629. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 20 November [1801]

629. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 20 November [1801] ⁠* 

The Chancellor & the Scribe [1]  go on in the same way. the Scribe hath made out a catalogue of all books published since the commencement of 97 upon finance & scarcity. he hath also copied a paper written by J. R. [2]  containing some Irish Aldermans hints about oak bark, & nothing more hath the Scribe done in his vocation. duly he calls at the Chancellor’s door – sometimes he is admitted to immediate audience, sometimes kicketh he his heels in the antechamber (once he kicked them for cold, but now there is a fire), – sometimes a gracious message emancipates Him for the day. secresy hath been enjoined to him as to these state proceedings. – on three subjects he is directed to read & research – corn-laws – finance – tythes – according to their written order. alas! they are heathen Greek to the Scribe! he hath indeed in days of old read Adam Smith, [3]  & remembereth the general principle established. he pre-supposeth that about corn, as about every thing else, the fewer laws the better. of finance he is even more ignorant. concerning the tythes, something knoweth he of the Levitical Law, [4]  somewhat approveth he of a commutation for Land, something suspecteth he why they are to be altered. gladly would the people buy off the burden – gladly would the government receive the purchase money. the Scribe xxxx see-eth objections thereunto – Meantime sundry are the paragraphs that have been imprinted respecting the Chancellor & the Scribe. they have <been> compared – (in defiance of the Butleraboo statute) [5]  – to Empson & Dudley. [6]  & Peter Porcupine [7]  hath civilly expressed a hope that the Poet will make no false numbers, in his new works. sometimes the Poet is called a Jacobine, at others it is said his opinions are revolutionized. the Chancellor asked him if he would enter a reply in that independent paper whose lying name is the True Briton. [8]  a paper over which the Chancellor implied he had some influence. the Poet replied no – that those flea bites itched only if they were scratched. the Scribe hath been courteously treated, & introduced to a Mr Ormsby [9]  – & this is all he knoweth of the home politics.


Burnetts Essay may be entitled Much ado about nothing. [10]  it is well written in xxx its way– but a damned ugly long flat way it is. these metaphysicians teaze me – wire-spinning – & gold-beating their meaning – if they have to tell you the amount of ten times ten – they take an hour in getting at the sum unit by unit. I am sorry you did not see his letter to me. that is curious. it is the history of his own mind – the out-blaze of a vanity that has been smoaking under green weeds for seven good years. written with warmth & feeling. for the subject was at his heart & in his heart. if he could but be as animated by any thing else – it would do. a fair trial of the Trade will do him good. at work he is, & where no great dispatch is needful George can work as well as any of Mr Phillips’s [11]  merry-men. when he has found out that his metaphysics are not saleable, that he has not quickness enough ever to acquire much knowledge, & that what knowledge he has is not ready at need, then I suppose he will condescend to the common employments of life. poor fellow! – he would think himself degraded by giving to boys the elements of learning – & yet he will write for Mr Phillips’ hire – restricted as to subject & even as to pages – & under Dr Mavors name! [12]  if this be not gnat-straining & camel swallowing with a vengeance! – he should be sowing the grain – & he will be making the bread.

A week has passed since the arrival of your packet – & I begin to be surprized that the bills have not reached me.


Ευρηκα. Ευρηκα – Ευρηκα – [13] 

You remember your heretical proposition de Cambro-Britannis – that the principality [14]  had never & never could produced & never could produce a great man. that I opposed Owen Glendwr [15]  – & Sir Henry Morgan [16]  to the assertion but in vain. but I have found the Great man – & not merely the Great man – the Maximus homo – the μεγιςος άνδρωπος – the μεγιςστατος [17]  – we must create a super-superlative to reach the idea of his magnitude. I found <him> in the Strand – in a shop window – laudably therein exhibited by a Cambro-Briton. the Engraver represents him sitting in a room – that seems to be of a cottage or at best – a farm – pen in hand – eyes-uplifted. & underneath is inscribed

The Cambrian Shakespear

but woe is me for my ignorance – the motto that followed surpassed my skill in language – tho it doubtless was a delectable morsel from that Great Welshmans poems. You must however allow the justice of the name given him. for all his writings are in Welsh – & the Welshmen say he is as great a man as Shakespear, & they must know. because they can understand him. I enquired what might be the trivial name of this light & lustre of our dark age – but it hath escaped me – only that it meant, being interpreted, – either Tom-a-Denbigh – or some such everyday baptismal denomination. [18]  – And now am I no prophet if you [MS torn] not before you have arrived thus far uttered a three-worded sentence of malediction.

I have not yet felt leisure enough to look for the Goul [19]  – so many acquaintance are daily finding me out. to day I go dine with Lord HollandWynn is intimate with him & my invitation is for the sake of Thalaba. the sale of Thalaba is slow – not about 300 only gone.

George Dyer has just been here. his disorder he said required a violent exertion to remedy it. Lamb has made a perfect cure. thank you for that nonpareil letter. [20]  Ediths remembrance –

yrs truly

R Southey.

Nov. 20


* Address: To/ Mr John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: R.S./ Nov. 20,/ 1801
MS: Huntington Library, RS 12. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 174-177 [in part]; Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census-Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), pp. 61-63 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey. BACK

[2] John Rickman. BACK

[3] Adam Smith (1723-1790; DNB), The Wealth of Nations (1776). BACK

[4] Leviticus 27: 30-32 states that one tenth (a tithe) of agricultural produce should be used for maintaining the priests and the Tabernacle. BACK

[5] ‘Butler aboo’ was the war cry of the Butlers, one of Ireland’s most powerful Norman families. The Irish Parliament had banned such war cries as far back as 1495, as they provoked conflicts. BACK

[6] Richard Empson (d. 1510; DNB) and Edmund Dudley (c. 1462-1510; DNB), two unpopular tax collectors. BACK

[7] ‘Peter Porcupine’, the pseudonym of William Cobbett (1763-1835; DNB), journalist and pamphleteer, who later became a leading radical. BACK

[8] The True Briton was a conservative newspaper, published from 1793 to 1803. BACK

[9] Mr Ormsby’s identity is unclear. He might have been either Joseph Mason Ormsby (1761-1820), MP for Gorey in the Irish Parliament 1799-1800, or Owen Ormsby (d. 1804) of Willowbrook, County Sligo. BACK

[10] Burnett had just written a lengthy metaphysical essay; see Rickman to Robert Southey, 7 November 1801, in Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), pp. 57-58. BACK

[11] Sir Richard Phillips (1767-1840; DNB), publisher and proprietor of the Monthly Magazine. BACK

[12] William Fordyce Mavor (1758-1837; DNB), clergyman, schoolmaster and writer. Burnett was working on his Universal History, Ancient and Modern (1802), which was published by Phillips. BACK

[13] The Greek translates as ‘I have found it. I have found it. I have found it’, reportedly shouted by the Greek inventor Archimedes (c. 287-c. 212 BC) when he discovered the law of displacement and leapt from his bath to run naked through the streets of Syracuse proclaiming his news. BACK

[14] i.e. Wales. BACK

[15] Owen Glendower (c. 1354/9-c. 1416; DNB), last independent ruler in Wales. BACK

[16] Sir Henry Morgan (c. 1635-1688; DNB), privateer in the Caribbean. BACK

[17] The Greek translates as ‘the greatest man – the very great man – the very greatest’. BACK

[18] Thomas Edwards (1739-1810; DNB), or ‘Twm o’r Nant’. Welsh poet and writer of interludes, dubbed the ‘Cambrian Shakespeare’ by his admirers. BACK

[19] ‘The Goul’ was a nickname for a Mr Simonds (or Simmonds), who worked for Rickman on the 1801 Census; see Rickman to Robert Southey, 7 November 1801, in Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), p. 58. BACK

[20] Probably the letter from George Dyer published in Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), pp. 59-60. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

35 Strand, London (mentioned 1 time)