845. Robert Southey to John May, [c. 24-26 October 1803]

845. Robert Southey to John May, [c. 24-26 October 1803] ⁠* 

My dear friend

Your letter gave me considerable uneasiness. I have since received another of the same tenor from Wm Taylor, & have this day written both to him & Harry, to the latter very seriously & decisively exhorting him to persevere in his present pursuit. [1] 

Mr Murdochs [2]  letter I answered immediately, desiring him as the box was at Bristol to consign it to Danvers. at present I am more unsettled than ever – what seems most probable is that if the winter & spring do not nip me here, here I shall pitch my tent. but winter & spring will make strange alterations in the world. What is the Lisbon news? I never believe a word about Portugal from the papers. I wish there were an army going there & that I could get a civil appointment in it.

Keep the Partidas [3]  for me awhile. I lost in the King George [4]  the codes which it is necessary to study previously. [5]  a whole cargo of books for which I had been twelvemonths looking out. was it not vexatious? & to make the matter worse poor Yescombe sent off another cargo by the waggon with such a fools direction that I can neith get neither tale nor tidings of them – & as he poor fellow cannot prove the delivery I fear they will be lost also.

Since I began this the newspaper has arrived with an account of the embargo of all ships for Spain & Portugal. I hope this will be no material injury to you – & trust it will not, inconvenient as it must needs be. it was told me & from what a quarter whence I could believe it, [6]  that in case of hostilities with these countries England was determined to deprive them of their American possessions – which if England go wisely to work, she may with little expence & immediate advantage effect. Were I an English minister I would prepare for a forty years war – give up the trade of Europe – that is let it die – & have the trade of the rest of the world. if Europe will not be at peace, it must have a Master, & that Master should be England. there should be no fleet. but the English navy. no ships sail upon the ocean but English ships – or American – for they are too far removed for dangerous rivalry. & as their language is ours, no enmity will be permanent between us.



I am distressed & perplexed by this fresh letter – & neither know what to say nor how to act. there came yesterday a letter from Harry to state that Mr Martineau thought it best he should go to Edinburgh [7]  as he had learnt all that he could teach him &c – it was such a letter as Harry would write, not aware that Mr M. was actually disgusted with him, & glossing over his own conduct. he said he supposed I had heard from you –

What is to be done? will Mr Martineau keep him his full time if he immediately amends his idleness? if so the best mode is to write to him telling him there he must stay twelve months longer – that is the line which he & his friends decided upon together, & that only in that line can they or will they aid him. I am by no means willing to act without my Uncles approbation. in this tone I will write to him by this nights post – But if Mr M. be really resolved to dismiss him then indeed I know not what to suggest & do. I have no home for Harry – for here at present we are guests ourselves, or inmates.

It hurts me too that you should thus be pestered for my sake. that Harry who has found friends among strangers should be his own enemy.

God bless you.

Yrs very affectionately

R Southey.


* Endorsement: No. 85 1803/ Robert Southey/ No date/ recd. 29th Oct/ ansd. 7th Nov
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. 80-81 [dated October 1803].
Dating note: Written after receiving William Taylor’s letter of 23 October 1803; it was probably begun on 24 October, and completed on Wednesday 26 October. The letters to Taylor and Henry Herbert Southey mentioned in the opening paragraph have not survived. BACK

[1] Henry Herbert Southey was studying medicine under the guidance of Philip Meadows Martineau (1752-1829), surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and a member of the Martineau family, prominent Unitarians in Norwich. BACK

[2] Probably Thomas Murdoch (dates unknown), senior partner in the wine firm Newton, Gordon & Murdoch, based in Madeira. BACK

[3] Gregorio Lopez de Tovar (1496-1560), Las Siete Partidas del Sabio Rey Don Alfonso el Nono Glosadas (1789), a 13th-century Spanish law code. It is no. 3610 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[4] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765-1803), Captain of the packet, King George, which sailed between Falmouth and Lisbon. He died on 11 August 1803, from wounds received when his ship was attacked by a French privateer on 30 July 1803. The King George was taken to the Spanish port of Vigo, and Southey lost his books. BACK

[5] The Visigothic Code, promulgated in 642 and 654 and translated into Spanish in the 13th century. BACK

[7] Henry Herbert Southey entered the University of Edinburgh in November 1803. BACK

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