3396. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 3 December 1819

3396. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 3 December 1819⁠* 

My dear R.

Thank you for the Parl: Procs- [1]  & the pamphlett. Badly as I thought of the Whigs, they have on this occasion shown themselves at once greater knaves & greater blockheads than I had expected. The measures of Government are much as I expected <looked for>; [2]  – more efficient ones might have been carried without exciting more opposition. But ministers are safe from the current charge strongest ground that could be taken against them. – Why was not all this done three years ago, when there was the same reason for it? [3]  – The eruption will be cured, – but the body will remain diseased. Of this I am convinced that all governments which must be considered as imperfect which do not keep in their own hands the direction of public instruction, & the control of the press. This has always been required in Utopian romance. [4] 

I have been doing my task for the Court Fiddlers, – which goes inclosed. [5]  And there is some danger that I may lose my labour, by having done it too soon. Whenever the King dies [6]  I must do some thing more than task verses which are fit only to be befiddled. & this present alarm has made me think about it in earnest, that I may not be wholly unprepared. This will be an inconvenient interruption, – but I have planned something, which, ni fallor [7]  is capable of some effect, – which will be a good deal out of the common, & in which I shall have an opportunity of speaking what in Dahomy would be called strong words. [8] 

I have some inscriptions in hand, [9]  which I shall send you, as soon as I can satisfy myself with them, – & thro you, to the Pontifex Maximus.

Giffords illness I app suspect was nothing more than his constitutional want of health, – some temporary exacerbation of an habitual disease. I find Government have set on foot a weekly paper, [10]  – they would do better to frame such laws as would put a stop to many of those already in existence. An act against Sunday newspaper would have had much of this effect.

God bless you. Remember me to Mrs R. Ann Franco & the young Giant. [11] 


3 Dec. 1819.


* Endorsement: 3 Dec – 1819
MS: Huntington Library, RS 380. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 161–162. BACK

[1] The official Report of Parliamentary Proceedings, usually known as Hansard, after its publisher, Luke Hansard (1752–1828; DNB). The pamphlet is unidentified. BACK

[2] The Cabinet had published its proposals on 29 November 1819 for what became known as the ‘Six Acts’ to suppress radical agitation, including a new Criminal Libel Bill. BACK

[3] A huge radical meeting was held at Spa Fields on 2 December 1816; a group of revolutionaries had used the occasion to lead some of the crowd in an attempt to storm the Bank of England and the Tower of London. BACK

[4] For example, Sir Thomas More (1478–1535; DNB), Utopia (1516) and Samuel Hartlib (1600–1662; DNB), A Description of the Famous Kingdom of Macaria (1641). BACK

[5] Southey’s duty as Poet Laureate was to produce a New Year’s Ode for 1820; a copy of his ode was enclosed in this letter; see Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 3 December 1819, Letter 3395. The poem was later published as ‘The Warning Voice. Ode I’ in The Englishman’s Library: Comprising a Series of Historical, Biographical and National Information (London, 1824), pp. 381–383. BACK

[6] George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) died on 29 January 1820. Southey responded with A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[7] ‘unless I am mistaken’. BACK

[8] Dahomey was a powerful West African kingdom; ‘strong words’ were words inspired by the gods. Southey’s knowledge of the kingdom probably derived from Archibald Dalzel (1740–1811; DNB), The History of Dahomey (1793), no. 893 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] Southey’s three ‘Inscriptions for the Caledonian Canal’, which he had visited with Rickman in August–September 1819: ‘Inscription for a Tablet at Banavie, on the Caledonian Canal’, Friendship’s Offering. A Literary Album (London, 1826), pp. [167]–168; and ‘At Clachnacharry’ and ‘At Fort Augustus’, The Anniversary; or, Poetry and Prose for MDCCCXXIX (London, 1829), pp. 194–197. BACK

[10] The Guardian (1819–1824), a weekly Sunday newspaper masterminded by John Wilson Croker. Southey became a subscriber. BACK

[11] Rickman’s children: Ann Rickman (b. 1808), William Charles Rickman (1812–1886) and Frances Rickman (dates unknown). BACK

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