617. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 16 October 1801

617. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 16 October 1801 ⁠* 

Friday. Oct. 16 1801. Dublin

Dear Edith, in my last no direction was given. you will write under cover, & direct exactly in this form

the Right Honble

Isaac Corry

&c &c &c


this said personage I have not yet seen, whereby I was kept in a state of purportless idleness. he is gone to his own country, playing truant from business among his friends. tomorrow his return is probable. I like his character he does business well & with method, but loves his amusement better than business & prefers books to official papers. It does not appear that my work will be anyways difficult copying & letter writing which any body could do, if any body could be confidentially trusted. John Rickman is a great man in Dublin & in the eyes of the world, but not one jot altered from the John Rickman of Christ Church, save only that in compliance with an extorted promise he has deprived himself of the pleasure of [MS illegible] his head by putting powder on it. he has astonished the people about him – the government stationer hinted to him when he was giving an order, that if he wanted any thing in the pocket book way – he might as well put it down in the order. But he pulled his own – look Sir – I have bought one for two shillings. his predecessor admonished him not to let himself down by speaking to any of the clerks – why Sir – said John Rickman – I should not let myself down if I spoke to every man between this & the bridge – & so he goes on in his own right way. he has been obliged to mount up to the third story, before he could find a room small enough to sleep in – & there he led me to show me his government bed, which because it is a government bed contains stuff enough to make a dozen – the curtains being compleatly double & mattress piled upon mattress, so that tumbling out would be a dangerous fall. – About our quarters here when we remove hither in June, he will look out. the filth of the houses is intolerable – floors & furniture offending you with Portugueze nastiness. but it is a very fine city – a magnificent city – such public buildings & the streets so wide. for these advantages Dublin is indebted to the prodigal corruption of its own government. every member who asked money to make improvements got it – & if he got 20,000 pounds – in decency spent 5 for the public, & pocketed the rest. these gentlemen are now being hauled a little over the coals, & they have grace enough to thank God the Union did not take place sooner.

The Peace [1]  was not welcome to the Patricians [2]  – it took away all their hopes of “any fun” by the help of France. the government acting well & wisely, controul both parties, the Orange men & the United Irish men, [3]  & command respect from both. the old fatteners upon the corruption are silent in shame. the military who must be kept up will be well employed in making roads, this measure is not yet announced to the public. It will be difficult to civilize this people. an Irishman builds him a turf stye – gets his fuel from the bog, digs his patch of potatoes & then lives upon them in idleness. like a true savage he does not think it worth while to work that he may better himself. potatoes & buttermilk – on this they are begotten & born & bred, & whiskey sends them to the third heaven at once. If Davy had one of them in his laboratory, he could analize his flesh blood & bones into nothing but potatoes & buttermilk & whiskey. they are the primary elements of an Irishman. their love of “fun” eternally engages them in mischievous combinations, which are eternally baffled by their own blessed instinct of blundering. the United Irishmen must have obtained possession of Dublin but for a bull. [4]  on the night appointed, the mail coach was to be stopt & burnt about a mile from town & that was the signal. the lamplighters were in the plot – & oh to be sure! the honeys would not light a lamp in Dublin that evening, for fear the people should see what was going on. – Of course alarm was taken & all the mischief prevented. – Modesty characterises them as much here as on the other side of the water. a man stopt Rickman yesterday – I’ll be oblaged to you Sir – if youll plaise to ask Mr Abbot [5]  to give me a place of sixty or seventy pounds a year – . favours indeed are asked here with as unblushing & obstinate a perseverance as in Portugal. – This is the striking side of the picture. the dark colours that first strike a stranger. their good qualities you cannot so soon discover. genius indeed immediately appears to characterise them. A love of saying good things – which 999 Englishmen in a thousand never dream of attempting in the course of their lives. When Lord Hardwicke [6]  came over there fell a fine rain after the first after a long series of dry weather. a servant of Dr Lindsays [7]  heard an Irishman call to his comrade in the street – Ho Patt – & we shall have a riot – of course a phrase to quicken an Englishmans hearing. this rain will breed a riot – the little potatoes will be pushing out the big ones.

Did I send in my last the noble bull that Rickman heard? he was late in company when a gentleman looked at his watch & cried it is tomorrow morning! – I must wish you good night.

Rickman has received a sane letter from Burnett, who only plays off the desperato where it will produce an effect. Lamb writes that the person with whom he cohabits is a young surgeon & nephew to a great wine merchant, [8]  who gives him long credit. so they drink two sorts of wine & live happy. Godwin is courting a widow who has one child;  [9]  she is a very disgusting woman says Lamb, & wears green spectacles.

I shall send you no money, because I shall bring it. dear Edith I wish I knew when – but certainly very soon. Mr Abbot goes in a few days & I should not think, nor is it thought that Mr Corry will long remain after him. perhaps ten days – or a week may be the utmost of my stay. the shorter the better. it is hateful to be alone. about my shirts. cloth is but sixpence a yard less than in England, & to that amount at last I am sure to be cheated. is it not better wait till you can buy them for me? the people love a little cheatery dealings. in the first shop which Rickman entered, he was asked 8 shillings & sixpence for what the man directly sold him at four shillings. I have bought no books yet – for lack of money. today Rickman is engaged to dinner – & I am to seek for myself some ordinary or chop house. this morning will clear off my letters, & I will make business a plea hereafter for writing fewer. tis a hideous waste of time. – my love to Coleridge &c. I will if indeed I do not write to him also.

Edith God bless you.


R Southey


* Watermark: crown with fleur de lys
MS: Pforzheimer Collection, New York Public Library, G’ANA 0032. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 167-171. BACK

[1] Britain and France had signed ‘Preliminary Articles of Peace’ on 1 October 1801. This was effectively a ceasefire to allow negotiations for a full treaty. BACK

[2] The Irish, as followers of St Patrick, 5th-century patron saint of Ireland; but also a play on the word for Roman aristocrats. BACK

[3] The Orange Order, founded in 1795, was supported by Irish Protestants, especially in Ulster. The United Irishmen, founded in 1791, was the revolutionary organisation behind the 1798 uprising for an independent, democratic Ireland. BACK

[4] The United Irishmen’s rising was planned for the night of 23 May 1798. It was largely prevented by information from informants, which allowed the army to occupy the rebels’ assembly points. BACK

[5] Charles Abbot, Lord Colchester (1757-1829; DNB), Chief Secretary for Ireland 1801-1802, The Speaker 1802-1817. Rickman was his secretary. BACK

[6] Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke (1757-1834; DNB), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1801-1805. BACK

[7] Charles Lindsay (1760-1846), private secretary to the Lord Lieutenant and later Bishop of Kildare 1804-1846. BACK

[8] Both the merchant and his nephew are unidentified. BACK

[9] On 21 December 1801 Godwin married his second wife, Mary Jane Clairmont (1768-1841; DNB). She had two children, but was probably not a widow. BACK

People mentioned

Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 8 times)
Lamb, Charles (1775–1834) (mentioned 2 times)
Corry, Isaac (1753–1813) (mentioned 2 times)
Godwin, William (1756–1836) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Dublin (mentioned 6 times)