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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 1: 1791-1797, Edited By Lynda Pratt

261. Robert Southey to John May, 6 October 1797 ⁠* 

Bath. Oct. 6. 1797

My dear friend

My Mothers objections to quitting the house are all removed, & nothing now remains to be overcome but the difficulty of doing it. Thomas will be here on his way to London in November. there is a person who may possibly take the lease, but she is not in Bath, but daily expected. should this probability fail it will be necessary to advertise the house, but that cannot be done till something be settled with regard to my Mothers debts. if on her quitting this place it be necessary to discharge those debts which are each seperately too trifling to be deferred upon security, I will not hesitate in applying to you for assistance, should it be wanted.

Coleridge has so far compleated his tragedy [1]  that he has only the task of correcting it to perform. he passed thro Bath & read it to me. it is wonderfully fine — it must secure its own success, & my own opinion of it is so high that I should not be surprized were it again to make tragedy fashionable. you know Sheridan [2]  requested him to write it. his profits will be 5 or 600£. I heard him mention two ways of employing this sum — that of sinking it an in an annuity for Mrs Coleridges life was one. the other of studying medicine in Germany. If however his play succeed, as I cannot doubt, he will probably make it his business to write for the stage, & little industrious as his habits are, he may well produce a play yearly.

Lloyd is here. he has met with a heavy & unexpected disappointment, but he bears the inconstancy of a woman as a man ought to bear it. his mind is now employed in developing all his feelings & principles in the form of a novel, & exposing the evil tendency of other systems. I never saw a mind so indefatigably active; what he does has done pleases me very much, & if he perseveres with the same ardour that he has begun, I shall expect to make him read the compleat work to you when we reach London.

I have myself been very busy upon the first book of Joan of Arc. I have rejected every thing miraculous except what is historically unaccountable. the first 344 lines are therefore omitted, & the progress of her mysterious character more philosophically developed. it is finished & to my own satisfaction. I have corrected the first proof.

Do you recollect the story I told you of the poor woman at Burton? I have thrown it into verse & would send it you, but that it will appear in the Monthly Magazine.  [3]  the little poem [4]  you ask for was written the first evening of my residence in London.

Bristol! I did not on thy well-known towers
Turn my last look without one natural pang,
My heart rememberd all the peaceful years
Of childhood, & was sad. me many cares
Have changed. I may revisit thee again,
But never with that eager glow of joy,
As when from Corston to my mothers arms
I hastend with unmingled happiness,
Returning from first absence. thy old towers
Again may from the hill-top meet my view,
But I shall see them dimly thro the tear.
There is a stranger in my fathers house,
And where my evil fortunes found a home
From the hard world, the gate has closed upon me,
And the poor spaniel that did love me, lies
Deep in the whelming waters. fare thee well
O pleasant place! “I had been well content
To seek no other earthly home beside!” [5] 

————

My brother is gone to join his ship. the Mars Capt. Alex. Hood. [6]  a 74. he left us on Wednesday.

I thank you for your offer of a bed. I do not come up before Edith as she is more skilled in taking lodgings than I am myself — if however it be not inconvenient to you, I shall be obliged for one nights shelter.

God bless you.

Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


Notes

* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4. Bedford Square/ London
Stamped: BATH
Postmark: BOC/ 7/ 97
Endorsements: 1797 No. 9./ Robert Southey/ Bath 6 October/ recd: 7 do/ ansd: 11 do
MS: British Library, Ashley 2884
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 152–153. BACK

[1] Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Osorio. BACK

[2] Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816; DNB). BACK

[3] Southey’s ‘Hannah, a Plaintive Tale’, which appeared in the Monthly Magazine, 4 (October 1797), 287. From 1799, it was incorporated into his sequence of ‘English Eclogues’ and retitled ‘The Funeral’. BACK

[4] The poem that follows was published anonymously in the Morning Post, 2 June 1798. A version dated ‘SAT. Feb. 4, 1797’ is in Southey’s Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 38–39. BACK

[5] A paraphrase of sentiments found in William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB), The Task, A Poem, in Six Books (London, 1785), Book 5, ‘The Winter Morning Walk’, p. 205. BACK

[6] Alexander Hood (1758–1798; DNB), who was killed in action between the Mars and the French ship L’Hercule on 21 April 1798. BACK

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March 2009