1850. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 5 January 1811

1850. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 5 January 1811 ⁠* 

My dear Rickman

Capt Pasleys book ought at this very time to be on the road to me, having made part of my last order to Longman. I have however instanter upon the receipt of your letter, written off to the Quarterly, & hope the application may not be too late: I am as ardent for making the world English as he can be. [1] 

I know not who reviewed my History, tho I guess it was Reginald Heber. [2]  He is wrong in complaining of the want of retrospective & generalizing views. The place for the former is at the close of the Dutch war, – for the latter at the conclusion of the work. All the summary that this volume required or admitted exists in the latter half of the tenth chapter. He is wrong also in his objection to the words which he specifies as unusual. A savage head-dress of feathers is not a coronet, a horses poitral is not a breast-plate, that word being appropriate to human armour. A tambour is not a drum, any more than a lute is a fiddle. Napery is used for napkins & table cloths, because it implies either or both. Broads is a Norfolk word for the spread of a river into a sheet of water, – which spread being neither lake nor lagoon requires a specific word to express it; & for the vocabulary of natural scenery we must necessarily go to the provinces, the metropolitan dialect being always deficient on such subjects.

The D of York has been a great nuisance to me, but thank God I have done with him. [3]  Can you send me the Reports upon the E. India Patronage? [4] 

The rhymes in Kehama whether visible or invisible cost nothing, – & as for any expenditure of brain upon the whole poem, – you must apply to that your own simily of the Fakeer. [5]  It is only so much cultivation of brain, & at no loss of time, for, as I believe you know, every line of <it> that has been written within the last seven years was written before breakfast, in hours & half-hours created for the purpose. By writing poetry I have got very little money directly, almost none, – but indirectly I have got by it every thing; – it has made for me what reputation I possess, it has given me a command & faculty of language unattainable by any other discipline, – & you may look upon my poetry as the John the Baptist [6]  to my political xxxxxx xx xxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx religion.

I have two articles in the Quarterly. The Feroe Islands, [7]  & the Evangelicals. [8]  – Do you not like the notion of Sir John Jackass & riding on a black ram? It tickled my fancy wonderfully. [9] 

How unlucky this illness of the King [10]  at a time when any change, would in all likelihood be for the worse!


Jany. 5. 1811.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS./ Letters/ 5. Janry 1811 –/ to end
MS: Huntington Library, RS 160. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810). It was sent to Southey for review and Rickman provided him with information and briefing notes. His article was deemed by Gifford to be ‘perfectly incorrect and dangerous’ with the result that the version published in the Quarterly Review, 5 (May 1811), 403–457, was much altered by Croker, in consultation with Gifford and Murray; see Jonathan Cutmore, The Quarterly Review Archive. BACK

[2] Southey was correct, Heber was the reviewer of the first volume of the History of Brazil (1810). The remainder of this paragraph is a response to the appraisal published in the Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 454–474 (esp. 472; 474). Southey’s unusual words occurred in History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), I, p. 187 ‘coronal’ instead of ‘coronet’; p. 122 ‘poitrals’; pp. 89, 121 ‘tambour’; p. 381 ‘napery’; p. 133 ‘broads’. BACK

[3] In 1809, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), had been forced to resign as commander-in-chief of the British army in the wake of allegations that he had profited from office trafficking. After a lengthy investigation, the charges were found to be unproven. It had, however, become apparent that his former mistress Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB) had received money from individuals keen for her to use her influence with the Duke, and that the Duke himself had known of her actions. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 109–301. BACK

[4] In 1809 a Select Committee of the House of Commons had enquired into how the East India Company appointed its officers. BACK

[5] In a letter of 31 December 1810, Rickman had criticised the ‘unseen … unfelt Rhymes’ of The Curse of Kehama. He had in addition advised Southey to ‘husband his resources’ like ‘a Faquir Penitent …. who cultivates the Muscles … & who holds his arms over his head, or elsewhere, till he cannot move the wasted Limb at all’ (Huntington Library MS). BACK

[6] The Prophet who foretold the coming of Jesus. BACK

[7] Jörgen Landt (c. 1753–1804), A Description of the Feroe Islands … Translated from the Danish (1810), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 333–342. BACK

[8] Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching. By a Barrister (1809), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 480–514. BACK

[9] Southey was amused by an extremely personal attack, authored by George Ellis, George Canning and William Huskisson (1770–1830; DNB), on Sir John Sinclair’s (1754–1835; DNB) Observations on the Report of the Bullion Committee (1810), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 534–535. The review had noted the Berkshire custom that a widow of a customary tenant would forfeit her lifetime rights to her husband’s copyhold land if she remarried or was discovered to be ‘unchaste’. She could reclaim her rights by riding into court seated backwards ‘upon a black ram, with his tail in her hand’ and reciting a doggerel verse. The review suggested that Sinclair atone for his errors on the bullion question by entering the lobby at Whitehall in the same fashion. Sinclair was an opponent of restoring the link between the currency and gold bullion. BACK

[10] George III (1738–1820; King of the United Kingdom 1760–1820; DNB). His mental health had collapsed again in October 1810 and he was incapable of conducting public business. BACK

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