975. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 6 August 1804

975. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 6 August 1804 ⁠* 

August 6 1804.

Dear Rickman

I have to thank you for the remainder of the Slave Trade Report. [1]  & to acknowledge the empty frank. the box arrived safe quoad the journey, but of its contents one table cloth & two pair of stockings were gone. whether the Board of Works-man, or some chance enterer into that little room were the thief God knows, & it would be vain to enquire – only it may be advisable to keep the books there locked up, & remove the large folios & those xxx bundles of papers to some spare garret – if such you have.

Of late my time has been much disturbed by sundry Lakers & much occupied by Madoc. [2]  Ballantyne the Scotch Printer works with some activity & has just got half thro the printing the first part, before I am half thro correcting the second. however the new matter is just – i.e. quare  [3]  done. the section to be begun to day brings me into the old story, & then nothing but straight turnpike travelling lies before me for a long way. one little insertion remains to be made above half way on, which will occupy one section, & be easily written, the story being plain & thoroughly made out in my head. I have just got thro the most important part, & most difficult – a fine Boa constrictor God, brought into the poem, & put out of the world with considerable effect [4]  – In reading the letters of Cortes, (now read with a view to collect or correct materials for Madoc) I was very much surprized to find money among certain Indians who lay within his conquests. [5]  tin money & in considerable quantity. Unless I am very much mistaken that dog of a Scotchman Robertson [6]  overlooked this. the fellow in all probability never read beyond the conquest of Mexico, [7]  as he was not to be paid for reading.

My hemp-stretch brother is at length shipped off by Dickenson [8]  – & this much good have I got by the change of ministry. he was to go on board the Salvador del Mundo [9]  till Admiral Colpoys [10]  sent him on a foreign station. Tom has made a recapture which will yield him 120£ – enough to place him on the Creditor side of his Agents account, & balance the heavy expence of a West India station. they have detained a ship from Hambro, [11]  & hope it will be condemned, in that case his prize money will double his half pay he says. this comes seasonably to put him in good humour. for he was vexed & disheartened to see men who were youngsters & in a manner under his care, now made post, [12]  while he after five years continues a Lieutenant no nearer promotion than he was the first day. however we shall see him an Admiral yet. the fever is playing the Devil at Antigua. 120 men from the Carysfort [13]  in less than one week! & so well are things managed that all the stores <for the Lee Isles> are kept at this one Island [14]  – & Tom in a ship that had not a single sick man on board, was when he wrote going to the very head quarters of infection for spars! – the burial ground is kept by Pompey a negro – so the Sailors call dying – going to Pompeys Parlour.

The Anthologies are going off to Longman this day that so many of my pieces as will make a volume may be reprinted from them.  [15]  This which has cost me only the trouble of reading them, x correcting a few blunders of my own & a good many of the printers, & arranging a Table of Contents, will produce me about 25£ for every 500 copies which may sell. No mighty profit this – but worth having. & it is not unlikely that the book may sell from its presentable size & price – for single volumes of poetry sell chiefly as presents.

The annual work is coming round again. [16]  I have some subjects which will make me speculate usefully – that is on matters connected with Portugueze history – a book called Indian Recreations which is a bad book but furnishes texts [17]  – Barrows second Volume [18]  – a Dundasish [19]  dissertation upon the Cape. I assent to all his arguments for retaking & retaining & add to them the duty & delight of erecting gallowses & establishing a corps of hangman for the Boors. [20]  – for lighter work there will be more Methodism – the Society for the suppression of Vice. [21]  & Miss Sewards Life of Darwin – an admirable specimen of female English. [22]  As much of this as I can spare I shall turn over to Harry.

Do you know if Turner has received a parcel of books which I sent him? Davy has been here & appeared more Londonized than he did in London. he had the most coxcombical coat on that ever came from a Bond street taylor, & he contrived to make it seem suitable. Dr Crompton famous in the annals of Nottingham Electioneering was among our Lakers – a nondescript fish. [23]  Young Roscoe xxxxx also [24] his fathers life of Leo X is to be four quartos. [25]  it is a pity that good ground should be encumbered by bad buildings. Roscoe is an excellently good man & an excellently useful one, but with no strength of intellect. he knows no German (as I am told) & yet undertakes to write a history of Leo X [26]  – that is of the age of the Reformation. – History has flagged with me from all these interruptions & from my business with the Scotch printer. still it does proceed, & if this written work turn out well I may hope to be able to afford more time to it the next. [27]  One clear year in fact would bring the two leading divisions to a close. I shall strive hard to get to Portugal by the winter of 1805 that that may be over – I may cast anchor. it is time for me to be in port.

The little one is well. there are however symptoms that most certainly may, & that most naturally, bear a bad aspect. I am on the watch & will use every possible method of precaution, as the time of teething comes on. It is the main evil of a remote situation that such medical advice as I could confidently follow, is not within reach when wanted.

God bless you


The Whitehaven Paper has just told me that the days of franking are over. [28] 


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr / New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single/ John Rickman Esqre/ at Mr Postlethwaites/ Harting/ Petersfield
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298; Fitzroy/ Square
Postmarks: E/ AUG 10/ 1804; AU/ A 10/ 1804
Endorsement: RS./ 6 Augt. 1804
MS: Huntington Library, RS 62. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade gained momentum in 1804 when William Wilberforce successfully brought a bill for abolition through the House of Commons. However it did not have time to pass through the House of Lords and had to be reintroduced in 1805. BACK

[2] The poem Madoc, which Southey had written in 1797–1799 and since then had been intermittently revising. It was completed in October 1804 and published in 1805. BACK

[3] Here Southey probably means the Irish dialect form of ‘queer’, meaning ‘very’ or ‘extremely’, than the Latin meaning of ‘wherefore; for what reason; on what account’. BACK

[4] The snake god features in Madoc, Part 2, books 6 and 7. BACK

[5] The letters or Cartas de Relación (1520–1525) of Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro (1485–1547) explained to Charles V (1500–1558), Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Cortes’s conquest of the Aztecs. Cortes noted that the Aztecs had several forms of currency in use in their marketplaces. BACK

[6] William Robertson (1721–1793), historian, about whose History of America Southey was habitually dismissive. Robertson declares that the use of money was unknown to the Mexicans, History of America, 3 vols (London, 1792), III, p. 173. BACK

[7] Antonio de Solis, The History of the Conquest of Mexico, by the Celebrated Hernan Cortes (1759). BACK

[8] William Dickinson (1771–1837), a fellow pupil at Westminster School with Southey, who later went on to Christ Church, Oxford (BA 1793, MA 1795). He was Civil Lord of the Admiralty, 1804–1806. BACK

[9] HMS Salvador del Mundo was a 112-gun ship of the line, captured from the Spanish at the battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797. BACK

[10] John Colpoys (c. 1742–1821; DNB), British naval officer who achieved notoriety for inciting the mutiny at Spithead in 1797. He was promoted to full Admiral in 1801 and appointed as Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth in 1803. In 1804 he gave up his command to take a seat in the Admiralty. BACK

[11] Hamburg. BACK

[12] That is, gaining the rank of Captain, although the rank did not necessarily entail a command of a vessel. Once the rank of Post Captain had been awarded, further promotion was by seniority, so becoming an admiral was a matter of time. BACK

[13] HMS Carysfort was a 28-gun Coventry-class sixth rate ship of the Royal Navy, which sailed to the West Indies in 1804; the crew was afflicted by yellow fever. BACK

[14] Antigua is one of the Leeward Islands of the West Indies. BACK

[15] The Annual Anthology 1799 and 1800; Southey’s contributions to these volumes were to be republished in his Metrical Tales and Other Poems (1805). BACK

[16] That is, reviewing books for the Annual Review. BACK

[17] Southey reviewed William Tennant (1758–1813), Indian Recreations; Consisting Chiefly of Strictures on the Domestic and Rural Economy of the Mahommedans and Hindoos (1803), in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 658–670. BACK

[18] Southey reviewed John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB), An Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa (1804), in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 22–34. BACK

[19] Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742–1811): from 1804 First Lord of the Admiralty; previously Secretary of State for War (1792–1801). BACK

[20] The navy was keen to have the use of the Cape of Good Hope as a station for supplying and repairing its ships; Britain had occupied the colony there in 1795 after its enemy France had acquired it on conquering its masters the Dutch. Ceded to the Dutch by the British in 1803, it was taken again by the British in 1806. BACK

[21] Southey reviewed Part the First of an Address to the Public from the Society for the Suppression of Vice, Instituted, in London, 1802, Setting Forth, with a List of the Members, the Utility and Necessity of such an Institution, and its Claim to Public Support (1803), in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 225–231. BACK

[22] Southey reviewed Anna Seward, Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin, ... with Anecdotes of his Friends and Criticisms on his Writings (1804), in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 488–493. BACK

[23] Dr Peter Crompton (dates unknown) of Eton House, Liverpool, a radical reformer who supported John Thelwall in the 1790s and who contested elections at Nottingham (1796, 1807, 1812), Preston (1818) and Liverpool (1820). BACK

[24] William Stanley Roscoe (1782–1843), poet and eldest son of William Roscoe, who was close to his father in outlook and tastes. He became a partner in his father’s bank, but was also a student of Italian literature. BACK

[25] Roscoe’s The Life of Pope Leo X, Son of Lorenzo de’ Medici was published in 1805. Southey reviewed it in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 449–467. BACK

[26] Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici of Florence, Pope Leo X (1475–1521), was Pope from 1513 to his death in 1521. He was the last non-priest to be elected Pope. He is known primarily for the sale of indulgences to reconstruct St. Peter’s Basilica and his opposition to the Lutheran Reformation in Germany. BACK

[27] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’, which was never completed. BACK

[28] Because parliament would not be in session, and therefore parliamentary privileges would be suspended during the election period. The local paper was The Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser. BACK

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