3686. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 13 May 1821

3686. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 13 May 1821⁠* 

My dear R.

The present Oliver Cromwell whose book serves me for a heading in the next QR. [1]  has led me into an interesting course of reading, & I am surrounded with Memoirs of that age. Among other books I have been reading the Εικων Βασιλικγ  [2]  which never fell in my way before. The evidence concerning its authenticity is more curiously balanced, than in any other case, – except perhaps that of the two Alexander Cunninghams: [3]  but the internal evidence is strongly in its favour, & I very much doubt whether any man could have written it as a in a fictitious character, the character is so perfectly observed. If it be genuine, – (which I believe it to be as much as one can believe the authenticity of any thing which has been boldly impugned) it is one of the most interesting books connected with English history.

I have been reading also Hobbes’s Behemoth. [4]  It is worth reading, but has less of his characteristic strength & felicity of thought & expression than the Leviathan. There is one great point on which he dwells with unanswerable wisdom, – the necessity that the direction of public opinion should be directed by Government by means of education & public instruction.

The course of the Revolution in Portugal & Brazil [5]  will be to separate the two countries, & then, I fear, to break up Brazil into as many separate states as there are great Captaincies, these again to be subdivided, among as many Chieftains as can raise ruffians enough to be called an army. There is some however some check to this in the fear of the Negroes which may reasonably exist in great part of the country. This mischief has been brought about by Portugueze journals printed in London since the year 1808, – & directed always to this end. [6] 

Remember me to Mrs R.

God bless you –


13 May. 1821.


* Address: To/ J Rickman Esqre
Endorsement: Fr RS./ 13 May 1821
MS: Huntington Library, RS 413. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, pp. 81–82 [in part]. BACK

[1] Oliver Cromwell (c. 1742–1821; DNB), Memoirs of the Protector, Oliver Cromwell, and of His Sons, Richard and Henry. Illustrated by Original Letters, and Other Family Papers (1820). This book provided one of the occasions for Southey’s ‘Life of Cromwell’, Quarterly Review, 25 (July 1821), 279–347. BACK

[2] ‘Royal Portrait’; i.e. Eikon Basilike, The Portraicture of His Sacred Majestie in His Solitudes and Sufferings (1649), a spiritual autobiography, attributed to Charles I (1600–1649; King of Great Britain 1625–1649; DNB). A copy was no. 987 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] Alexander Cunningham (1655–1737; DNB) was a Scottish diplomat and spy, whose The History of Great Britain from the Revolution in 1688 to the Accession of George I (1787) was an important source for its time. The book’s editor, William Thomson (1746–1817; DNB), argued that its author was actually Alexander Cunningham (c. 1655–1730; DNB), Professor of Civil Law at the University of Edinburgh 1698–1710 and classical scholar. BACK

[4] Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679; DNB), Behemoth: the History of the Causes of the Civil Wars in England, and of the Counsels and Artifices by which they were Carried on from the Year 1640 to 1660 (1681). Southey compared it unfavourably to Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651), no. 1423 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[5] 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. The King reached Portugal on 3 July 1821. It was feared in Brazil that his return would signal an attempt to put Brazil firmly under Portuguese control and this led directly to the separation of the two countries in 1822. But Brazil did not disintegrate. BACK

[6] Especially Correio Braziliense (1808–1822), a liberal Portuguese journal published in London, no. 3203 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library; and O Portuguez (1814–1822), which was more radical. BACK

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