2972. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 9 April 1817

2972. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 9 April 1817⁠* 

Keswick. 9 April. 1817

My dear Sir

So many interruptions & harrassing affairs have occurred to me of late, one after the other, that I have unavoidably delayed writing to you, till I almost fear a direction even to Rugby will may fail to find you there. [1] 

You will have seen my name pretty frequently in the newspapers, & may perhaps like to know the real circumstances of the business. I wrote Wat Tyler in the summer of 1794 before I was twenty years of age; – it was the xxxx composition of two or three mornings, – thrown off at a heat & without the slightest correction or revision. Lovell took it to London in the autumn & put it into Ridgeways hands, that he might consider whether he would publish it. It was left in his hands, & in the December of the same year I went to town myself for three days, & called on Ridgeway who was then in Newgate. [2]  He & Symonds (also a prisoner) sa told me they would print it, & if any profit accrued I was to have such a proportion as they should think fit equitable. There the matter ended. I returned to Bristol, no proof sheet ever came to me, I concluded that upon farther reflection they thought the thing unfit for publication, & my own after thought coincided so entirely in this judgement, that I made no application to know why the printing was delayed, nor ever enquired for the manuscript, thinking in fact no more of it than of a college or school exercise.

By whom this thing after an interval of three & twenty years has been published I know not. Upon seeing it announced I immediately gave instructions to apply for an injunction in Chancery, – the case being as plain as day light, that the property was mine, & that a man might just as well take from me any of the papers in my writing desk, as print that without my consent, & in defiance of me. A counter-affidavit was procured from a Dissenting Minister by name Winterbottom, which does not contain a single word of truth. [3]  I saw this man once in my life, which was in Ridgeways apartment upon the occasion already mentioned, & I never saw him at any other time, nor was ever at any other time within the walls of Newgate, – he swears that I visited him frequently there, that he believes it to have been in the year 1796 (for the purpose of making it appear that I was of age at the time) – & that I gave him the Manuscript to do with it whatever he pleased, – & he swears to persons being present whom I never saw in the whole course of my life. [4]  He says that the copy which has been printed must have been surreptitiously taken from that in his possession, – but he came forward with his claim in opposition to mine. The Chancellor therefore finding the right of property contested, referred it to a Court of Law, [5]  – & of course I did not chuse to incur farther expences in establishing a claim which was opposed by direct perjury. – Moreover my object was that of avowing the work, & disclaiming its opinions & this I had done.

I have now a letter to Wm Smith in the press which will be published in the course of next week. [6]  It is a plain exposition of what my political <opinions> have been, & what they are; with a wholesome castigation for the said Wm Smith. I would have one franked to you if I knew where to direct it. On Monday next I go to my brother Toms for a week, & my place is taken with Senhouse in the mail for London, on the 22d. We start for the Continent, God willing, on the first of May.

I have been disturbed about the house which we inhabit. The Estate is to be sold under an Extent in Aid, – [MS torn] I have had to think seriously whether it be best to purchase it, or ri incur the very probable risk of seeing it cut up into small lots, & having the remainder of my lease discomforted by building in the field & upper part of the nursery garden. [7]  This is a point upon which I have not yet been able to decide

Fearons bill is paid, [8]  & your assessed taxes, for both of which I have taken care to have stampt receipts. Should you arrive before my return to Keswick my Governess will render up the bills & accounts.

I can give you no directions to any authors who might serve as guides in Ireland, – a country of which I know neither less than J of Japan or China. There was a tour by Twiss, [9]  published in my childhood, which you have probably seen, & I dare say you know in what manner the Irish revenged themselves for the freedom of his observation by placing his portrait in a very scurvy place, with a poem in which his name was coupled to a scurvy rhyme. [10]  And there is Sir J Carrs Tour. [11]  I have heard of a book concerning Ireland well spoken of by some such name as Dewar or Drewer, – it is some four or five years old, [12]  – & there are two huge quartos of statistic information by Edward Wakefield. [13] 

Remember us most kindly to Mrs Peachy & believe me

my dear Sir

yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Major-General Peachy/ Post Office/ Rugby/ Warwickshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Seal: black wax, with ‘S’, ‘In Labore Quies’ motto below
MS: British Library, Add MS 28603. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 153–155. BACK

[1] Peachy’s two stepsons, James Henry (1803–1884) and Charles Edward Henry (1807–1833), were at Rugby School. BACK

[2] Southey had sent Wat Tyler to James Ridgway (1755–1838), and Henry Symonds (1741–1816), radical booksellers, for publication; see Robert Southey to Edith Fricker, [c. 12 January 1795], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 123. Ridgway and Symonds did not publish it and it remained in manuscript until a pirated publication, designed to embarrass the now anti-Jacobin Southey, appeared in 1817. Having taken advice from Rickman, Wynn and Turner, Southey launched an unsuccessful suit in Chancery so as to gain an injunction suppressing the publication. BACK

[3] Winterbottom’s affidavit, 15 March 1817, National Archives C31/372 Pt. 2. BACK

[4] Daniel Isaac Eaton (1753–1814; DNB), radical publisher; and Daniel Holt (1766–1799), printer of the Newark Herald (1791–1794), a prisoner in Newgate 1793–1797 after being convicted of seditious libel. BACK

[5] Southey’s suit in Chancery was heard on 18–19 March 1817 before John Scott, 1st Earl of Eldon (1751–1838; DNB), Lord Chancellor 1801–1806, 1807–1827. He ruled that he could not grant an injunction in a court of equity because Southey had not unequivocally established his ownership of the manuscript in question and he would need to do this in a court that applied the law of the land, rather than equity. BACK

[6] Smith had denounced Southey in the House of Commons on 14 March 1817 in the debate on the Seditious Meetings Bill, condemning ‘the settled, determined malignity of a renegado’ and comparing Southey’s arguments against radical views in the Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 227, with those expressed in Wat Tyler (1817), Act 2, lines 103–112. Southey justified his change of views, and attacked Smith, in his A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (1817). BACK

[7] Greta Hall had suffered from the complicated financial and legal entanglements of its owner, Samuel Tolson Jnr (dates unknown), who was by April 1817 in Carlisle jail for debt; a creditor had taken out an injunction (an ‘extent in aid’) against him, seeking recompense by forcing a sale of the estate. BACK

[8] Possibly Joseph Fearon (1767–1839). BACK

[9] Richard Twiss (1747–1821; DNB), A Tour in Ireland in 1775 (1776). BACK

[10] On the bottom of a chamber pot, inscribed with the rhyme ‘Let everyone piss/ On lying Dick Twiss’. BACK

[11] Sir John Carr (1772–1832; DNB), The Stranger in Ireland; or, A Tour in the Southern and Western Parts of that Country in the Year 1805 (1806). BACK

[12] Daniel Dewar (1787?-1867), Observations on the Character, Customs, and Superstitions of the Irish (1812). BACK

[13] Edward Wakefield (1774–1854; DNB), An Account of Ireland, Statistical and Political (1812), no. 3094 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)