2578. Robert Southey to John May, 20 March 1815 

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

2578. Robert Southey to John May, 20 March 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 20 March 1815

My dear friend

I replied to John Coleridges part of your letter by the next post. [1]  My own opinion is that Hartley should go to Merton, & be to removed to Corpus as soon as opportunity offers, [2]  – but that he cannot afford to lose time, being already half past eighteen. But I see all the objections which J. Coleridge has pointed out, & see also, which he cannot so well do, what additional force they derive from Hartleys character: Of this I endeavoured to give him some knowledge, & referred the decision finally to his own & his cousin Williams judgement. Hartley is in many respects ominously like his father; he has indeed no bad habits, nor perceptible propensity to any; & his principles at present are good. But he has a disposition to justify whatever he does & whatever he likes to do, – & there is a metaphysical xxxx & I fear the moral scr that metaphysics are bred in the bone in him, like a moral scrofula.

A provoking occurrence has prevented me from sending you a draft for my first insurance. [3]  I indorsed one for a Captain in the Navy, (a cousin of Ediths) [4]  which has been dishonoured; & there seems reason to suspect that this was foreseen, & that my thirty pounds are lost. This could not have happened at a worse time, after the failure of my Register income, my loss in the Register, [5]  & when my main employment (the Brazil [6] ) might almost be called unproductive. With life & health a short time will bring me fairly round, for whenever my history [7]  is compleated I shall clear off all arrears. – At present I must draw for my own running expences what I would else have been remitted to you. It is enough to state the fact – I am sure you know how I feel respecting these obligations, I trust, – & that I shall never be unmindful of them.

I should like to show you the mass of my Brazilian papers lying on yonder table: the quantity of labour which has been bestowed upon them is what no person would believe unless he saw the extent of the materials. In proportion to The time bestowed upon this work, an equal quantity is three, perhaps four times, as much as upon an equal quantity of reviewing, – the utmost remuneration that I can expect not a third part of the common review price. Yet you may be sure that I do not think the time misemployed, – & perhaps work at it with a prouder feeling. I am at present busy upon the Jesuits in Paraguay, & this part of the subject with the chapters immediately subsequent respecting the state of manners &c in Brazil & Paraguay, will form the most interesting portion of the whole work. [8] 

I do not know who succeeded to my task in the Register, nor have I as yet seen the volumes. [9]  – The two articles on Chalmers are in fact but one, for the whole of which there was not room in the one number. [10]  The new number now on the point of appearing has an article of mine upon Lewis & Clarkes Travels [11]  & (I believe) a shorter {one} upon an unpublished book by Barre Roberts, a cousin of my friend Bedfords. [12] 

We are going on well, thank God, upon the whole. I find it no unprofitable task to turn have turned schoolmaster: Herbert has brought back my Greek, which had been almost forgotten, & we I learn German in the act of teaching him. Never did any boy promise more happily both in his intellectual & moral nature. Your God-daughter too grows up as I could wish her; she is as good a Latin scholar as any boy of the same age, reads French & Spanish with facility, & is making some progress in Italian. There is however no cramming with all this, very little restraint & very little confinement. All is done easily & almost playfully.

I should be glad to hear that you were fairly settled in London. When the removal is over, there will the evil {pain} will be past, & you will begin t & like all pain that has been induced by worthy motives it will then become a source of satisfaction. I shall see more of you in my visits to town, & find my way often to your breakfast table, from Streatham.

To day brings us no London post – a cruel suspense at this time! I fear Buonaparte will get into Italy, where the Italians have but too much reason to join him. [13]  – Looking at things with an eye to that moral order which pervades them, I could almost expect a longer struggle in France than the last advices promise; – it would be a fine scene of retribution to see the soldiers & officers of that accursed school fighting against each other, & thus taking vengeance for the rest of the world. – This breaking lose of the Old Dragon [14]  has put the Corn Bill [15]  out of sight & out of mind. I have scarcely room to speak of it. In my judgement nothing but the most clear & convincing necessity could justify such a Bill, for whether right or wrong, a Bill the avowed object of which is to raise the immediate price of Bread, must appear the height of injustice to the multitude. To quarrel with the multitude upon such a question, & in such times, is little better than madness! But neither the Government nor the people know to what an extent the evil which I pointed out in that paper on the State of the Poor, [16]  has proceeded. They tell you in Brazil of the feiticeiros  [17]  undermining the floor of a house & filling it with poisonous spells. The fabric of society in this kingdom is actually in that state. And if the riots had continued the disaffected {mob} would soon have learnt the science of insurrection as perfectly as they understand that of combination & of finance. Our Government means well in every respect, & in many respects is doing well: but it has begun late; & if another generation be allowed to pass before effectual means are taken for educating the people, carrying off our superfluous population, & providing the means of well-being for all who remain at home, I have a deep & most mournful conviction that England must go thro the horrors of a Jacquerie – a Bellum Servile. [18]  I could say much upon this danger. – Remember me to Mrs May – & believe me

most affectionately yours

R Southey [19] 


* Address: To/ John May Esqre/ Richmond/ Surrey
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 24MR24/ 1815; 10o’Clock/ MR.24/ 1815F.N.n
Endorsement: No. 179 1815/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 20th March/ recd. 24th do/ ansd 16th June
Watermark: J Dickinson & Co/ 1811
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. 141–143. BACK

[1] See Southey to John Taylor Coleridge, 14 March 1815, Letter 2571. BACK

[2] This plan was not followed. Hartley Coleridge enrolled at Merton College, Oxford in 1815 and spent his undergraduate life there. BACK

[3] John May was handling Southey’s life insurance payments in London. BACK

[4] Thomas Perkins (1778–1815), a Captain in the Royal Navy. Perkins died at Dover on 3 April 1815, so he may have been prevented from repaying Southey because of ill-health, rather than as part of a fraud. BACK

[5] Southey had lost the money he invested in the Edinburgh Annual Register and his annual salary from writing for it. BACK

[6] The three-volume History of Brazil, published between 1810–1819. BACK

[7] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[8] History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), II, pp. 333–380, 632–692. BACK

[9] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1812 (1814). The historical section was written by the Scottish lawyer and writer, James Russell (1790–1861; DNB). BACK

[10] Alexander Chalmers (1759–1834; DNB), The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper (1810), Quarterly Review, 11 (July 1814), 480–504; and Quarterly Review, 12 (October 1814), 60–90. BACK

[11] Meriweather Lewis (1774–1809) and William Clark (1770–1838), Travels to the Source of the Missouri River, and Across the American Continent to the Pacific Ocean (1814), Quarterly Review, 12 (January 1815), 317–368. BACK

[12] Letters and Miscellaneous Papers of Barré Charles Roberts (1814), Quarterly Review, 12 (January 1815), 509–519. BACK

[13] Napoleon had escaped from Elba on 26 February 1815, but he went to France, not Italy. Southey supported the idea of a united Italy and so feared Napoleon would be able to gather support there. BACK

[14] Napoleon Bonaparte. BACK

[15] The Government had introduced its proposal for a sliding scale of duties on imported corn on 1 March 1815. The Bill passed on 23 March 1815, despite much urban opposition. BACK

[16] Southey’s article in Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. BACK

[17] i.e. Sorcerers or witches. BACK

[18] Literally a ‘Slave War’, i.e. a rebellion by the lower classes of society. BACK

[19] means well … R. Southey: written on fol 1r. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Streatham (mentioned 1 time)