283. Robert Southey to John May, 12 January 1798

283. Robert Southey to John May, 12 January 1798 ⁠* 

12 Lambs-Conduit Street.

Friday. Jany. 12. 1798

My dear friend

I am wearied of waiting for Carlisles papers, of which I, & I suppose you have been in daily expectation. they will however when they reach you, be more full than you expected, as I hear Saxon [1]  is returned to town, with the plans, drawings & estimates. Wynn has been in Sussex & is now in Wales, so that we can get no sign post by his assistance till he returns.

On Tuesday I summoned up resolution, took leave of Edith, & set off on an expedition to Wapping. in my way I discovered the Royalty Theatre. [2]  I found the road so well as to venture when returning to explore the new ways, in the course of which I travelled thro the Minories, made Hounsditch point, & bore up Aldgate, steering on boldly till I came to Cape Sharpes Shop. [3]  Nancy Tonkin [4]  was as well & as chearful as when we saw her. she had heard of her fathers arrival, & that the voyage had wonderfully restored his health. Did I not tell you that a friend of Carlisle was gone to Lisbon in a hopeless state? [5]  he went with Tonkin, & died on board. his wife was with him, & what made it somewhat more distressing was that they were at sea nine days after his death, & threw the body overboard. I learnt this at Wapping. She seemed desirous of preserving her knowledge of Portugueze & regretted that she had no books in that language. on which I promised to bring her Camoens. [6] 

You see by my date that we have removed. the apartments in which we now are, are not such as we could wish to settle in, but they were the best we could discover in our haste to remove, & you know the old proverb ‘any port in a storm.’

Since you left town, Biddlecombe my neighbour at Burton, to whom I am obliged for a bed for my brother, & for very many kindnesses during my residence there, desired me to write an epitaph for an old gentleman, whose life had been irreproachable & happy. [7]  I sent him two that he might chuse. of course they will do for any good man of quiet life, & therefore not characteristic of one in particular. but they are short & plain & with a religious tendency.

The quiet virtues of domestic life
Were his who lies below; therefore his paths
Were paths of pleasantness, & in that hour,
When all the perishable joys of earth,
Desert the desolate heart, he had the hope,
The sure & certain hope, of joy in Heaven.


The tenant of this grave was one who lived
Re<me>mbering God, & in the hour of death
Faith was his comforter. O you who read
Remember your Creator & your Judge,
And live in fear & that you may die in hope.


I wish they would bury people by the road side, as the Romans did, a good monumental inscription coming suddenly upon the mind, might produce a good effect. xxxxxxx indeed for you know I wish to see inscriptions scalculated to awaken good feelings scattered all over the country.

I have at last some prospect of finishing my book, [8]  as Cottle has determined to begin the second volume with another printer, so we shall shorten the time one half. were there room in this sheet I would send you some lines written as a letter to Cottle since I saw you.

The frigate which my brother left has had an engagement lately & taken a French frigate. [9]  Tom is very sorry & I am very glad that he was not on board. he has visited her since, & was much shocked at finding some of the sailors killed whom he had some esteem & regard for. the engagement would have ensured his promotion, but I am imprudent enough to rejoice that Tom has never yet fired a gun with any thing but powder in it.

Of my brother Harry I have very good accounts from Yarmouth. he is as happy as I expected & as diligent as I could wish. Lucky is that boy who escapes the a school education, for where one is benefited, an hundred are seriously & perhaps irreparably injured. did Tom show you some reflections upon public schools which I wrote soon after leaving Westminster, & printed since in the Monthly Magazine? [10] 

We shall soon see you. here is a plentiful crop of snow descending, & you may perhaps arrive in time to enjoy the thaw. Ediths remembrances.

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

After all Coleridge enters the ministry, & is invited to preach on trial at Shrewsbury, for two Sundays. [11]  it is not doubted that he will be chosen there. the salary is 140 pounds & there is a good house annexed.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Hale/ near/ Downton/ Wiltshire/ Single
Postmark: EJA/13/98
Endorsement: 1798 No. 11./ Robert Southey/ London 12 Jany:/ recd: 13 do/ ansd: personally
MS: Boston Public Library, MS C.1.22.1. ALS; 4p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Possibly Samuel Saxon (1757–1831), a London architect who had designed a number of hospitals, including those at Canterbury and Northampton. He may have produced designs for the convalescent hospital that Southey, May and Carlisle were planning. BACK

[2] The Royalty Theatre, Well Street, London; built 1786, it burned down in 1826. BACK

[3] Unidentified. BACK

[4] The daughter of Lisbon-based friends of Southey’s uncle Herbert Hill. In 1795–1796, Southey had met her during his stay in Portugal. BACK

[5] Unidentified. BACK

[6] Luis Vaz de Camões (c. 1524–1580), whose works included The Lusiad (1572). BACK

[7] The ‘old gentleman’ was Biddlecombe’s father-in-law, Richard White Lacy (dates unknown), of Yeovilton, Hampshire. Biddlecombe married his daughter, Catherine (d. 1799), on 4 June 1798; see Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 15 January 1798, Letter 284. BACK

[8] Joan of Arc (1798). BACK

[9] The Phoebe had captured the French frigate, La Nereide, on 21 December 1797. Three of the Phoebe’s crew were killed in the action. BACK

[10] Southey’s letter was sent to the Monthly Magazine on 12 September 1796; see The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part 1, Letter 177. BACK

[11] Coleridge preached two sermons to the Unitarian congregation at Shrewsbury on 14 January 1798, but did not pursue his candidature for the ministry, as he decided to accept an annuity of £150 from Josiah (1769–1843) and Thomas Wedgwood. BACK

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 1 time)
Yarmouth (mentioned 1 time)
12 Lambs Conduit Street (mentioned 1 time)