3106. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 27 March [1818]

3106. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 27 March [1818] ⁠* 

My dear R.

I have said some thing upon rogues & roguery in a paper which is now in Giffords hands, – upon the fitness of mending the nets of the Law, so that they may not escape thro the meshes as they now do; – – & the general question I have left for farther discussion, being fully aware of the whole combination against existing institutions. [1] 

The next paper which I write will be upon the state of the middle class, [2]  – the excess in the educated classes, rendering emigration as necessary as bleeding when the habit indicates apoplexy, – the condition of women, – & lastly & mainly the abuse of the press in rising in great measure from this overflow of educated or rather half educated men.

Brougham is speechifying thro the villages of Westmoreland!! [3] 

Westall sees a great deal of talent in the sketches from Thalaba. [4] Wynn has taken them to Murray, & he I understand likes them so well, that he has written to the artist concerning them.

I have a rich arrival of my books from Milan, [5]  – am in a happy confusion with them.

The Capitaneus has a book of mine concerning the Isles of Chiloe, [6]  – beg him to send it to Murray for me.

Is there no existing law by which these P Yard Meetings [7]  can be prosecuted? – Why are not the Orators brought to trial for sedition, – or rather why is not Fox’s absurd bill repealed, [8]  – & the xxx law of libel placed upon its proper grounds. Oh for more courage where it is most wanting.


27 March.


* Endorsement: RS/ 27 March 1818.
MS: Huntington Library, RS 337. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 67–69.
Dating note: Year from endorsement. BACK

[1] A reference to a draft of ‘On the Means of Improving the People’, Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 79–118, especially 116–117. BACK

[2] In so far as Southey dealt with these questions (especially the role of women) in the Quarterly Review it was in ‘British Monachism’, Quarterly Review, 22 (July 1819), 59–102 (at 90–102). BACK

[3] A general election was imminent, though the House of Commons was not dissolved until 10 June 1818. It was already clear, though, that there would be a contest in Westmorland, which was dominated by the Lowther family, who were supporters of the government – the two sitting MPs were the brothers Henry Lowther (1790–1867), MP for Westmorland 1812–1867 and William, Viscount Lowther (1787–1872), later 2nd Earl of Lonsdale and MP for Cockermouth 1808–1813, MP for Westmorland 1813–1831 and 1832–1841. So complete was the Lowthers’ dominance that the last contested election in Westmorland was in 1774. However, in January 1818, a committee of Whigs and smaller landowners had brought forward Henry Brougham to challenge the Lowthers – Brougham’s family home was Brougham Hall near Penrith and he could plausibly be presented as a local candidate. BACK

[4] William Hawkes Smith had sent Southey a ‘Prospectus’ and sample plates for Essays in Design Drawn and Etched by W. H. Smith, …Illustrative of the Poem of ‘Thalaba the Destroyer’ by R. Southey (1818). Smith’s plan was to publish by subscription; see Southey to William Hawkes Smith, 21 March 1818, Letter 3099. BACK

[5] Books Southey had bought on his continental tour in June 1817. BACK

[6] Pedro Gonzalez de Agueros (1768–1793), Descripcion Historial de la Provincia y Archipielago de Chilóe (1791), no. 3480 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] A large meeting of Westminster electors was held on 23 March 1818 in Palace Yard, just outside the Houses of Parliament, to call for an extension of the franchise. BACK

[8] The Libel Act of 1792, sponsored by Fox, gave juries the primary responsibility in deciding whether a publication was a libel, rather than leaving the matter mainly to the judge. BACK