3531. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 19 September 1820

3531. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 19 September 1820⁠* 

My dear R.

Edith-May thanks you for the account of the Tapestry. She would have taken the advice if I had not deemed it better to bestow certain odds & ends of time upon the transcription, – partly because the original is almost illegible to any person except myself, & still more, because a hasty journal requires so many transpositions, additions, omissions & little alterations to make it fit for perusal. [1] 

Thank you for the Parl: Procs: [2]  – I hope you had a clear sky at Norwich for the Eclipse, [3]  & that you found time to put your thoughts upon paper. They will not be lost, tho the effect may not be so speedy as the times require. But I have lived to see some political truths admitted, & in part acted upon, which were regarded as visionary or perilous when first they were advanced. The result of the present ferment you & I can see clearly, – the press will destroy itself, & power must revert to property, almost as exclusively as in the feudal time. There must be more police, & a stronger Government, taking upon itself the direction of education, & of public opinion. The loss of some of our abused liberties is inevitable. What we cannot see is, the how many we are to lose, nor the length of the process, nor the extent of the mischief mean time. – But I am in good heart & hope; & think that this affair of Messalina [4]  will cure as many dupes as it has made.

Looking over some notes the other day I found a notable one which Dr Lushington, [5]  as the Qs civilian ought to adduce on her behalf – The text of the decretal says that a woman is not to be called meretrix unless she has transgressed with many men, & the Gloss giving as large an a meaning to that indefinite term expression, as it is affixed to mutton broth at a city breakfast, says she is not be called meretrix, unless she has lain with twenty three thousand men. [6] 

I expect every day the first proof of the Peninsular war, [7]  – over which I hope you will find time to run your eye. – This business in Portugal [8]  is the unavoidable effect of the state of Spain. If it ends thus the only evil will be in the example, – which God knows is evil enough; – but if it spread to Brazil a bad government, capable of easy improvement & not unwilling to improve, will be exchanged for anarchy, civil war & horrors of every kind, ending in a state as barbarous as our own heptarchy, [9]  & dividing the country among as many ruffians as can keep together banditti enough to be called an army.

I am making many additions of more or less importance to the first vol. of Brazil, [10] enough collectively of a great deal. – One or two packets I will send thro you, till an opportunity offers for sending up a larger supply by a private hand.

Remember us to Mrs R. We are going on well, & I am working steadily at many things.

God bless you


19 Sept. 1820.


* Endorsement: Fr RS./ 19 Septr. 1820
MS: Huntington Library, RS 401. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey was sending Rickman fair copies of sections of the journal he kept on their tour of Scotland 17 August–1 October 1819, later published as Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (1929). BACK

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

[3] There was a solar eclipse on 7 September 1820. BACK

[4] Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), estranged wife of George IV. He had pressurised his Cabinet into preparing a Bill of Pains and Penalties to dissolve their marriage and deprive her of the title of Queen. She rejected compromise terms offered by the Cabinet and arrived in England on 5 June 1820. The House of Lords began to debate the Bill on 17 August and what was effectively a trial of Caroline for adultery continued until 10 November. Southey compares her to Messalina (c. AD 17/20–48), the notoriously dissolute third wife of Claudius (10 BC–AD 54; Roman Emperor AD 43–54). BACK

[5] Stephen Lushington (1782–1873; DNB), Whig MP for various seats 1806–1841, eminent lawyer and Judge of the High Court of Admiralty 1838–1867. He was one of Queen Caroline’s counsels. BACK

[6] The ‘ordinary’ gloss to Gratian’s (mid-12th century) classic work of medieval canon law, Concordia Discordantium Canonum or Decretum Gratiani: ‘Meretrix est, quae multorum libidini patet’ (Gl. vidua 16 disct. 34). A ‘meretrix’ was a prostitute. BACK

[7] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[8] An army revolt in Porto on 24 August 1820 had established a junta to run the country; it declared its intention of organising elections to a Cortes, which were held in December 1820, and demanded John VI (1767–1826; King of Portugal 1816–1826) return from Brazil, where the Portuguese court had fled in 1807–1808. BACK

[9] The period in which several warring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms ruled England, from the fifth to the ninth centuries. BACK

[10] The second edition of the first volume only of the History of Brazil (1810–1819) was published in 1822. BACK

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