3388. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 15 November 1819

3388. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 15 November 1819⁠* 

My dear R.

I have hit upon the original meaning of Tag Rag & Bobtail

In Derrickes Image of Ireland, [1]  written in Elizabeths reign are these lines –

Each knave will play the cook
To stand his Lord in stead,
But Tagge & Ragge will equal be
When chiefest rebell feed –

And upon this passage there is a happy marginal note which says “Master & man all one at eating of meat.” Tag therefore is the master – as wearing tagged points, – Rag the man, – & Bobtail sans doubt is the dog. –

Mrs R. will please to give my


Remembrances to Willy the Charioteer & Francofurte. [3]  I expose I shall soon be required to inclose a note of thanks from Edith to Miss Emma [4] 

Mrs Coleridge & her daughter are going to Liverpool to morrow, – on a visit, – the main purport of the journey being to procure certain surgical stays for Sara – So I have a thin household for some time.

I have had a pressing application from Murraylemagne to write de temporibus [5]  pro Q R. the said greatest of all journals being in danger of appearing without any thing upon the subject to the great distress of the said greatest of all great men. My reply was that it was utterly impossible to undertake it for want of time; – & I followed this decisive reply by a protest against the castrating system which in spite of all promises to the contrary, the Editor continues to pursue, – in nine instances out of ten without any conceivable reason.

Who would have thought that Greenough would have so played the fool! [6]  – On the other hand the Whigs in this country are a good deal weakened, – some of the best names which they used to boast are affixed to Mr Wallaces Address. [7]  – The opportunity is good if there were a Minister who knew how to use it.

Two ugly things in natural history have turned up – if the account should be confirmed, – a fly in the province of the Natchez (Louisiana) whose bite is deadly to horses, [8]  – & a bug in Persia whose bite is deadly to men. The latter is upon the authority of young Kotzebue, & he quotes the English at Tauris for it. [9]  But it has the suspicious addition that it is deadly to strangers only, & does not hurt the natives of the places where it is found. I confess myself very unwilling to believe these stories, – such insects would seem to disturb the order of creation as much as flying dragons, or creatures which should possess wings with the propensity & the power <strength> of the Lion or Tyger. The balance would be destroyed by the introduction of such new powers into the system.

God bless you


15 Nov. 1819


* MS: Huntington Library, RS 378. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 158–160 [in part]. BACK

[1] John Derricke (dates unknown), The Image of Irelande, with a Discoverie of Woodkarne (1581), written in the reign of Elizabeth I (1533–1603; Queen of England 1558–1603; DNB). BACK

[2] Southey writes ‘gigantic’ in extra large letters. BACK

[3] William Charles Rickman (1812–1886) and Frances Rickman (dates unknown, she married Richard Brindley Hone (1805–1881), Vicar of Halesowen 1836–1881, in 1836); the two youngest children of John Rickman. They had accompanied Southey and Rickman on their tour of Scotland, 17 August–1 October 1819. BACK

[4] Emma Pigott (dates unknown) had accompanied the Rickmans on their tour of Scotland. It is difficult to be sure of Miss Pigott’s identity, but she might have been Emma Pigott, younger daughter and co-heiress of James Pigott (d. 1822) of Fitz-Hall, Iping, Sussex. Fitz-Hall was only five miles from Susannah Rickman’s home at Harting. Emma Pigott married, in 1824, Edward Brice Bunny (d. 1867) of Speen Hill, Berkshire. BACK

[5] ‘on the times’; Murray had asked Southey to write on contemporary events for the Quarterly Review, Southey to John Murray, 10 November 1819, Letter 3386. BACK

[6] Greenough had resigned his commission in the London and Westminster Light Horse Volunteers (Grosvenor Bedford’s militia regiment) in protest at the government’s support of the local authorities’ suppression of the ‘Peterloo’ meeting in Manchester on 16 August 1819, at which eleven people had died. BACK

[7] Thomas Wallace (1768–1844; DNB), MP for various seats 1790–1828, including Cockermouth 1813–1818, member of the Board of Control 1807–1816, Vice-President of the Board of Trade 1818–1823, created 1st Baron Wallace 1828. He had inherited Carleton Hall, near Penrith. When Southey’s conservative Address from Cumberland following the ‘Peterloo’ meeting was deemed too combative, Wallace produced a more moderately pro-government second Address, which was published in the Morning Chronicle, 29 October 1819 and was notably circumspect in its reference to events at ‘Peterloo’. BACK

[8] Elias Cornelius (1794–1832), ‘On the Geology, Mineralogy, Scenery, and Curiosities of Parts of Virginia, Tennessee, and of the Alabama and Mississippi Territories, &c. In a Letter to the Editor’, The American Journal of Science, 1.4 (1819), 328–329. BACK

[9] Moritz von Kotzebue (1789–1861), Narrative of a Journey into Persia, in the Suite of the Imperial Russian Embassy, in the Year 1817 (London, 1819), pp. 209–212, no. 1518 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

People mentioned

Coleridge, Sara (1802–1852) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Gifford, William (1756–1826) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)