852. Robert Southey to John May, [15 November 1803]

852. Robert Southey to John May, [15 November 1803] ⁠* 

My dear friend

I write to you with a far better will than when last I took pen in hand for that purpose. after receiving your last I wrote to Harry & mentioned his concealment of Mr Martineaus [1]  present – a circumstance which hurt me more than any other part of his conduct. this evening his answer has arrived – & thank God it has satisfied me as I am sure it will you. What he meant by saying Wm Taylor had enabled him to remove – was – that he had answerd for his debts: the 20£ was what removed him & of which he expected to have 7£ left on his arrival – as in fact he had 6. he did not mention the present in his letter to you from haste – not from concealment, as he had read Wm Taylors letter which did mention it. for the truth of this he appeals to Wm Taylor – & he begs me to state it to you that he may be thus far exculpated. I do it as you may conceive with real pleasure & a lightened heart. He adds that he has borrowed 10£ for the Lectures [2]  from a friend – that Wm Taylor was to send him 10£ – & that the whole expence of the first winters Lectures &c will be 18£ – 13 – which is what Dr Reeve [3]  stated at twenty pounds. his present lodgings are 12.6 per week. he has found others for 9s – 6 & is therefore about to remove – his dinners are to cost him fifteen pence daily. I hope he feels seriously & am disposed to think so. the fact is that at Norwich his information had outgrown his situation, & he was tempted to indolence the more easily from undervaluing what he had to do.

No letters from Lisbon – so that I know nothing but from the papers. but they give me reason to hope that you will have time to remove your property, if that be needful. my hope is that this tumultuous state of the world will not continue long. Yet I confess that every thing looks gloomy – the moral & physical world to me wear a blacker aspect than the political. I see pestilence visiting the only part of the civilized world to which we could else have looked with hope, [4]  & the same scourge seems to be suspended over Europe. & in this country which is the strength & heart of Europe & of civilization, there is a frightful depravity of the poor & a more frightful selfishness of the great which is not & cannot come to good. We are safe enough from France – but there is a poison in our vitals.

That poem upon poor young Emmet in the Iris is mine. [5]  I knew much of him by means of an Irish acquaintance [6]  who was his bosom friend. with a deadly error in his politics, which could only be excusable in an Irishman, & which none but an Irishman could have made – he was yet an admirable young man, of ardent genius, pure morals, & martyr-like intrepidity. In the rebellion of 1798 strict search was made for him. he dug a hiding place under his fathers [7]  study. stored it with food, light & books. & remained there secreted for six weeks, stealing out at night for fresh air & exercise, till means for his embarkation were found. The lines are not so good as they should have been from the temper in which they were written. We had returnd from a very long walk when we found the paper with his speech at the trial – my mind was very much affected because I had talked very earnestly with his friend two years ago upon the views of that party & the ruinous consequences. & the lines were written quite to disburthen my heart, & with an agitation that shook me like an ague fit. As for Ireland I know not what to say – but I can tell you what Sheridan [8]  did say, who scoundrel as he is in private life is really an honest man in his political conduct. He said to a newspaper Editor (& I know he said it) that we should lose Ireland at last – & he said it with tears in his eyes. We shall not lose it yet – but good God! how do we keep it? by main force & amid continual conspiracies. Our governors (I do not mean the royal family–) are good easy men, who wish well to the country, & would do all the good they can – but they want intellect. in good times they would be good ministers – twelve years ago they would have been so. But the country is sick at heart – poisoned by the cursed quacks who have undermined her constitution, & then good nurses with their simples cannot set her to rights.

I am in Emanuels [9]  reign, & sailing down the Asiatic stream. by going alway to the fountain head first, I find <myself> on comparison with all after writers & compilers, in possession of many facts that lead to very interesting corollaries which have been entirely overlooked. Castanheda [10]  is a mine of sterling ore. Joam de Barros [11]  made a varnished tale & so has run away with the fame for which his poor contemporary expended his youth in research, & toiled in sickness & poverty in his old age. I have a great veneration for this good Portugueze – who could spend his time in India in collecting materials for a history – which delights me <here> at Keswick xxx & instructs me after so long a lapse of years. Twould do me good were I a Catholic to send him Ave Marias by the dozen for his Purgatory score. [12] 

God bless you.


Tuesday night.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr./ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ NOV 19/ 1803; 10 o’Clock/NO 19/1803 F.N.n
Watermark: JM & Co/ 1800
Endorsement: No 87. 1803/ Robert Southey/ No place 15th Nov./ recd. 19th 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. 83-85. BACK

[1] Philip Meadows Martineau (1752-1829), surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and a member of the Martineau family, prominent Unitarians in Norwich. Henry Herbert Southey was instructed by him in 1802-1803. BACK

[2] Henry Herbert Southey had just enrolled at the University of Edinburgh. BACK

[3] Henry Reeve (1780-1814; DNB), physician. He had studied under Philip Meadows Martineau in Norwich in 1796-1800 and then at the University of Edinburgh 1800-1803, graduating as MD in June 1803. BACK

[4] Possibly a reference to the outbreak of yellow fever in New York in 1803. BACK

[5] Southey’s poem ‘A Lamentation’ appeared in The Iris, 12 November 1803. Its subject was the United Irishman Robert Emmet (1778-1803; DNB), executed on 20 September 1803 after an abortive attempt at revolution in Dublin on the night of 23 July 1803. BACK

[6] Unidentified. BACK

[7] Robert Emmet (1729-1802), a Dublin physician. BACK

[8] Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816; DNB), Irishman, playwright and Whig politician. He defended the United Irishmen in 1798 and opposed the Act of Union in 1800. His private life was notable for the number of his love affairs. BACK

[9] The reign of Manoel I (1469-1521, King of Portugal 1495-1521) in Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[10] 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 Southey’s library. BACK

[11] 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

[12] Send him prayers to reduce his years in purgatory, according to Catholic doctrine. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)