689. Robert Southey to John May, 4 July [1802]

689. Robert Southey to John May, 4 July [1802] ⁠* 

Kingsdown. Bristol.   July 4.

My dear friend

The parcel reached me safely. By the letters contained in it, I learn that by the same ship (The Hero of the Nile. Capt. Phelps –  [1] ) my Uncle sent over a Portugueze Glossary, two folios, [2]  – if this has arrived as it ought, I will beg you to send it me, for it is daily wanted.

With regard to the immediate subject of your letter – you are very good – & I think agree with you & Wm Taylor on the propriety of sending the £50 without delay. as soon as I can get it from Thomass Executors it shall be remitted to you. I learn that his widow [3]  is taking out letters of administration.

My connection with Mr Corry is I conceive at an end, tho I have had no regular intimation that my services are no longer necessary. he hinted to Rickman that I should turn tutor to his son. [4]  a task which I should not readily undertake even under the most inviting circumstances – still less to an Irish boy of sixteen, who has been found too unmanageable to be kept even at Harrow. What may turn up hereafter Heaven knows – both Wynn & Rickman have all the will to help me on – & are likely to have the power: – abroad my inclination & feelings would lead me – but to remain unsettled in readiness for such a summons is always unpleasant, & would now be impossible for a reason which you are not yet aware of. I have reason to hope for an increase of family this autumn. [5]  you see therefore I must pitch my tent. & if you can find me such a house as will suit us in your neighbourhood – I think & those friends whom I love best think also that I shall be better situated than any where else in England. But such a house as would please me will not I fear easily be found. rent & taxes not above forty pounds – a small garden – near a market & yet not in a town – & not so near a great road as to be annoyed by its dust. These are easily found at a greater distance from London, & with a difference of expence that has half staggered me – but the advantages of being so near town I think upon a fair & scrupulous calculation overbalances that inconvenience – & besides when I am settling – perhaps permanently – I would not get out quite away from those friends in whose intimacy I have grown up.

You ask me for Miss Burkes [6]  history – I heard it only once from Mrs Trent [7]  but believe my recollection is accurate – She entered the convent [8]  in resentment for the supposed infidelity of her lover. he did not discover her retreat till a few months after she had professed – when she was summoned to the grate & saw him. her immediate agitation was very visible. she wrote to her friends to get her out – I believe by the regular way of dispensation. this letter was intercepted. her & an account of her death spread. She had contrived to get down a flight of steps from her prison-room when Miss Power heard her. the night of her death Jane Power sate with her very late seeing how dispirited she was – so late that the lamp went out in the cloisters & she lay down on a stone bench lest by mistake she should enter a wrong cell in the dark. she went back at day light to tell her friend how she had past the night & found her with her throat cut. At that sight she dropt & was found in a fit in the door way by those who came to bring their prisoner food. this is the story – the manner by which <how> Jane Power got at her I do not understand. It should be remembered that there is no reason to suspect this as the invention & calumny of a renegade. Jane Power continues a Catholic – & her friends are procuring her a dispensation from Rome to quiet her conscience & their own.

Mr Corrys conduct towards me has been a riddle – & I think I have at last discovered the solution. he wanted a tutor of notoriety for his son – & meant to pay him with the money of the nation.

Edith desires to be remembered.

God bless you

Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond Green/ Surry/ Single
Postmarks: [partial] BRISTOL/ JUL 4; B/ JUL 5/ 1802; [MS torn]o’Clock/[MS torn]5/[MS torn]; [partial] 1802
Watermark: F & P/ 1801
Endorsement: No 67. 1802/ Robert Southey/ Kingsdown 4th July/ recd. 5th do/ ansd 21st 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. 64-66. BACK

[1] The Hero of the Nile, a merchant ship; Captain Phelps: unidentified. BACK

[2] Unidentified. BACK

[3] William Bowyer Thomas had married a cousin; her name and dates are unknown. BACK

[4] William Corry (c. 1786-1853). BACK

[5] Southey’s first child, Margaret Edith, was born on 31 August 1802. BACK

[6] Southey retold this story in greater detail in his letter to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 8 January 1805, National Library of Wales, MS 4812D, where ‘Miss Burke’ is identified as an Irishwoman called ‘Louisa Bourke’. While the narrative refers to many real people and places, the story cannot be verified. BACK

[7] Possibly the wife of Colonel Trent, who commanded a force of Portuguese infantry in the Peninsular War. BACK

[8] The Dominican convent of Our Lady of Bom Sucesso, Belem in Portugal (founded in 1639). BACK

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