495. Robert Southey to John May, [12 March 1800]

495. Robert Southey to John May, [12 March 1800] ⁠* 

My dear friend

I have received no letter yet from Lisbon, − an unpleasant delay, which prevents me from making any arrangement. the more leisurely I consider every thing, the more my inclination increases towards the Lisbon plan. I could indeed obtain an English passport for the South of France, but it might be difficult to obtain the French one − & indeed go where I will, except to Lisbon, it will be an very disagreable to take Edith intirely among strangers, without any companion of her own sex. little as I like the sea I am half inclined to take ship for Leghorn to avoid this embarrassment upon the journey.

Herbert Croft’s letter. [1]  − I have replied to it, solely for the purpose of making another advertisement. my answer is short & calm, without one term of asperity, or one personal allusion. I have merely hinted at his the stile of his letter, to request that no party dislike towards me, might hinder the success of the subscription. He complains of no private intimation being given him: − Cottle twice wrote to him in 1796 & 1797. he complains that the attack was made in his absence, when the frost blockd up the Elbe: − he has been for the last six months in lodgings at Yarmouth. of this I have received certain intelligence from Yarmouth − & the address to his lodgings. [2]  he is hiding from his creditors − & of course I take no notice of this in replying to him. you will not be displeased at my reply. he is a very bad man, & as you may see a very virulent one. but I have set my foot upon the vipers neck, & tho he may writhe round me it is not in his power to bite.

The subject of female employment I well knew would interest you. [3]  I hope we shall do good. Rickman is a clear-headed calculating man, one capable of unravelling any subject however perplexed, & elucidating any truth, however obscure. the book must be made into a volume, that it may be visible – for all pamphlets die away from their size. but it shall be as small a volume as possible. of present good resulting from it I have little expectation – but feel the certainty that it will be a seed that must bud forth at last – a leaven which must ultimately ferment & purify society. you see how the subject naturally proceeds – state of females in society, & the evils thereon attendant: benefits deduceable from their increased utility & independance: & then the mode of obtaining this desirable end. If a few leading women could be proselyted, much might now be done; if they would but discountenance the men-tradesmen who occupy female situations half the work would be accomplished.

My brother Tom is superseded in the Sylph, & removed to the Bellona of 80 guns – Capt Sir James Thomson. [4]  where he has increased comforts at the expence of all chance of prize money.

Thomas of Hereford, has been very ill – but his illness has produced very good effects. you know I believe that he was attached to one of his cousins, & that their marriage was delayed only by a the refusal of their parents to provide for them, as they were both able to do. this cousin upon learning his danger immediately went to nurse him, & was the means of saving his life by her unwearied attentions. old Thomas was affected − & immediately gave his son 1300 pounds – besides a handsome sum for the expences of his illness & her father also has done his part. so that the marriage will soon take place.

I have seen this young woman. [5]  without any education or any reading, she is one of the cleverest girls I ever saw. we were a week at her fathers – the family is large & the whole management devolved upon her. yet she was never hurried, − the dairy, the management of the kitchen (& you know what work farmers men make there) all were under her. whatever ornament was about the house she had made, worked the carpets – painted the chairs &c, − & with all this had found time to spin in the course of the winter, a quantity which was mentioned as remarkably great. her person is very pleasant – her eyes quick & animated always by good humour, & the wish to oblige. such I thought her.

Tomorrow I go to Gloucester to meet Wynn who is on the circuit. he is anxious to ship me off for a better climate − & I also am anxious to be gone. Edith desires to be remembered.

God bless you.

yours affectionately.

Robert Southey.

Stokes Croft. Bristol. Wednesday the fast day. 1800.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond Green/ Surry/ Single
Postmarks: [partial] BRISTOL/ MAR 12; B/ MAR 13/ 1800 [stamped over an illegible postmark]
Watermark: crown and anchor/ 1796
Endorsement: No 50. 1800/ Robert Southey/ Stokes Croft 12th March/ recd: 13 do/ ansd: 21 do
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 53–54. BACK

[1] Croft wrote a series of letters about the Chatterton controversy to the Gentleman’s Magazine, 70 (February–April 1800), 99–104, 222–226, 322–325. Southey replied in Monthly Magazine, 9 (March 1800), 253 and Gentleman’s Magazine, 70 (March 1800), 226; see Letters 496 and 497. BACK

[2] See Taylor to Southey, 1 March 1800, J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 338. BACK

[3] Rickman had proposed a system of ‘beguinages’, modelled on lay Catholic communities of women in the Low Countries, in which poor single women could work and live together. BACK

[4] Thomas Boulden Thompson (1766–1828) was created a Baronet in 1806 and Rear-Admiral 1809. As the Bellona was a ship of the line, it would be more likely to be used in engaging the French fleet than capturing prizes. BACK

[5] The name and dates of the cousin William Bowyer Thomas married are unknown. BACK

Places mentioned

Stokes Croft (mentioned 1 time)