1568. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 18 January [1809]

1568. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 18 January [1809] ⁠* 

My dear Rickman

Parliament being so soon to assemble, – to the great benefit of franking, & spoiling of newspapers, I suppose that the Emperor of the Franks may by this be arrived at Westminster, & that letters may once more travel free as thought. – tho not quite so fast. George I I believe is somewhere in the way of College Libraries, if you know where, direct to him the accompanying note, the purport of which is to request that he (a most fit man) will hunt out a passage in an old Lyons, or Leyden, edition of Ptolemy, [1]  impugning the authenticity, or veracity, of Amerigo Vespuccis letters [2]  as they appear in the Novus Orbis of Grynaeus. [3]  For I shall either prefix or append to each volume of my Opus, a critical account of the documents from which it is compiled. I am in the press & have corrected seven sheets. [4] 

Landor (Gebir)  [5]  has a bill coming before Parliament which will take him to town in four x or five weeks. [6]  Shall I introduce him to you, on the ground that you may possibly give him information which may save him some trouble? You will thus see one of the most extraordinary men that it has ever been my fortune to fall in with, & one who would be one of the greatest, if it were possible to tame him. He does more than any of the Gods of all my mythologies, for his very words are thunder & lightning, – such is the power & the splendour with which they burst out: – but all is perfectly natural, – there is no trick about him, – no preaching, no parade, no playing off.

I will wrap up this in Coleridges Prospectus. [7]  For the Friend itself you may whistle these three months, & God knows how much longer. Hitherto however there is no other blame attachable to him, than that he carried a wet prospectus wet from the pen to the printer, without consulting any body, or giving himself time for consideration, & so a day was fixed for the first number appearance of the first number which was impossibly soon. Meantime a hundred difficulties open upon him in the way of publication, & doubtless some very material change must be made in the plan. I advise half a crown or five shilling numbers, irregularly whenever they are ready, – but no promised time, no promised quantity, no promised any thing. The prospectus looks too much like what it pretends to be, talks confidently to the Public about what the public cares not a curse for – & has about it a sort of unmanly humblefication, which is not sincere, which the very object of the paper gives the lie to, which may provoke some people, & can conciliate nobody. Yet such as it is I shall augur best of those persons who expected most from it, such a habit of thinking & such a train of thinking is manifested there.

Have you seen Wordsworths essays in the Courier upon the Cintra Convention? the second appeared in to nights – that is Friday the 13 – they will be separately published. [8]  – God help us, Rickman! if any thing can ruin Spain, & England too, it will be such Generals & such ministers as we are destined to be curst with. Even now the game is in our own hands if we knew how to play it. But these wretches have no principles of action, no moral courage – their boldness is only face-deep – bronze over plaister-of-paris heads, – & their talents just equal to the dirty job work which has long been the main business of what is called government in England.

When you see or communicate with Arrowsmith [9]  will you tell him that what I have finally determined upon <about> the map, [10]  is to have it as large as it conveniently can be for a quarto book, to have the whole of S America in outline, marking only the chief places, the rivers as minutely as can be, – & Brazil as full as it can be made. It is most likely that I & my Uncle may be able to make additions to this part from our manuscript stores.

I am hard at work transcribing, filling up skeleton chapters, & rewriting one from better materials than were originally before me. My book will be very unlike all other histories, – not, God knows, from any affectation of making it so, but from the very nature of its subject.

Remember me to Mrs R. – We hope her little one may be left to breathe Sussex air this summer, while she accompanies you thus far on the way to Scotland. It will not be easy perhaps to leave one, – but it will be more difficult by & by to leave two, – time therefore should not be lost.

God bless you


Wednesday Jany. 18.

I have seen to night what I never expected to see, – a book of mine advertised with a recommendation from the Anti Jacobin!!! [11] 


* Endorsement: RS./ 18 Janry 1809
MS: Huntington Library, RS 134. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 119–121.
Dating note: year from JR’s endorsement BACK

[1] The 2nd century Egyptian mathematician, astronomer and geographer. The work Southey refers to is probably Ptolomæi Geographicæ Enarrationes, which was published in Leyden in 1535, and was no. 2178 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[2] Amerigo Vespucci (1454–1512), an Italian explorer who made three or four voyages (the number is disputed) to the east coast of South America at the start of the sixteenth century. Two letters attributed to Vespucci were published during his lifetime. Mundus Novus (1502/3) was a Latin translation of a lost Italian letter describing a voyage to South America in 1501–1502. Lettera di Amerigo Vespucci delle Isole Nuovamente Trovate in Quattro Suoi Viaggi, known as Lettera al Soderini (1504/5), was a narrative of four voyages to the Americas made between 1497 and 1504. A Latin translation was published by the German Martin Waldseemüller (1470–1520) in Cosmographiae Introductio (1507). In 1745, Angelo Maria Bandini (1726–1803) published Vita e Lettere di Amerigo Vespucci. BACK

[3] Simon Grynaeus (1493–1541) and Johann Huttich (c. 1480–1544), Novus Orbis Regionum ac Insularum Veteribus Incognitarum (1532). This work was no. 1204 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[4] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[5] Landor’s poem Gebir (1798). BACK

[6] Landor required an Act of Parliament to be allowed to demolish buildings and build a house at his newly-purchased estate, the former priory at Llanthony, near Abergavenny, Wales. The Act was passed later in 1809. BACK

[7] For Coleridge’s new periodical The Friend, the first edition of which was published on 1 June 1809. BACK

[8] At the Convention of Cintra (signed 30 August 1808), British generals allowed a defeated French army to evacuate Portugal. On 27 December 1808 and 13 January 1809 Wordsworth published, in The Courier, an article condemning the Convention. In May 1809 Longmans published the article as a pamphlet, entitled Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, to Each Other, and to the Common Enemy, at this Crisis; and Specifically as Affected by the Convention of Cintra. BACK

[9] Among Arrowsmith’s other productions were A Map of America (1804), which depicted North and South America. BACK

[10] The second volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1817) contained Arrowsmith’s Map of Brazil and Paraguay with the Adjoining Countries. BACK

[11] Southey, as a radical poet, had been the target of the satire of the Anti-Jacobin, 1797–1798. BACK