1212. Robert Southey to Richard Duppa, 17 August 1806

1212. Robert Southey to Richard Duppa, 17 August 1806 ⁠* 

I have a pile of prophecies, full half a yard high, at my right hand, which any reasonable man would think enough in all conscience. My head is full of The Woman in the Wilderness, The Beast, Adam and Eve, The Old Dragon, The Man on the White Horse, The Scarlet Whore, The Four and Twenty Elders who continually do cry, [1]  and all the rest of the family, and yet I want a little more specific information, which perhaps you can procure for me with less trouble than anybody else.

The great bookseller of the prophets in 1792 & the days of Brothers [2]  was Riebau, No. 2 Blandford Street, Manchester Square. [3]  At present it seems to be Field, No. 139, near Bloomsbury Court, High Holborn. [4]  If, when you pass either of these places, you could procure for me William Bryan’s narrative of his journey to Avignon, [5]  it would be quite a treasure to me; the thing is so small that it might be franked to me through Wynn, who is at Wynnstay. But I almost fear that it is not to be had. You mentioned to me certain prints of Brothers’s New Temple, [6]  which is to be at Jerusalem; if these are for sale Field will be the publisher, and when you call at the shop you may see enough of them to give me a sufficient account, and probably some other of Sharp’s crazy performances. [7]  There is a boy, by name Joseph Prescott, who has visions – I suspect this to be the lad you once spoke of as making prophetic drawings; there has been a volume of his visions published, and be they what they may I will risk a half crown commission for them. [8]  Joanna Southcott has published her disputes with the Powers of Darkness [9]  – look into this, and if the Devil appeared bodily in the dispute, which you may see in one minute, I will give another half-crown for old acquaintance sake. Now, that you may have some inducement on your own account to go upon this curious errand, I must inform you that this said bookseller in High Holborn, Elias Jameson Field, is no less a person than one of the Four & Twenty Elders. I should like to know whether the brass letters upon his forehead be knave or fool.

You will by this see what I am about, but of no fewer than nineteen of Joanna Southcott’s pamphletts have I extracted about half a sheet of Espriellaism, [10]  which will not be the least curious half sheet in the work. I am going to work upon Brothers, and I want only what I have been requesting you to look for to be perfect in the subject.

Thank you for two good letters, of which I shall make three, by expanding the Literary Fund part into a separate one. The Exhibition must now be for 1803, because that of the preceding year has been long closed, it needs only to omit the notes of the particular pictures, or to particularize others in their stead, which perhaps is not needful. [11] 

I do not see why you should determine upon publishing only one more edition of your book. [12]  As long as it sells so long ought you to supply the market, and reap what advantages you can, You have not, I see, yet learnt that rule in arithmetic which may be called Booksellers’ Division of Money, and which would teach to subtract from the gross receipts 28 per cent – the modest commission which those gentlemen require for vending a poor a author’s wares. 30 per cent is what ‘Madoc’ is sold for to the trade. Whenever I can afford it I shall certainly print my own books, and fix my own price upon them, but when that will be Heaven knows!

I must probably pass thro’ London before I leave England, but it will not be till the spring. The papers talk strangely about Portugal, and not altogether improbably. I wish their speculations may be true, and should enjoy a legation to Brazil, in spite of the voyage. [13] 

We have a sick and somewhat comfortless house. Tom is very unwell, Hartley & Sara in the measles, Edith (the Edithling I mean) has not caught it from Derwent, consequently we have another fortnight to wait before it can appear, and perhaps she may escape after all, which, now we have been so long in expectation, I do not altogether wish. Besides this, I am inclined to think that the greatest event which can take place in a man’s household is nearer at hand than has been calculated, & should not be surprised any day or any hour at the arrival of a son or daughter. [14]  So sorely against the grain I have written to Grosvenor, saying his coming will be better in October.

Coleridge ought to be in England. [15]  His companion was off the Start [16]  with him, bound for Portsmouth a week ago; still we do not hear from him. He has been so long without hearing from his family that he is afraid of enquiring for them.

I had rather you had been going to Northumberland than to Leominster, as then you would have crossed this way. If you were here we would soon cure the low spirits – a disorder that never keeps its ground where I am. God bless you.


* MS: MS untraced; Catalogue of the Collection of Autograph Letters and Historical Documents Formed Between 1865 and 1882 by Alfred Morrison, 6 vols (London, 1883–1892)
Previously published: Catalogue of the Collection of Autograph Letters and Historical Documents Formed Between 1865 and 1882 by Alfred Morrison, 6 vols (London, 1883–1892), VI, pp. 161–162. BACK

[1] Figures in the Book of Revelation which appear in the prophecies of Richard Brothers (1757–1824; DNB), a self-proclaimed prophet of millennial destruction, who attracted a large following in 1795 before being confined to an asylum by government order. Southey is here researching for Letters from England: by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[2] Richard Brothers (1757–1824; DNB), a self-proclaimed prophet of millennial destruction, who attracted a large following in 1795 before being confined to an asylum by government order. BACK

[3] George Riebau (dates unknown), London bookbinder and publisher. BACK

[4] Elias Jameson Field (dates unknown). BACK

[5] William Bryan (dates unknown) was a follower of the prophet Richard Brothers and a member of the millenarian secret society of Avignon. He published A Testimony of the Spirit of Truth, Concerning Richard Brothers (1795) which contained a narrative of Brothers’ life, and of his journey to Avignon in 1788. Southey had met Bryan in Bristol or Bath in 1794; he would meet him again at Rickman’s home in St Stephen’s Court, Westminster, perhaps when visiting in March 1808; Bryan was to send him an annotated copy of Letters from England, which included sections on Bryan’s visit to the Société des Illuminés d’Avignon, and on his subsequent relationship with Brothers. On Bryan and Southey see Robert Southey and Millenarianism: Documents Concerning the Prophetic Movements of the Romantic Era, ed. Tim Fulford. BACK

[6] These engravings of the temple to be built in the New Jerusalem were published in Brothers, A Description of Jerusalem (1801). BACK

[7] William Sharp (1749–1824; DNB), engraver and follower of Brothers, whose portrait he engraved in 1795 as The Man whom God has Appointed. BACK

[8] The visions of Joseph Prescott (dates unknown), of Bermondsey, London, from 1793–1803 were published in A Word in Season to a Sinking Kingdom. The Continuation of the Prophecies of Joanna Southcott (1803) and A Second Book of Visions. The Continuation of Joseph Prescott’s Visions (1803). Prescott was suspected of basing his visions on drawings taken from a captured French ship. BACK

[9] The prophet Joanna Southcott published A Dispute between the Woman and the Powers of Darkness in 1802. BACK

[10] An account of Southcott is given in Letter 70 of Letters from England: by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). In the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, no. 2082 is listed as ‘Pamphlets on Copyright, and Rights of Literature, Currency, Savings Banks, Joanna Southcott, Corn Laws, and Miscellaneous, in 12 vol’. BACK

[11] Neither the Literary Fund nor the exhibition of pictures at the Royal Academy of Arts were described in Letters from England. BACK

[12] Richard Duppa, The Life and Literary Works of Michael Angelo Buonarotti, with his Poetry and Letters (1806). BACK

[13] On 29 November 1807, as the French invaded Portugal, a British squadron under the command of Sir William Sidney Smith (1764–1840; DNB) escorted the Portuguese Prince Regent, John VI (the Duke of Braganza) (1767–1826), and the Queen, his mother, across the Atlantic. The Portuguese monarchy then ruled from Brazil. BACK

[14] Herbert, the Southeys’ first son, was born 11 October 1806. BACK

[15] Coleridge was returning across Europe from Malta and did not arrive back in Britain until August 1806. BACK

[16] Start Point, Devon. BACK

Places mentioned