358. Robert Southey to John May, 3 December 1798

358. Robert Southey to John May, 3 December 1798 ⁠* 

Monday. 3. Dec. 98.

My dear friend

I am making enquiries for some school suitable for Harry. a fellow collegian of mine was usher at a school in Devonshire, at Kingsbridge. to him I shall write & mark learn particulars. Lightfoot is in orders himself, a good scholar, indeed there were few equal to him at Balliol, & a man of more faultless character I never knew. I think from his attachment to me, if he still be at Kingsbridge that he would pay more than common attention to my brother.

In the meantime it is necessary to remove Harry, as at present he is an incumbrance to Har Burnett. will you be good enough to house him for one night? it is not without something like reluctance that I ask this, willingly as you will do it. but he is too young to shift for himself. With one nights rest he will be fit for another journey. he had better travel by night, on account of the time for beginning & ending his journey; & in the coach that goes from the Saracens Head, Snow Hill, or the Bolt-in-Tun. Fleet Street.

Since my return I have been very much troubled with a return of my indisposition. I can account for it by two days inactivity during the wet weather, but it is a sad thing to be affected by not taking exercise for two days & those not successive ones. so now be the weather what it will I walk. this destroys much time & much comfort. my head indeed is not idle. I pursue my plans, view my purposed subjects in every different light, & mature them in these walks. but all this does not make it the more agreable to get wet thro.

The story of the Pythoness stolen away by a young Thessalian, [1]  strikes me as the best adapted for scenic representation, by the pageantry it allows, & by its capability of dramatic effect. I have not access to Diodorus Siculus, [2]  the author who relates the fact, & in whom possibly names & dates might be found. as yet the vague outline only of a few characters & scenes is present to my mind, & for the story I have no plan. perhaps I must connect some historical event with it. for instance the irruption of the Gauls under Brennus; [3]  – at present the idea is fermenting in my head. I see something fine in the scenery – Parnassus – the Temple – the adytum. & something to dramatic in the Pythoness then a young woman, exposed to a maddening vapour by the villainy of the Priests, & probably believing herself chosen by Apollo to the distinguishd suffering. then the Thessalians superstitious horror – like a traveller on the hill top in a fog I know there must be a fine prospect, but cannot see it yet. however let the subject please me ever so much, I will adhere to my intention of making six skeletons before I dress up one & breathe life into it. the drama would not be my choice. it is not my own ground, but I think I can stand upon it.

I have begun the ninth book of Madoc, [4]  & look on to the completion of the poem. this will be a great thing done. & however pleasant a journey may be, I am always glad to arrive at the end of it.

Ediths desires to be remembered.

God bless you,

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr./ 4 Bedford Square/ London
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: B/ DE/ 4/ 98
Endorsement: 1798 No. 27./ Robert Southey/ No place 3 Decr/ recd:/ ansd:/} 4 do
MS: Duke University Library, Southey Papers. ALS; 4p. (c).
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 61–62. BACK

[1] The Pythia was the title given to the priestess of Apollo at Delphi, who was famous for her prophecies, uttered under the influence of vapours rising from the earth. The priestess was originally always a young virgin, but after Echecrates the Thessalian kidnapped and raped the incumbent, the priestess was always chosen from among old women. BACK

[2] Greek historian of 1st century BC. This story appears in Biblioteke, 16.26. BACK

[3] Chieftain of a group of Gauls who invaded Greece in 279 BC. They were defeated at Delphi and Brennus committed suicide. BACK

[4] The manuscript version of Madoc, completed in 1799, had fifteen books. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 1 time)