432. Robert Southey to John May, [started before and continued after] 3 September [1799]

432. Robert Southey to John May, [started before and continued after] 3 September [1799] ⁠* 

My dear friend

I write to you from Ottery where I have been uncomfortably detained five days by the impossibility of finding lodgings anywhere in its neighbourhood. I wishd to be as near as possible on Coleridges account & additionally so as there is the probability of seeing you here – tomorrow however we go to Exeter where there can be no doubt of house room – & eleven miles is a very walkable distance.

I have now seen George Coleridge. his brother & you had taught me to respect him. in many things he reminds me of you – there is the resemblance that two persons who have lived much together & with attached affections, bear to each other. something too he reminds me of my Uncle – of his equalness & kindness of xx character, but he is not so chearful as my Uncle nor has his situation been so favourable. he told me that from the age of eighteen he had never had leisure to read a book thro.

There are three classes of people in whose society I find pleasure. those in whom I meet with similarity of opinion – those who from a similarity of feeling tolerate difference of opinion, & those to whom long acquaintance has attached me, who neither think nor feel with me, but who have the same recollections & can talk of other times & other scenes. accustomed to seclusion or to the company of those who know me & to whom I can let out every thought as it rises, without the danger of being judged by a solitary expression, I am uncomfortable among strangers. A man loses many privileges when he is known to the world. go where I will my name has gone before me, & strangers either receive me with expectations that I cannot gratify, or with evil prepossessions that I cannot remove. it is only in a stage coach that I am on an equal footing with an companions & it is there that I talk the most & leave them in the best humour with me.

I have just learnt that you do not visit Devonshire – I however have the expectation of seeing you in Hampshire during the winter. George Coleridge has been very friendly towards me & I felt that his opinion of me had been influenced by you. he has his brothers forehead – but no other resemblance. it is wonderful how the strong feelings induced in composition change the countenance. strong thought is labour – an exercise essential to the minds health, or the face of a thinking man like the legs of a porter & the arms of a blacksmith indicate how he has been employed.

I thank you for procuring the Zendavesta [1]  – for so I suppose it to be – which has arrived at Bristol for me. when we meet I will pay you for it. I expect to find much folly in going thro it to derive wisdom from perusing much folly. something I shall one day build upon the base of Zoroaster. but what I know not. to Mango Capac [2]  I feel myself pledged – & if I can see the propriety of blending ought supernatural with philosophical narration he shall be brought from Persia. my head is full of plans – it seems as tho all that I have yet done is the mere apprenticeship of poetry – the rude work which has taught me only how to manage my tools.

Tuesday. Sept 3. We are lodged at Mr Tuckers. Fore-Street-Hill – Exeter. [3]  here we shall remain till Michaelmas [4]  & here then you will direct. since beginning this letter I bore part in an interesting conversation with George Coleridge upon the tendency of Xtianity. his brother Edward [5]  who seldom talks much to the purpose, talkd only to confuse & misunderstand – but afterwards when we walked out he understood us better. we were talking upon the equalitarian doctrines of the Gospel, a doctrine which you know I see there & which is intimately x blended with all my opinions & systems, their foundation indeed, their life & their soul. I could soon grow unreserved with him & talk from immediate impulse. We were all a good deal amused by the old Lady [6]  – she could not hear what was going on, but seeing Samuel arguing with his brothers, took it for gra[MS torn] that he must have been wrong & cried out ah if your poo[MS torn] had been alive! hed soon have convinced you!

In Exeter I find a humble imitation of Lisbon filth. but I also find two good sale libraries of old books. you will smile at the catalogue title of a Portugueze book which I bought here – it is an account of the das cousas que fizeram os Padres da companhia de Jesus, in the East Indies & in Africa. [7]  & this the catalogues maker has called Fizeramo’s account &c –

Edith is better than she has been for many months. I find a sort of health-thermometer in the hair. my own curls crisp & strong in proportion to the state of the whole system or becomes weak & straightened. perhaps by & by the connection will be discovered between the colour of the hair – & its quantity & its crispness, x & the constitution. physiology is yet it its infancy. have you received the Annual Anthology? [8] 

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond Green/ Surry./ Single
Stamped: EXETER
Postmarks: 10 o’Clock/ SP.5./ 99 F.NOON; A/ SEP 5/ 99
Endorsement: No 47/ 1799/ Robert Southey/ Exeter 3 September/ recd: 5 do/ ansd: 7 do
MS: Beinecke Library, Chauncey Brewster Tinker MS Collection, GEN MSS 310, Box 13, folder 554. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 81–83. BACK

[1] Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil Du Perron (1731–1805), Zend-Avesta (1771), a translation into French of some of the key sacred writings of Zoroastrianism. The book was no. 3135 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[2] Manco Capac was the legendary founder of the Inca Empire in the 12th or 13th centuries. BACK

[3] Possibly the retired stationer and bookseller Richard Tucker (fl. 1779–1784), whose business had occupied premises on Fore-Street, Exeter. BACK

[4] 29 September 1799. BACK

[5] Edward Coleridge (1760–1843), a clergyman and schoolmaster. BACK

[6] Ann Coleridge, née Bowden (1727–1801), Coleridge’s mother. BACK

[7] The Portugueze translates as ‘of the things done by the Fathers (i.e. Catholic priests) of the Jesuit Order’. The book referred to is Relaçam Annual das Cousas que Fizeram os Padres da Companhia de Jesu nas partes da India Oriental. The auction catalogue of Southey’s library, nos 3483-3484, indicates that he owned two volumes, the first (published in 1607) dealt with the years 1601–1605, the second (published 1611) covered 1607 and 1608. BACK

[8] Annual Anthology (1799). BACK

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