1154. Robert Southey to John May, 10 February 1806

1154. Robert Southey to John May, 10 February 1806 ⁠* 

Feby. 10 1806

My dear friend

It is so very long since I have heard from Lisbon that your letter has relieved me from some uneasy apprehensions. it came opportunely also, as I was on the point of writing, having many things to say.

First of the new changes as far as we are concerned in them. There is more reason to expect something from the Duke [1]  than you perhaps are aware of. About eighteen months ago he <as he thought> gave my Uncle a living – but the incumbent recovered. Do not mention this, which I now tell you because you will be pleased to find that the Duke has given this pledge & promise of his good will. I also have reason to expect something. Whichever falls vacant first, the Secretaryship of Legation <at Lisbon>, or the Consulship, is asked for me, & Lord Holland seconds the application. This also is for your own ear only. I may be disappointed, but this is quite certain that if Wynn does not get one of these situations for me, he will sooner or later, procure something else. No man can have a steadier friend than I have had in him.

My brother Harry has been given up by the young Lady in obedience to her parents. [2]  He has been very unwell, partly occasioned by the stench of a dissecting room, & over application. In April his examination takes place & the next day the fees of graduation are to be paid, tho the diploma is not given till summer. They are heavy – if I recollect rightly not less than fifty pounds. But, I will procure a statement of the sum, & learn the day on which he makes his trial. This will I trust be the last occasion on which it will be necessary to apply to you on my Uncles account. When he has his medical commission, he will be able to do something for himself, – in some way or other.

I look daily for letters from Tom. This change of ministers will give him some hopes [3]  – for he begins to be out of heart – seeing men put over his head who were boys when he was Lieutenant. If we live long enough we shall all three do well & of that I have no fear, – but our path has been an up-hill one, & without the best friends, unexpectedly found, it would have been impossible to have emerged. I look back with wonder.

William Taylors reviewal is to be in the Annual, [4]  – at which said book I have been employed since my last, with no other interruption than what two attacks of influenza occasioned: but these interruptions threw me behind hand. & I have still a fortnights work to do. Espriellas letters are not gone to press, [5]  nor will they now till I go to London, which will be late in March or early in April, if as far as one may calculate upon the future. Bernal Diaz has been translated by a Mr Keating & published when I was last abroad. [6] 

When the Annual is published I shall remit you a draft for my last debt. The delay of the Specimens, [7]  – wholly imputable to Bedford, except that I am to blame for relying upon him, – has been very vexatious to me & x seriously inconvenient. Had they been published when they ought & as I expected, enough would by this time have been sold to have given me something at command – instead of being behind-hand. Madoc cannot have sold well, or Longman would have told me so; – it will sell in the long run, & make its own fortune certainly, & perhaps help to make mine, patiens quia aeternus, [8]  should be the motto of a man who writes for posterity, or who regulates his life by more with regard to another world than to this. I am worth at present the half profits of Madoc & the Metrical Tales both on sale, – have fifty or sixty pounds (I forget which) to receive whenever the edition of Amadis is sold, – & the reversionary copy right of Thalaba. [9]  Espriellas Letters & the Specimens both to be published if I live & am not disabled, in the spring, are more saleable books & will be more productive. they will make my years income easy. I review no more after this Annual; if it still be necessary by temporary expedients to raise ways & means I can certainly write a play in less time. or produce such a poem as Thalaba in little more, nor ought I so to employ myself, if it be possible to avoid it. But better days are dawning, & as you see I have good reason to hope ere long for a good situation which will lead to a permanent establishment. Your god-daughter is a delightful little playfellow, – of intellects almost too quick. Edith desires to be remembered to yourself & Mrs May to whom I beg my remembrances. Of your late loss I have only to say that when death comes in so gentle a form & at so full an age – it brings with it its own consolation. What an expression is that of falling asleep! My own feelings have for some time been of an even afternoon character, – when one looks forward to rest with satisfaction. I am as happy <here> as most people, but the next world is a better one than this.

God bless you

yours very affectionately


I have often thought of telling you that the portrait of Pratt prefixed to a despicable book called Harvest Home [10]  is so like poor old Mr Grosett that it quite startled me. If young Walpole has no likeness of his grandfather he may be glad to know this. [11]  Phillips is the publisher of the book, & I shall apply to him for two or three of the impressions.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ FEB13/ 1806; 10o’Clock/ FE.13/ 1806F.N.n
Watermark: shield/ 1803/ T Botfield
Endorsement : No. 116 1806/ Robert Southey/ No place 10th Feb./ recd. 13th do/ ansd. 10th March
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 105–107. BACK

[1] Southey hoped to make interest via John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766–1839; DNB) whose brother William Russell (1767–1840) was appointed a Civil Lord of the Admiralty in the new administration. BACK

[2] While at the home of Charles Lloyd near Ambleside, Harry had met Emma Noel (d. 1873). She was the daughter of Gerard Noel Edwardes, of Exton Park, Rutland (1759–1838; DNB), who had adopted the surname Noel in 1798, and inherited a baronetcy in 1813 to become the 2nd Baronet Barham. When her family objected to the couple’s plans to marry, the relationship soon ended. For more information; see Southey to John May, 1 November 1805, Letter 1116. BACK

[3] The Prime Minister, William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), had died on 23 January 1806 and was replaced by William Wyndham Baron Grenville. Because his friend and patron Charles Watkin Williams Wynn was appointed Under Secretary of State in the Home Office of the new ministry under his uncle, Grenville, Southey expected his family to benefit from the change of office. BACK

[4] Taylor was reviewing Southey’s Madoc (1805) in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 604–613. BACK

[5] Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish, was published in 1807. BACK

[6] Maurice Keating (d. 1835), army officer and writer, published a translation from the Spanish of Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s (1492–1585), The True History of the Conquest of Mexico, in 1800. BACK

[7] Southey’s and Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s jointly edited Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). BACK

[8] The Latin translates as ‘patient because he is eternal’. BACK

[9] Southey’s Madoc and Metrical Tales and Other Poems were both published in 1805, his translation of Amadis of Gaul in 1803 and Thalaba the Destroyer in 1801. BACK

[10] Samuel Jackson Pratt [pseud. Courtney Melmoth] (1749–1814; DNB), Harvest-home: Consisting of Supplementary Gleanings, Original Dramas and Poems, Contributions of Literary Friends and Select Re-publications (1805). Southey reviewed this work in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 736–738. BACK

[11] Robert Walpole (1781–1856; DNB), classical scholar, born in Lisbon, was the eldest son of Robert Walpole (1736–1810), envoy to Portugal, and his first wife, Diana Grossett (d. 1784), daughter of Walter Grossett (dates unknown). BACK