3427. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 28 January 1820

3427. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 28 January 1820⁠* 

My dear R.

Thank you for your letter. [1]  My knowledge is never so ready as yours. The less you trust your memory the worse it serves you, & for the last five & twenty years I have hardly trusted mine at all; the consequence has been that I must go to my notes for every thing, except the general impression & conclusions which much reading leaves behind.

Upon the deficiency of our Ecclesiastical establishment, & its causes you will find an historical chapter in my life of Wesley, [2]  agreeing entirely with your notes, in all the points upon which we have both touched. Since that chapter was written, I have got at xxx sundry books upon the subject, – Kennets Case of Impropriations, [3]  – Henry Whartons Defence of Pluralities, [4]  – Staveleys History of Churches, [5]  each very good & full of the sound knowledge. Eachards Contempt of the Clergy, [6]  & Stackhouses Miseries of the Inferior Clergy, [7]  – books of a very different character, but both of great notoriety in their day; – & two recent publications by a Mr Yates which contain a great deal of information. [8]  I was led to them by the mention made of them in Vansittarts speech upon the New Churches. [9]  – Your letter gives me notices & views which I had not found, or had failed to observe elsewhere. From various sources I have a good deal to say.

I must borrow from some of the Black-letter-men Sir T Mores works, [10]  which are tolerably numerous: – & when I am in London I must ask you to turn me loose for two or three mornings among the Statutes at Large, [11]  – for I must examine those of Henry 7. [12]  in particular, & from his time backward. There is something about the process of sheep farming in those days which I am not sure that I understand. The double grievance is complained of, that it destro appropriated commons, & turned arable land into pasture. How could this latter commutation answer in a country where the demand must have been as great for meal & malt, as for wool & mutton? – What I perceive this, – that down to the union of the Two Roses, [13]  men were the best stock that xxxx or xxxxxxx <a Lord> could have upon his estates. – But when the age of rebellions, disputed successions & chivalrous war was over, money became of more use than men, & the question was not who could bring most vassals into the field, but who could support the largest expenditure, – & in Sir T. Mores <day> the expenditure of the fashionables was infinitely beyond any thing that is ever heard of in ours. So I take it that they did as the Great Cat [14]  is now doing, – got rid of hereditary tenants who paid little or nothing, in favour of speculators & large breeders, who could afford to pay, & might be rack-rented without remorse. – I shall put together a good deal of historical matter in these Interlocutions, – taking society in two of its critical periods – the age of the Reformation, & this in which we live. [15] 

Guessing in the dark about Spain, the likeliest event seems to be that Ferdinand will be shut up in a convent as an non compos, – & one of his brothers placed at the head of a constitutional government. [16]  A scheme of this kind would not be unpopular. But if the insurrection is headed by the fierce Liberales, they will put him to death, & the Spaniards will show us that they never-do-things by halves, – for their civil war would exceed all others in obstinacy & in vengeance. The former is the more likely. I apprehend the discontent of the army proceeds from want of pay, & this is no fault of Ferdinands. Whoever, or whatever government may succeed him, will find the same impossibility of raising money in a country without manufactures, without industry, wealth or credit: – Spain was getting all these when the French Revolution broke out & in its consequences destroyed them all.

God bless you


Keswick. 28 Jany. 1820.


* Endorsement: Fr. R.S./ 28 Jany 1820
MS: Huntington Library, RS 385. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, pp. 16–17 [in part]. BACK

[1] Rickman’s letter to Southey, 26 January 1820, containing a great deal of information on the history and finances of the Church of England. Southey was collecting information to expand his review of Benjamin Haydon, New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818) and other volumes, which appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591; see Southey to John Murray, 19 October 1819, Letter 3368. BACK

[2] Chapter 9 of The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 305–336. BACK

[3] White Kennet (1660–1728; DNB), The Case of Impropriations, and of the Augmentation of Vicarages and Other Insufficient Cures, Stated by History and Law (1704), no. 1553 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[4] Henry Wharton (1664–1695; DNB), A Defence of Pluralities, or, Holding Two Benefices with Cure of Souls as Now Practised in the Church of England (1692). BACK

[5] Thomas Staveley (1626–1684; DNB), The History of Churches in England (1712), no. 2737 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[6] John Eachard (1637–1697; DNB), The Grounds and Occasions of the Contempt of the Clergy and Religion Enquired into (1670). BACK

[7] Thomas Stackhouse (1677–1752; DNB), The Miseries and Great Hardships of the Inferiour Clergy in and about London (1722), no. 2730 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[8] Richard Yates (1769–1834; DNB), The Church in Danger: a Statement of the Cause, and of the Probable Means of Averting that Danger, Attempted in a Letter to the Earl of Liverpool (1815) and The Basis of National Welfare: Considered in Reference Chiefly to the Prosperity of Britain, and Safety of the Church of England (1817). BACK

[9] On 16 March 1818, Nicholas Vansittart (1766–1851; DNB), Chancellor of the Exchequer 1812–1823, drew attention to statistics collected on the deficiency of Church of England places of worship and proposed £1,000,000 be spent on constructing new churches. This proposal was embodied in the Church Building Act (1818). BACK

[10] The works of Sir Thomas More (1478–1535; DNB), Lord Chancellor 1529–1532 and opponent of the Reformation, required for Southey’s Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829). Southey later acquired More’s Opera Latina (1565), no. 1918 in the sale catalogue of his library. Black letter was the Gothic script used in European books until the seventeenth century. Such books were usually expensive, so Southey hoped to borrow an edition of More’s work from a bibliophile. He eventually borrowed a copy from Richard Heber; see Southey to Richard Heber, 25 November 1820, Letter 3566. BACK

[11] Owen Ruffhead (1723–1769; DNB), Statutes at Large from Magna Carta to 1763 (1762–1765), a collection of legislation. BACK

[12] Henry VII (1457–1509; King of England 1485–1509; DNB). BACK

[13] The union of the Houses of York and Lancaster in 1485 on the accession of Henry VII. BACK

[14] George Leveson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland (1758–1833; DNB), fantastically wealthy landowner. In 1785 he married Elizabeth Sutherland, 19th Countess of Sutherland and Chief of Clan Sutherland (1765–1833; DNB), and gained control of her vast landholdings in northern Scotland. The Chief of Clan Sutherland was traditionally known as ‘The Great Cat’. Southey commented on the programme of Highland clearances on the Sutherland estates in his journal for 6 September 1819, Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (London, 1819), pp. 136–139. BACK

[15] Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols (London, 1829), I, pp. 76–82, dealt with the effects of enclosure in Tudor England. BACK

[16] Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808, 1813–1833) had restored royal absolutism in 1814. A mutiny at Cadiz on 1 January 1820 among troops who were to be sent to fight the revolutionaries in South America eventually led to Ferdinand VII agreeing, on 10 March 1820, to restore the liberal Constitution of 1812. However, he never accepted this situation and royal absolutism was restored by a French invasion in 1823. It would not have helped to reconcile Spain’s political differences if Ferdinand had been replaced by either of his brothers, Charles, Count of Molina (1788–1855) or Francisco, Duke of Cadiz (1794–1865), as Charles was a determined reactionary and, while Francisco was more moderate, he always supported his brother, Ferdinand VII. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)