1766. Robert Southey to [Susannah] Rickman, [c. 26 March 1810]

1766. Robert Southey to [Susannah] Rickman, [c. 26 March 1810] ⁠* 

I am turned beggar, & like other beggars come with a melancholy story. The Poems of which a sample is sent herewith that they may speak for themselves, were written by Wm Roberts, a Bristol lad, who died of consumption at the age of 19 & past the last weeks of his illness in correcting & fitting them for the press, & bequeathd them in trust to two of his friends, [1]  to be published for the benefit of an only sister [2]  whom he dearly loved; these being all he had to leave her. Circumstances have rendered this poor bequest of more importance than he was himself aware of.

Robertss father [3]  was a brewer, failed in trade & obtained an inferior situation in the Customs, just sufficient with the small profits of a lodging house on St Augustines back (Rickman will remember that place by virtue of a printers impress) [4]  – & with the sons salary of 70£ from a Bank, to maintain in decent comfort a family born & accustomed to something more. Since Williams death the father has been disabled by fits, & has lost his situation, – he therefore, the mother, a grandmother, & Eliza Roberts the only child, are if not actually in want, in danger of being soon reduced to it. – Now if a thousand subscribers can be obtained to the publication of these Remains (a half-guinea volume) – care being taken that as little of the money as possible should pass thro the booksellers, there will remain <be> a profit of nearly 300£, – sufficient it is hoped to place Eliza Roberts in a situation of supporting herself & her parents. A little zeal will accomplish this.

Lediard, who had walked over great part of the world, & many of the worst parts of it, used to say he xx never asked charity of a woman in vain. [5]  It is upon the authority of this observation alone that I come to beg of you, & to beg also that you will beg for me. I am sure this story, plainly & nakedly as it is now stated, will excite some interest in you, & that you will be xxxx <far> more interested by the account of his life which the Editor (James a banker of Birmingham) will prefix to the book, & by the extracts from his Letters which have been selected for publication.

I was in hopes that long before this we should have seen you in Cumberland, – & tho I must not be sorry that there are now two such serious obstacles to the journey, xxx will yet hope that they will not always be obstacles, but that I may one day row you round Keswick Lake, & lead your poney up Skiddaw. Having so often, & so long been your guest, I have a claim to be your host.

believe me my dear Madam

very truly yours

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Mrs Rickman
MS: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wilson Library, James Saxon Childers Papers. ALS; 4p. (c).
Previously published: The Lives and Works of the Uneducated Poets by Robert Southey, ed. James Saxon Childers (London, 1925), pp. 213–214 [undated].
Dating note: Dating from content; compare with Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 26 March 1810, Letter 1765. The letter is written before the death of Martha Rickman on 1 August 1810. BACK

[1] Edward Hogg and Paul Moon James. Their edition of Roberts appeared in 1811. BACK

[2] Roberts’s sister, Eliza (dates unknown). BACK

[3] William Roberts (dates unknown), he was declared bankrupt in 1793. BACK

[4] The Bristol firm of Biggs and Cottle had been based at St Augustines back. BACK

[5] The writer and surveyor Thomas Lediard (1685–1743; DNB). BACK

People mentioned

James, Paul Moon (1780–1854) (mentioned 2 times)
Hogg, Edward (1783–1848) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)