3068. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 18 January 1818

3068. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 18 January 1818⁠* 

Keswick. 18 Jany. 1818.

My dear R.

Your papers are in good course, & I am very well pleased to find, that where I had been taking the same road, I had not been going wrong, – for I had prepared a large portion of matter, a little of which I am incorporating with yours, & the rest will be remodelled into a paper for the next number, “upon the means of improving the people”. [1]  These are subjects upon which we must make the QR go as far with us as we can, – because thro that channel we have a sure & favourable audience, (12000 are printed at this time.) [2]  For bolder matter, there is my old friend Espriella, who may say any thing, – because such is the advantage of speaking sometimes in x a fictitious character, sometimes thro it. Here I can shall be uncontrolled, & I have a plentiful assortment of trappings & trifles; – goose feathers for keen arrows that will fly right to the mark. [3] 

As much of preliminary matter as you please, – xx research here will give weight, showing that the author is master of the historical part of his subject. – You refer to the Report upon the Insolvent Act, [4]  – which I have not got. Nor have I any account of the Ely Riots, [5]  – but of the place & localities I know enough to feel the force of what you say. – You are perfectly right about the sort of temper to be observed, – this is not a question upon which there can be any occasion to invite enmity: – yet I doubt whether they who ought to provide against the certain consequences are in any degree aware of the danger, & think it by no means unlikely that what relates to precaution may be expunged; it is however something to have it seen, – for having seen it, they cannot but chew the cud.

I had hit the blot in Davison about the children, [6]  – & had gone with you about the alms houses [7]  &c – good matter for expansion in the following number. [8] 

I know not whether I have thanked you about R Lovell. [9]  He I think is xx very likely to work his way up in the world. How few people seem to understand where it is that we are overstocked. I have a promising schema chalked out for exposing the crisis toward which we are hastening in the odd form of a dialogue between myself & Sir Thomas More, [10]  – introducible with something about the death of the Princess, & a sprinkling of verses, [11]  – the notion being taken from Boethius. [12] 

God bless you



* Endorsement: RS/ 18 Janry 1818
MS: Huntington Library, RS 326. ALS; 2p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey and Rickman’s article, ‘On the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 259–308. Southey placed the remaining material in ‘On the Means of Improving the People’, Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 79–118. BACK

[2] In fact 14,000 copies of the Quarterly Review were printed and at least 13,000 sold. BACK

[3] Southey never published a second instalment of the travel narrative of his fictional visitor to Britain, Letters from England: By Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella (1807). BACK

[4] The Insolvent Debtors Act of 1813 attempted to reduce the number of debtors languishing in jail by providing means for a compact to be reached with creditors. The Report from the Select Committee on the Insolvent Debtors Act (1816) recommended alterations in its operations. ‘On the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 264, condemned the operation of the Act without referring to the Report. BACK

[5] The Ely, or Littleport, riots, 22–24 May 1816, over wages and the price of bread. They were mentioned in ‘On the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 303–304 and 307, with the injunction, ‘The insurrection, if so it may be termed, in the Isle of Ely ought to be held in perpetual remembrance by those who have to legislate in any affairs connected with the situation or feelings of the multitude’ (303). BACK

[6] ‘On the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 293–294, condemned John Davison (1777–1834; DNB), Considerations on the Poor Laws (1817) for proposals that would deny relief to parents for any children born after a fixed future date. BACK

[7] ‘On the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 297, recommended the expansion of alms houses. BACK

[8] ‘On the Means of Improving the People’, Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 79–118, did not return to the subject of alms houses. BACK

[9] Rickman was endeavouring to find Lovell a job with the firms owned by Luke Hansard (1752–1828; DNB) and his son, Thomas Curson Hansard (1766–1833; DNB), which printed the Journals of the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Debates. BACK

[10] Sir Thomas More (1478–1535; DNB), scholar and Lord Chancellor 1529–1532. This idea culminated in Southey’s Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829). BACK

[11] The project that became the Colloquies arose from Southey’s contemplation of the need to compose a New Year’s Ode on the death of the Princess Charlotte; it was planned as a mixture of prose and verse. BACK

[12] Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 480–525), whose De Consolatione Philosophiae, a dialogue between the author and the character of Lady Philosophy, consisted of both prose and verse. It counselled endurance of life’s misfortunes and the certainty of death. BACK

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