682. Robert Southey to John May, 7 June 1802

682. Robert Southey to John May, 7 June 1802 ⁠* 

Kingsdown. Bristol. June 7. 1802.

My dear friend

I received your letter inclosing ten guineas for Mrs James. [1]  the subscription is tolerably succesful. Enough is almost – & certainly will be – raised to purchase for her an annuity equal to the little maintenance afforded her by her son. That the whole business of my letter may be remembered & finished first, my Uncles parcel must come in here. into my hands it cannot now be delivered – but if it be the lease the sooner it comes into them the better – or indeed be it what it may. there is no choice of conveyance. if Mr Burn [2]  will have the goodness to direct it to me at Mr Danvers’s No 9. St James’s Place. Kingsdown Bristol. it may be trusted to one of the coaches from the White Horse Cellar [3]  or the Gloucester Coffee House. [4] 

I mention Danvers’s as a safer direction than my own, because he is an established resident of some years standing. We are lodged in his neighbourhood – or rather housed – for we have taken a small furnished house by the month, just large enough for our convenience. I took from London one box of historical books, & here I find a valuable store from Lisbon. the whole monastic history of Portugal & its colonies, Cistercian, Franciscan, Dominican & Jesuit. [5]  This cargo also contains two very important works which will speedily come into use, the old Chronicle of the Great Constable Nunō Alvares Pereyra. & that of the King D. Joaō I. by Fernaō Lopez. [6]  both rare books & of high price.

The Monastic History is to me extremely interesting. the detail of a very odd system. & the biography of a very odd breed of mortals, whose cerebrella I think must have been organized in a different way from mine. Anecdotes of folly or fraud, & not unfrequently of both so blended that they cannot be seperated, perpetually stimulate & waken ones attention in these folios. they have something like the interest of a fairy tale – the manners, opinions & feelings they describe are so utterly out of the sphere of English sympathy. their main historical value is mere accident. A good monk illuminates his own Convent only for the honour & glory of the order, but we see what is passing by, by the light. There is a sort of sportsman-pleasure in this startling information. besides it always comes fairly – it is accidental – not wilfull evidence.

Another part of my employment [7]  is to fill up the narrative from the Moorish conquest [8]  down to the appearance of Count Henrique. [9]  In this there occurs some uncommonly interesting & singular tales – of Bernardo del Carpio [10]  – of the Infantes of Lara [11]  – of the great Almanzor [12]  & the great Cid Rūy Diaz. [13]  My materials are very ample – indeed almost compleat. I have enough books in England to employ three years of active industry.

As yet I have received no information from Mr Corry. this does not anyways surprize me. there can be none till Rickman has had the good chance to find him alone & at leisure for conversation. Of the result there is so little doubt that I am making up – or rather have made up my own plans. & after weighing maturely & considerately the relative advantages of the only three dwelling places to which there exists any motive of preference – Norwich Bristol – & the neighbourhood of London – I decidedly prefer the last. because it gives me access to public & private libraries – & places me within reach of the booksellers, with whom I may from time to time engage in xxxxxx works of obscure profit. The neighbourhood of London means your neighbourhood, for the convenience of finding a house, & the comfort of living in it when found. The nearness of many acquaintance is a matter of luxury – but one friend within a half hours walk is among the necessaries of life. it is as essential almost as air & water.

You are in a beautiful country – & will I hope be able to send good accounts of your whole staff. You did not mention in your last the state of Mrs Mays sister. [14]  I trust she is recovering. Edith joins me in remembrance to Mrs May –

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Great House/ Malvern/ Worcestershire
Postmark: BRISTOL/ JUN 7 1802
Endorsement: No 66./ 1802/ Robert Southey/ Bristol 7th June/ Recd 11 do/ Ansd 1st July
MS: Bristol Reference Library, B28485. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 198-200. BACK

[1] Mrs James (first name and dates unknown) had lost her four sons in a shipwreck earlier in 1802. One of the sons had given her £30 p.a. and Southey and his friends were attempting to raise a subscription to match this sum; see Southey to Wynn, [c. 21 June 1802], Letter 683. BACK

[2] William Burn (dates unknown), a member of the British Factory, Lisbon. BACK

[3] A departure point, in Piccadilly, London, for mail coaches to south and west England. BACK

[4] Another departure point, in Piccadilly, London, for mail coaches to the west of England. BACK

[5] Unidentified. BACK

[6] Chronica do Codestabre de Portugal Dom Nunes Alvarez Pereyra (1623), no. 3345 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library; Fernão Lopez (c. 1380-1459), Chronica del Rey D. Joam I, de boa Memoria e dos Reys de Portugal o Decimo Composta (1644), no. 3349 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] Southey was working on his projected ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[8] i.e. from the 8th century. BACK

[9] Henry of Burgundy (1066-1112; Count of Portugal 1093-1112). BACK

[10] Legendary Iberian romance hero. BACK

[11] In Spanish legend, seven princes ambushed and murdered by their uncle, in revenge for their insulting his wife. The heads of the princes were then served up on a platter to their father. BACK

[12] Abu Aamir Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Abi Aamir, Al-Hajib Al-Mansur (c. 938-1002), de-facto ruler of Muslim Al-Andalus. His rule marked the peak of power for Moorish Iberia. BACK

[13] Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar (c. 1040-1099), Castilian aristocrat and military commander, whose exploits were the subject of numerous poems and tales. Southey’s English translation and compilation of three of these was published in 1808 as The Chronicle of the Cid. BACK

[14] An unnamed sister of May’s wife Susanna Frances Livius (1767–1830). BACK

People mentioned

Danvers, Charles (c. 1764–1814) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)
Corry, Isaac (1753–1813) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned