709. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 24 August [1802]

709. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 24 August [1802] ⁠* 

Dear Rickman

I have been prevented from acknowledging two books – & two newspapers by the company of Duppa who has been my guest, & to whom I have been showing all the seeables of Bristol. they are documents that I am better able to value than to use – howbeit I shall thank you to replace the volumes when they are transferred to Danvers. You expect some pages from me to bind up with them. how can you have been so mistaken in calculation? I have no skill in that kind of alchemy – in extracting essence of numerals – surely you know this & know also that in whatever requires continuous & patient thought I am deficient. that I follow like the greyhound by sight & by speed – not by scent – that I could walk over mines of gold & look <discover> only for the flowers upon the surface – that I am a water-finder – not a well-sinker.

The female-College [1]  ought to be resumed, as one of the most important establishments that could be devised. I look for many & permanent benefits to this country – that is to the civilized world – from you – if apoplexy or fever do not prevent them. this deserves to be the first. in whatever way you can make me useful you may command me – but do not expect too much. We want communities for men also – convents without vows or religious ceremonies – colleges without the previous apprenticeship to fellowships – where for a moderate rent men of leisure might enjoy a common table & a good library. We want something very different from both these institutions – public stews. if I did not think you xxxx agreed with me I would say why I think they would materially lessen an evil for which cannot be destroyed – there would be a huge hue & cry against them from your rascally vital Xtian members. but reason & humanity & the public good would prevail. were I in the house of commons I should think the subject worth all my efforts.

You will not be pleased to hear that upon calculation instead of domesticating at Richmond I find it right to remove to the mountains of Cumberland. yet you must allow the resolution is a prudent one. Under the same roof with Coleridge I can have as many rooms as I want, well furnished – for twenty guineas a year. the place & the rooms we know, & all the circumstances. now in or near London my rent & taxes would be double that sum – & it would be necessary to furnish the house – an expence <for> which all my ways & means would be difficultly sufficient – even with a resource of which I should be unwilling to avail myself – the hasty publication of some hasty poem. for access to books – I have enough raw materials to occupy a three years labour. if the climate hurt me – patience! it is but removing to Lisbon two years sooner than business would call me there – & Liverpool is a port at an easy distance. the difference of house expences also is nearly as 40 to 100. the Lakes & the Mountains you will not admit as inducements – but have I not determined upon solid & merchant like motives?

I have been working pleasantly & profitably at my Opus Majus, [2]  what with common (excuse the Cats blotting) which with common success will xxx produce me enough for my wants. for twelvemonths I have not written above two hundred verses – only enough to satisfy me that the power is not past away. perhaps you will like this symptom. the fact is that in compiling history much of the work is mere idleness for one who loves reading – a book & a pencil to mark your way. the mass of volumes which it is necessary to examine is enormous – but that is all easy sauntering pastime. then again so many parts of the process are going on that variety of employment serves instead of rest. there are always three narratives on the stocks at once. one reign in its first rude stage – another in its chrysalis state – a third fairly xx copied upon fair paper. if I am tired of the Kings I go to the Saints – if the Xtians are dull there are the Moors to amuse me. for serious moods there are chapters that require thought & reasoning – & in the quaintness of my heart I conceive notes.

Morton Eden [3]  lost his Election by the folly of his friends – who chose to command their party instead of asking their consent. I wished him well because he had written a book – & God knows whether the man whom they have elected [4]  has ever read one. however he is a respectable man – rich by his own industry – & can say yes & no. As for the Middlesex business I conceive it as a trial whether or not the people of that country approve the system of the Bastille – & heartily rejoiced in its event, which however the scrutiny may turn out has determined that question. [5]  We had a dinner for Mr Pitt [6]  yesterday. the Bells were rung from the preceding midnight – the guns fired – the Royal Standard of the British Isles hoisted on the Cathedral. Bravo! Is not this Irish Loyalty? [7]  for why has the King [8]  dismissed so able & so popular a Minister? the frenzy fever of party is over here, & it is settling into its old septennial intermittent. A Whig club is forming under a new name – all nonsense – but so far good as it shows that the country is returning to its old feelings & habits – & they are better than its new ones.

I forgive Pitt half the eternity of damnation to which he is doomed for the Union, [9]  & make over the remitted half to Bonaparte [10]  – who may enter upon his lease as soon as he pleases. any Jacobine has my leave to put him in immediate possession.

How shall I get over my desk & books from Dublin? you know the books (Bruce) [11]  are contraband – prohibited indeed as Irish printing.

farewell. I trust this will follow you if it find you not at X Church [MS torn]member me to my friends there.

yrs truly

R Southey.

Tuesday 24 August.

The next fortnight will probably be an important one in my family. [12]  I shall acquaint you with the result – you know it is an official subject.

Did you send me Vincents sermon? [13]  I think the seal was Mr Abbotts [14]  crest.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr / Christ Church/ Hampshire/ Single
Postmark: [partial] BRISTOL/ AUG 24 180
Endorsement: R Southey/ Augt. 24. 1802
MS: Huntington Library, RS 25. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 282-284. BACK

[1] The scheme for ‘beguinages’ in which poor single women would live and work together, first proposed by Rickman in a letter to Southey of 4 January 1800, Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census-Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), pp. 23-24. BACK

[2] The Latin translates as ‘Greater Work’ – Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[3] Sir Frederick Morton Eden, 2nd Baronet (1766-1809; DNB), who initially stood as a candidate for Bristol in the 1802 General Election, but retired before the poll. He had written The State of the Poor, or, An History of the Labouring Classes in England (1797). BACK

[4] The Whig plantation owner Evan Baillie (1741-1835). BACK

[5] Sir Francis Burdett (1770-1844; DNB), a leading radical, was elected for Middlesex in 1802. A key element in his campaign was an attack on the regime at Cold Bath Fields prison in the constituency. However, his election was disputed and declared void in 1804. BACK

[6] William Pitt (1759-1806, Prime Minister 1783-1801 and 1804-1806; DNB). BACK

[7] i.e. disloyalty. BACK

[8] George III (1738-1820; King of Great Britain and Ireland 1760-1820; DNB). BACK

[9] The Union of Great Britain and Ireland, which came into effect in 1801. BACK

[10] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821; First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[11] James Bruce (1730-1794; DNB), Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, in 1768-73 (1790), no. 377 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[12] Southey’s first child, Margaret Edith, was born on 31 August 1802. BACK

[13] William Vincent, A Defence of Public Education (1801), in which Vincent robustly refuted allegations about the lack of religious education in public schools. BACK

[14] Charles Abbot, 1st Lord Colchester (1757-1829; DNB), Chief Secretary for Ireland 1801-1802, The Speaker 1802-1817. Rickman was Abbot’s Secretary. BACK

People mentioned

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Dublin (mentioned 1 time)