2804. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 4 June [1816]

2804. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 4 June [1816]⁠* 

My dear R.

I have made a discovery today in my Morte Arthur course of reading, – that King Arthur had no such thing as a chamber-pot, – & that such things were not in use when the romance of Merlin was written – which is from five to six hundred years ago. [1]  This is very odd – I should certainly have thought them coeval with wash-hand-basons. But no; – Queen Guenever was obliged to walk into the garden before she went to bed. I doubt whether Nicolas Carlisle & the Antiquarian Society [2]  are acquainted with this, – which is a fact for Beckmanns next volume of the History of Inventions. [3] 


4 June.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqre// St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] FREE/ 7 JU/ 18
Endorsement: 4 June 1816
MS: Huntington Library, RS 285. ALS; 2p.
Dating note: Year from endorsement. BACK

[1] In The Byrth, Lyf, and Actes of Kyng Arthur, 2 vols (London, 1817), II, p. 462, Southey told this story in a note: ‘A plot was laid by the relations of the illegitimate Guenever to pass her off upon Arthur for her half sister, and thus revenge themselves upon King Leodagan, whom they hated. It was known that the true Guenever before she went to bed must go into the garden, for a purpose which the romance writer states in the plainest language, and which proves that one of the commonest and most indispensable chamber utensils was not in use in King Arthur’s days, nor in his own. She was to be waylaid in the garden, carried off, put into a boat, and kept somewhere in durance, while the false Guenever was to be conducted to the bridal bed in her place, by a treacherous governante.’ BACK

[2] Nicholas Carlisle (1771–1847; DNB), Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries 1807–1847. BACK

[3] Johann Beckmann (1739–1811), History of Inventions, Discoveries and Origins (1797). The third edition was published by Longman in 1817. BACK