865. Robert Southey to John May, 10 December [1803]

865. Robert Southey to John May, 10 December [1803] ⁠* 

Saturday. Dec. 10

My dear friend

I wrote to you on Thursday concerning my wretched brother Edward. perhaps you may <have> thought my conduct somewhat rigorous, but it proceeded from a deep-founded knowledge & feeling of his character. this evening another draft has arrived for three pounds, from a gunsmith – & the boy himself writes to say that he has drawn these bills – as I cannot suppose his situation can be free from expence – & he encloses his taylors bill also to show – he says that he has not been extravagant. this bill is £11-16-3 ½. When I tell you that this boy is not yet fifteen you will feel shocked at so early an instance of shamelessness.

There is but one course that I can pursue. if you should – or if Rickman should procure a ship, I will beg <you> to calculate the expence of his journey to join it, & remit it him with two pounds more for his washing, & if he continues on board I will from time to time supply him, always sparingly, for he is not to be trusted. From the embarrasments which he has thus wickedly contracted he must get out how he can. The gentleman [1]  at whose house he is must be something to blame in having sufferd it – what can he have gone in debt with a gun-smith for – unless which is very probable he has bought a fowling piece & taken out a licence to shoot! he tells me that Mrs Tyler has borrowed ten guineas of this Mr Barham. my Uncle I am sure shuts his eyes to that womans conduct. to her utter meaness & dishonesty. I have my poor Mothers example to warn me. she literally was, as she knew she was, destroyed by the perpetual fret & fever in which her sister kept her, by perpetually extorting from her what money she got, guinea by guinea as it came in, in consequence of which her own debts were daily accumulating – for else she would have had none. With her eyes broad open, my poor Mother always yielded to her, wrote begging letters in her own name – or rather copied them – that Mrs Tyler might have the money – she even twice attempted to raise money in my name from poor Thomas – & from Wynn whom she had never seen. My mother was always the cats-paw, & still continued to be so in spite of every effort I could make, tho whenever she spoke of it it was with the bitterest tears – tho it kept her sleepless at night & induced those dreadful sweats of mental suffering which God forbid you should ever know but by report, tho it wore away her very vitals & actually brought her to the grave. She scarcely ever mentioned my Uncles name without tears – to think that she was always made the conduit thro which his money was to be draind. What must he think of me – she would say – & God knows it is never for myself. – Oh Christ! it is not a letter that can tell you the infamy I have known – & the affliction that I have endured, – nor how that woman has pilfered from me at the very time that she has been calumniating & insulting me. When that poor Cousin of mine died <was dying> – of all my relations the only one who had any affinity of heart or intellect with me – she had no support but from me. Mrs Tyler had quarrelled with her, but she used to send to get her money from her, when she had no strength to withold it, guinea by guinea & when to prevent this I sent smaller sums – shilling by shilling – & almost in the very hour of her death – which was attended with agonies that make me shiver whenever I recollect them – this wretched Edward was sent to plunder her & actually abusd & cursed her for attempting to withold the few shillings which she had in her power. I learnt this from Danvers who God bless him! is the friend of all who want a friend & has as excellent a heart as God ever made to show me what a human heart can be. When in the newspaper her death was mentioned she was particularized as niece to Mrs Tyler – the woman wrote a paragraph to contradict it which the Printer would not insert knowing it to be a lie, – & among all her friends declared that this Peggy had past for her niece there was great reason <to think> she was a Bastard. – If this be madness, it is of so wicked & truly devilish a nature that it actually looks like possession.

This has led me astray. my resolution is never to embarrass myself where there is not a manifest & commanding duty. for Harry I must do what I can – or rather what you enable me to do – because it is furthering him & indispensable to his welfare in life. but should he show himself incorrigibly prodigal I will wash my hands of him. so with Edward I will <not> toil & fret away the powers which God has given me for better purposes. to support the extravagancies of any unprincipled profligate tho he were tenfold my brother. If he chuses so to act as that either he or I must suffer it shall be himself. I will not be victim of any mans ill-conduct. you I am sure will be satisfied that I have done right in protesting his drafts & refusing to pay his bills.

God bless you.



* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ DEC 10/ 1803; 10 o’Clock/ DE 13/ 1803 F.N.n
Watermark: shield/ 1802/ C Hall
Endorsement: No. 89 1803/ Robert Southey/ No place 10th Decr./ recd./ ansd.} 13th 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. 86-87. BACK

[1] John Foster-Barham (1763-1822), a wealthy merchant in the West India trade and partner in Plummer, Barham & Co. How Edward Southey had made his acquaintance is unclear. BACK