1041. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 1 March 1805

1041. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 1 March 1805 ⁠* 

Dear Rickman

I am perfectly accurate about the catoptrics. – see the prose title of the question – qual es xx mejor espejo para estudiar, plano, concavo, o convexa? – Espejo is speculum. [1]  yet antojos, spectacles, were used at the same time, & mentioned in the same volume so as not to be mistaken. ‘The thing which is smaller appears greater if we see it with spectacles.’ – I cannot understand the reason xxxx for using these reflecting mirrors. ‘They who xxx are accustomed to study & find el molde hurtful to the sight, recommend them as the best remedy.’ I know no other meaning of molde than its plain English a mould or frame; unless it be put shortly for type. libros de molde being used for printed books. & how these mirrors should be better than spectacles – when so much more expensive & so troublesome, heaven knows. However the testimony to their use is positive, & a very curious fact it is. [2] 

The symptoms in the Edithling which alarmed me have disappeared. you have good reason xxx to believe that I had not good reason for apprehension, – but the truth is that there was reasonable ground. xxx If the disease should decidedly manifest itself I mean to adopt a vigorous mode of treatment, & open the jugular vein instead of trifling with leeches. Three children have been saved at Bristol thus. I hope we may have no occasion to try the experiment, & at present the child seems well, – but the most critical time is yet to come.

Poor John Tobins play [3]  is precisely the contrary of what I should have expected so much better in language & versification, & so much worse in plot. character it has none. but it is a great merit to have ventured to write comedy in blank verse. I knew that poor man would die unless especial care were taken, & told his brother so, – but people always let consumption steal upon them. he is one of the many men killed by unwholesome study in a great city. Law sends as many men to the grave by this way as it does viâ patibuli [4] 

Lamb writes word that Allen also is dead. this gave me a shock – for tho I had long ceased to esteem him, the remembrance of many happy hours & of many good qualities which were in his nature & of which no follies ever could divest him – still remained. Is not apoplexy a disorder usually or always to be announced in dreams? – a xxxxxx fact worth knowing & attending to by a man of your robust health & make; – for if suspected it may always be prevented. Dreams have their value physically & metaphysically. many of mine have been so very amusing, of such a Domdanielitish [5]  character that of late I have written them down with the strictest possible fidelity. In four months they amount to six pages – & I begin to think myself a far more poetical dreamer than K Pharaoh or <even> K Nebuchadnezzar. [6] 

My Vice Editor tells me that the delay lies with Artaxerxes – so that I may reasonably expect a proof sheet soon. the appearance of Madoc now rests with him. he is instructed to send you a copy. xxxx one is also ordered as furniture for George the First’s floor, & one to Carlisle. if they do not receive them you can let me know. for my order may be neglected or mislaid & I never the wiser.

Your question about printing is not easily xxxxx resolved. They have bad xxx books enough in Spain & Portugal, but there is no base money current in the literary world there. bad physic – bad law – bad religion by cart loads. but none of those rascally writers like Robertson [7]  who pretend to give you information & yet will not take the trouble of acquiring it themselves. No novels – no lives of Chaucer [8]  – no Dr Aikens & Mrs Barbaulds – In short no bookmaking goes on there. which is bad enough as a disease but worse as a trade. I excuse a man for writing a bad book to please himself – but not for doing it to please his booksellers. the one is seduction – the other whoredom, – or <rather> prostitution which implies the venality of the act, & that it is wholly venal. The main evil of literature now is periodical criticism. people take their opinions at second hand – which is nearly as bad for the intellect as it would be for the body to take or our food ready digested by some friendly neighbour. The best thing that could be done for literature would be to hang a few booksellers & whip others at the catstail. prohibit all criticism, burn all reviews, & put most of the reviewers in the pillory – not all for a very substantial reason.

I go on steadily & well: no office clerk more regularly. the sooner I get near London the better for the sake of a hundred books which I want daily.

God bless you.


Drop the inclosed in the twopenny post when you pass one – I hear that George is in a way of doing well. if they who were <are> more able were [MS obscured] as [MS obscured]

Friday. March 1. 1805


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: R.S./ March 1st/ 1805
MS: Huntington Library, RS 70. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The Spanish translates as ‘what is the best mirror for studying, flat, concave or convex?’ ‘Espejo’ is Spanish for mirror, ‘speculum’ Latin. BACK

[2] Southey is continuing the discussion of the origin of spectacles begun in letter 1038 of this edition. He had come upon the reference discussed here while reading Luis de Escobar (d. after 1552), Las Quatro Cientas Respuetas, a Otras Tantas Preguntas, con Quinienfos Proverbios de Consejos y Avisos a Manera de Letania (1550–1552). BACK

[3] John Tobin (1770–1804; DNB), brother of James Webbe Tobin, was a London solicitor and playwright, who died in 1804. His play The Honey Moon; A Comedy in Five Acts (1805), was staged posthumously at Drury Lane, to great success. BACK

[4] Meaning ‘by way of execution’. BACK

[5] The Domdaniel was an undersea cavern of sorcerers and illusions in Southey’s 1801 poem Thalaba the Destroyer. See Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), III. BACK

[6] Biblical figures sent dreams by God. BACK

[7] William Robertson (1721–1793; DNB), historian, about whose History of America (1792) Southey was habitually dismissive. BACK

[8] William Godwin’s, Life of Geoffrey Chaucer ... Including Memoirs of ... John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; with Sketches of the Manners, Opinions, Arts and Literature of England in the Fourteenth Century (1803), which Southey reviewed unfavourably in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 462–473. BACK

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