1991. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [c. November 1811]

1991. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [c. November 1811] ⁠* 

My dear Rickman –

I am afraid that my resolution concerning the Museum would not seem to you as prudent as it does to myself. [1]  Disappoint you I think it would not, for though it was the strongest temptation which possibly could have been presented, you knew my rooted & constitutional dislike to a London life. That the thing was within my reach there can be no doubt, in you I had the best interest there could be, – & it so happened at the moment that I would have made sure of the A.B. [2]  thro Dr Bell. See how difficult it is to serve a man who likes to go his own way in the world, – to breathe fresh air, & to be at perfect freedom, master of his own actions at all times.

You remember the odd fashion of my friends the Tupinambas – that when the wife lies in the husband goes to bed. [3]  I had found out the same unaccountable custom in France & in other parts of the world, – but I think the following passage will surprize you as much as it did me. It is from a work by an old English Physician cui nomen James sive Jacob Primerose. De Vulgi erroribus in Medicinâ. 1656. He has a chapter with this title – Maritium loco Uxoris gravidæ non ægrotare, & thus the Chapter sayeth –

“Inter errores quamplurimos maxime ridendos hic esse videtur, quod vir credatur ægrotare, iisque affici symptomatus, quibus ipsa mulier prægnans solet, illud que experientiâ confirmatum plurimi esse volunt. Habebam ægrum febre laborantem, cum urinâ valde accensâ & turbidâ, qui ægrotationis suæ nullam causam agnoscebat, quam uxoris suæ graviditatem. Nullibi terrarum quam in Angliâ, id observatum memini me audivisse, aut legisse unquam.” [4] 

This you will think odd enough – but odder still to tell, upon mentioning this I was told directly of a Gentleman who at this very time insists upon it that he is always affected in this way when his wife is breeding! – Who would have supposed that such a fancy as this was afloat in England at this time!

Some week or two or three hence some papers will be sent to you ad frankandum, [5]  they ought to come in two packets, one directed to my brother Tom. This is a MSS, of frankable size which I design to employ him in transcribing for me, [6]  – do you therefore have the goodness to get it franked to him at St Helens Auckland, Rushy ford. – The other part must come here, – it is the journal of a clever man, kept during his late abode at Buenos Ayres, & designed to give me a view of the transactions & politics of that part of the world. [7] 

You will be glad to hear that I regularly read two folio pages of Dutch every morning. I have got good footing in the language, & feel that whatever knowledge it contains is now within my reach. So you see if I had done nothing else since my return, the time would not have been ill spent.

Remember us to Mrs R. She & little Anne, & perhaps the sister [8]  besides will be by this time hastening perhaps returned to London.

God bless you


I want you to know Dr Gooch, (to whom I have <given> a letter introductory to Turner) – he is a very able man, more likely than any other man of my acquaintance to become highly useful in his profession. My Uncle knows him & likes him much, & so I am sure will you.


* Endorsement: RS – 1811./ Museum
MS: Huntington Library, RS 177. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 237–239 [in part; dated October 1811]. BACK

[1] Francis Douce had resigned as Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum in April 1811. The post was in the gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Speaker and the Lord Chancellor; see Southey to Herbert Hill, [? 15] October 1811, Letter 1968. BACK

[2] i.e. the Archbishop. BACK

[3] History of Brazil, 3 vols (1810–1819), I, p. 238. BACK

[4] James Primrose (1600–1659; DNB), De Vulgi Erroribus in Medicina (Amsterdam, 1639), pp. 66–67. The quotation translates as: ‘Amongst very many errors, this one appears to be especially laughable, that a man should believe himself to be ill, and to be afflicted by those symptoms which are characteristic of a pregnant woman, and very many people want this to be confirmed by a test. I had one man who was ill and struggling with fever, with urine which was very fiery and cloudy, who recognised no cause for his illness other than his wife’s pregnancy. Nowhere else in the world except in England do I remember hearing or reading that this has been observed.’ A longer version of this appeared in the notes to Southey’s A Tale of Paraguay (London, 1827), p. 181. BACK

[5] ‘to be franked’. BACK

[6] The merchant Thomas Kinder (c.1781–1846) had lent Southey a manuscript of Ruy Diaz de Guzman (1558–1629), La Argentina, y Historia de las Descubrimento de las Provinicas de la Rio de la Plata (1612). The copy made by Tom Southey was no. 3836 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] Kinder had spent some time in South America. Southey had borrowed Kinder’s unpublished journal of events in Buenos Ayres in 1808–1810 that led to the independence of the states of the Rio de la Plata. (In 1813 Southey had a copy made of the journal, no. 3162 in the sale catalogue of his library. The copy was published as, Malyn Newitt (ed.), War, Revolution and Society in the Rio de la Plata 1808–1810. Thomas Kinder’s Narrative of a Journey to Madeira, Montevideo and Buenos Ayres (2010).) Kinder had also lent Southey ‘a volume of Noticias del Paraguay … in manuscript’, History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), II, p. [v]. For Southey’s account of the revolution in Buenos Ayres, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 395–421. BACK

[8] Ann Rickman (b. 1808) and her younger sister, Frances. BACK

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