May, John (1775–1856)

merchant, financier and business agent. A member of a wealthy family, both his father (Joseph) and grandfather were successful merchants in Lisbon. He was educated at Newcome’s Academy, Hackney, where he was taught by George Coleridge, with whom he became lifelong friends. May went to Lisbon in 1793, in order to learn the family trade, returning to England in 1796. May married Susannah Frances Livius in 1799. The marriage produced four children. May and Southey met in Portugal in 1796. Their friendship was to last until the latter’s death. May acted as a financial adviser and agent to Southey, lending him money — including sums to finance Henry Herbert Southey’s education — and purchasing goods on his behalf. Southey reciprocated when May experienced a severe financial crisis in 1821 by lending him his life savings of £620. May visited the Southeys on several occasions and acted as godfather to Southey’s two eldest children — Margaret Edith and Edith May, the latter named in his honour. The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816) was dedicated to him ‘in testimony of the highest esteem and affection’.