358. Robert Southey to John May, 3 December 1798
Monday. 3. Dec. 98.
My dear friend
I am making enquiries for some school suitable for Harry. a fellow collegian of
mine was usher at a school in Devonshire, at Kingsbridge. to him I shall write
& mark learn particulars. Lightfoot is in orders himself,
a good scholar, indeed there were few equal to him at Balliol, & a man of more
faultless character I never knew. I think from his attachment to me, if he still
be at Kingsbridge that he would pay more than common attention to my brother.
In the meantime it is necessary to remove Harry, as at present he is an
incumbrance to Har
Burnett. will you be good enough
to house him for one night? it is not without something like reluctance that I
ask this, willingly as you will do it. but he is too young to shift for himself.
With one nights rest he will be fit for another journey. he had better travel by
night, on account of the time for beginning & ending his journey; & in
the coach that goes from the Saracens Head, Snow Hill, or the Bolt-in-Tun. Fleet
Since my return I have been very much troubled with a return of
my indisposition. I can account for it by two days inactivity during the wet
weather, but it is a sad thing to be affected by not taking exercise for two
days & those not successive ones. so now be the weather what it will I walk.
this destroys much time & much comfort. my head indeed is not idle. I pursue
my plans, view my purposed subjects in every different light, & mature them
in these walks. but all this does not make it the more agreable to get wet
The story of the Pythoness stolen away by a young
Thessalian,  strikes me as the best adapted for
scenic representation, by the pageantry it allows, & by its capability of
dramatic effect. I have not access to Diodorus Siculus,  the author who relates the
fact, & in whom possibly names & dates might be found. as yet the vague
outline only of a few characters & scenes is present to my mind, & for
the story I have no plan. perhaps I must connect some historical event with it.
for instance the irruption of the Gauls under Brennus;  – at
present the idea is fermenting in my head. I see something fine in the scenery –
Parnassus – the Temple – the adytum. & something to dramatic in the Pythoness then a young woman,
exposed to a maddening vapour by the villainy of the Priests, & probably
believing herself chosen by Apollo to the distinguishd suffering. then the
Thessalians superstitious horror – like a traveller on the hill top in a fog I
know there must be a fine prospect, but cannot see it yet. however let the
subject please me ever so much, I will adhere to my intention of making six
skeletons before I dress up one & breathe life into it. the drama would not
be my choice. it is not my own ground, but I think I can stand upon it.
I have begun the ninth book of Madoc,  & look on to the completion of the poem. this
will be a great thing done. & however pleasant a journey may be, I am always
glad to arrive at the end of it.
Ediths desires to be
God bless you,
* Address: To/ John May Esqr./ 4 Bedford
Postmark: B/ DE/ 4/
Endorsement: 1798 No. 27./ Robert Southey/ No
place 3 Decr/ recd:/ ansd:/} 4 do
MS: Duke University
Library, Southey Papers
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.),
Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols
(London, 1856), I, pp. 61–62. BACK
 The Pythia was the title
given to the priestess of Apollo at Delphi, who was famous for her
prophecies, uttered under the influence of vapours rising from the earth.
The priestess was originally always a young virgin, but after Echecrates the
Thessalian kidnapped and raped the incumbent, the priestess was always
chosen from among old women. BACK
 Greek historian of 1st century BC. This story appears in
Biblioteke, 16.26. BACK
 Chieftain of a group of Gauls who invaded Greece in 279 BC.
They were defeated at Delphi and Brennus committed suicide. BACK
 The manuscript version of Madoc, completed in
1799, had fifteen books. BACK