809. Robert Southey to John May, 20 July 1803

809. Robert Southey to John May, 20 July 1803 ⁠* 

My dear friend

The more I talk or think of the house at Richmond the more I am disposed to have the bargain concluded, that is, if the inside be tolerably convenient, which there should seem little reason to doubt. the taxes indeed are very high, but they must bear nearly the same proportion to rent every where in the neighbourhood of London. if you can get sight of the premises & find them comfortably habitable, as doubtless they must be, I shall be very glad to take it for a term & have every thing settled the sooner the better. then if any unforeseen circumstance prevents us from getting this we may lose no time in looking out for another.

I was heartily glad to reach home after the labour of perambulating London every day for a fortnight. that fortnight seems longer than the twelve months which preceded it, & I relapse right gladly to my regular every day uniformity of scene, society & action. but this is lazy weather, too hot to go abroad & almost to do any thing at home. – I feel very much like a Portugueze & could make a siesta of all day long. it would be an improvement to live like the Owls by night at this season. All Bristol is up in arms & volunteering – cool sport for the dog days! the Duke of Cumberland [1]  is to be here to day to form a camp upon Leigh Down – luckily there is the river between but that camp will spoil the loveliest walks in this neighbourhood or perhaps in this country. all this however is very necessary. a few weeks more & England will be in a formidable state of preparation. if they arm the people as is talked of [2]  I think I can foresee much good to arise out of the present evil. a system more favourable to the morals & security & liberties of the country than that of militias & standing armies.

The letter you sent me contained little more than a message & a note of introduction to the Duke of Bedford, [3]  which would have been of no use had it arrived before my departure.

On my return I had a formidable campaign of letter-writing to commence – chiefly de Bibliothecâ. [4]  to announce the plan & seek associates. this labour which of all others is the most unprofitable & the least pleasurable, is by no means over yet. the plan becomes daily more methodized in my head, & I recollect & discover more sources of information than at first occurred. I perceive that the great art of my Generalship will be to do nothing beneath my Commanderships dignity – to make others pioneer & work in the trenches & to waste no toil upon what may be executed quite as well & in all probability better by my Sergeants & Corporals. this is particularly the case with regard to examining manuscripts – after I had mastered the difficulty of deciphering their characters the expence of time & eyesight would be more than I ought to afford. my business must be to make others hew in the quarry & erect the building myself. My old & ugly stall-gleanings are all now turning to account – I call them my Ducks – dirty – but good. in turning over these venerables you would be surprized to see how much I find that bears upon biography – or the general history of manners & science. it delights me to think of resetting the pearls that have lain so long in the dunghill – shall I not have a claim upon the Humane Society [5]  for recovering smothered Authors to life?

Your goddaughter had cut three teeth during my absence at the expence of some indisposition. I wish she slept more & dreamt less. her little brain is never at rest. all day she is full of life & good humour – but at night the least sound wakens her. Edith is very well – tho she grumbles at the hot weather, which seems to agree with none but me & the Salamanders. – You will be soon setting out for Wiltshire & the sea – I shall envy you the bathing.

God bless you –

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

July 20. 1803.  Kingsdown.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ 1803; 10 o’Clock/ JY 21/ 1803 FNn; B/ JUL 21/ 1803
Endorsement: No. 811803/ Robert Southey/ Kingsdown, 20th July/ recd 21st do/ ansd. 1st Aug
MS: Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Robert Southey Papers A.S727. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 220-222. BACK

[1] Prince Ernest Augustus (1771-1851), fifth son of George III. Later King of Hanover 1837-1851. A competent soldier, he held the rank of lieutenant-general and was Military District Commander of the Severn area. BACK

[2] The Army of Reserve Acts (1803) provided for a new Army of Reserve to defend Britain from invasion. If any parish could not provide enough volunteers there was a ballot of all the adult male parishioners. The government also called for a new volunteer force to harass any invading French army. BACK

[3] John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766-1839; DNB), Whig politician. BACK

[4] A plan for a chronological account of literature written in Britain, which Longman and Rees abandoned in August 1803. BACK

[5] The Royal Humane Society, founded in 1774, offered rewards to those who helped save the lives of people in danger of drowning. BACK

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