amalahta to death with her own hands: an action of savage heroism which might have been made sufficiently consistent with her character. [1]  Why this was altered I cannot very clearly explain – this much is certain that the part as it now stands after the Hoamen are driven out from the hut – offends me more than any thing else in the volume – & is therefore most likely to be altered. [2]  – What you say of the earlier termination of the poem is not founded so well, as you will probably perceive if you reconsider the story. the historical foundation of the story is the emigration of the Aztecas which gives by the concluding lines that same probability to the second part which historical names & facts have given to the first. & there are many characters of the drama to be disposed of, who must <not> be killed & married off too precipitately. – It pleased me that you had selected for praise the quieter passages, – those in an under key, with which the feeling has the most – & the fancy the least to do. – the names are uncouth only to the eye, & were all selected for their euphony. –

My Articles in the third Annual are on Percivals Cape – Barrows Africa & China – Mc Kinnen’s West Indies (the passage quoted from a letter is from one of Tom’s – & I quoted it with pride –) Johnes’s Froissart. Heriots Canada. – Address from the Society for the Suppression of Vice. Ledwiches Antiq.of Ireland – Corresp- of Rousseau. Sewards Life of Darwin – Irwings Lives of the Scotch Poets. Scotts Sir Tristram. Numbers 3. 5. 6. 7. 9. 10. 11. 13. 14. 15. 17. 18. 19. 21. 22. 25. 27 & 37 of the Poetry. Missionary Transactions. Davies’s Celtic Researches – No Slaves. No Sugar – Tennants Indian Recreations. Gardiners Essays – Duppas Heads. [3]  –––––

This present years list is likely to be longer, & with the present year if possible I will take leave of reviewing. because the same time which a years reviewing employs would produce such a poem as Thalaba, of which the present profit would not be less, & the future would be something, – whereas in reviewing all the labour is sunk. & as I have been a Reviewer now since the beginning of 1798 I do not think it can be of any farther use to me now than merely as a matter of pecuniary profit. I shall just keep my foot in the review, in order to let Harry in when he shall be at leisure to take the place. I can certainly be better employed in writing good books than in criticising bad ones.

My history would go to press this winter if my Uncle were in England, [4]  – & probably will not till he & I have met either in that country or in this. I paused about five weeks ago on finishing the first siege of Dio [5]  – not from any wish to pause – but this is my season for interruptions – when I walk for the rest of the year. Danvers is with me, & with him & Harry I am in short & frequent excursions exploring the whole of a country which I hope at no great distance to leave. – Believe me it is an act of forbearance to keep back what has cost me so many hours of labour, – the day when I receive the first proof sheet will be one of the happiest of my life. the work may or may not succeed: – it may make me comfortably independant, – or obtain no credit till I am in a world when its credit will be of no effect, – but that it will be a good book, & one which sooner or later shall justify me for in having chosen literature for my lifes pursuit, I have a sure & certain faith. If I complained of any thing it would be of the necessity of working at employments so worthless in comparison with this great subject. However the reputation which I am making, & which thank God strengthens every year, will secure a sale for these volumes whenever they appear

Roscoes Leo is on the table [6]  – sub judice – One great advantage in my subject is that it excites no expectations, – the reader will be surprized to find in me a splendour of story, which he will be surprized not to find in the miserable politics of xxx Italian princelings.

I cannot answer your question concerning the contemporary English Historians. Bishop Nicholson [7]  will be your best guide. Of English history we have little that is good – I speak of modern compilers – being ignorant for the most part of the monkish annalists. Turners Hist. of the Anglo Saxons [8]  ought to be upon your shelves – the style is the worst possible, but so much new information was probably never laid before the public in any one historical publication. Lord Lyttletons Henry 2. [9]  is a learned & honest book. having particularized these two – ‘the only faithful found’ – it may safely be said that of all the others those which the oldest are probably the best. what Milton & Bacon have left have of course a peculiar & first rate excellencies. [10] 

Here is a Mr Audrey visiting near us – the cousin of your brother-in-law. [11]  we knocked him up on the mountains Saturday last. You probably know him. his wife is like poor Nancy Tonkin [12]  – only with a face less interesting because less intelligent. – No news of Coleridge. – little Edith grows & does well. she attempts to say every thing & is thought wonderous wise. sometimes I wish her less forward – in fear. but God be thanked, she is well. My cold has left me at last.

I will beg you to thank young Walpole for his book [13]  – which if it be left with Longman will take its place in the next parcel. I wish he were to travel anywhere rather than <in> Greece. there is too much hazard & too little reward. nor do I think much can be gleaned after the excellent Chandler. [14]  – Hungary, Bohemia – Poland – are the countries for an able & inquisitive traveller. I should for myself prefer a tour in Ireland to a tour in Greece, as productive of more novelty. Should he touch at Malta it might not be amiss to take letters to Coleridge – in case he should be there – with these I will furnish him – if you think it worth while – or you may do it yourself – for your name will be xxxxxxxxxxx a valid draft for any attention or service in his power.

I should be much obliged if you could procure for me Beausobres Histoire des Manicheisme, [15]  – which for want of catalogues I cannot get at by any other channel. The book is said to be of sterling value, & the subject so connected with Christian & Oriental superstitions – that my knowledge of both is very imperfect till I have read it well. besides I think I have discovered that one of the great Oriental mythologies was borrowed from Xtianity – that of Budda – the Fo of the Chinese – if so what becomes of their chronology! [16] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry./ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ AU 9/ 1805; 10o’Clock/ AU.9/ 1805 F.Nn
Endorsement: No. 112 1805./ Robert Southey/ No place 5th August/ recd. 13th do/ ansd. 18th Nov.
MS: Manuscripts and Archives Section, New York Public Library, Lee Kohns Collection, Box 15. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 340–342 [in part]; John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 335–339. BACK

[1] Errilyab is the queen of the Hoaman tribe in Madoc (1805); Amalahta, her son, disloyal to her. BACK

[2] On the history of the poem’s drafting and revision, see the editor’s introduction to Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II. BACK

[3] 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

[4] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’, which he never completed. BACK

[5] The Siege of Diu in Gujurat, India (1538) occurred when a combined fleet of Turkey, Egypt, Venice, the Republic of Ragusa (now known as Dubrovnik) and the then Sultan of Gujarat, Mahmud Begada, attempted to capture the city, then held by the Portuguese. The attempt failed. BACK

[6] Southey reviewed William Roscoe, The Life of Pope Leo X, Son of Lorenzo de’ Medici (1805) in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 449–467. BACK

[7] William Nicolson (1655–1727; DNB), bishop first of Carlisle then of Derry and a historian, compiler of the Historical Library, divided into English, Scottish and Irish sections, and published complete in 1732. BACK

[8] The fourth and last volume of Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799–1805), had just been published. BACK

[9] George Lyttelton, 1st Baron Lyttelton (1709–1773; DNB), The History of the Life of Henry the Second (1767–1771). BACK

[10] As well as being a poet and polemicist, John Milton (1608–1674; DNB) published a History of Britain in 1671. Francis Bacon, Viscount St Alban (1561–1626; DNB), Lord Chancellor, politician and philosopher, was the author of The History of the Reign of King Henry VII (1622). BACK

[11] Unidentified, but Southey is referring to May’s relationship with the Revd Jeremiah Audrey (dates unknown), who married May’s eldest sister (name and dates unknown) on 7 June 1799. BACK

[12] Ann Tonkin (dates unknown), the daughter of members of the English Factory, Lisbon. Southey had befriended her during his first visit to Lisbon of 1795–1796. BACK

[13] Robert Walpole (1781–1856), Specimens of Scarce Translations of the Seventeenth Century, from the Latin Poets (1805). BACK

[14] Richard Chandler (bap. 1737, d. 1810; DNB) was a classical scholar and traveller who was commissioned by the Dilettante Society to undertake a tour of exploration in Asia Minor and Greece. His journals from the expedition appeared in two parts: Travels in Asia Minor (1775) and Travels in Greece (1776). BACK

[15] Isaac (Manes) de Beausobre (1659–1738), Histoire Critique de Manichés et du Manicheisme (1734), was no. 185 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[16] Southey had found a passage concerning ‘Buddas’ that caused him to doubt Buddha’s prior existence to Christianity. His source was a translation of the ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus, Book I, chapter 17, in Meredith Hanmer (1543–1604), The Ancient Ecclesiastical Histories of the First Six Hundred Years After Christ, Written in the Greek Tongue by Three Learned Historiographers, Eusebius, Socrates, and Evagrius (1636), no. 960 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. See Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [14 July 1805] (Letter 1085) and Southey to John Rickman, 26 July [1805], (Letter 1088). BACK

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