3586. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 19 December 1820

3586. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 19 December 1820⁠* 

The conclusion hereof tomorrow. [1] 

I hear of an Association for curbing the Licentiousness of the Press, – John Reeves & Dr Stoddart being the promoters, – upon the plan I suppose of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. [2]  – We live in odd times. The use of Government is to protect individuals, & a strange revolution must have taken place before it becomes necessary for individuals to combine for the purpose of protecting government. The ultimate policy of such Associations I very much doubt, & am not much inclined to think favourably of their immediate utility, as tending to encourage weak ministers in their disposition to shift responsibility & trouble upon any body rather than rouse themselves to a sense of danger & of duty. – I understand that I am to be applied to on this occasion, but I am by no means determined what xx answer to return. Not from any humour of caution, – a man whose name would stand in the first column of a proscription can lose <risques> nothing by setting it forward in any cartel of defiance that his party may set forth; – but from the doubts which I have here expressed.

What a frightful thing is this change in the nature of small pox; that every week brings to ones knowledge some fresh instance of its occurring for the second time, inoculation seeming now to afford as little security as vaccination! [3]  – Is this a change in the type of the disease (for diseases have their revolutions) – a change in the human body? or were such cases as frequent formerly, only that they past unobserved? – Reasoning upon probabilities, one might have supposed that any disease might be taken a second time, after a certain lapse of years; – every particle of the body being renewed in that time. Facts however are decidedly against this, as in measles still, – as in small pox, till very lately, – for this question must have been largely discussed & carefully examined during the first years of inoculation.

God bless you


Dec. 19. 1820.


* Address: To/ J Rickman Esqre/ St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 22 DE 22/ 1820
Seal: red wax; arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine
Endorsement: Fr./ RS./ 19 Decr. 1820
MS: Huntington Library, RS 405. ALS; 2p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[2] John Reeves (1752–1829; DNB), who founded the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers in 1792, to campaign against Jacobinism; and John Stoddart (1773–1856; DNB), who was an acquaintance of Coleridge in Malta and a lawyer who became the editor of The Times 1814–1816. After he was dismissed from that post in 1816, he edited a new pro-ministry paper, the New Times 1817–1826. The ‘Association’ was the Constitutional Association (1821–1822), which issued pro-government propaganda and endeavoured to secure the conviction of radical journalists for libel. In this its methods were akin to those of the Society for the Suppression of Vice (founded 1802), which promoted prosecutions of activities such as Sabbath-breaking and blasphemy. BACK

[3] Vaccination was the newer method of treating children to secure immunity from smallpox. It involved infecting them with the milder cowpox disease. While it was relatively safe, its critics argued that it did not offer life-long protection. Inoculation was an older method of treatment that was riskier to undergo, as it involved immunizing children with a small dose of smallpox, which could become the full disease. BACK