651. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [c. 17 January 1802]

651. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [c. 17 January 1802] ⁠* 

My dear Rickman

You will not be surprized to learn that I have lost my Mother. She had so long made a part of all my cares & calculations & hopes that I shall very long feel the loss. but enough of this. I have something of your philosophy. which old Epictetus [1]  taught me, & know how foolish it is to foster unavailing thoughts of disquietude.

The disturbances & inconveniences of a sick house have hitherto kept me from seeing your cousin. [2]  I had engaged Lamb to meet him, & was obliged to put him off on that account. We are now meditating a removal from lodgings that are become unpleasant. Mr Corry has offered me apartments on the second floor of his official house. they are bad rooms, & unfurnished. still if I can hire furniture I am disposed to like the scheme – because we become as independant as dwellers in the Inns of Court or Colleges, & because I may doubtless lock up my books there when we migrate to green Erin. [3]  The little intercourse we have of late had has been of the same kind. – except indeed that I am a gainer by a ream of this paper, a ream of foolscap & another of note-sheetlings, all of the same quality with appropriate pens & sealing-wax. Likewise he offered & paid me a second quarter in advance. in all this there is an kind attention of which I am duly sensible. he introduced me yesterday to his nephew, a young man of Patrician speech & countenance. [4]  but still no dinner – & nothing to do except reading Gregorys Economy of Nature [5]  with William. [6] 

The uncomfortable state of feelings to which of late I have been subject, have produced some good. I felt a stronger necessity for employment, & my historical papers [7]  are considerably increased thereby. my collateral reading & collections are so extensive that there is some reason to suspect I may find a surplus enough for a volume of Works of Supererogation. [8]  Some of the wild Tales which are half history & half invention – the romance of history – but the history of manners – I shall berhyme – & then you will see them in the Morning Post. [9]  You will easily recognize the mark of the beast. Madoc [10]  proceeds <grows> very slowly – symptoms of a long-living tree.

Lambs play is not yet born. [11]  the Press is parturient & I am looking with the expectation of hope for little Margaret. [12]  Cottle – he who brayed thro the epic trumpet, & played afterwards upon the Jews-harp, hath committed another work, an anonymous satire named the Methodist. [13]  quite as long & rather more fanatical than the extempore sermon of his own Angel in Alfred. [14]  Methodism has been very hurtful to him. his head has lost something – but such a head it matters not what becomes. but since he has taken to faith he has taken leave of good works. this rascally sect is growing with a dangerous rapidity. old Vincent has resented their attack upon Public Education with spirit & abilities that gave me very great satisfaction. [15]  there is a war brooding between our old Clergy, & these fanatics, who if they get the upper hand would torment us in all imaginable ways – from compelled attendance on hour-long sermons – up to roasting alive. – I take shelter in the Church that I may not be driven to the Meeting-House. & shall roar aloud if the Mother Church be in danger, with hearty good will. from ignorant Calvinistic persecution Good Lord deliver me! if I must believe or burn let me at least turn to a Jesuits faith.

I know not whether it is worth while to transfer the Westminster ticket [16]  – I have enough employment upon the old books of the Redcross Street Library. [17]  yesterday the three first volumes of the Acta Sanctorum [18]  reached me from thence. noble books in which I find materials for every thing. perhaps you do not know that the first article in this immense work is – De sacrosancto Praeputio Christi & of where it was kept as a relic till immani Calvinistarum furore deperditum! –

Controvertitur a quibasdam an Christus cum praepartio resurrexit. de quo consuli posount [19]  &c &c –

however you may like to hear the most probable opinion up[MS torn] article of faith Quod resectum est censet probabile esse in terris mansisse. corpus tamen resurgens habuisse praeputium formatum ex aliquâ parte materiae illius, quae aliquando fuerat in corpore Xti, & per continuam erat nutritionem resoluta. [20] 

As a better specimen of the same volume I find the warm bath used in Ireland about the age of St Patrick. [21] 

The famous Preface [22]  which underwent elaboration proportionally longer than the nine years gestation of a classical poet [23]  – shall be bought & carried to Ireland – & if need be deposited in the Library for Irish Information

God bless you.


R S.


* Address: To/ Mr John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: R.S. Jan 17/ 1802
MS: Huntington Library, RS 19. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 266-268 [dated January 1802]. BACK

[1] Epictetus (c. 55-135 AD), Greek Stoic philosopher. His ideas were preserved by his pupil, Lucius Flavius Arrianus (before 86-after 146 AD) in the Enchiridion, or Handbook of Epictetus’s thought. BACK

[2] Mr Beaumont (first name and dates unknown). BACK

[3] Ireland. BACK

[4] Unidentified; a relative of either Corry or his long-term partner, and mother of his six children, Jane Symms (dates unknown). BACK

[5] George Gregory (1754-1808; DNB), The Economy of Nature Explained (1796). BACK

[6] William Corry (c. 1786-1853), son of Isaac Corry. Southey was employed as Isaac Corry’s secretary, a post paid for by government funds. In fact, he was participating in a parliamentary expenses scandal. The secretarial post was a front, and Corry fraudulently diverted Southey’s services, using him to tutor his children. BACK

[7] Papers and notes relating to Southey’s projected ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[8] In Catholic theology, works of supererogation are those beyond what is required by God. So Southey’s supplementary volume would include all his research beyond what was needed for his ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[9] Southey had recommenced writing for the Morning Post in autumn 1801, but only contributed three poems. Two of them would fit the description he gives here: ‘O Thou Moor of Moreria’, Morning Post, 18 September 1801; and ‘Ballad. From The Spanish’, Morning Post, 23 December 1801. He contributed nothing in 1802, but published 13 poems (translations and original works) in the newspaper in 1803. BACK

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

[11] Charles Lamb’s John Woodvil: A Tragedy (1802). BACK

[12] Margaret is a central character in John Woodvil: a Tragedy (1802). BACK

[13] Cottle’s Alfred, An Epic Poem, in Twenty Four Books (1800); A New Version of the Psalms of David (1801); and, pseudonymously, The Methodist (1801). The latter was reviewed as ‘entirely of the ironical kind, and is intended as a severe and biting satire against those who are not Methodists, particularly of the Established Church, and, above all, the Bishops. The author writes in the character of a zealous opposer of Methodists’, British Critic, 20 (September 1802), 320-321. BACK

[14] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, An Epic Poem, in Twenty Four Books (London, 1800), pp. 417-437. BACK

[15] Southey’s old enemy William Vincent, Headmaster of Westminster School. His A Defence of Public Education (1801) refuted charges that religious education was being neglected in public schools. BACK

[16] A ticket for Westminster Public Library, a subscription library, founded in 1789. BACK

[17] Dr Williams’s Library, London, which was established by a bequest from the dissenting minister, Daniel Williams (c. 1643–1716; DNB). BACK

[18] Acta Sanctorum (1643-1940) , a 68-volume hagiography of Catholic saints, organised by calendar date of the saints’ feast-days. BACK

[19] The passage is taken from Acta Sanctorum, 1. Jan., ‘Commemoratio Sacrosancti Praeputtii Christi’ and translates as: ‘About Christ’s sacred foreskin & of where it was kept as a relic until destroyed by the manic fury of the Calvinists. Some dispute whether the resurrected Christ had a foreskin. They demand a consultation on it’. January 1 is the Feast of the Circumcision, hence this is the first article in the first volume of the Acta Sanctorum. BACK

[20] The passage translates as: ‘What was cut off he thinks probably remained on earth, but the resurrected body had a foreskin made from some part of the substance which had once been in Christ’s body, and had been kept supple by continuous feeding.’ BACK

[21] Acta Sanctorum, 1. Jan., ‘De S. Mochua sive Cuano Abbate in Hibernia’. BACK

[22] The ‘Preface’ to George Dyer’s Poems and Critical Essays (1802). BACK

[23] Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BC), Ars Poetica, line 388, advised poets to keep their works back from publication for nine years. BACK

People mentioned

Lamb, Charles (1775–1834) (mentioned 2 times)
Vincent, William (1739–1815) (mentioned 2 times)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)
Corry, Isaac (1753–1813) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 1 time)