1184. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [c. 21 May 1806]

1184. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [c. 21 May 1806] ⁠* 

My dear Rickman

I am sorry that the first note received from you should convey such unlucky intelligence. & that the first use I make of the smooth paper should be to notice it. Overstocked as this country <is> with the kakkerlakkenry [1]  of rank & wealth, if the good breed which yet remains be not kept up, Lord help us! Mrs R. I trust is now not the worse for the mishap.  [2]  I could not help thinking that if she had attempted St Pauls we should have attributed it to that.

You will have perceived that I had perceived the unfitness of transmitting proof-sheets back through you, – the second which came was inclosed to the Emperor Wynn before your note arrived. You will perceive too that your queries concerning any passage are not thrown away, when I tell you that in consequence of your doubting <as to> the propriety of drowning the boatman in a ballad written before I knew how to write ballads, made me discover that my meaning was not explained in the story; – & so I took care to explain it, & let the reader know that the boatman was not flesh & blood – but one of the Devils boatmen; [3] Duppa & Michel Angelo know that the Devil has a barge of his own. [4] 

My packages arrived on Monday, so much sooner than any former importation that I xxxxx <think> the flying Waggon deserves its name. I am looking over Hebers Romances [5]  which come in the series before Palmerin of England – of the first there is the Spanish original [6]  & the French translation; [7]  – the difference is characteristic. Nothing can be coarser than the morals of the Spanish author – who was a woman. [8]  They are like those of Amadis, [9]  only still coarser, – but still in the same plain nakedness of savage life. The Frenchman of course takes advantage of this. When he finds a xxxx short sentence to state that a knight & fair Lady go to bed together, he fills a page about it. the one is the nakedness of an Indian who has never worn clothes – the other that of a courtezan in a Frenchmans cabinet lined with looking glass.

In the original all these books would repay me for reading them by the manners which they would indicate & explain. They are just a century later than Lobeira, [10]  but contemporary with Montalvos Amadis – the early part of the 16th century swarmed with them, all in the same scanty vocabulary, – I think ten common dictionary pages would comprise it. – They did not find their way here till Elizabeths days, & one man seems to have translated almost all that we have. [11] 

Since my return, I have discovered that St Peter has been in your garden. He crost the water once to consecrate the Abbey, & you will perceive that he must have landed in your garden <there> – as the nearest place to it. [12]  It is surprising how compleatly all these legends have slipped out of remembrance in England, except there be some visible sign to put the people in mind of them, as the beam at Christ Church. [13]  There is not <scarcely> a Saint, out of the New Testament ones, whose history you could learn in xxx the parish called after him. I am afraid that both nations & individuals have a greater facility at forgetting things good as well as bad, than has been usually supposed.

We have not yet heard of Wordworths return from Vanity Fair [14] 

My daughter is exceedingly delighted with her silver cup, & would thank Mrs R. herself were she to see her, in a better or at least more appropriate manner than I can do for her. She has got through Grosvenor Bedfords consignment of barley sugar. & penetrated some way into George Dyers. My fine great coat was the admiration of Keswick – till yesterday a Laker made his appearance with one of the very same make, the very same colour, & with just such silk facings. There went my fame & glory for ever!

I beg to be remembered to Mrs R. & wish to hear of her perfect recovery.

God bless you


I have mounted the pen-stake in my writing desk with great success.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS./ Circa/ 21st. May 1806
MS: Huntington Library, RS 90. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 378–380 [in part].
Dating note: dating from JR’s endorsement BACK

[1] From the Dutch word ‘kakkerlakken’, meaning cockroach. BACK

[2] Susannah Rickman had suffered a miscarriage shortly after Southey left London; see Southey to Mary Barker, 26 May 1806, Letter 1187. BACK

[3] ‘Lord William’, Southey’s ballad, published in the Morning Post, 16 March 1798, Poems (1799, 1800) and now revised for Poems (1806). Amended, the poem appeared in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works (1837–1838). See Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt (London, 2004), V, p. 182. BACK

[4] In Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni’s (1475–1564) ‘Last Judgement’, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Charon and his devils make the damned disembark from his ferryboat across the Styx to lead them before the infernal judge. Duppa had published engraved drawings of the figures in A Selection of Twelve Heads from the Last Judgment of Michael Angelo in 1801. BACK

[5] Heber’s romances about Palmerin comprised eight books, dating from the early sixteenth century, about the deeds and desires of Palmerin d’Oliva, emperor of Constantinople, and his descendants. Southey translated Palmerin of England; by Francisco de Moraes. Corrected by Robert Southey from the Original Portugueze (1807). BACK

[6] Francisco Vazquez (fl. early 16th century), Palmerin de Oliva, printed in Salamanca in 1516 and Seville in 1525. The first Spanish edition, believed to have been lost, was found by Vicente Salva (1786–1849) a Spanish political exile who opened a bookshop in England. BACK

[7] Le premiere livre de Palmerin d’Olive, fils du roi Florendos de Macedone & de la belle Griaue, fille de Remicius empereur de Constantinople, histoire plaisante de singulière recreacion (Paris, 1546 and many later editions). The French translator’s identity was uncertain but reputed to be Jean de Voyer, Vicomte de Paulmy, Seigneur d’Argenson (d. 1571). BACK

[8] Palmerin de Oliva was traditionally attributed to an anonymous lady of Augustobriga. Southey followed this attribution in his edition of Palmerin of England. BACK

[9] Amadis of Gaul, which Southey translated in 1803, is the first of a contemporary series of romances, edited by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo (1450–1504). BACK

[10] Vasco de Lobeira (died 1403), reputed author of the first of the prose romances of Amadis of Gaul. BACK

[11] Anthony Munday’s (bap. 1560–1633; DNB), translation of Palmerin d’Oliva was published in 1588. It was succeeded by his versions of Palladine (1588), Palmendos (1589), and Primaleon (1595). Munday translated Francisco de Moraes’s version of the Palmerin tales in The First and Second Parts, of the No Lesse Rare, Historie of Palmerin of England (1596), and the third part in 1602. BACK

[12] The monkish legend has St Peter being ferried across Thorney water from the Surrey side and, at the place where he disembarked, consecrating a church in Westminster. In return for the boatride, he is supposed to have promised the fishermen that they would never lack fish, provided they gave a tenth of their catch to the church. BACK

[13] A twelfth-century legend from Christchurch Priory, Christchurch, Dorest, about Jesus the carpenter. When building the priory, a beam was found to have been cut too short. The carpenters discovered, when they returned to work the next day, that the beam had been hoisted into place and now fitted. The miracle was credited to a lone carpenter, never seen again, supposedly Jesus. BACK

[14] A sardonic version of the comments on Wordsworth’s love of being lionised in London that Southey made to Mary Barker; see Southey to Mary Barker, 26 May 1806, Letter 1187. From John Bunyan’s (1628–1668) The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)