875. Robert Southey to John May, 24 December 1803

875. Robert Southey to John May, 24 December 1803 ⁠* 

My dear friend

In the vexation occasioned by one brother I have forgotten the other, & never replied to what you said concerning Harrys support at Edinburgh. To say what you say of continuing to remit him his quarterly ten pounds I have only to thank you & feel thankful that there are such men as you in the world. you say you think it reasonable that my Uncle should pay his necessary lecture expences &c & no farther, these however are comparatively nothing – his board & lodging make the main cost. You know how I am circumstanced – I have no debt but to you & that contracted wholly, or almost wholly, on his account. My history [1]  will probably place me in comparative affluence – but alas I must say of that with poor Cave, [2]  non enim nobis, inferioris subsellii υπηρεταις, qui sub sole & pulvere indies laboramus, licet esse tam beatis, ut cæteris soluti curis, unico negotio opera atque animo incumbamus. Aliò nos vocant quotidianæ vitæ curæ & sollicitudines, et frigidæ plerumque occupationes, quæ simul et avocant animum et xxx comminuunt. [3] My Uncles various incomes are irregularly paid, & eaten up by his sister, he knows not how. there was 100£ in poor Thomas’s hands at his death, as he told me when last I saw him – my Uncle told me to apply for it – for I had paid for my poor Mother & Cousin more than to that amount – on application I found that Mrs Tyler had been beforehand & left only fourteen pounds in the executors hands. Of course I had only to send the statement to Lisbon & there it ended. You may remember that at that time I told you that my Uncle had directed Thomas to pay Harry fifty pounds yearly – his income has been increased since that by the settlement of his Chancellors lease, [4]  nearly 150£ per annum, & yet he does not appear to have more money at command. But to the point – now that he knows where Harry is I am sure he will provide in part for his support. meantime we must not let him <the boy> suffer over-much, a little sense of suffering will do him good – for his conduct has been very thoughtless & unfeeling. I have a letter from him written with a sufficient conviction of his own folly & its consequences. he had borrowed ten guineas to pay the lecture fees, on a promise to repay them at Xmas – & by Xmas the six pounds remaining from his journey – & the five he was to receive from Norwich would be gone I conclude – so that your last supply was inevitably mortgaged, & he will be pennyless. will a you had will you therefore remit him ten pounds more. As soon as the Lectures are over I will send for him here & keep him the summer months – this will be some saving – & in the winter, if I find him capable of it as he ought to be, will turn over some reviewing to him that he may begin to live by the sweat of his brow. Before the next quarter I think my Uncle will make some arrangement for him.

I shall be glad my dear friend when our correspondence can resume its former pleasanter character – when I can tell you of my own goings on & give you my speculations, unmolested by these family cares which it is somewhat hard to have inherited. parental responsibility requires parental love to counterbalance it – but every duty rewards itself in the performance. – Coleridge is set off for his brothers. he had designed to go to Madeira, but expence deterred him. – my brother Tom is going to the West Indies – this grieves me sorely. he is now first Lieutenant – & if he can stand the climate has a fair chance of promotion.

Lord Strangfords [5]  translations from Camoens are just come down for my censure. do you know any thing of this Lord, or how he came to meddle with Portugueze? I should like his book much if there were not discoverable in it a sort of moral which might be called the Irish looseness. there is no passage to object to, but every where this debauchery of feeling is implied. I have written to Rickman for my own Camoens, [6]  & shall take the opportunity to review Mickles translation [7]  & the original poet at the same time.

God bless you

yrs very affectionately


Dec. 24. 1803.

<Our remembrances to Mrs May. [8]  how is your little one [9]  – if little be now a proper phrase. you will be glad to hear that in the course of the spring I shall perhaps be once more a father. [10]  & yet I know not whether I am glad to inform you. hæret lateri. [11] 


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ DEC 27/ 1803; 10 o’Clock/ DE. 27/ 1803 F.N.n
Watermark: shield/ 1802/ C Hall
Endorsement: No. 91 1803/ Robert Southey/ No place 24th Decr/ recd. 1st Jany 1804/ ansd. 5th 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. 89-91. BACK

[1] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[2] William Cave (1637-1713: DNB), Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Historia Litteraria (London, 1720), ‘Prolegomena’, p. ix. BACK

[3] The Latin translates as: ‘We, the servants of the lower bench, who toil from day to day in sunshine and dust, are not permitted the happiness of being released from all other cares and of devoting ourselves physically and intellectually to a single task. We are called in another direction by the cares and worries of daily life, and often by the tedious occupations which distract the mind at the same time as they diminish it.’ BACK

[4] Herbert Hill was Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral. This gave him the right to appoint the incumbent of the living of Little Hereford and Ashton Carbonell and also rights over the lease of a church estate valued at between £400-500 per annum. The lease referred to is probably that which had been in dispute between Herbert Hill and William Downes (dates unknown), a gentleman resident in Hereford. See Southey to John May, 25 November 1802, Letter 736. BACK

[5] Percy Clinton Sydney, 6th Viscount Strangford (1780-1855; DNB), Poems from the Portuguese of Camoens, with Remarks and Notes (1803), reviewed in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 569-577. Strangford was secretary to the British legation in Portugal 1802-1806, Minister-Plenipotentiary to Portugal 1806-1808 and Envoy-extraordinary to the Portuguese Court in Brazil 1808-1815. BACK

[6] Luis Vaz de Camões (1524-1580), Obras (1782), no. 3185 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] William Julius Mickle, (1734/5-1788), The Lusiad, or the Discovery of India, a Poem (1778), no. 440 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[8] Susanna Frances Livius (1767-1830). BACK

[9] John May (1802-1879). BACK

[10] Edith Southey was pregnant with her second child, Edith May Southey, who was born on 30 April 1804. BACK

[11] Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BC), Aeneid, Book 4, line 73: ‘[it] clings to my side’, in the sense of an arrow in a deer. BACK