1247. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 23 December 1806

1247. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 23 December 1806 ⁠* 

My dear Rickman

Now that the Emperor or Imperial Abbot is fairly reinstated upon his throne, I know once more how to direct, & having just finished off the Capitaneus [1]  proceed to tell you of my goings on.

Coleridge is gone to Wordsworth in Leicestershire [2]  on his way to London, where he will perhaps give the Lectures which have been advertised. [3]  Tom left me on Friday, having been appointed to the Pallas, [4]  – I have some hope of his promotion, for Wynn has mentioned him to his Uncle. So I am left alone to my winter occupations, & truly they are quite sufficient to employ me. Two months however, if no unlucky interruption prevent, will be sufficient to clear all off, & send Espriella & Palmerin into the world. [5]  I have an additional & weighty motive for dispatch. The times being South-America mad my account of Brazil, instead of being the last work in the series must be the first. [6]  There are in the bookcase downstairs at your housex sixteen bundles of sealed papers. Those papers contain more information concerning South America than his Majestys Agents have been able to obtain at Lisbon – more in all probability than any other person in Europe possesses except one Frenchman, now returned to Paris. [7]  he has seen them, & is very likely to get the start of me: – unless, which is not improbable, Bonaparte should chuse to withold from the world information which would be of specific use to England.

Concerning these papers, of whose contents I was till last week ignorant, my Uncle has written to me, urging me to make all possible speed with this part of the work, & desiring me to offer the information to government. I inclosed the letters up to Wynn, & it may be that he will advise me to come up to London upon this business. I hope not. I should rather wash my hands of all other business first, & then can certainly in half a year accomplish a large volume, – for on this subject there is no collateral information to hunt for. A very few books contain all the printed history, & there will be more difficulty in planning the work well than in executing it. – There will be business of some consequence in the way of map making xxx which will delight Arrowsmith, my Uncle having very valuable materials for a map of Brazil.

This is of so much consequence that it will perhaps be advisable to let the Palmerin sleep & so save a months time, which may be better spared for it when I get the book fairly in the press – but this we shall see. I have the first materials here & can advance some way with them. Wynns letter will instruct me whether to set to work for myself, or for the government – giving them information is God knows throwing pearls you know to whom – but so the pearls be paid for, – well. The best thing they could do for me, & for themselves if they really want information respecting South America – is to send me to Lisbon for that specific purpose – without any ostensible charge.

As you may suppose we were all here as staunch Paullites [8]  as the son of the Mermaid himself. There is nothing in the world like resolute – straightforward honesty. & is sure to conquer in the long run. I have been reading Quaker-history, which is worth reading because it proves this, & proves also that institutions can compleatly new mould our nature, – for if the instinct of self defence can be subdued, nothing else is so powerful. – Fox’s death is a loss to me – who had a promise from him – but I will not affect to think it a loss to the country. he lived a year too long. England cannot fall yet, blessed be God, because its inhabitants are Englishmen – but if any thing could destroy a country it would be the incurable folly of such governors, & the utter hopelessness there is of getting better ones with such a representation. My plan for reform is to sow Hounslow Heath with hemp & inclose it with gibbets. [9] 

How is Mrs Rickman? – a question of more consequence than where is the key of Prussia – or if the Russians have cut off a regiment of French. We go on tolerably well. Poor Herbert indeed rests neither day nor night for flatulence – yet he grows – & is uncommonly lazy for his age. My daughter goes on excellently well – if his brain be but as capable as hers, much as I should hope – my hopes would be satisfied.

Have you seen the Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson? [10]  If not by all means read it – it is the history of a right Englishman, – & the sketch of English history which it contains from the time of the Reformation is so admirable that it ought to make even Scotchmen ashamed to mention the rascally name of Hume. [11]  I have seldom been so deeply interested by any book as by this.

Inclosed is some verbal criticism for Duppa  [12]  which because of its duplicity profits by the Imperial Abbots privilege – a better title that than Lord Bishop – God bless you. – Can you by means of any Almanack vade-mecum [13]  or memorabilia tell me the dates of the Kings message which led to the war, [14]  of Despards Execution [15]  – & of Emmets insurrection [16]  – things necessary to be touched upon by any friend from Spain?


Tuesday. Dec. 23. 1806.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS./ 23 Decr. 1806.
Seal: [fragment] red wax
MS: Huntington Library, RS 95. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 55–57 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey is referring to Captain James Burney’s Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean ... Illustrated with Charts (Vol. 2; 1806) he reviewed in the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807), 16–30. BACK

[2] Over the winter of 1806–1807 Wordsworth and his family were living in a farmhouse owned by Sir George Beaumont near his new house at Coleorton, Leicestershire. BACK

[3] According to a letter to Charles Danvers, Coleridge was to ‘lecture at the Royal Institution upon the Principles common to the Fine Arts’; see Southey to Charles Danvers, 18 October 1806, Letter 1229. He did not in fact lecture there until 1808, on the subjects of the Principles of Poetry, Shakespeare and Milton. BACK

[4] Thomas Southey’s ship, launched in 1804, was a 32 gun fifth rate frigate, whose first captain was Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (1775–1860; DNB), under whom she was involved in the capture of many French and Spanish warships. BACK

[5] Southey published his Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella: Translated from the Spanish and an English translation of Palmerin of England, by Francisco Moraes in 4 volumes in 1807. BACK

[6] The prospective flight of the Portuguese court to Brazil (29 November 1807) prompted Southey, at his uncle Herbert Hill’s request, to begin a history of Brazil, using papers sent him by Hill and stored by Rickman; See Southey to John Rickman, 23 December 1806, Letter 1247. Southey wished Wynn to use his position as Under Secretary of State in the Home Office to ascertain whether the government might provide him support during the preparation of a work likely to provide it with useful information in the new political situation. BACK

[7] The identity of this Frenchman is unclear. It is likely that he was Abbé Francois Garnier (1722–1804), the long-standing chaplain to the French factory in Lisbon. A less likely possibility is Abbé Jean-Antoine Dubois (1765–1848), a French Catholic missionary in India, whose long sojourn in the southern districts brought him into contact with the legacy of Portuguese Catholic colonialism there. Dubois’s manuscript history of Indian religion was purchased by the East India Company and published in English as Description of the Character, Manners and Customs of the People of India, and of their Institutions, Religious and Civil (1816). BACK

[8] James Paull (1770–1808; DNB), Indian trader (1790–1805) and radical politician, who stood for Westminster in the general election of November 1806, against Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816; DNB) for the Whigs and Sir Samuel Hood (1762–1814; DNB) for the Tories. BACK

[9] Hounslow Heath, London, was crossed by major routes to the West country and became a notorious haunt of highwaymen and robbers. Southey suggests growing ‘hemp’ for rope, and building devices to hang them. BACK

[10] Lucy Hutchinson (née Apsley; 1620–1681; DNB) and Julius Hutchinson (dates unknown), Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (1806). Southey reviewed this work in the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807), 361–378. BACK

[11] The Scottish philosopher and historian, David Hume (1711–1776; DNB), whose The History of England, 6 vols (1754–1762) was the best-selling general history of the age. BACK

[12] See Southey to [Richard Duppa], fragment [December 1806], Letter 1248. BACK

[13] A ‘go-with-me’ or handbook. BACK

[14] The King’s message is discussed in Letter 61 of Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish, 3 vols (London, 1807). BACK

[15] Edward Marcus Despard (1751–1803; DNB), a revolutionary hung for treason on 21 February 1803. He is discussed in Letters from England, letter 48. BACK

[16] Robert Emmet (1778–1803; DNB), executed on 20 September 1803 for his part in a rebellion, discussed in letter 61 of Letters from England. Southey published an elegy on Emmet in the Iris; or, Norwich and Norfolk Weekly Advertiser on 12 November 1803. See Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), V, pp. 420–423. BACK