582. Robert Southey to John May, 23 May 1801

582. Robert Southey to John May, 23 May 1801 ⁠* 

My dear friend

A letter of mine, chiefly relating to Henry, must assuredly have been lost. it matters little. at this distance, all I could do was to express a full satisfaction in what you & William Taylor have agreed. [1]  To Henry I wrote some five or six weeks ago – recommending an unbiased choice – rather wishing him to follow his Uncles plan, than recom advising it. of his private allowance – I could only promise him five pounds quarterly – a sum which if good fortune enabled me I should willingly double, but which you must be aware – knowing the extent of my resources – to be the utmost that I can spare from my own wants & the demands upon me from other quarters. some little – a possible ten pounds – may be yearly hoped from Tom, who is ready to do all he can. my Uncle will I know supply any deficiency. yet I think in calculating from 30 to 40 pounds yearly as necessary, circumstances have not been sufficiently considered. my own personal expences have never reached even to the smaller sum. I do not expend 15 pounds yearly in <the whole of my> dress. with all linen Henry would be supplied from home. it is however always better to allow a young man too much than too little. I have felt the latter evil myself. – The great expence of returning will sink me for some time below the world. hitherto my resources have always been kept equal with my expenditure, by obscure & unintermitted labour. from those means a residence here has inevitably cut me off. my expences also have been increased by travelling. I could indeed make my journeys more than pay the<ir> own cost did I deem it advisable to publish the materials which I have collected for a miscellaneous volume relative to this country. from 60 to 80 pounds would doubtless be paid me for a first edition – but from the time it would deduct from the greater work I should think it a bad speculation in a pecuniary point of view – & in that point I must consider it. I have therefore no literary pay to expect, (except from the success of Thalaba) till a first volume of my History [2]  be published – or ready for publication. a labour for which one compleat year will be little. meantime I can review – I can write rhymes to the amount of 100£ – but this is improvident work – it is spending the day in getting only enough for the dinner. Like you good people in England I have corn enough in the ground – but there is a famine till the harvest be ripe.

Portugueze news you know as regularly & correctly as it can be known. yet is Mr Coppendale [3]  an infidel – incredulity saves him from the fear-fever which infects everybody else. I believe at all events – except a general peace speedily terminates the calamities of Europe – that the port of Lisbon will be shut against English vessels. St Cyr [4]  is with the Spaniards about Elvas – which is or will be beseiged. [5]  we had a rumour of its capture which is not believable. they are in great force & have refused to write any terms in the carte blanche which Pinto [6]  proffered. so far is certain. When the moon shines upon the sea – the line of moonlight always terminates in your own ship – so we view all things chiefly with relation to self. I want my Uncle to England – & verily <believe> him so rooted here that he must be turned out or he never will move. for ourselves – the sooner we are home the better. I am enquiring for a vessel Bristol bound – if there be none we shall return by Yescombe [7]  when next he is here. but the difference of expence is to me of heavy importance – it cannot be less than thirty guineas. We have now lost most of our hill acquaintance – in Miss Seton particularly we have a daily & hourly loss. Tis like the end of the Pilgrims Progress [8]  – one by one our friends go before us & leave us at the side of the Great Water that we all must cross!

I am no ways weary of Portugal. it would be the country of my choice residence certainly – its climate so entirely suits me – & its materials now afford me such ample employment that I could beguile a more total solitude than that in which we live. It is almost a solitude – & I look with a hunger & thirst for the free & intimate society of my English friends – of those who can look back with the same recollections – observe the present with the same feelings, & look on to futurity with the same hopes.

My history [9]  advances well. I have stewed down many a folio into essential sauce. half the labour of a first volume is done – that is the timbers are ready & the stones hewn tho little of the edifice appears above ground. to the end of Fernandos [10]  reign the first sketch is done – the second draught to that of Diniz [11]  – the third & decent copy is now finishing the second Sancho. [12]  my guides have been Faria [13]  – Duarte Galvao [14]  & Ruy de Pina – Duarte Nunes. [15]  Mariana [16]  – the Rainhas of Barbosa [17]  – Zurita [18]  – step by step. the Provas of the Genealogical History [19]  have been indispensably useful. the Monarquia Lusitana [20]  I have not yet been able to procure, & indeed the books already named, with the number of others collaterally consulted were enough to carry on at first.

God bless you. I do not ask you to write – there will I trust be no time to hear from you. – When three months are elapsed from the time when you sent Harry the ten pounds – have the goodness to send him five. I will do all I can to prevent him from feeling any inconvenience for money – even any unpleasant feeling – but these are my worst times – I live at more cost here than at home – & have running expences in England also. Harry will I hope do well. he promises well.

– We have yet no accounts of Tom here tho two packets have arrived since that that brought his name in the list of the wounded. [21] 

God bless you

yrs truly

R Southey.

Lisbon 23 May. 1801.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr-/ Richmond/ Surry./ Single
Postmarks: FOREIGN OFFICE/ JU 8/ 1801; [partial] 4o’Clock/ JU 8
Endorsement: No 60/ 1801/ Robert Southey/ Lisbon 23d May/ recd: 13th June/ ansd: 14th July
MS: Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 157-160; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 169-170 [in part]. BACK

[1] That Henry Herbert Southey should train as a doctor. BACK

[2] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[3] Thomas Coppendale (d. 1833), John May’s uncle and business partner. BACK

[4] Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr (1764-1830), French general. BACK

[5] Spanish forces had invaded Portugal on 20 May 1801 and besieged the town of Elvas. It held out and did not surrender. BACK

[6] Luis Pinto de Sousa Coutinho, Viscount of Balsemao (1735-1804), Portuguese Secretary of State (prime minister) 1788-1801. He was dismissed on 6 January 1801, but remained in the ministry as Foreign Secretary until 21 May 1801 and returned as Secretary of State in 1803. He was the chief negotiator with Spain in the attempt to prevent an invasion in 1801. BACK

[7] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765-1803), captain of the packet, King George, which sailed between Falmouth and Lisbon. BACK

[8] John Bunyan (1621-1688; DNB), The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). BACK

[9] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[10] Fernando I (1345-1383, King of Portugal 1367-1383). BACK

[11] Diniz (1261-1325, King of Portugal 1279-1325). BACK

[12] Sancho II (c. 1209-1248, King of Portugal 1223-1248). BACK

[13] Manuel de Faria e Sousa (1590-1649), Epitome de las Historias Portuguezas (1628), no. 3743 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[14] Duarte Galvao (1446-1517) and Ruy de Pina (c. 1440-c. 1521), Chronica del D. Affonso Henriques Primero, D. Sancho, I & II, D. Affonso II & III, e Dom Diniz, Sexto Rey de Portugal (1727-1729), no. 3352 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[15] Duarte Nunes de Liao (d. 1608), Chronica dos Reis de Portugal (1774), no. 3261 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[16] Juan de Mariana (1537-1624), Historia General de Espana (1623), no. 3580 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[17] Diogo Barbosa Machado (1682-1772), Catalogo Cronologico, Historico e Genealogico e Critico das Rainhas de Portugal (1727), no. 3233 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[18] Jeronimo Zurita (1512-1580), Anales de la Corona de Aragon (1585-1610), no. 3811 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[19] Antonio Caetano de Sousa (1674-1759), Historia Genealogica da Casa Real Portugueza (1735-1748), no. 3738 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. The ‘Provas’ were printed documents, published with the indices in six volumes, 1739-1748. BACK

[20] Bernardo de Brito (1569-1617), Monarquia Lusitano (1690), no. 3320 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. The work was continued by Antonio Brandao (1584-1637) and others. BACK

[21] A British fleet had destroyed the Danish fleet at Copenhagen on 2 April 1801. Tom Southey was a Lieutenant on the Beltona in this action and listed as wounded, e.g. in Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 19 April 1801. BACK

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