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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

2134. Robert Southey to John May, 14 August 1812 ⁠* 

My dear friend

Let me trouble you with a commission which may be executed on your way from Percy Street to the city, & which if it prove succesful will essentially enrich my store of historical documents. I have just learnt by accident that there is in High Holborn a set of Muratori’s great collection of the Italian Historians which being wanting one volume, is on that account offered for sale at a very low price, – some five or six pounds for a collection which I should joyfully purchase at the price of five & twenty were it entire. [1]  The booksellers name is said to be Laycock. [2]  I do not remember any such name, – but if you do not spy the name, it will not be the work of many minutes to find the shop which contains this treasure, & I shall be greatly obliged if you will purchase it for me & give the bookseller directions to send it me by waggon. The three great works which I want are the Acta Sanctorum, [3]  the Byzantine Historians, [4]  & Muratori, & it would be folly not to purchase this set, notwithstanding it is imperfect, when that the loss of one volume so materially diminishes the price without in any degree lessening the utility of the other volumes. I should think {it at} half a guinea a volume a cheap purchase.

My article upon the French Revolutionists in the last Quarterly is a good deal the worse for the mutilations which as usual it has undergone, but which I regard less than I do the alteration of one single word. [5]  Speaking of “the pilot that weathered the storm” I wrote whatever may have been his merits, & this is altered into transcendant as, an alteration of which I shall certainly complain. [6]  – The most ill judged omission is of the directions given by Baboeuf [7]  for corrupting the soldiers, – Gifford no doubt has imagined that it would be dangerous to publish this, but he is grievously mistaken if he supposes that those persons from whom he would wish to conceal it are ignorant of such obvious means, – & if they were, the Quarterly Review is the last work which would fall into their hands. Had the article been printed as it was entire it would have done me credit; the hint with which it concludes relates to an essay upon the state of the lower classes which I have undertaken for the next number.  [8] 

I had yesterday the pleasure of cutting open the third volume of the Register, [9]  – a greater delight to me than it will be to any other person, I dare be sworn. This is the last & greatest of an authors pleasure. The London proprietors urge an alteration in the plan & want it to be brought into a single volume like the London Registers: the Edinburgh proprietors very wisely negative this proposal & determine to carry it on upon the present plan, even if they are left to themselves. The change I think would have been fatal to the work. Whether perseverance many preserve {it} is very doubtful. I go to work however upon the year 1811 with unabated good will. – You will find in the second part of this new volume a life of Lope de Aguirre, written as a chapter of the History of Brazil, but cut out as an excrescence for which room could not be afforded. [10]  The narrative is an extraordinary piece of history, whole & entire in itself, & so little connected with that of any other country, that it would appear equally as an excrescence in the history of Peru or of Venezuela, as in that of Brazil. So it is as well where it is as it could be any where else, – & I am about thirty guineas richer than if it had appeared in its intended place. – The ballad of the Inch-cape Rock [11]  in the same volume is mine also, – written many years ago, when I was Poet to the Morning Post. [12]  I know not to whom it is obliged for its present situation, neither do I know who has been tinkering it. It lay uncorrected among my papers because I had no use for it, unless I should ever publish a miscellaneous volume of verse.

The life of Nelson [13]  is sent to the press, I expect the first proof every day, & hope to finish the manuscript by the beginning of next month. – Since my return from my late excursion I have made good progress with Pelayo, or rather with Roderick as the poem must {ought to} be called. [14]  It pleases me so well that I now begin to wish other persons should be pleased with it as well as myself.

My little ones thank God continue well, & fairer promise than Herbert makes both of disposition & intellect no father could desire. I look for an addition to their number some time in October. Remember me to Mrs May & believe me ever

Your affectionate friend

Robert Southey.

Keswick. Aug 14. 1812.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ 17 AU 17/ 1812; 10 o’Clock/ au 17/ 1812 FNn
Endorsement: Robert Southey/ Keswick 14th August/ recd: 17 do; ansd 28 do
MS: British Library, Add MS 56304
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 348–350 [in part]. BACK

[1] Lodovico Antonio Muratori (1672–1750). Southey hoped that May could buy Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, Ab. Anno 500 Ad Annum 1500, 36 vols (1723–70). In fact, May purchased Muratori’s Annali d’Italia dal Principio dell’era Volgare sino all’anno 1750 (1786); no. 1894 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, though this lacked the first volume; see Southey to John May, 16 September 1812, Letter 2145. Southey later did manage to obtain a copy of Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, no. 1922 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[2] Probably connected to the London booksellers William (fl. 1805) and J. (fl. 1822) Laycock. BACK

[3] The Acta Sanctorum (1643–1940) is a 68-volume life of all the Christian saints, arranged in order of their feast-days. Southey acquired a 53-volume set (up to 1794) in 1818, no. 207 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[4] Corpus Byzantiae Historiae (1645–1711), a 42-volume edition of Byzantine historians, published by a team of French scholars. Southey later acquired a new 40-volume edition of these works, from 1828, no. 740 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[5] A review of Biographie Moderne: Lives of Remarkable Characters who have Distinguished themselves from the Commencement of the French Revolution to the Present Time (1811), Quarterly Review, 7 (June 1812), 412–438. BACK

[6] Quarterly Review, 7 (June 1812), 413. The ‘pilot’ was the late Prime Minister William Pitt, the Younger (1759–1806; Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806; DNB). BACK

[7] The French socialist and revolutionary, François Noël Babeuf (1760–1797). BACK

[8] Quarterly Review, 7 (June 1812), 438: ‘We may hereafter take occasion to shew in what manner the state of society in this country is favourable to their [British radicals’] nefarious prospects, and what are the means by which they may be best counteracted’. The article in question, on the poor, appeared in Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. BACK

[9] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812). BACK

[10] The conquistador Lope de Aguirre (c. 1510–1561), notorious for his final expedition down the Amazon in search of El Dorado. Southey’s account of these events appeared in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.2 (1812), [i]–l. It was republished as The Expedition of Orsua; and the Crimes of Aguirre (1821). BACK

[11] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.2 (1812), lxxxiv–lxxxvi. BACK

[12] It had been published in the Morning Post, 19 October 1803. BACK

[13] The Life of Nelson, published by Murray in 1813. BACK

[14] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

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August 2013