3721. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 29 August 1821

3721. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 29 August 1821⁠* 

My dear R.

There is a sword at Netherhall which a son of that house [1]  used at Marston Moor & at Naseby, [2]  & which has its back cut into a double toothd saw. x I never saw one like it; & suppose it must have been intended to cut thro palisades, or cut a stake for tethering the horse when they encamped upon the field: for it is not likely that the object should have been to aggravate a wound. One mode in that age of effecting this, was to make the back of the blade hollow, & load the hilt with quicksilver. [3] 

I want to have this principle announced & acted upon, that men when acting unlawfully (especially in mobs) are ipso facto outlaws, Laws are not made for the protection of those who violate them. Men in mobs are to be regarded as beasts who have broken loose; & if they cannot be taken & pounded with little difficulty, to be considered as feræ naturæ, [4]  & no questions asked if they are put to death upon the spot.

Tomorrow I compleat the corrections or rather additions to the first vol. of Brazil. [5]  They have cost me more labo as much labour, as if otherwise bestowed would have been worth 200 £. But you will not wonder at any pains bestowed upon a favourite pursuit.

Can you tell me when slavery ceased in England? It seems to have died a natural death, & not to have been abolished by any legislative enactment. Great numbers emancipated themselves during the York & Lancaster wars, – this I know, & after that time am reduced to guess at the process. [6]  It is a subject upon which one of my Colloquies touches. [7]  When I transcribe them for the press, I shall pray you to cast your eye over them. They are designed for use, & in time I hope they will work well.

We are all well thank God. Remember us to Mrs R. to Miss Anne, – & to my fellow travellers Francofurti, & (in Ossianic phrase [8]  – to be excused when thinking of Morven) – the gig-borne Willy: [9] 

God bless you


29 Aug. 1821. Keswick


* Address: To/ J Rickman Esqre
Endorsement: RS to JR 29 Augt/ 1821
MS: Huntington Library, RS 415. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Captain John Senhouse (d. 1667). BACK

[2] Two battles of the civil war: Marston Moor, 2 July 1644, and Naseby, 14 June 1645. Both were defeats for the royalist cause. BACK

[3] Henry More (1614–1687; DNB), ‘Preface’, to ‘A Platonick Song of the Soul’ in Philosophicall Poems (1647), no. 1998 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Southey noted the passage in Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), II, p. 6. BACK

[4] ‘wild animals’. BACK

[5] The second edition of the first volume only of the History of Brazil (1822). BACK

[6] Slavery was widespread in England in 1066, but seems to have almost entirely disappeared by 1200. There was no one piece of legislation that created this situation, though the Church strongly disapproved of the slave trade. Southey also refers to the dynastic conflict for the English throne 1455–1487, between the Houses of York and Lancaster. Here he is writing about the institution of villeinage (a villein was a farmer legally tied to a particular place or lord of the manor). The system died out in the sixteenth century, a process confirmed by the decision to end any remaining villeinage on crown lands in 1574. BACK

[7] Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols (London, 1829), I, pp. 61–94. BACK

[8] In the style of the Ossianic poems of James Macpherson (1736–1796; DNB), in which Morven is a mythical Gaelic kingdom, ruled by Fingal. Morven is also the name of a mountain in Caithness, in the Scottish highlands, which Southey and the Rickmans had seen during their Scottish tour. BACK

[9] Rickman and his two youngest children, William Charles Rickman (1812–1886) and Frances Rickman (dates unknown), had been amongst the party that toured Scotland with Southey in August–September 1819; Ann Rickman (b. 1808) had not. Willy Rickman had ridden in a newly fashionable horse-drawn gig. Southey by playing this off against ‘car-borne’, a favourite phrase in Ossian, here makes a joke about the modernity of the supposedly ancient Ossianic poems. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Netherhall (mentioned 1 time)