3563. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 22 November [1820]

3563. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 22 November [1820] ⁠* 

22d Nov.

Anno Reimobbicæ primo [1] 

My dear R.

We have two things to calculate upon with perfect certainty, – the utmost imbecillity in Government, & the utmost audacity in its assailants. [2]  That audacity however may occasion its own defeat, as our troops have ere this run their heads against a stone wall. Is it possible that ministers could suppose the business of this cursed woman would rest where they have left it? If they did, they must by this time I think be undeceived, & clearly perceive that the Anarchists are determined to strike while the iron is hot, & bring on a crisis with her help, & under cover of her cause. – You will have warm work in Pandemonium when it meets. [3]  But the chapter of accidents must contain xx some good chances as well as evil ones. The mob as they are won with a feather are lost with a straw, [4]  – the wind of popular opinion may veer who knows not why nor how, & in six months, or even six weeks, the Q. & her Aldermen may be of as little importance as Mrs Clarke & Col: Wardle [5] 

My windows were not assailed on the night of the illumination. [6]  Perhaps they escaped by the aid of five or six houses in town, which belonged to persons of some authority among the weavers & other handicrafts. These persons had declared that they would not light their houses, & would defend them if they were attacked. We want a code of Mob Laws to be the Magna Charta of Order. [7] 

I am now finishing my hexametrical Vision of Judgement (Carmen Funebre) for publication. [8]  If I fail to make the principle of the metre clearly understood by female readers you will easily explain it to Mrs Rickman

God bless you



* Address: To/ J Rickman Esqre
Endorsement: Fr RS./ 22 Novr. 1820
MS: Huntington Library, RS 403. ALS; 3p.
Dating note: Year from endorsement. BACK

[1] 22 November ‘in the first year of the reign of the mob’. BACK

[2] A reference to the controversy around 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 had rejected the compromise terms offered by the Cabinet and had arrived in England on 5 June 1820. The House of Lords had begun to debate the Bill on 17 August, and what was effectively a trial of Caroline for adultery had continued until 10 November, when the Bill passed by only nine votes. Given the narrowness of the majority, there was no hope the Bill could pass the House of Commons and the Prime Minister, the Earl of Liverpool, had immediately announced its withdrawal. Radicals celebrated throughout the United Kingdom. BACK

[3] The capital of Hell in John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), Paradise Lost (1667) and Southey’s term for the House of Commons. Following the withdrawal of the Bill of Pains and Penalties, the government had immediately suspended parliament until 23 January 1821. BACK

[4] As in the proverb ‘A friend won with a feather can be lost with a straw’. BACK

[5] Mary Anne Clarke (1776–1852; DNB) caused a huge political scandal in 1809. She was the mistress of Prince Frederick, Duke of York (1763–1827; DNB), Commander-in-Chief 1795–1809, 1811–1827, and had been taking bribes in return for promising to advance the careers of army officers. Whether the Duke knew about this situation or if it had influenced his decisions was much debated and caused his temporary resignation as Commander-in-Chief. Gwyllym Wardle (c. 1761–1833), MP for Okehampton 1807–1812, was foremost in raising the matter in the House of Commons. BACK

[6] To celebrate the defeat of the Bill of Pains and Penalties, Queen Caroline’s supporters put candles in the windows of their houses in many towns, including Keswick. The Keswick ‘illumination’ was on 15 November 1820. BACK

[7] Magna Carta (1215), the medieval charter seen as one of the central documents in establishing the rule of law. BACK

[8] Southey’s A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

People mentioned