1647. Robert Southey to John May, [c. 1 July 1809]

1647. Robert Southey to John May, [c. 1 July 1809] ⁠* 

My dear friend

Your direction has been duely transmitted to the publisher of the Friend; [1]  & I wish it were in my power to add that you may expect to receive it regularly. The third number has not appeared at the stated time. – indeed it was a great vexation both to myself & Wordsworth that the first ever came out. It had been so long delayed, & we were both so certainly assured that Coleridge cannot possibly carry it on, that our earnest wish was he might never begin it. How he can have deceived himself into the supposition that he could perform a weekly engagement to the public, or how he can excuse to himself the pain which he is occasioning to all those who are interested about him, is as inexplicable as the strange disease, whether of body or mind, which actually incapacitates him from doing any thing, the moment it becomes his duty to do it. I have lately had some serious talk, or rather consultation with Wordsworth, respecting the hopeless way in which he is going on, & the consequences to his family. The result was that as soon as the Friend shall be given up, we must interfere, & arrange some plan respecting the education of the boys . [2]  Whenever things come to this crisis it will be proper to apply to George Coleridge, & before any thing of the kind is done I will write fully to you, for your opinion upon the subject. [3] 

There is little of mine in the last Annual. Articles 8.9 of Chapter 1. 8.9. Chapt. 5. – 7.13 Chapt 6. – 1.3. Ch. 11. – 2.3 C12. – 33 Ch 7 are all, [4]  & certainly there is nothing good enough in these to make the volume worth purchasing. I shall do no more for it. As long as the Quarterly does not drive me away by any intemperance in its politics I shall continue to write for it, – till the Rhadamanthus be established, [5]  – of this I have heard nothing farther, but the delay is wholly owing to Scotts long tarriance in London – In the second Quarterly there is only one article of mine, [6]  – which if you have seen you will have of course have recognised. I am sorry that Robert Walpole has ventured to attack Leckie, & having <thereby> to provoke Leckies letter in reply. It is true that Letter will not circulate so extensively as the review, but when it circulates it will do him serious injury; – for that Leckies statements are true to the very letter I have known, long before his book was published from the testimony of Coleridge, – who was necessarily – from his official situation at Malta, intimately acquainted with the politics of Sicily. [7]  I myself object to the whole tendency of Reviews, – the only way of lessening the evil which they do is to write for them with scrupulous conscientiousness, with a disposition to befriend the author in question, rather than to give him injure him, above all things bearing in mind how highly probable it is that the man who writes a book upon any given subject, may must be better acquainted with that subject than he who takes up the book as one of the chance xxxxx texts of criticism. Latterly I hope I have done this, – & whenever I have not I have repented of it, & do still repent. In the third Quarterly you will see some ‘American Annals’ which went from hence, [8]  & probably one more article, but whether it will be upon the Mission to the South Seas, or Ld Valentias Travels, I do not know. [9] 

You ask me respecting Burnett. I have heard nothing from him for two years, – for which these would be his reasons, – that he owes me five & twenty pounds, – & that he knows I greatly disapprove his conduct. I have heard however that he is far gone in consumption, & in all probability the next news will be of his death. How he has been living I know not, nor where he now is, – but from the time when he made that application to you, (which made as it was so unwarrantably I ought not to have afterwards in any manner sanctioned) he has gone on worse & worse, having completely corrupted himself by picking up French morality at second hand in Poland.

I have not seen Wm Taylors articles in the Critical. [10]  He hates the Church of England just as a Dissen[MS cut] ought to have hated it in Charles the Seconds [11]  time, & it is surprizing to see the absurdites to which that hatred will sometimes lead him. Professor Paulus’s opinions I know, [12]  – they will do little harm & little good in England. Socinianism [13]  exists in a perpetual state of atrophy here, – & this system which has even less of vitality than Socinianism will be not be able to exist at all, – at least not beyond a few insulated individuals. I do not think the he much under-rates the Quarterly, but he over-dislikes it. He loves opposition, & if it gets round to be an opposition review, then he will fall in liking with it. This I think it will do if the struggle in the Cabinet should end in Cannings overthrow. [14] 

Have you seen Wordsworths pamphlet? [15]  Perhaps you could learn for me by means of Mr Burn, [16]  whether the Portugueze Embassador [17]  received the copy which was directed to be sent to him. This pamphlet has been obscure in some places by the way in which his friend De Quincey has punctuated it, but I am sure you will fully enter it into its spirit & philosophy.

My letter is nearly at its close, & I have not yet told you of my visit to Durham. I past a week with Harry & my new sister. Concerning her state of health he ought to know best, – but the sound of her cough, & still more a way she has of occasionally groaning when she breathes made me at times very melancholy –, & would have made me unhappy had I been her husband. In all other points of view he seems to have chosen well, – yet this is the most important of all. I saw some Ladies at Durham who knew you – their names I think are the same as that French pie which I do not know how to spell. [18]  – Remember us to Mrs May & believe me

yours very affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ JUL 1/ 1809; [partial] 1809; 10 o’Clock/ JY.1/ 1809 F.Nn
Endorsement: No.142.1809/ Robert Southey/ No date/ recd. 2nd July/ Ansd 29th Oct
MS: Cornell University, Healey 3117. ALS; 4p. (c).
Previously published: L. N. Broughton, ‘Some Early Nineteenth Century Letters Hitherto Unpublished’, Nineteenth-Century Studies (Ithaca, NY:, 1940), 47–88.
Dating note: from postmark. BACK

[1] The Friend was a periodical written by Coleridge in 1809 and 1810, spanning twenty-eight issues and ending in March 1810. It was printed by John Brown (dates unknown) of Penrith, Cumbria. BACK

[3] See the following letters in The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four: to John May, 15 July 1814 (Letter 2460), 22 August 1814 (Letter 2473) and 10 September 1814 (Letter 2480); see also Southey to George Coleridge, 12 October 1814 (Letter 2485). BACK

[4] According to this list, Southey reviewed the following in the Annual Review for 1808, 7 (1809): Tour Through Spain and Part of Portugal, Volume 3 of Richard Phillips, A Collection of Modern and Contemporary Voyages and Travels (1805–1810), 56–57; Christian Augustus Fischer (1771–1829), A Picture of Madrid: Taken on the Spot. Translated from the German (1808), 57–60; Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament (1808), 127–148; Report of the Committee of the African Institution, Read to the General Meeting on the 15th July, 1807, Together with the Rules and Regulations which were then Adopted for the Government of the Society (1807); Thomas Zouch (1737–1815; DNB), Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir Philip Sydney (1808), 224–235; Robert Drury (1687–1734?; DNB), The Adventures of Robert Drury, During Fifteen Years Captivity on the Island of Madagascar; Containing a Description of that Island; an Account of its Produce, Manufactures, and Commerce; With an Account of the Manners and Customs, Wars, Religion, and Civil Policy of the Inhabitants: to Which is Added, a Vocabulary of the Madagascar Language. Written by Himself, and now Carefully Revised and Corrected from the Original (1807), 253–263; John Finlay (1782–1810), Scottish Historical and Romantic Ballads: Chiefly Ancient with Explanatory Notes and a Glossary (1808), 457–462; Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe (1781?-1851), Metrical Legends (1807), 473–473; Francis Douce, Illustrations of Shakespeare, and of Ancient Manners: with Dissertations on the Clown and Fool of Shakespeare; on the Collection of Popular Tales entitled Gesta Romanorum; and on the English Morris Dance (1807), 554–562; Charles Lamb, Specimens of English Dramatic Poets, who Lived about the Time of Shakespeare (1808), 562–570; [Howard Luke (1772–1864)], A Brief Apology for Quakerism, Inscribed to the Edinburgh Reviewers (1808), 354–356. BACK

[5] Southey had proposed through Scott to John Ballantyne that he start up a new periodical which would review literary works by dead authors; see Southey to Walter Scott, 11 March 1809 (Letter 1597) and Southey to John Rickman, 16 May [1809] (Letter 1629). It was named after the Greek mythological figure Rhadamanthus, a wise king, who was one of the judges of the dead. Southey’s plans for this periodical were never fulfilled. BACK

[6] Southey’s review of Extractos em Portuguez e em Inglez; com as Palavras Portuguezas Propriamente Accentuadas, para Facilitar o Estudo d’Aquella Lingoa (1808) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (May, 1809), 268–292. BACK

[7] Gould Francis Leckie (1760–1850), An Historical Survey of the Foreign Affairs of Great Britain, with a View to Explain the Causes of the Disasters of the Late and Present Wars (1808). Leckie had run a farm in Sicily in 1800–1807 and advocated anglicizing Sicily and similar islands in order to increase British trade. Robert Walpole (1781–1856; DNB) with William Gifford (and possibly George Canning) reviewed this work in the Quarterly Review, 1 (May 1809), 405–419, leading to Leckie’s published response in return, entitled A Letter to the Rev. R Walpole, in Answer to his Criticism on the State of Sicily (1809). BACK

[8] Southey reviewed Abiel Holmes (1763–1837), American Annals; or, a Chronological History of America, from its Discovery in 1492 to 1806 in the Quarterly Review, 2 (November 1809), 319–337. BACK

[9] Southey reviewed in the Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809): Transactions of the Missionary Society in the South Sea Islands, 24–61; George Annesley, Viscount Valentia (1770–1844), Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, and the Red Sea, Abyssinia and Egypt in the Years 1802, 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806 (1809), 88–126. BACK

[10] According to J. W. Robberds, Taylor wrote over sixty reviews for the Critical Review during his employment between December 1803 and November 1804. Robberds provides a list of them in A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, pp. 25–41. BACK

[11] Charles II (1630–1685; DNB), King of England, Scotland and Ireland 1660–1685. BACK

[12] Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob Paulus (1761–1851), German theologian and rationalist who provided natural explanations for the miracles of Jesus described in the Bible. BACK

[13] A follower of a sixteenth-century Italian sect holding unitarian beliefs, including the denial of Christ’s divinity. BACK

[14] George Canning had held the office of Foreign Secretary in the government since 1807, but he offered to resign several times in 1809 over the progress of the war with France, his plans to expel Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh and 2nd Marquess of Londonderry (1769–1822; DNB) from the War Office (with a duel being fought between them on 21 September 1809), and his own ambitions to become Prime Minister. Canning lost his position when Spencer Perceval became Prime Minister in October 1809. BACK

[15] The defeated French army was allowed by the British to evacuate Portugal in 1808, under the terms of the Convention of Cintra (30 August 1808). On 27 December 1808 and 13 January 1809 Wordsworth published, in The Courier, an article condemning the Convention. In May 1809 Longmans published the article as a pamphlet: Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, to Each Other, and to the Common Enemy, at this Crisis; and Specifically as Affected by the Convention of Cintra. BACK

[16] William Burns (dates unknown), a member of the English Factory, Lisbon. BACK

[17] John Charles Villiers, 3rd Earl of Clarendon (1757–1838; DNB), served as envoy to the Portuguese court in 1808, staying in Lisbon until February 1810. BACK

[18] Unidentified. BACK

People mentioned