3139. Robert Southey to John Rickman [fragment], [c. 26 May 1818]

3139. Robert Southey to John Rickman [fragment], [c. 26 May 1818] ⁠* 

I have a letter from Como, three days old, with a report that the Princess of Wales & five of the rascals who compose her establishment have been poisoned. But I will give it you in Landors [1]  own words

“A most extraordinary piece of intelligence reached us yesterday (his letter has no date) – that the Princess of Wales & five of her rascals had been poisoned. [2]  Such is the profound ignorance of the English character among this most degraded & infamous people, that it is considered as a thing beyond all doubt that the English have committed this atrocity. I could not refrain from making the following remark, – there is only one nation in Europe accused of such villainy, & that nation is far removed in all its institutions & feelings from the English. Altho the report is circulated among the best informed, I am inclined to disbelieve it. Surely it is more probable that the sudden & violent heats have inflamed the blood of creatures who are always half-drunk. – Or that Syphilis or the remedies of Syphilis are preying on their constitutions. It is not indeed quite impossible that those who are implicated in the forgery of the two letters of exchange have dispatched a wretch capable both of employing & betraying them: nor that jealousy, not arising from the enjoyment of personal charms, but from the disposal of pecuniary favours, has precipitated some of the scoundrels in her service to commit this atrocious deed. She has a known & convicted assassin in her household, – & who knows but some such untoward accident has befallen her as befell Cesar Borgia, [3]  & played a sorry wreck upon the infallibility of his master? We shall certainly hear more of the matter soon. The Popes [4]  government is excellent in all respects & Consalvi [5] (I cannot decipher the name, & do not know it) is at once the most honest & the most prudent Statesman in Europe. He will unravel the mystery, for whoever may be the contriver of this mischief, the perpetrator must be in the house.”


* Endorsement: Fr RS./ The Beastly/ Queen – / 1819
MS: Huntington Library, RS 382. AL; 2p.
Previously published: John Forster (1812–1876; DNB), Walter Savage Landor: a Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 441–442 [in part; only the section quoted from Landor’s letter of May 1818]. BACK

[1] Name heavily deleted in another hand. BACK

[2] Princess Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), estranged wife of the Prince of Wales, had been living in Italy with an entourage of servants, with one of whom she was thought to be having an affair. The Rome newspapers of 15 May had carried reports that it was being rumoured that the servant in question, Bartolomeo Pergami (1783/4–1842), had been poisoned; see the Morning Post, 8 June 1818. But Landor’s account is composed of a mixture of gossip and wild exaggeration and it is not possible to clearly identify who he is referring to in the Princess’s household. BACK

[3] Cesare Borgia (1475/1476–1507), Renaissance statesman, and his father Alexander VI (1431–1503; Pope 1492–1503), were allegedly poisoned at a dinner on 6 August 1503. Cesare survived (though it was claimed his skin peeled off as a result of the medicines he took to save his life) but Alexander VI died on 18 August. It was rumoured that their poisoning was an accident and that Cesare had intended to poison their host, Cardinal Adriano Castellesi (c.1460–c.1521). BACK

[4] Pius VII (1742–1823; Pope 1800–1823). BACK

[5] Cardinal Ercole Consalvi (1757–1824), Cardinal Secretary of State 1800–1808 and 1814–1823, and the effective ruler of the Papal States. Princess Caroline was at this time living at Pesaro in the Papal States. BACK

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