1143. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 6 January [1806]

1143. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 6 January [1806] ⁠* 

Dear Rickman

I find two letters from you unnoticed in my desk, which have remained so while you have been Christmassing in the country.

As I must come to London in the early spring it is not worth while to trouble you farther about Feyjoo & the Ep. Tragicas. [1]  they are most certainly not here. A part of Feyjoos works, which you sent to Bristol are here, but not his Teatra Critica [2]  the place of which used to be in the left hand side of the left hand bookcase – the volumes in parchment, fastened with loops over a hollow glass bead. this is only mentioned that if they meet your eye you may relieve me of a fear for their safety.

What you say of pugilism as preventing murder, has made its due impression upon me. I should like to see the pamphlet you mention, – tho as for bull baiting, I do not foresee any possible ground of defence or extenuation. The former point I concede fairly & fully. Don Manuel must not, it will be more in character for the Translator to contradict him in a note, & speak of assassinations. [3] 

Carlisles Tortoise reminds me of one which I caught in Algarve & meant to have brought to England, but it was forgotten in the hurry of embarkation. He was about the size of two females hands. We saw him in the bottom of a little pond or spring, where as soon as alarmed he concealed himself so well in the muddy bottom, that tho the pond was very small we were half an hour groping him out, with our arms naked to the shoulder. I meant to eat him for my supper, being in a land of starvation, – but he had such an odd look with him, when he put his head out of his own window & dragged <trailed> his ridiculous tail along the ground, that I resolved to bring him to England. By day he travelled in a brass pan of the muleteers, & every night made efforts really surprising for such an animal, regularly getting out of the bason in which he was placed, & down from the table. I cannot tell how, & attempting to burrow in the corner of the room. I kept him about three months without food – as they are commonly kept at Lisbon, in the large water-jar of the house, – the people having a notion that they purify the water – a very Irish sort of xx idea. Perhaps they live eat the insects which may be there.

Mine was of a small breed. There are large ones in the river which divides Algarve from Alentejo on the coast-side, & the people eat them. I confess that the physiognomy of my poor fellow did not excite any appetite xx in me, he was just like a lizard without any beauty of colour, & had a rank smell.

My turtle died at Cork during quarantine as did every one in the ship – so the captain tells me. If turtles are to be made to perform quarantine it is time for the Court of Aldermen to interfere. it savours of a popish scheme for making them keep Lent. [4] 

Don Manuel [5]  & every thing else as well – has been standing still for this long time – the Influenza having completely laid me up. I am not yet myself. sickly appetite, – head aching or inclined to ache, – & that uncomfortable feeling of having a body, – that sense of ones material part which always shows that there is something the matter. However there is enough transcribed to send off when I hear that you are in town to intercept it.

Transcribe the inclosed for me – it relates to Clarkes book about Tactics [6]  & requires an answer

God bless you –


Jany. 6 – the day when the Devil is on the look out for Sir James Mc Intosh, [7]  – expecting & hoping the trumpet to blow.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS./ 6 Jany 1806.
MS: Huntington Library, RS 83. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 351–352 [in part; postscript missing]. BACK

[1] Dom Francisco Manuel de Mello (1608–1666), Epanaphoras de Varia Historia Portugueza... em Cinco Relaçoens de Sucessos Pertencentes a Este Reyno. Southey’s copy of this work, published in Lisbon, 1675, was included in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[2] Southey owned the works, or Obras (amounting to 37 volumes), of Gerónimo Feyjoo y Montenegro (1676–1764), as well as his Teatro Critico (1726–1739). He wanted to consult these materials for his Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807), where they are referred to in Letters 49 and 54. BACK

[3] Bull-fighting and bull-baiting are discussed in Letter 67 of Letters from England. BACK

[4] Thomas Southey had sent a turtle back to England for his brother; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 24 November 1805 (Letter 1125), and Southey to Thomas Southey, 1–5 January 1806 (Letter 1140). BACK

[5] Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[6] Southey reviewed in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806): James Stanier Clarke (1765?–1834; DNB), Naufragia, or, Historical Memoirs of Shipwrecks (Vol. 1; 1805), 99–100. BACK

[7] Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832; DNB), Scottish political writer, historian and politician – who on 6 January 1800 abjured his former support of the French Revolution. BACK

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