2955. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [24 March 1817]

2955. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [24 March 1817] ⁠* 

My dear R.

You will know all my luckless law adventures – but you will not know that I have been defeated by direct perjury, – whether by a volunteer or one of B Montagues “damned souls” I do not know. [1]  No matter, my end is answered, – & unless Wm Smith is fool enough to reply to my letters I shall let the subject rest. [2]  At present I reign in the newspapers as much as ever Joanna Southcott did.



* Address: [partial] To/ John Rickman Esq/ St Stephens Cou/ New Palac/ Westminster
Stamped: [partial] K
Endorsements: Mar. 24; RS./ April 1817
MS: Huntington Library, RS 314. ALS; 2p.
Dating note: Dating from first endorsement and content. BACK

[1] A ‘damned soul’ was someone paid to commit perjury. Southey here refers to the affair of his Jacobin drama Wat Tyler, which he had written in 1794 and sent to James Ridgway (1755–1838) and Henry Symonds (1741–1816), radical booksellers, for publication; see Robert Southey to Edith Fricker, [c. 12 January 1795], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey, Part One, Letter 123. Ridgway and Symonds did not publish it and it remained in manuscript until a pirated publication, designed to embarrass the now anti-Jacobin Southey, appeared in 1817. Having taken advice from Rickman, Wynn and Turner, Southey launched a suit in Chancery in order to gain an injunction suppressing the publication, on the grounds that it breached his copyright. The case was, in his view, lost because of perjury in an affidavit given to the court by William Winterbotham, who swore that Southey had, when visiting Newgate prison, where Winterbotham, Ridgway and Symonds were all confined, given him and Daniel Isaac Eaton (1753–1814; DNB), the radical publisher, the manuscript of Wat Tyler to do with as they liked. BACK

[2] Smith had denounced Southey in the House of Commons on 14 March 1817 in the debate on the Seditious Meetings Bill, condemning ‘the settled, determined malignity of a renegado’ and comparing Southey’s arguments against radical views in the Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 227 with those expressed in Wat Tyler (1817), Act 2, lines 103–112. In reply, Southey had written two letters which he originally hoped to publish in the Courier: Southey to William Smith, 17 March 1817 (Letter 2943) and Southey to the Editor of the Courier [19 March 1817] (Letter 2946). These two letters were sent to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, on 17 and 19 March 1817 (Letters 2944 and 2948), for him to forward to the newspaper. In the event, Wynn’s absence from home led to a delay in his receiving the letters. By the time he did so, the public debate had moved on and Southey therefore decided not to publish them in the Courier, but instead to incorporate them into his pamphlet A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (1817). BACK

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