2848. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 2 October 1816

2848. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 2 October 1816⁠* 

2 Oct. 1816.Keswick.

My dear R.

I have received no further communications from Bedford, – which is very well, as I must finish some few things & rid my hands of them before I set seriously to work in the good cause. [1]  Meantime the subject occupies my mind in all intervals of employment. Thank you for the papers: – when we talk these things over it will be found that you & I shall not differ upon any material subject; concerning the extent & nature of existing evils my estimates may perhaps be modified by your knowledge, – & you will perhaps agree with me that Government will gain strength by correcting as far as possible acknowledged evils, – instead of letting the Anarchists have the advantage of enlisting good feelings on their side. – I shall take a wide range, & I feel just now as if it were in my power to produce a work which, whatever might be its immediate effect, should be referred to hereafter as a faithful estimate of these times. [2] 

Davy was here last week & told me a valuable fact. A friend of his who applying xxxx philosophical knowledge to practical purposes has turned manufacturer at Clithero, [3]  went abroad immediately after the peace, – not to seek for orders, but to examine with his own eyes the state of the manufacturers on the continent. He returned with a conviction that it was necessary to reduce his own draw in; reduced his produce in time, & in consequence is doing well while his neighbours are breaking all around. – Certain it is that manufactures, as depending upon machinery, advanced very rapidly on the continent during the last war: – no prohibitions & no penalties however severe can prevent machinery & workmen from finding their way abroad; – xxxx to this we must make up our mind, – & it is better that it should be so. – A little time sets these things to rights.

I incline to think that there will come a time when public opin opinion will no more tolerate the extreme of poverty as existing in a large class of the community, than it now tolerates slavery in Europe. Meantime it is perfectly clear that the more we can improve the condition of the lower classes the greater number of customers we procure for the home market, – & that if we can make people pay taxes – instead of claiming poor rates the wealth as well as the security of the State is increased. The poor rates x are a momentous subject, in which <&> I have long believed you were the only man who could grapple with it. [4]  I see, or think I see x palliations & alterations, – in providing the labourers with garden & grass land, – in establishing saving banks, in national education, – & in affording all possible facilities & encouragement for emigration, – & in colonizing at home upon our waste lands.

The state of the Church is another important question, – assailed as it is on all sides. I think it would be possible to take in the Methodists as a sort of Cossacks, – or certainly to employ those persons henceforward in aid of the establishment, who if not thus employed will swell the numbers of the Methodists & act against them. There are no differences of doctrine in the way: it is but to let the licence [5]  come from the Clergyman as x instead of the Magistrate, – to invent some such name as Coadjutor for those who have “a call,” – let them catechise the children, convart the women, – reclaim the reprobates, – & meet on week days or at extra hours on Sundays in the church to exhort & sing psalms. – A little condescension, – a little pay & a little flattery would do some good, & prevent much mischief.

I am now going to sit an hour with Lord Darnley [6]  at Sir G Beaumonts, – & shall turn the conversation upon the conduct of the xx Ultra-Whigs at Maidstone, [7]  – that by extracting some<thing> xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx from the said [MS torn] of Ultra-Whiggish propensities I may derive xxxxx compensation for the sacrifice of precious time to civility.

By nature I am a poet, – by deliberate choice an historian, – & a political writer I know not how, – rather by accident, – or the course of events. Yet I think I can do something toward awakening the country, & that I can obtain the confidence of well disposed minds by writing earnestly & sincerely upon things in which all persons are concerned. – You mistake for liberality what arose from policy & prudence. Were I to accept a good birth, what was <is> held out to me – it would very much counteract the impression that I am aiming to xxxx produce. Instead of attempting to answer my arguments & accusations, the Anarch would become the assailants & attack me as one who had sold himself. This I am willing enough to despise, – were it not for the mischief that it might do. Hereafter I should not refuse the remuneration to which I might feel entitled, – if it were offered in a form that I could accept.

God bless you



* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqre.
Endorsement: 2 Octr. 1816
MS: Huntington Library, RS 295. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 213–215 [in part]. BACK

[1] Bedford had conveyed to Southey the ministerial suggestion that he should edit a pro-government journal. BACK

[2] Southey was contemplating a book on the ‘State of the Nation’ – it was not written. BACK

[3] James Thomson (1779–1850), industrial chemist and co-owner of the Primrose Works, a calico factory near Clitheroe, Lancashire. Thomson had, with Southey and Coleridge, been one of those to inhale nitrous oxide under Davy’s supervision at the Bristol Pneumatic Institution in 1799. BACK

[4] The fruits of Rickman’s analysis appeared in ‘On the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 259–308. BACK

[5] Under the Toleration Act (1689), Nonconformist Ministers had to obtain a license to preach from the local magistrate and to have their names recorded by the Quarter Sessions. The only legal requirement to obtain a license at this time was to swear the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, which acknowledged the monarch as the lawful sovereign and supreme head of the Church of England. BACK

[6] John Bligh, 4th Earl of Darnley (1767–1831; DNB), a Whig peer whose seat was at Cobham Hall in Kent. BACK

[7] Maidstone was a particularly venal and hotly-contested borough. One of its Whig MPs in 1806–1812 and 1818–1820 was George Longman (1773–1822), a wholesale stationer and brother of Thomas Longman. In August 1816 the Whigs had adopted Sir Robert Wilson (1777–1849; DNB) as a candidate, though he ultimately did not stand and instead became MP for Southwark 1818–1831. Wilson had played a notable role in the Peninsular War as commander of the Loyal Lusitanian Legion, but he fell out badly with Wellington and became a radical. In April 1816 he was sentenced to three months imprisonment in France for aiding the escape from prison of the Bonapartist politician, Antoine-Marie Chamans de Lavalette (1769–1830). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)