2518. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 16 December 1814

2518. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 16 December 1814 ⁠* 

16 Dec. 1814.

My dear R

I sent the Buccaneers [1]  in a parcel to Bedford thro Murray the other day, & intended to have made up some memoranda for the Capitaneus this evening, – when behold a letter comes from Mr Croker in answer to a timely enquiry of mine, – that I must write an Ode for the New Year. [2]  – I shall be more wisely employed in writing the Ode than in abusing the custom.

I have got scent of the Squid-Hound, de quo in Ommianis, [3]  Cartwright hears from his Labradore or Newfoundland acquaintance of a sort of cuttle fish which grows as big as a large whale, [4]  Langsdorff says that off St Catharines (Brazil) this creature is big enough to seize a man & drown him, & refers to Montforts Hist: Naturelle des Mollasques [5]  (a book some ten years old) for an account of Le poulpe colossal, [6]  big enough to claw down a three masted vessel. [7]  Langsdorff disbelieves this: but I verily belief that this is the Kraken. [8]  You remember the cuttle fish which we saw at Bristol. Think of a beast of that family as big as a whale! a ship would have very little chance if he once clenched it.

Odd things are always coming to light. The stories of hermaphrodites being so comm numerous in some parts of America as to be made a separate class were disbelieved. Forbes tells us the same thing of them in India, both at Surat & among the Mahrattas, where they are made to dress like women, but to wear the male turban. [9]  Perhaps habits of immoderate licentiousness may occasion this imperfect generation.



* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqre/ St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Endorsement: RS./ 16 Decr. 1814
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 19 DE 19/ 1814
MS: Huntington Library, RS 239. ALS; 2p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Alexandre Esquemelin (1645–1707), De Americaeneche Zee Roovers (1678), no. 927 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. The book is described as ‘Presentation Copy from Capt. Burney’. BACK

[2] ‘Ode, Written in December 1814’. It was thought unsuitable by the authorities, and was not published until Southey’s Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 227–238. It was retitled ‘Ode, Written During the War with America, 1814’ in The Poetical Works of Robert Southey, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), III, 221–228. BACK

[3] In Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores, 2 vols (London, 1812), I, pp. 273–274, Southey had asked readers to send him ‘well authenticated particulars’ of the ‘Squid-hound’. ‘de quo’ means ‘the question’. BACK

[4] George Cartwright (1739–1819), A Journal of Transactions and Events, During a Residence of Nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador, 3 vols (London, 1792), III, p. 44. BACK

[5] Pierre Denys de Montfort (1766–1820), Histoire Naturelle Générale et Particulière des Mollusques (1801–1802). BACK

[6] Literally a ‘colossal octopus.’ BACK

[7] Georg Heinrich Langsdorff (1774–1852), Bemerkungen auf einer Reise um die Welt in den Jahren 1803 bis 1807, 2 vols (Frankfurt, 1812), I, p. 66 and n.*. Southey owned a copy of this edition, no. 1417 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[8] A legendary sea-monster that lived off the coasts of Norway and Iceland. BACK

[9] James Forbes (1749–1819; DNB), Oriental Memoirs, 4 vols (London, 1815), II, p. 62. Reviewed by Southey in Quarterly Review, 12 (October 1814), 180–227. BACK

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