768. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 29 March 1803

768. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 29 March 1803 ⁠* 

Ni fallor ευρηκα [1]  the origin of the Beguines.

In the 14th century a society called the Fratres vitæ communis was established at Deventer the capital of Over-Yssel by Gerard de Groot, [2]  which you will easily see must be Dutch for Gerald the great. their object was to live as nearly as possible after the manner of the primitive Xtians, that is, upon a common stock. they made no vow, but lived xxxx in a community & supported themselves by their own labour. to copy books was one of their chief employments. the institution was approved, confirmed, & classed under the rule of S. Augustine by Gregory XI [3]  in 1376. this same Gerald established a female community upon the same principle, there were 14 xx houses of these females in the Low countries – & surely these must be the Beguines – but not a word more is said of the female branch in the book before me, which is entitled Recherches Historiques, Litteraires & Critiques sur l’Origine de L’Imprimerie par le Citoyen P. Lambinet. [4]  The Calvinists it seems in the religious wars played the Devil with the Fratres – what they did with the Sisters this deponent sayeth not. Citizen Lambinet has provokingly given a print of one of the Brothers to show his dress. the book whence he has taken it, & to which he refers is what we should look for. Histoire des ordres monastiques, religieux & militaires par Heliot. Tom. 11 (2y. 11 or 2?) p 339. 4to. [5] 

This is one step gained. I will hunt all the books of Travels in my reach to find more upon the subject. the French plan which I inclose has some distant resemblance to your scheme. indeed it is what a part of yours would be. I begged it from a Lady [6]  who had visited the institution & spoke of the happiness & comfort prevailing there.

Mrs Danvers died yesterday of this cursed influenza [7]  – which has gone thro my whole household. poor Charles feels & governs his feelings as he ought, but it is a very heavy & an irreparable loss to him – the breaking up of all his habits of life. the property she has left is in the Funds, & must be sold out. He desires me to ask your opinion how they are likely to be affected by the present politics – for it is of some importance to him now to be helped out in his judgement, & we are all in the dark. I look for war, but not for a consequent depression of the Funds, because a good cause, & the unanimity of all good men will make us fall to in good spirits. But if you can lend him a little light upon this subject he will be very much obliged to you.

I miss the good old Lady. there is no other house where I am so intimate.

God bless you. a frank always excuses a short letter – xx I should not have sent off so short a one had it not been to ask this question for poor Danvers.


R Southey.

March 29. 1803.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
MS: Huntington Library, RS 33. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 308-310. BACK

[1] The Latin and Greek translate as ‘Unless I’m mistaken, I’ve found it’. BACK

[2] Geert Groote (1340-1384), founder of the Brethren of the Common Life. This movement was not connected to the Beguines, communities of lay women, which had grown up in the 12th century. BACK

[3] Gregory XI (c. 1336-1378, Pope 1370-1378). BACK

[4] Pierre Lambinet (1742-1813), Recherches Historiques, Litteraires et Critiques sur l’Origine de L’Imprimerie (1799). For Southey’s review see Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 704-711. BACK

[5] Pierre Helyot (1660-1716), Histoire des Ordres Monastiques, Religieux et Militaires (1714-1719). Southey acquired this, as a 1792 edition appears as no. 1183 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[6] Unidentified. BACK

[7] The influenza epidemic of 1803 claimed lives throughout Europe, in particular in England and France. BACK

People mentioned

Danvers, Mrs. (d. 1803) (mentioned 2 times)
Danvers, Charles (c. 1764–1814) (mentioned 2 times)