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

250. Robert Southey to John May, 24 August 1797 ⁠* 

Burton. Thursday. Aug. 24. 1797

My dear friend

After a journey of almost four hundred miles & very great mental anxiety I am once more at rest, with the reward of believing that I have contributed to the happiness of two persons. I can not say that friendship put my exertions in requisition, for my acquaintance with Charles Lloyd (whom I accompanied) was slight. one day you shall hear the particulars in conversation — suffice it now to say that he came to me greatly agitated, & uncertain how to act, that the happiness of a very excellent young woman depended upon his conduct, that matters are well arranged — & that he has returned with me to be my guest till in three months I transfer him to her who will then have the best claim.

We reached this place last night. my Mother will be here on Saturday night. I could much wish you to visit us while she is here. you would see a woman whose health Affliction has broken, but whose unalterable sweetness of temper nothing has been able to injure. you would see my brother likewise, who has left his ship. an excellent young man. we met unexpectedly at Bristol on my return. when he had procured his discharge the Lieutenants called him into their room, & offered him collectively & individually certificates that his conduct had been uniformly strictly proper & that the Captain [1]  had been wholly & solely to blame. Is it in your power to get him rated in some other vessel? he has served four years & a half — & is I believe an excellent sailour. one who knows his duty & performs it is a valuable acquisition to any ship.

You shall know Lambs history when we meet. I shall relate it to you with the hope of perhaps benefiting a man, who amid sufferings more intense than usually afflict mankind, has attained a degree of saintly resignation almost more than human. I myself have little knowledge of him; Lloyd sought him out & has won his intimacy. he has certainly performed to the utmost every duty of every relation.

We are situate about ¼ of a mile short of the 8 mile stone from Ringwood. the inn at Christ Church is nearly two miles distant. it is a decent one, & as I have in some part explained how the room destined for your reception became pre-occupied, it were needless to apologize. I shall {have} much pleasure in introducing you to Charles Lloyd. men who mean well, & wish to act well ought to know each other, & as you say, if there be but a few Sodom may yet be saved.  [2]  Of collective efforts, & the elicited wisdom of conversation — I think as little as of the rest of the city-philosophers jargon. but good men encourage each other in goodness & chear the path of life which is somewhat wearying to the best of us.

Coleridge derives his chief support from the contributions of his friends, & thro the hands of Estlin of Bristol receives about fifty pounds annually. this as you may suppose can be but little for one who has neither the feelings nor habits of honest independance, & who always indulges himself careless of consequences. some Linendraper is now going to live with him & study one hour a day. ridiculous as this is, it is the most feasible plan he has yet adopted. the man cannot be very hungry after learning who limits himself to one hour a day, & if instead of a tutor & guide he can be satisfied with th[MS torn] most entertaining of — I may say — buffoons — they will do well together. it is not possible to think too highly[MS torn] Coleridges abilities, or too despicably of him in every other character.

Have you seen a poem addressed to me by Miss Anna Seward? [3]  if not I can much amuse you by it. she applies to my poetry what Milton says of the Pandæmonium chorists. [4]  calls me an unnatural boy, a beardless parricide, & dark of heart; says I cry like a crocodile & bids me laugh like a hyena. — & laugh I did most heartily — & so I think will you at perusing this very delectable poem.

When shall we see you? Edith desires to be remembered.

God bless you.

Robert Southey.


Notes

* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Hale/ near Downton/ Wilts.
Stamped: RINGWOOD
Endorsement: No. 7./ 1797/ Robert Southey/ Burton 24 Aug./ recd: 25 do/ ansd: 27 do
MS: Robert H. Taylor Collection, Princeton University Library
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Sir Robert Barlow (1757–1843; DNB). BACK

[2] In Genesis 18, God declared that the city of Sodom would be spared if it contained ten righteous men. It did not, and so was destroyed. BACK

[3] Anna Seward (1747–1809; DNB), ‘Written by Anna Seward, After Reading Southey’s Joan of Arc’ appeared in the Morning Chronicle on 5 August 1797. BACK

[4] John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), Paradise Lost (1667). BACK

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March 2009