1352. Robert Southey to John May, 12 August 1807

1352. Robert Southey to John May, 12 August 1807 ⁠* 

My dear friend

The box is safely arrived. some of the smaller books have rubbed against each other & suffered great excoriation in consequence, the larger & valuable part have luckily escaped. [1] 

In all the letters to me Henry has expressed a full & proper sense of your very kind & very friendly attention to him. Towards women I suspect that his attachments are not very lasting; – his friendships, as they are better founded seem to me more durable. I had good opportunity of seeing him thoroughly in the course of the three summers & autumns which he past, at Keswick. A little too much inclination for pleasure, a little too high a value for worldly fortune, are his obvious faults, & as far as I could perceive, his only ones. Of the first time will cure him. the second lies deeper, & tho this might contribute under favourable circumstances to make his a shining character, it would I fear prevent him from becoming <never can exist in> a great one. I recognised in him many parts of my own natural character, – a quickness of perception which makes a man speak rapidly & listen impatiently, – & a reluctance to continuous study, which I have rather compromised than cured, by contriving to do many things at once, & so finding variety in going from one to the other.

The Polish Burnett is as you suspect the same person who so very unwarrantably applied to you on the score of his acquaintance with me and Wm Taylor. His history is not a very sane one since that time, & not a very fortunate one. He is at this time surveying this land of lakes with the intention of making a book about it. [2]  What will become of him Heaven knows. He would take to no other trade but Authorship, & there is a perpetual struggle between his indolence & his vanity in that. His history would make a curious narrative & by no means an uninstructive one.

By this time you will have received Espriella. [3]  the Printer still delays Palmerin which ought to have been finished many many weeks ago. [4] 

My brother Tom has suffered miserably from ill health on board the Pallas, [5]  partly occasioned by the very severe duty which fell upon him during the winter & spring. The ship was badly manned, & the men she had on board were almost all landsmen; he thought it more than probable that she would be lost for want of hands. There was no master – one of the Lieutenants was ill, & the other & Tom were obliged to watch & watch. This incessant labour & still more the incessant anxiety with which it was accompanied, every thing falling upon him as first Lieutenant, with the help of wintry weather & incessant gales fairly knocked him up, he having been broken in to a tropical climate. His old complaint (hæmorrhoids) came on him with great violence, & he has been obliged to declare himself unfit for service at present, & to require the Captain to order his state of health to be examined; – for the Captain would have worked him to death without remorse, being one of the very worst men in the navy. Ill as Tom was this fellow abused the surgeon for putting him on the sick list, & declared that if the surgeon had said he was capable of duty he would have made him do it. However there are some limits to this sort of tyranny. he could not refuse what Tom demanded. the Physician of the fleet, & the Hospital Surgeons have declared it necessary for him to go to the country to recruit, & by this I expect suppose he is at Taunton, where he will rest awhile before he proceeds here. All this is very important: we must not however overlook the good in it. had the Captain been sensible of the value of such an Officer, & paid him that respect to which he is entitled, & has been accustomed, I have no doubt that he would have gone on, till perhaps no rest could have been of any avail.

We are in the midst of hurry & confusion. Mine & my Uncles books &c from Bristol have arrived & the house is full of them. [6]  I cannot tell you how I rejoice to see them safely collected. There still remain a large cargo which Rickman will send from London as soon as he receives a few which have been detained in Hampshire.

Herbert is ailing with his teeth – I am a little uneasy about him. your god daughter is well – remember us to Mrs May, & believe me yours very affectionately

Robert Southey.

Wednesday Aug. 12. 1807. this day I compleat my 33d year.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ AUG 15/ 1807
Endorsement: No 130. 1807/ Robert Southey/ No place 12th August/ recd: 15th do/ ansd: 20th Sep.
MS: Beinecke Library, GEN MSS 298, Series I, Box 1, folder 14. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Having decided to stay at Greta Hall, Southey had sent for his books and other belongings which were scattered between friends in London and the West Country. BACK

[2] This was not completed. BACK

[3] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[4] Palmerin of England; by Francisco de Moraes. Corrected by Robert Southey from the Original Portugueze (1807). BACK

[5] Thomas Southey’s ship, launched in 1804, was a 32 gun fifth rate frigate, whose captain from 1807 was George Miller (dates unknown). BACK

[6] These had been sent by Charles Danvers via sea. BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)