3417. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 14 January 1820

3417. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 14 January 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 14 Jany. 1820

My dear R.

I have seen that precious production of Hones. [1]  It is exactly one of those things which ought to be brought before a jury, the alternative being x a conviction (which is the least likely) or a reductio ad absurdum of your existing laws & mode of trial, which would be not less serviceable in the present state of things, & which I was disposed to wish for in the case of Carlile. [2] 

Your session was useful as having called forth a good display of force on the side of Order. [3]  Much more useful it might have been had the Ministers known how to use their own power. Wynn tells me he did all he could to persuade them to send Burdett to the tower for his speech at the meeting about Hobhouse. [4]  They could never have made a more wholesome exertion of authority. I hear that Hobhouse dislikes his lodgings as much as one could wish him to do.

I expect to leave home about the end of February. At present I am finishing a review of Coxes Memoirs of Marlborough, – that is to say composing from it a life which would make a little volume. [5]  And I have also to finish Wesley [6]  (the works of three weeks) & to prepare another paper for the QR., that my ways & means for the next half year may be arranged. The New Churches [7]  serves for text, & I have only to enlarge & amplify a paper written a year ago, which has been returned to me with a desire that I would put in more of the same texture. So I shall fit it to the times.

I have just finished the introduction to such a book as is wanted, – a full state of the statement of the existing diseases of society, with a view of the consequences &c. [8]  You know how much this has been in my thoughts, & I think I have chosen a good form for rendering it more effectual & more attractive than if it appeared as a direct political essay. The plan was suggested by Boethius, [9]  – which however nobody would discover, & the form is dialogue between the writer & Sir Thomas More. [10]  The introduction ushers in his Ghost as a visitor, & if the rest should be as successfully done I shall be well satisfied. He lived in the age of the restoration of letters; – of the discovery of printing, – & of the Reformation, – other great changes too had just taken place. In tracing the consequences of these things as far as they have hitherto gone, & drawing the parallel between that age & this, a great many home truths may be brought into full view. I take for my motto, three words from St Bernard, – Respice, aspice, prospice! [11]  & upon the text I hope to preach a stirring sermon. – It will be a series of dialogues which I shall endeavour to relieve with a few local descriptions, – & make as attractive in one way or another as I can.

Lord Bathurst, [12]  of whom I have no knowledge directly or indirectly, did a handsome thing by me the other day. Supposing that I had a son growing up, he called upon Croker to offer me a writership.

I shall soon have Counsels opinion on my legal affairs. The case stands thus – John Canon Southey leaves certain estates to John Southey Somerville (the late Lord) & his issue. [13]  Lord S. dies without issue, – & I am right heir <at law> to the Testator. The question is whether Lord S. could have cut off my claims.

I am told from West Bromwich that the trade of lock filing has revived in Birmingham entirely owing to the orders of the Radicals for pistols. This is hardly credible, – it comes however from sensible authority. [14]  I am less afraid of an eruption of the disease, than of the danger there is that we should suppose ourselves safe because no eruption takes place.

Remember us to Mrs R. & the children. Little Cuthbert has been very ill, but thank God he is now recovered.

God bless you



* Endorsement: Fr/ R.S./ 14 Jany 1820
MS: Huntington Library, RS 384. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 210–211. BACK

[1] William Hone, The Political House that Jack Built (1819), a political satire, with illustrations by George Cruikshank (1792–1878; DNB). BACK

[2] Richard Carlile (1770–1843; DNB), radical publisher and newspaper editor, was jailed for three years in October 1819 for blasphemy and seditious libel. BACK

[3] The House of Commons had passed the ‘Six Acts’ in December 1819 to curb radical agitation. They included a new Criminal Libel Act. BACK

[4] John Cam Hobhouse, 1st Baron Broughton (1786–1869; DNB), radical and friend of Byron. He was radical and then Whig MP for Westminster 1820–1833, Nottingham 1834–1847, Harwich 1848–1851. Hobhouse had been arrested on 14 December 1819 and imprisoned in Newgate for his pamphlet A Trifling Mistake in Lord Erskine’s Preface (1819), which was deemed a breach of privilege by the House of Commons. He was not released until 28 February 1820. Burdett had condemned Hobhouse’s imprisonment in a speech at the Crown and Anchor Tavern on 16 December 1819; he ‘denied the power of the House of Commons to erect itself into a tribunal for adjudging cases of libel, and to exercise at the same time the functions of accuser, judge, and jury’, Morning Chronicle, 17 December 1819. BACK

[5] Southey’s review of William Coxe, Memoirs of John Duke of Marlborough, with his Original Correspondence; Collected from the Family Records at Blenheim, and Other Authentic Sources. Illustrated with Portraits, Maps, and Military Plans (1818–1819) appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (May 1820), 1–73. He did not turn this review into a book on John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722; DNB). BACK

[6] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[7] Southey’s review of Benjamin Haydon, New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818) appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591. BACK

[8] Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829). BACK

[9] Southey’s model was Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 480–525), De Consolatione Philosophiae, a dialogue between the author and the character of Lady Philosophy, consisting of both prose and verse. BACK

[10] Sir Thomas More (1478–1535; DNB), Lord Chancellor 1529–1532 and opponent of the Reformation. BACK

[11] ‘Look to the past, the present, the future’. Attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), these words did appear on the title page [unpaginated] of vol. 1 of Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols (London, 1829). BACK

[12] Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst (1762–1834; DNB), Secretary of State for War and the Colonies 1812–1827. A ‘writer’ was a junior administrator in the East India Company. The only way to gain such a post was through patronage – usually nomination by one of the company’s directors. BACK

[13] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), agricultural reformer and third cousin of Southey, had died on 5 October 1819. This produced a further round of legal tangles over the Fitzhead estate in Somerset, which Somerville had inherited under the complex will of his great-uncle, John Cannon Southey (d. 1768). BACK

[14] Possibly James White, who was Curate at West Bromwich 1816–1826. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)