416. Robert Southey to John May, 10 June 1799

416. Robert Southey to John May, 10 June 1799 ⁠* 

My dear friend

I have been daily in hope of knowing our destination after Midsummer certainly enough to communicate it. but this is still unsettled. the day after I last saw you a letter from Biddlecombe reached me at Brixton. it stated that there was a place at Burton which he thought would suit us – it had been divided into two tenements, both which with a little garden we might have for not more than eight pounds a year. I immediately wrote that this would do if there were the required number of bed-rooms – that is – rooms for myself – my mother – a servant – & one for a friend. to this I have daily & vainly expected an answer. it will probably bring intelligence that the place is ours – but time presses & I now wait with some impatience.

This house, or rather tenement to speak with singular propriety, is about two hundred yards from our former abode at Burton, & Biddlecombe says, in every respect more convenient. I shall feel disappointed if we do not fix there. in that case we shall be within reach of you, & if as you expect Mrs Tonkin & her family [1]  should settle near Salisbury, I shall not be at so great a distance as to prevent me from sometimes seeing them.

In my journey home I collected one piece of information which you may use as a useful warning. when they have new horses to put in the Mail they always put them in first on a Sunday night, because they carry no letters & there is of course time for an accident. so I was endangered quite enough to resolve upon no more Sunday night mail-coaching.

Edith I found – or rather she found me, for I reached Bristol before dinner & she not till after tea; I found her then however better than she had been at Stowey. My Mother is recovering from a sad plunge. her cough which is habitual increased violently by some accidental cough, & she relapsed into all her old alarming symptoms; now however she is rapidly growing well. I should think my Mother consumptive were it not for her often recovering when apparently in so hopeless a state. she has all consumptive symptoms except the quick pulsation. however I am going to try the fox glove, by Beddoes’ advice [2]  – & by Davy’s I am going to try the Nitrous acid as a tonic for Edith. [3] 

Myself I am without complaints or unpleasant feelings. the season suits me, & I have the appetite & the sleep which I wanted thro the whole winter.

The papers tell me you are an Uncle. [4]  I congratulate you. I am used to the name, but it gave me at first strange notions of age.

This instant I have been a good deal alarmed – tidings have reachd me that Edward has this morning broken his arm. he is however in a way of doing well: my Mother is not to know it – it would be useless & might injure her – indeed necessarily would. he had got upon a strange horse in the street. if it lessons him it will be well, & I believe there is no hope from any thing but from a rough lesson. The boy vexes me.

I hardly know what I write now. be good enough to remit my mothers money. you shall know our destination as soon as it is known.

God bless you –

yrs affectionately

R Southey.

Monday. June 10. 99.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4. Tavistock Street/ Bedford Square/ London/ Single
Postmarks: [partial] BRISTOL/ JUN 12; [partial] B/ JU 13/ 5/ 99
Watermark [partial] 1796
Endorsement: 1799 No. 37/ Robert Southey/ No place 10 June/ recd: 17 do/ ansd: 18 do
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 44–45. BACK

[1] The Tonkins were friends of Southey’s uncle Herbert Hill. They had formerly lived in Lisbon, where Southey had met them during his visit of 1795–1796. BACK

[2] For Thomas Beddoes’s advocacy of the use of fox-glove see his Essay on the Causes, Early Signs, and Prevention of Pulmonary Consumption for the Use of Parents and Preceptors (Bristol, 1799), pp. 265–271. BACK

[3] For Humphry Davy’s researches on the use of nitrous acid and nitrous oxide, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide, or Dephlogisticated Nitrous Air, and Its Respiration (1800). BACK

[4] The Oracle, 7 June 1799 had announced the birth of a son on 1 June to May’s elder brother, Joseph May, and his wife Fanny (née Stert). BACK

People mentioned

Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 5 times)
Southey, Edward (1788–1847) (mentioned 1 time)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Beddoes, Thomas (1760–1808) (mentioned 1 time)
Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 2 times)
Stowey (mentioned 1 time)