2809. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 9 June [1816]

2809. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 9 June [1816] ⁠* 

My dear R.

Thank you for your figures, – which I had before seen in the Panorama, [1]  – the most sensible of all our periodical publications, if books are to be estimated by the useful matter which they contain. It is not heathen Greek to me, – tho as remote as possible from all my own pursuits. Doubtless a number of curious results would arise from due consideration of this laborious summary, I could find many questions to propound therein. The net product per family in Bedford is given at 30 £, in Hereford at 40 £ – the agricultural population in both counties because at an exact proportion. I should have expected from the state of agriculture in the two counties to have found the advantage on the side of Bedford at least or pa as 4 : 3 – instead of the difference lying the other way. Is there any roguery in the returns of the rental which may account for this?

These agricultural rioters are begotten by the opposition [2]  – there is less danger from them than from manufacturing mobs, – large towns being favourable for ground for rioting when good mob tactics may defy any military force, but they show that the newspapers & the malcontent politics have infected the agricultural population also, & this is no light evil, inasmuch as the wrong persons are hanged for it. One of my remedies is to make transportation the punishment for seditious libel, – MessrsHunt Hazlitt & Co would make worthy colonists at Botany Bay [3] , & the Morning Chronicle be published at Port Jackson [4]  with great advantage to the inhabitants of that growing state, – & the good people of England.

Thank the Capt for his book, – I will thank him myself erelong when I send him a return in kind. [5] 

Remember – we look to see you & Mrs R this year. I bespoke a brace of Beguine dolls [6]  one for myself – & one for little Ann [7]  as your representative, – they are arrived here, & Ann must come for hers – which is nearly as big as herself. – My books are come at the same time, & I can make out for you as much of the history of the Beguines as is known whenever you want it. [8]  They claim their descent from a S Begga, wife of the first Pepin. [9] 

I wish some person would take occasion of the Elgin marble money [10]  to observe that a little generosity on the part of government is due to literature as well as art, – & that it di is disgraceful to any civilized country to impose a heavy tax upon the importation of books. The tax upon bound book is 15/d – per pound weight, – 6d upon the unbound. Now all old books are bound, & when I get my Acta Sanctorum 52 bulky folios, [11]  the duty upon them will be between 30 & 40 £. I petitiond the treasury to let them pass – but my request xx was inadmissible. No luxury of any kind is taxed in as equal proportion.

God bless you


9 June.


* Address: John Rickman Esqre
Endorsement: 9 June 1816
MS: Huntington Library, RS 286. ALS; 4p.
Dating note: Year from endorsement. BACK

[1] ‘Comparative View of the Area, Fertility and Agricultural Population, of Several Counties of England and Wales’, The Literary Panorama and National Register, 7(June 1816), 447–448. Southey had subscribed to this publication since 1809 – it was no. 1734 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[2] The Ely, or Littleport, riots of 22–24 May 1816, caused by high unemployment and bread prices. BACK

[3] The British penal colony in Australia, founded in 1788. BACK

[4] Present-day Sydney Harbour, Australia. The Morning Chronicle (1769–1862) was a Whig daily newspaper. BACK

[5] In Quarterly Review, 17 (April 1817), 1–39, Southey reviewed the book sent him by Captain James Burney, A Chronological History of the Voyages and Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean; Illustrated with Charts and Plates (1816). If he also wrote to Burney thanking him for the gift and sending in return one of his own publications, the letter is lost. BACK

[6] Southey and Rickman had a long-standing interest in the Beguines, a Catholic lay religious order, hoping their model of communities of unmarried women would be useful in Britain. BACK

[7] Rickman’s daughter, born 1808. BACK

[8] Southey had bought a large number of books on his trip to the Low Countries in 1815, including Acta Sanctorum, 6 vols (Brussels, 1783–1794), a compendium of hagiographies. It became no. 152 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] Saint Begga (615–693) was the daughter of Pepin of Landen (c. 580–640), Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia. Her life was detailed in Acta Sanctorum, 6 vols (Brussels, 1783–1794), V, pp. 70–125. BACK

[10] In 1816 parliament voted £35,000 in payment to Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine (1766–1841; DNB) for the Parthenon marbles he had removed from Athens in 1801–1812. BACK

[11] Southey was under the impression that he had bought the 53–volume version of Acta Sanctorum (1643–1794), rather than the abridged 6–volume version. He finally purchased the larger edition in 1817 and it became no. 207 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

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