3185. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 1 September 1818

3185. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 1 September 1818⁠* 

My dear R.

I have just read thro Clarendons Hist: of the Rebellion, [1]  & the result has been rather to strengthen my hope in the conservative principles of society. If any thing could induce me to wish the Whigs in power, it would be their certain interference with the press, & the probability of their undoing the mischief which Fox did by making the Jury in cases of libel judges of the law as well as of the fact. [2] xx Yet there has been as much fault in the manner of enforcing the laws, as in the law itself. So much time has been suffered to elapse between the commission of the offence & the trial (as in Hones case [3] ) that the culprit has had full leisure to get up a theatrical defence, & the public has feeling of indignation has been palli worn out & subsided into indifference.

Thank you for your note about the Jerboa. I had made the same guess, but suppressed because of the difficulty of explaining how the Jerboa should get there, – being neither known in Europe nor in America, nor in those parts of Africa from whence any ship at any time had ever touched upon the Island. [4]  However as your first thought coincided with mine I have mentioned the likelihood & the difficulty. You see I am getting on well, & with matter which will be almost as new to the Portugueze themselves as to the English. This chapter will be a very curious one: & the following one relates to the Equestrian tribes. [5]  It is a great pleasure to perceive the end of so long a work fairly in view.

Can you send me the third Police – the Prison – & the Endowed School Reports. [6]  – I am about to write upon the Copy-right-question in the next Q.R., – & also (taking the New Churches for a text), to put together my Collectanea concerning the disposal of the dead. [7] 

God bless you


1 Sept. 1818.

My brother Tom is coming at Lady Day [8]  [MS torn] reside within an hours walk of me, – in the vale of Newlands, – a very sweet place – where he takes 30 acres of land. [9]  This removal is in all respects desirable for him & for me, & will at least double the quantum of my yearly exercise.


* Address: To/ J Rickman Esqre
MS: Huntington Library, RS 351. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 95–96. BACK

[1] A new edition, printed by Pople, of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609–1674; DNB), The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (1816). BACK

[2] The Libel Act of 1792, sponsored by Fox, gave juries the chief responsibility to decide if a publication was libellous, rather than leaving the matter mainly to the judge. BACK

[3] William Hone was prosecuted in three separate trials on 18–20 December 1817 on the grounds that his radical satires, which parodied the Church of England’s litany and the Athanasian Creed, constituted blasphemous libel. The ex-officio information that led to the trials had been filed as early as April 1817, though. Hone was acquitted, following a notably ‘theatrical defence’ mounted by himself, which effectively mocked the judge, prosecuting counsel, and government. BACK

[4] The jerboa is a desert rodent from North Africa and Asia. In History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, p. 303, Southey discussed the island of Fernam de Noronha, off the Brazilian coast, and the plague of rats that caused its Dutch settlers to abandon it in the 1630s. In a note he speculated that the rats were actually jerboas. BACK

[5] Chapters 37–38 of the History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. 299–441. BACK

[6] The Select Committee on the State of the Police of the Metropolis issued its third report in 1818 (printed 5 June 1818); the first and second Reports of the Select Committee State on the State of the Prisons within the City of London and the Borough of Southwark appeared in 1818; the Committee on the Education of the Lower Orders made five reports on schools in 1818. BACK

[7] Southey’s article on the ‘Inquiry into the Copyright Act’ appeared in Quarterly Review, 21 (January 1819), 196–219. Southey discussed new churches in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591, in a review of (among other things) Haydon’s New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818), and cemeteries in ‘Cemeteries and Catacombs of Paris’, Quarterly Review, 21 (April 1819), 359–398. BACK

[8] 25 March 1819. Lady Day was a traditional day on which to begin tenancies. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Emerald Bank, Newlands (mentioned 1 time)