470. Robert Southey to John May, 27 December 1799 

470. Robert Southey to John May, 27 December 1799 ⁠* 

My dear friend

I was about to write when your letter arrived – the newspapers had told me your marriage. [1]  – God bless you.

the debility left by my nervous fever I have recovered, & the pain at heart has abated. I have {had} the advice of five medical men {practitioners} – do not suspect me of hypochondriacal extravagance – my friendships here are among scientific men – they agree in not thinking it a topical affection. Beddoes has known five or six persons similarly affected – some of whom have desired in their wills to be opened – but – he added – they have none of them died yet. At night I have my old symptoms in a very distressing degree – feelings which I believe no one in health could well conceive.

I am advised to change climate, & seriously think of so doing. it is only indisposition that has hitherto prevented me from giving myself up to professional labour. compelled as I am, almost to pass my days in idleness, & abstain from pursuits the most intensely gratifying, how is it possible that I could endure the confinement of a lawyers office, & the tedium of studies which only duty could make endurable? my health once established I will make every effort. of success I am not sanguine in expectation. it I never believed myself qualified for the profession. my powers are only vigorous in solitude or in the society that imposes no restraint. I am easily confounded – you may recollect the similar temporary want of talent in Rousseau. I resemble him in nothing else. – to reestablish my health is the great immediate object – without that I am paralysed for every effort. Abroad then I think of going. Of course Lisbon offered itself as the most accessible place – but on reconsideration I am inclined to think of some other abode. If my health compels me to go abroad, the expence of time & money which it will occasion, it must be my business to defray as far as I can by the journey itself, this therefore is a motive for a new route. another is that I will not go alone – to leave Edith would be saving very little at the expence of much lonely anxiety on her part, & some on my own – besides she herself is of delicate health & likely to be benefitted. now this would not be convenient to my Uncle certainly, & perhaps not agreable. therefore I have lookd farther south & thought of Trieste. there I could judge of the security of Italy, in safety myself – & the sea would always be open – or a retreat into Germany. as yet these are flying thoughts – but the advice of my medical advisers & of my friends induces me to it – & the recollection of what I was at Lisbon & what I am now in animal strength.

My brothers Harry & Edward are both at in Bristol for their holydays. Harry is now at the table busy in adjusting a dissected map. I find him grown much & much improved, & receive a good account of him. some faults he has to correct. he is very quick – but both in him & Edward is the sad want of diffidence; in my judgement the great feature of genius. Harry is now approaching to the important period of life. in my own case, early habits of solitude, & feelings that shrink from observation counterbalanced the dangers of an overactive imagination – & I had early acquired a deep love of morals – perhaps the habit induced by poetry of looking every where for the beautiful produced or certainly strengthened this. my brothers seems to possess the same imagination without the preserving qualities. Of Edward our account is good – far better than I expected – & his master is a good man, whose praise deserves belief. so far is well with both. in the event of my death it is something consolatory that Tom is already able to afford assistance, & the the younger ones growing up.

Should I execute this plan of going abroad I look to Thalaba [2]  for my ways & means. thus were I to go to Lisbon I should have an adequate income for the year not to burthen my Uncle. but for the reasons already stated I look more to Trieste. yet the History of Portugal [3]  remains a favourite plan with me, & the event of your going there, would create in me a wish to go. I shall lose much if you quit England – not that we have been within a social distance yet – but I have ever been xxxxxxx expecting to reach London as my home, & have in you a neighbour.

Coleridge is in London working for the booksellers, & by his own account profitably employed. he is about to prosecute the Anti-Jacobine publisher [4]  for saying that he had quitted England, become a citizen of the world, left his little ones fatherless & his wife destitute. this precious paragraph concluded with

“Ex uno disce” [5]  his associates Southey & Lambe.

direct Kingsdown Parade. Bristol.

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

27 Dec. 99.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond Green/ Surry/ Single
Postmarks: [partial] 10 o’Clock/ DE. 28/ 99 F.Noo; B/ DEC 28/ 99
Endorsement: No 47 1799/ Robert Southey/ Bristol 27 Decr:/ recd: 28 do/ ansd: 13 Feb. 1800
MS: Boston Public Library, MS C.1.22.4
Unpublished. BACK

[1] John May married Susanna Frances Livius (1767–1830) on 12 December 1799. The marriage was reported in The Oracle, 13 December 1799. BACK

[2] Thalaba the Destroyer, published in 1801. BACK

[3] Southey never finished his ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[4] Beauties of the Anti-Jacobin (London, 1799), p. 306, n. 17, where Coleridge is easily identifiable as ‘C-dge’. BACK

[5] The Latin translates as ‘From one learn [about]’. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2011