841. Robert Southey to John May, 22 September 1803

841. Robert Southey to John May, 22 September 1803 ⁠* 

Keswick, Sept. 22. 1803.

My dear Friend,

You will, perhaps, have been wondering that I had not earlier written; and earlier I certainly should have written had there been any thing pleasant to communicate. Here we are, after a long and wearying journey, little short of the whole length of England. On the way, we stayed five days with our friend Miss Barker, whom you saw with us in London. This halt was every way desirable, for Edith was in wretched health when we left Bristol, hardly recovered from a very sharp attack of fever; but she was impatient to be gone. I could tell you what feelings came upon me at leaving the house wherein I had been so happy and so afflicted; but it would be folly not to suppress thoughts that end only in pain.

Nothing in England can be more beautiful than the site of this house. Had this country but the sky of Portugal, it would leave me nothing to wish for. I shall make the experiment this winter; and, if my health bear up well till the next summer, shall look for no other home. But, in truth, my expectations have been so often blighted, that when I think of any plans for the future, it is with the same sort of incredulity that I recollect a dream. Meantime, I make myself as comfortable as I can: to be away from my books is a sore evil. I have sent enough by the waggon to employ me till the experiment of climate be fairly tried; and if it should succeed, can then, without imprudence, collect my scattered sheep. My head, too, is happily well stored with raw materials, which will not be soon exhausted by the manufactory, – and Coleridge is company enough. For one whose habits are so sedentary as mine, and whose inclinations cling so obstinately to the hearth-stone, it is of some consequence to be in a country that tempts him to exercise. I have been round the Lake, and up Skiddaw, and along the river Greta, and to Lodore. If air and exercise were the panacea, here I must needs be well.

I wish it were in my power to give you a good account of Edith; she is very unwell, and at present incapable of any enjoyment. It has been a heavy blow upon us. My own mind is active even to restlessness, and it has now been exerted to its force, – still the effect is deeper and will be more lasting than I expected. I cannot shut out the shooting recollections that flash upon me. If I yielded to my inclination, it would keep me sauntering in solitude – dreaming of the other world, and the state of the dead. I trust, however, to give you a good sum of my winter’s work.

My baggage is arrived – as few books as possible, though enough for many a hard week’s occupation. The Chronicle of K. Emanuel, [1]  in two great divisions, will alone be a long employment. You know I separate the European and Asiatic history. Look at Neufville [2]  or La Clide, [3]  where they are chronologically carried on cheek-by-jowl, and you will be satisfied of the necessity of unravelling the two clues. For primary authorities, I have Damian de Goes, and Castanheda [4]  in part – the two reprinted volumes. The whole work is so very costly, as to be quite out of my reach. Joam de Barros, [5]  from his opportunities and research, deserves also as much credit almost as a contemporary writer. Osorius [6]  may possibly elucidate and facilitate arrangement, but I do not expect to glean any facts from him. Mafaeus [7]  Manoel Faria [8]  and San Roman [9]  I have left for after collation. It is my plan always to go first to the first sources, and compare my own narration with the compilers afterwards. Zurita [10]  is my best Castilian guide, from the period when Arragon lost its individual existence as a kingdom, and the tyranny of the throne and the priesthood were established. Besides these, I have the Chronicle of the Jesuits in Portugal, [11]  the life of S. Francisco Xavier, [12]  and sundry documents for the history of their mission in Abyssinia. The “Annual Review,” too, will force me to work. I expect a cargo from that quarter shortly. Have you seen the first volume? [13]  almost the whole of the statistic department is William Taylor’s work, most of the Travels mine, but not all; and I hope the difference is manifest. Among sundry miscellaneous articles of my doing, there is an amusing one upon El Tesoro Español, [14]  and one of deeper interest upon the Baptist Mission in Hindostan, [15]  which I wrote with serious feeling. This subject I shall renew in the next volume, upon the Mission to Otaheite, [16]  and it is my intention to belabour the Methodists with a hearty goodwill.

I hope to hear a good account of Mrs. May and your little boy. [17]  You are a soldier by this time. I, too, shall fire away at Bonaparte, [18]  and perhaps hit him, for he reads the “Morning Post.” God bless you.

R. S.

P. S. Direct with S. T. Coleridge, Greta Hall, Keswick, Cumberland.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 231-234. BACK

[1] Damiao de Gois (1502-1574), Chronica do Senhor Rei D. Emanuel (1790), no. 3262 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[2] Jacques Le Quien de La Neufville (1647-1728), Histoire Generale de Portugal (1700), no. 2101 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] Nicolas de la Clede (1700-1736), Histoire Generale de Portugal (1735), no. 612 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[4] Fernao Lopes de Castanheda (c. 1500-1559), Historia do Descobrimento, e Conquista da India pelos Portuguezas (1554). Southey owned two volumes of a 1797 eight-volume edition, no. 3187 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[5] Joao de Barros (1496-1570) and Diogo de Couto (c. 1542-1616), Decadas da Asia fos Feitos, que os Portuguezes Fizeram na Conquista, e Descombrimento das Terras, e Mares do Oriente (1778-1788), no. 3180 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[6] Jeronimo Osorio (1506-1580), De Rebus Emmanuelis Lusitanae Regis (1791), no. 2067 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] Giovanni Pietro Maffei (1533-1603), Historiarum Indicarum (1614), no. 3073 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[8] Manoel de Faria y Sousa (1590-1649), Asia Portuguesa. Southey possessed two copies of this work, dating from (1666-1675) and (1678-1680), nos 3377-3378 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[9] Antonio de San Roman (dates unknown), Historia General de la India Oriental los Descubrimientos y Conquistas que han hecho las Armas de Portugal, en Brasil, &c. (1603), no. 3782 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

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

[11] Possibly Relacaon da Republica, que os Religiosos Jesuitas das Provincias de Portugal, e Hispana, &c. (n. d.), no. 3411 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[12] Southey possessed a number of Lives of St Francis Xavier (1506-1552), including Joao de Lucena (1549-1600), Historia da Vida do S. Francisco de Xavier (1788), no. 3412 in the sale catalogue of his library, and Fr Martinez (dates unknown), Vida de S. Francisco Xavier Apostol de la India (1620), no. 3525 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[13] Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803). BACK

[14] Augustin Louis Josse (1763-1841; DNB), El Tesoro Espanol o Biblioteca Portatil Espanola (1802), reviewed in Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 557-566. BACK

[15] Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (1800-1801), reviewed in Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 207-218. BACK

[16] London Missionary Society, Transactions of the Missionary Society (1803). Southey reviewed it in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 189-201. BACK

[17] Susanna Frances Livius (1767-1830) and John May (1802-1879). BACK

[18] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). John May had probably joined the new Volunteer force set up in 1803. Southey was attacking Bonaparte with his poems in the Morning Post e.g. ‘John Bull’s Invitation’, 5 July 1803. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 2 times)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 1 time)
Barker, Mary (c. 1780–1853) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

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