294. Robert Southey to John May, 10 March [1798]

294. Robert Southey to John May, 10 March [1798] ⁠* 

My dear friend

This voyage of my Uncle makes me somewhat uneasy, it could not be a slight indisposition that induced him to go to sea. & yet I think if his illness had been any ways alarming he would have asked leave of absence from the Factory. I pray you let me have the earliest intelligence you get from Lisbon respecting him. the Letter you sent me related entirely to my brother Tom, whom he wishes to get on the Lisbon station, where he can assist him probably by means of Ld. St Vincents, & whither Ld Proby will carry him, who is now expecting a frigate to return there. Ld Proby is Wynns cousin. [1]  this is well. & were I assured of my Uncles health, I should hope that our family affairs were assuming a better appearance than they have worn for the last seven years. I cannot but be uneasy respecting him.

This evening I traced with a pen the pencil notes of poor Ostervald in my copy of Les Trois Siecles. [2]  I never think of that man without feeling a great degree of interest – & something like regret that I should not have seen him at Lisbon. It is possible that this Revolution in Switzerland [3]  may open a return for him to his own country, & with fair prospects. It would give me much pleasure if I could convey to him a set of my books. but this the distance forbids. I never look at his drawings without recollecting that perhaps his present situation is sadly altered from what it was when he read these books. – these are painful thoughts. but what retrospect is not painful? I fear life is like a journey – we are never satisfied till we arrive at the end of it. we must always be looking on. & surely this proves a hereafter, or we might sleep away existence like a beast.

I have received a letter from Thomas, in which I am sorry to say, he complains of a relapse. should he be obliged once more to visit Lisbon he must give up his present situation, & the certain prospect it affords of soon realizing a comfortable independance.

Your account of E. Grigg [4]  concerns me, tho I well know that repeated disappointments will not discourage you from doing good. I fear little good can be done among the lower rank of those miserable women the victims themselves & the agents of evil. Among those who have been better educated, whose feelings have been cultivated, those lingering feelings that make their severest torture, afford something to work upon. they linger after principle is gone.

If you do not soon hear from Thornton [5]  it will be necessary to look elsewhere for assistance. It would be well for you to call on Wynn & consult with him; he is much interested in the scheme, & will be very glad to see you. I want to carry the begging box about while I am here, & hope to succeed where the Church Wardens have failed.

A Magazine Man [6]  has been requesting permission to publish my likeness – & I escaped an interview with him upon this subject by leaving London, just as he had enquired out my direction for that purpose. this was fortunate, as a refusal can always be better given on paper than verbatim.

My book [7]  is advancing; they give me three sheets a week & at that rate will compleat it soon. – Edith is much better than when she left London, tho still far from that state of health in which I wish again to see her. we are well situated on Kingsdown, the Buenos Ayres of Bristol [8]  exactly; & a walk of fifty yards leads us into the country. Can you not find time to visit us here? I should very much like to show you the country, & its many glorious prospects. they affect me strongly. I am a different being at London, & on these rocks. & you cannot have a better guide than me, who know every crag & every winding of the woods.

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Nothing is settled about my mothers house – but I believe the Landlord [9]  will take it. in that case, if no unforeseen disappointment <occur> I hope to get into a house in the winter.

You will receive a copy of Musæus [10]  soon.

Saturday 10 March.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4. Bedford Square/ London
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: B/ MR/ 12/ 98
Endorsement: 1798 No. 14[obscured by seal trace]/ Robert Southey/ 10 March [obscured by seal trace]/ recd: 12 do/ ansd: 19 do
MS: Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry, New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 163–165. BACK

[1] John Joshua Proby, 1st Earl of Carysfort’s second wife was Elizabeth Grenville (1756–1842), the sister of Charles Watkin Williams Wynn’s mother, Charlotte Grenville (1754–1832). But Lord Proby was not Wynn’s cousin, because he was the son of Carysfort’s first wife, Elizabeth Osbourne (d. 1783). BACK

[2] Ostervald’s identity is uncertain. One possibility is that he was Jean Frederic Ostervald (1773–1850), later a surveyor, cartographer and publisher in Paris. The book annotated by Ostervald and in Southey’s possession was Antoine Sabatier de Castres (1742–1817), Les Trois Siècles de Littérature Française (1772). Southey possessed a 1779 edition of this work. It was no. 554 in the sale catologue of his library. BACK

[3] There were revolts in Switzerland in 1797–1798 against the domination of politics by local elite families and the lack of political rights in rural areas. This process culminated in the declaration of the democratic, centralised and pro-French Helvetic Republic on 12 April 1798. BACK

[4] Possibly a ‘fallen woman’ whom John May was attempting to help. BACK

[5] Henry Thornton (1760–1815; DNB): banker and political economist; cousin of William Wilberforce (1759–1833; DNB) and leading member of the Clapham Sect. In 1791 Thornton became chairman of the court of directors of the newly constituted Sierra Leone Company, dedicated to establishing a colony of freed slaves in Africa. The company aimed to confer on Africa the blessings of European religion and civilization through a trading operation that would be both profitable and free from the taint of slavery. John May and Southey were trying to recruit Thornton to help with their scheme for a convalescent hospital. BACK

[6] Southey’s likeness was wanted by the Monthly Visitor ; see his letter to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 8 March 1798, Letter 292. The magazine did not publish his portrait. BACK

[7] Joan of Arc (1798). BACK

[8] Kingsdown is an area of Bristol that is on top of a hill, like Buenos Ayres, a district of Lisbon (now known as Lapa). BACK

[9] A Mr Chilton (first name and dates unknown) was the owner of the boarding-house at 8 Westgate Buildings, Bath, and therefore Margaret Southey’s landlord; see The New Bath Directory (Bath, [1792]), p. 29. BACK

[10] Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s translation of Musaeus (fl. c. early 6th century), The Loves of Hero and Leander (1797). BACK

Places mentioned

Kingsdown Parade, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)
8 Westgate Buildings, Bath (mentioned 1 time)