1215. Robert Southey to John May, 13 September 1806

1215. Robert Southey to John May, 13 September 1806 ⁠* 

Keswick, Saturday Sept. 13. 1806.

My dear friend

I began to be somewhat uneasy at your long silence, – but in all such cases my consolation is that bad news always travels fast, & I knew your many avocations well enough to account for the gap in our correspondence.

Tom is here, & now restored to health. He brought with him the seeds of an ague caught no doubt at Deptford from the pestilential fens of Essex, & also was very seriously afflicted with haemerrrhoids, so that he was fairly laid up. This in some manner proved fortunate. I should first have told you that the Amelia [1]  having been paid off, he came down here not upon leave, but as being on half-pay. While he was ill, an appointment came after him, naming him to a sloop of war, & he was of course obliged to send back an certificate of his inability to serve, adding that as soon as he was recovered he would immediately apply to the Admiralty for employment. Now before he makes this application, may I request you once more to get him mentioned to Admiral Markham, [2]  that he may be placed either in a frigate or a line of battle ship, – for in the small craft there is no comfort, & no chance of promotion, neither indeed is it respectable for so old an officer as my brother to serve in them, – I may add for so good a one. As soon as I hear from you that this has been done he will write up in form.

There were two Bourkes at Westminster in my time, with neither of whom had I anything more than a mere sight acquaintance. One went into the army & had half his face shot away in Holland [3]  – I do not believe that either of them can ever have been out of Europe, & know no one else of the name. But it is no wonder that people claim acquaintance with me at so safe a distance, when I have just been claimed face to face as an old friend by a gentleman of whom I have no more recollection than the Man in the Moon has of me. He is a Swiss calling himself Capt Moncrieff [4]  of the 36th & mais autrefois Dugenie  [5]  – & says he knew me nine years ago at Lisbon, where he was intimate with Prior. [6]  Do you remember him? In Portugal he has certainly been, but I am equally certain that he never was any acquaintance of mine, for he lived by his own account with Robarts & Bouden [7]  & that set, with whom I never associated. He told me that I one day read him some passages of my Jean d’Arc [8]  – this I know to be a lie, – for in the first place I am not in the habit of reading my own verses to any but my very nearest home friends, or to a man of letters from whom I expect & require criticism, – & in the next place if I had been disposed so to have done it was impossible, for no copy of that book ever entered Portugal till after I had left it. I suspect M. Dugenie has what we call sported a face upon me.

I am watching Portugal almost as anxiously as you yourself can be. My Uncle wishes me there, & blames me for not being there at this time, without I think, sufficiently considering the causes of my delay, & that even independent of those reasons, my ways & means are not quite so easily raised as Lord Henry Petty’s. [9]  I shall go in the spring with my family, if it be prudent, from political views, to take them; if not I will go alone, should the country then be open. [10]  If the court removes to Brasil I must own I shall feel very strongly tempted to follow them. [11] 

It is not worth your while to read the Missionary Transactions – my account of them comprises the important matter, & methodizes a very perplexed & heterogeneous narration. [12]  In the next years I shall two articles [sic] upon the subject – one of the East Indian Mission – the other of the Methodist one – & probably a third upon the far wiser system of the Quakers in America. [13]  Moores Poems which occasioned the intended duel between him & Jeffrey the reviewer, have been sent to me by Arthur Aikin, it having long been determined that when next he infested the public with lewd verses I should take him in hand, [14] xx you may be assured that I shall not spare him from any dread of what he would establish as the Ultima ratio Reviewerorum, [15]  nor consider myself amenable to any false laws of honour for upholding the cause of morality.

The Athenæum will have me for a contributor at first. [16]  I wish to serve Longman, because I like him & think him a kind hearted man – & among my papers are many things which I <may> as well get paid for now, & methodize hereafter if occasion occur.

Little Edith has had the measles, & thank God is well thro them – she grows & is in every respect a singularly forward child. In strength & stature she nearly equals her cousin, who is sixteen months elder, & very considerably exceeds her in intellect. Edith expects to be confined the beginning of next month. [17]  She joins me in remembrances to Mrs May

I hope your next will contain better news of the books —

God bless you

yrs affectionately

R Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: 10o’Clock/ SP.16/ 1806F.N.n
Endorsement: No. 121 1806/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 13th Sep./ recd. 18th do/ ansd. 24th do
Seal: [partial, illegible] Red wax
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. 109–110. BACK

[1] Thomas Southey was serving on the ship HMS Amelia, a 38-gun Hébé-class frigate of the French navy captured in 1796 and commissioned into the navy. BACK

[2] John Markham (1761–1827; DNB): naval officer who was a member of the Board of Admiralty (1801–1804 and 1806–1807). For Markham’s answer, see Southey to Thomas Southey, 28–29 September 1806, Letter 1221. In the event, this attempt was unsuccessful; see Southey to John Rickman, 26 June 1807, Letter 1336. BACK

[3] Richard Bourke (1777–1855), army officer and colonial governor, who was educated at Westminster School between 1788 and 1793. The other Bourke who went to Southey’s school has not been identified. BACK

[4] Untraced. BACK

[5] Meaning ‘formerly Dugenie’. BACK

[6] Untraced. BACK

[7] Untraced. BACK

[8] Southey’s poem Joan of Arc (1796; 2nd edn 1798). BACK

[9] Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (1780–1863), known as Lord Henry Petty, was the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1806–1807). BACK

[10] Southey did not visit Portugal again. Herbert Hill returned to England in 1807 when it looked likely that the country would be invaded by French forces. BACK

[11] Having been warned of Napoleon’s intention to invade Portugal, on 27 November 1807, the Portuguese royal family left Lisbon for their colonial holdings in Brazil. BACK

[12] Southey reviewed the Transactions of the Missionary Society in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 189–201, and the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 621–634. BACK

[13] Of these projects, Southey reviewed Periodical Accounts of the Baptist Missionary Society, Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226. This review dealt mostly with East Indian missions. BACK

[14] Southey reviewed Thomas Moore’s (1779–1852; DNB), Epistles, Odes and Other Poems (1806) in the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807), 498–499. In the July 1806 number of the Edinburgh Review Moore’s work was attacked by Francis Jeffrey, who denounced both the poet and his book, leading Moore to challenge him to a duel. The duel was interrupted by police officers, who arrested both men, and the whole affair was ridiculed in the newspapers. BACK

[15] ‘The last resort of the reviewed’. BACK

[16] The Athenæum, A Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information (1807–1809), published by Longman. BACK

[17] Herbert, the Southeys’ first son, was born 11 October 1806. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)