631. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 27 November 1801

631. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 27 November 1801 ⁠* 

My dear Rickman

This morning I called on Burnett, whom I found recovering from a bilious flux & in the actx of folding up a letter designed for you. he then for the first time showed me your letter, & his reply. I perceived that the provoking blunder in Lambs direction affected the tone of yours other, & that the seventeen shillings-worth of anger fell upon George. your caustic was too violent, it eat thro the proud flesh – but it has also wounded the feeling & healthy part below. the letter which I have suppressed was in the same stile as his last. I prevailed on him to lay it up in his desk – because it was no use showing you the wound you had inflicted – & your time would be better any how employed than in reading full pages that were not written with the design of giving pleasure. That your phrases were too harsh I think & Lamb & Mary Lamb think also. twas a horse medicine – a cruel dose of yellow gamboodge  [1] (tho I do not mean to insinuate that it occasioned his diarrhoœa.) –

What I foresaw – or rather hoped would take place is now going on in him. he begins to discover that hackneying authorship is not the way to be great. to allow that six hours writing in a public office is better than the same number of hours labour for a fat publisher – that it <is> more certain – less toilsome – quite as respectable. I have even prevailed on him to attend to his hand-writing – on the possibility of some such happy appointment – & doubt not ere long to convince him, in his own way, of the moral fitness of writing straight lines & distinct letters – according to all the laws of mind. he wishes to get a tutors place. in my judgement a clerks would suit him better, for its permanence. nothing like experience! he would be not think its duties beneath him. & if he were so set at ease from the daily bread & cheese anxieties that would disorder a more healthy intellect than his – I believe that passion for distinction which haunts him, would make him in the opinion of the world – the booksellers – & himself – a very pretty historian. quite as good as any of the Scotch breed – It puzzles me how he has learnt to round his sentences so xx ear-ticklingly. he has never rough-hewn any thing – but he finishes like a first journeyman.

Write to him some day, & lay on an emollient plaister. it would heal him – & comfort him. a very active man we shall never have. but as active as nature will let him he soon will be – & quite enough for daily official work. If you could set him in the Land of Potatoes [2]  we should, I believe in conscience see the Historian of the Twelve Caesars [3]  become a great man. A more improbable prophecy of mine about the wretched Alfred [4]  has been fulfilled!

Mr Corry & I have met once since my last – & no mention was made about Egypt – the silence satisfied me – because Portugal is a better & far more suitable subject. it is odd that he has never asked me to dine with him – & not quite accordant with his general courtliness of conduct. Seeing little of him – I have not formed so high an opinion of his talents or information as you had led me to conceive. doubtless in his own department he possess both – but on all other ground I am the better traveller – & he hardly knows the turnpike when I have beat thro all the by ways & windings & cross roads. I found it expedient to send him my sundry books in compliance with a hint to that effect. he called to thank me – & this dropping a card has been the extent of my personal & avoidable civility. to my great satisfaction I have entire leisure – that is to my present comfort – for it does not promise much for the future.

I had nearly forgotten to ask you for the transfer to the Library. [5] 

Your friend Vaughan Griffiths [6]  has got a few steps up the ladder – I do not mean the ladder which such like honest gentlemen sometimes ascend. he has taken Remnant [7]  the German booksellers stock, & announces a catalogue of foreign books. the Magazine exists [8]  – I certify its existence having seen one for this month in a window. the xxx spirit having left it I suspect Vampirism in its present life.

Coleridge is in town. you should commute your Star [9]  for the Morning Post – in which you will see good things from him [10]  – & such occasional verses as I may happen to evacuate. [11]  the Anthology is revivescent under the eye of blind Tobin, to whom all the honour & glory & papers are transferred.  [12]  there will <be> enough of the old leaven to keep up its <a> family likeness to its Half-brothers. Madoc [13]  is on the anvil – slow & sure. I expect my Port[MS torn] this evening with my Mother, & shall return with new appetite to my dear old folios.

The letter to which you referred in your money-letter as directed here, never arrived. You who have the Great Seal [14]  at command had better always write straight. & do give Burnett a line – your letter was too [MS obscured] – & you would do a kind action by easing him of resentment.

Ediths remembrance – farewell

yrs truly

R Southey.

Saturday. Novr 27. 1801

25 Bridge St. Westminster.


* Address: To/ Mr John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: R.S./ Nov. 27./ 1801
MS: Huntington Library, RS 14. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 181-183; Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census-Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), pp. 65-67 [in part]. BACK

[1] The resinous sap of the gamboge tree is a drastic purgative. BACK

[2] Ireland. BACK

[3] Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c, 69/75-after 130 AD), De Vita Caesurum (121), biographies of Julius Caesar and the first eleven Roman Emperors. BACK

[4] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, an Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Books (1800). The exact nature of the ‘improbable prophecy’ is unclear. Southey was consistent in his contempt for Alfred, correctly prophesying that it would be ‘condemned to eternity’, Southey to Charles Danvers, 6 November 1800, Letter 557. BACK

[5] The Westminster Library, a subscription library of which Southey was a member. BACK

[6] Vaughan Griffiths (fl. c. 1797-1812), printer and bookseller, based in Paternoster Row. The ladder he had not ascended was to the gallows. BACK

[7] James Remnant (fl. 1790s) originally owned a bookshop in Hamburg, but returned to England in 1794 and sold German books in High Holborn. BACK

[8] The Commercial, Agricultural and Manufacturer’s Magazine, which Rickman had ceased to edit in 1801. BACK

[9] The Star was London’s first daily evening newspaper, running from 1788 to 1831. BACK

[10] Coleridge was contributing to the London newspaper the Morning Post. BACK

[11] Southey had resumed contributing poems to the Morning Post in September 1801, but on a much more occasional basis than previously. BACK

[12] The proposal to produce a successor to the Annual Anthology (1799) and (1800), edited by James Webbe Tobin. BACK

[13] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

[14] The Great Seal of the Realm was affixed to state documents to signify the monarch’s approval. Rickman held the office of Deputy Keeper of the Privy Seal, the monarch’s personal seal. BACK

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