458. Robert Southey to John May, 29 November[-1 December] 1799

458. Robert Southey to John May, 29 November[–1 December] 1799 ⁠* 

Friday Night. Nov. 29. 99.

Your letter, my dear friend, gave me great pleasure. I have myself found happiness in marriage, & therefore rejoice that you are about to be married. [1]  a man who reasons as well as feels cannot but chuse well.

Marriage has anchored me. it has given my affections a home, a resting place. I could write over my door with Ariosto

Inveni portum. Spes & Fortuna valete! [2] 

with no hopes or fears to agitate I pass a tranquil & satisfied life, writing & reading in the room with Edith & my mother, not imposing upon them the restraint of silence, & often awaking from my employments to be sensible that I am not a single being. Of the essentials to happiness I want but one – health. & of that I live daily in hope.

You would ere this have heard from me & received the extracts from Stowes Chronicle – (for it is Stowe that I ignorantly quoted by the editors name) [3]  but that I have had a fit of illness. a complaint in my bowels reduced me very much – & I was ill able to bear exhaustion. it left me a nervous fever – & for a fortnight I was unable either to write or read ten minutes together. I am recovered – but only to feel a worse symptom. a pain at the heart, – so settled that I do not think it right any longer to delay consulting those medical persons to whom I can trust myself – we are therefore going to Bristol on Monday.

What this pain bodes I am at a loss to conjecture. any affection of the heart would necessarily affect the circulation – & of this I am not sensible. for pleurisy I have not blood enough, or general health. if it be a consumptive symptom I shall remove to a warmer climate. one thing cheers me, it has to day & yesterday been less painful – possibly it may be an inflammation, now abating.

To day I had letter from Lisbon. I had mentioned to my Uncle a wish to write the History of Portugal. [4]  he likes the idea, but thinks I cannot do it here, & that it requires too much time. possibly I may be driven to Lisbon & so one objection removed. These are the only day dreams I indulge in – daily finding more & more pleasure in study & composition I look on to future works as the great source of happiness. I shall apply myself shortly to the correction of Madoc [5]  – not for publication – but because I feel the uncertainty of a life which an insurer could not think worth much, & would leave that as a post obit bond for my family; – & I trust it would be a valuable one. I thought to have seen you here this Xmas – & now I am quitting the place. this is unfortunate. you know not with what reluctance I remove – our garden is just trimmd up – my books are about me – I have learnt my way in the dark about the house, & I have a companion in Rickman who interests me. it is true at Bristol I have one of my dearest friends [6]  & several persons who are more than acquaintance – but going to consult a physician is but a heartless motive for a journey. We shall be with a friend till we can suit ourselves in lodgings. you will direct there to Mrs Danvers’s. 9. St James’s Place. Kingsdown. Bristol. forget not to tell me when & where you settle.

<Sunday> As you may imagine we are now much employed. I have been labouring at my review work – work of which the payment is by far the most agreable part. also I have been obliged to make th necessary extracts from my books as I shall no longer have them at hand. my side is less painful – but I frequently feel the intermittent pulse, – a symptom in itself little important, but which added to the others makes me suspect some local diseas[MS torn]

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4. Tavistock Street/ Bedford Square/ London/ Single
Postmark: D/ DEC 2/ 99
Endorsement: No 46 1799/ Robert Southey/ No place Novr: 29- 1 Decr/ recd: 2 do/ ansd: 24 do
MS: Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 205–207. BACK

[1] John May married Susanna Frances Livius (1767–1830) on 12 December 1799. BACK

[2] The Latin can be translated as ‘I have reached the port, hope and fortune farewell.’ It is a Latin version of a Greek original and in this form was used in Alain-Rene Lesage’s (1668–1747), Gil Blas (1715–35), Book 9 as the inscription over the hero’s door on his retirement. Ariosto (1474–1533), a poet Southey much admired, wrote a quite different Latin verse to be placed above the door of the house he bought for his old age: ‘Parva, sed apta mihi; sed nulli obnatia; sed non/ Sordida; parta meo sed tamen acre domus’. This can be translated as ‘Small, yet it suits me; is of no offence/ Was built, not meanly, at my own expense’ – an inappropriate inscription for Southey, who never owned, let alone built, a house. BACK

[3] John Stow’s (1525–1605; DNB)’ Annales, or a General Chronicle of England from Brute until the Present Yeare of Christ 1580 (1580) was updated and continued after Stow’s death by Edmund Howes (dates unknown) in 1615 and 1631. Southey had used this volume in the notes to Joan of Arc (1798), making use of a copy belonging to Charles Biddlecombe; see Robert Southey to [Charles Biddlecombe], 16 October 1797, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part 1, Letter 263. Possibly, he was making use of Biddlecombe’s library again, in order to provide some information for John May. BACK

[4] Southey’s never-completed ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[5] The fifteen-book version of Madoc (1797–1799). BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Danvers, Mrs. (d. 1803) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Kingsdown Parade, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)