657. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [started before and continued on] 17 February [1802]

657. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [started before and continued on] 17 February [1802] ⁠* 

My dear Rickman

I have ordered the Magazines [1]  & think Symmonds slow in getting them ready. [2]  The Chancellor has been ill & invisible for three weeks – I call daily & duly at his door, but I must preface your papers with a note, as God knows when he will vouchsafe another audience. Of course I give him the books – it is enough that you give me leave so to do. At the years end, he will not be able to say he has got nothing by me – if he studies your lucubrations he will learn more than he already knows.

This removal of Mr Abbott will it remove you to England? [3]  of course – unless he nominates you to some post as the best legacy he can leave the country. The Speakers Secretary [4]  has a very pretty house annexed to his office, which looketh to the Thames, near Westminster Bridge. I should willingly shake you by the hand in London – but growl confoundedly at passing six months without you among the Patricians [5]  – & without employment – for of course I cannot remove many books for so short a stay. I am not well. neither this place, nor this climate, suit me.

Your have received John Woodville. [6]  I retain my first opinion. it is delightful poetry badly put together. an exquisite picture in a clumsy frame. Margaret is a noble girl – the other characters not so well conceived. A better imitation of old language I have never seen – but was the language of the serving men ever the language of nature? Lamb has copied the old writers – I suspect that they did not copy existing characters. those quaint turns of words & quainter contortions of thought never could be produced by ignorant men. the main incident of the play – (the discovery) is too foolish – the effect produced too improbable. Withal so beautiful is the serious dialogue that it more than redeems the story. most I like the concluding scene.

I am half amused & half provoked by the civilities which my Secretaryship procures me. & receive them with an accurate sense of their value. I on my part also am more civil perhaps than usual. my wish is to get abroad, & I am old enough never to kick away the stone which I may want to step upon. abroad I must go – so says my head & my whole intestinal canal & my inclination. Lisbon of course is the place desirable. I would compound for Madrid. it is a hateful city – & only its books can atone for a bad situation both as to earth & heaven. If in October however I see no near chance of a legation Southward – as the world will be before me I shall seriously think of taking root in Portugal, & seriously labour to get money enough for a land journey from Bilboa or St Sebastians thro Biscay to Madrid & thence elbow out of the straight road to Toledo & Cordova. These speculations <plans> you see are post-obit speculations for the natural death of my office may be calculated upon.

Did I tell you how Burnetts Tutorship is like my Secretaryship – a happy sinecure. that his pupils have both eloped, & that he receives his salary for eating & drinking with Lord Stanhope, & talking late after supper? [7]  the Historians ambition is gone by – a passion for the utilities has succeeded, & we have given him the new title Professor of Mathematics. the Lord who is of <not only> a good man, but a very clever one, has many mechanical inventions to bring forward of which I suppose some one will fall to the share of Burnett & so make him lazy for life by a valuable patent. He is as happy as the Great Mogul. Of the other George I have more doleful tidings. Mary Lamb & her brother have succeeded in talking him into love with Miss Bengey or Bungey or Bungay; but they have got him into a quagmire & xx cannot get him out again, for they have failed in the attempt to talk Miss Bungay or Bungey or Benjey into love with him. [8]  this is a cruel business. for he has taken the infection, & it may probably soon break out in sonnets & elegies.

Wednesday 17. Feby.

I have got the Magazines home to day, written an Index to all your aliases, & sent them to the Chancellor[Corry] with a recommendatory epistle. You will at some time or other I hope collect those papers into a volume, their extensive circulation could not fail of producing great good, & at present they must necessarily be little known. They are merged in the Magazine, which has not character enough to be in request – & the Readers cannot possibly pay that attention to scattered papers under a dozen signatures which they would do to the volume of one author, where they would feel a consistancy & continue continuousness of opinions. A six shilling volume would contain them, or they might be printed at a cheaper & more serviceable price. now – three Magazine volumes must be purchased – & in decorum the first also. but the neat article is what is wanted. they that buy beef must buy bones – tis however xxx only in Portugal that they throw in bare bones to make weight.

Cottles Methodist. [9]  Some of the Sect in Bristol took its irony as sober serious opinion, & declared that the Author of such a wicked poem ought to be burnt!


yrs truly

Robert Southey.

I have tried vainly at an epitaph. [10] 

Edith continues exceedingly unwell. [11]  she has now been confined to the house nearly a month. I must think of removing her from London, however inconvenient.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: R.S./ Feby 17th 1802
MS: Huntington Library, RS 21. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census-Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), pp. 74-76 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Commercial, Agricultural and Manufacturers Magazine, which Rickman had edited until 1801. BACK

[2] Henry Delahay Symonds (d. 1816), the London publisher and bookseller. BACK

[3] Rickman’s employer, the politician Charles Abbot (1757–1829; DNB), Chief Secretary for Ireland 1801-1802, The Speaker 1802-1817. Abbot took up his new post as The Speaker on 10 February 1802. BACK

[4] Rickman did indeed follow Abbot, and later in 1802 accepted the post of Secretary to the Speaker of the House of Commons. BACK

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

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

[7] Burnett had been employed as tutor to Charles Stanhope (1785-1809) and James Stanhope (1788-1825), younger sons of the controversial politician and inventor Charles (‘Citizen’) Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope (1753-1816; DNB). The boys’ flight from their father’s house was described in a letter from Charles Lamb to John Rickman, [?1 February 1802], E.W. Marrs Jr (ed.), The Letters of Charles and Mary Anne Lamb, 1796-1817, 3 vols (Ithaca, NY and London, 1975-1978), II, pp. 49-50. BACK

[8] Dyer had fallen for the dramatist and novelist Elizabeth Benger (c. 1775-1827; DNB). Although nothing came of his passion, Benger and Dyer did have one thing in common: both were noted for their slovenly dress. BACK

[9] Cottle had published a pseudonymous satire, The Methodist (1801). It 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. Methodists in Bristol had taken the poem at face value and been suitably enraged. BACK

[10] Rickman had asked both Lamb and Southey to write an epitaph for Mary Druitt (c. 1782-1801), who is buried at Wimborne, Dorset. It does not appear that Southey undertook the task. BACK

[11] Edith Southey was pregnant with her first child. BACK

People mentioned

Corry, Isaac (1753–1813) (mentioned 2 times)
Burnett, George (c. 1776–1811) (mentioned 2 times)
Dyer, George (1755–1841) (mentioned 1 time)
Lamb, Mary Anne (1764–1847) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 1 time)
Lamb, Charles (1775–1834) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)