715. Robert Southey to John May, 5 September 1802

715. Robert Southey to John May, 5 September 1802 ⁠* 

My dear friend

I thank you for your letter – & for the offer which it contains – it has given me great pleasure – & I gladly & thankfully accept it. my Uncle will be the other godfather. had it been a boy his name should have been Herbert [1]  – & that was the only reason why I should perhaps rather wished one. but whatever may be the case eighteen years hence – till that age daughters are the most desireable.

My reasons for fixing in Cumberland seem to me valid. I am offered part of a house [2]  – the same wherein Coleridge lives – furnished, for twenty guineas a year. as much as I want or wish – & a spare room. thus the great expence of furnishing a house is avoided. in itself an embarrassing thing, & which would become an after embarrassment – or loss – if a situation presented itself abroad. besides this every thing at Keswick is but half the London price. I shall by this saving without altering one habit of life or feeling any privation, save one third of a years labour – for at least that would be necessary to meet the increased expences. what is saved is gained. it goes to my historic labours, [3]  & upon them I calculate for the foundation of a fair independance. Now for the objections – only climate. but I wintered last in London – a worse atmosphere than Keswick. I feel strong – & shall be very watchful of myself. in three years I must return to Lisbon – by that time my materials will be manufactured. if my health fails before – it is but moving sooner than I wish, & I shall be just a hundred miles from Liverpool – whence there is always an easy conveyance – cheaper than by packet.

My little girl – God bless her! – goes on bravely. I suffer no food but milk & till the natural milk was ready – had a contrivance for her to take diluted cows milk by suction. she has never had the least ailing – nor even sourness at stomach. our nurse [4]  is luckily tractable – not old enough in habits to be inveterate – & with a more than common sense share of intelligence. – You can tell how happy this event has made me – & what a feeling of awe & adoration it is to see ones own babe for the first time! – & I had almost ceased to hope – after six years.

Old Mrs Dees [5]  death is rather unfortunate – as I was in hopes that the old Lady was going to prove the possibility of living for ever, & to become one of Swifts Immortals. [6]  she indeed only cumbered the earth – but I am sorry for my Uncle who has now almost buryed all his first circle of friends. Goodall – the Grossetts – your Aunt [7]  – all in one year. – the old trees fallen & such a wretched underwood as there is at Lisbon to come up! – I am told the new Consul is to be Lamb [8]  – the member for Rye – one of my oldest – & once one of my most intimate friends – from whom I had been by the accidents of the world seperated for many years without dissention – till he found me out when last in London. we were schoolfellows – & probably both of us remember some of our happiest hours to have been past together. It will be pleasant to meet him there when I pay my next visit to the Torre do Tombo. [9] 

My brother has been for some weeks with John Southey at Taunton. you know that Uncle of mine John Southey is a wealthy man who has only noticed Tom of all his relations. I have been feeling if the ice would bear – & in my last letter to Tom proposed – if the old Gentleman pleased – to pay my respects to him before I removed the West of England. he deliberately read the letter, folded it slowly up & returned it – without a word. This Tom interprets favourably & desires me to go down. I had promised to take a fortnights walk with my brother into South Wales – & this is the best time – when the whole oeconomy is so turned topsy-turvy. so I shall set off for Taunton on Wednesday – & risque my reception. – & thence cross the channel from Minehead or Watchet. I have never seen this strange man since I was a two-years child, – I have never of course offended him – he indeed has not done his duty by me – for he left his brothers family to struggle in the deep waters. [10]  it will be an odd meeting.

My respects to Mrs May. [11]  Edith too desires to be remembered.

God bless you –

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Sunday. Sept. 5. 1802.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond Green/ Surry / Single
Postmarks: B/ SE 5/1802; 10 o’Clock/SP.6./ [MS torn]02F.N.n
Watermark: LWC/ 1794
Endorsement: No. 68 1802/ Robert Southey/ No place 5th Septr/ recd. 6th do/ ansd. 8th 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. 66-67. BACK

[1] Southey’s eldest son was, indeed, named Herbert (1806-1816). BACK

[2] Greta Hall, Keswick, part of which was occupied by Coleridge and his family. BACK

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

[4] The name and dates of the nurse are unrecorded. BACK

[5] Mrs Dee (first name unknown), a member of a family prominent in the British Factory, Lisbon. BACK

[6] In Jonathan Swift’s (1667-1745; DNB), Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Part 3, Gulliver visits the land of Luggnagg and finds that some of its inhabitants (the Struldbruggs) are born immortal, but not gifted with perpetual youth. BACK

[7] An unidentified member of the Goodall family, prominent in the British Factory, Lisbon; the Grossets, a very wealthy family of merchants in Lisbon; May’s aunt is unidentified. BACK

[8] Thomas Davis Lamb had been elected MP for Rye in 1802. He turned down the post of Consul in Lisbon. BACK

[9] The Portuguese state archive, which moved to the Convent of Sao Bento in 1757. BACK

[10] Southey is referring here to his uncle’s failure to help after the bankruptcy and early death of his father in 1792. BACK

[11] May’s wife, the former Susanna Frances Livius (1767-1830). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)