3301. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 24 May [1819]

3301. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 24 May [1819] ⁠* 

My dear R.

From three to four portions after this consignment will bring me to the end of my long labour. And then I set my face southward instanter. You see that in this chapter [1]  I mix up general matter with statistic detail, – for a double purpose; – what is true of the province whereof I am treating, may not be equal true of every other, – & it relieves the heavier matter. – The country altogether is in a curious state, – but it is making marvellous progress, & no other part of the world requires so few, or such easy alterations in its institutions.

So the Ghost of Bullion is risen, & playing the Devil with the commerce of the country. [2]  We must build walls again xx to run our heads against them. This is a question upon which I go with Mr Cropper [3]  & Lord Stanhope [4]  – bad company both, – but better than Hunt, [5]  Wooler, [6]  the Bullionists, the Gregrees, [7]  all acting in odd coalition against Common Sense & the practical men. Whenever a question of political economy is mixed up with abstractions & metaphysics it is a plain proof that he who makes the hodge podge knows nothing about the matter. – I look to much immediate embarrassment in trade, produced by this measure, – & to be felt sorely in next years revenue, by which time things will be getting right again & accommodate themselves to the circumstances of the money market. And to suppose that when the experiment shall have cost the Bank 2 or 300,000 pounds, – to enrich them who trade in gold, the people will be satisfied that whatever is said of a standard of value is sheer nonsense, – & as Lord Stanhope maintained that for a people in our stage of civilization, gold is altogether unnecessary. [8]  – – One thing however may be taken into the account which is not generally known. The Brazilian mines as yet have only been scratched. – They are now taking means for working them, – & in all likelihood they will very soon be more productive than ever. [9]  With the general question this has nothing to do, – but it may materially concern the Bank, –

Remember us to Mrs R. – We are going on better.

God bless you


24 May.


* Endorsement: 24 May
MS: Huntington Library, RS 368. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 135–136. BACK

[1] Chapter 44 of Southey’s History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. 696–879. BACK

[2] The House of Commons was debating legislation to recommence the convertibility of paper currency to gold, which had been suspended since 1797. The legislation passed on 2 July 1819 and convertibility was restored on 1 May 1821, but the period 1819–1821 witnessed a fall in commodity prices and rising unemployment. BACK

[3] James Cropper (1773–1840; DNB), Quaker merchant and philanthropist from Liverpool. He had signed a petition from Liverpool bankers and merchants against the resumption of cash payments and then added his own reasons for doing so: an aspect of the petition that Canning drew attention to when he presented it to the House of Commons on 2 February 1819. BACK

[4] Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope (1753–1816; DNB), radical peer. BACK

[5] Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (1773–1835; DNB), radical politician. BACK

[6] Thomas Jonathan Wooler (1786–1853; DNB), editor of the radical satirical journal The Black Dwarf, 1817–1824. BACK

[7] The parliamentary opposition headed by the Whig, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764–1845; DNB), and Lord Grenville. BACK

[8] Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope’s (1753–1816; DNB) speech in the House of Lords, 16 July 1811: ‘To believe gold necessary to a circulating medium was an idea only fit for Hottentots.’ BACK

[9] After a boom in the 1730s and 1740s, gold production in Brazil had slowly declined. The government was making efforts to revive the industry by allowing the formation of joint stock companies in 1803 and permitting foreign-owned companies to mine for gold from 1817. BACK

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