1671. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 17–20 August 1809

1671. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 17–20 August 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Rickman

I can wish you nothing better than that your life may be as long, your age as hale & your death as easy as your fathers. The death of a parent is a more awful sorrow than that of a child, – but x a less painful x one, – it is in the inevitable order & right course of nature that ripe fruit should fall; – it seems like one of its mishaps when the green bud is cut off. In the outward & visible system of things nothing is wasted, – it would <therefore> be belying the whole system to believe that intellect & love, – which are of all things the best, could perish. I have a strong & lively faith in a state of continued consciousness from this stage of existence, – & that we shall recover the consciousness of some lower stages thro which we may previously <have> past seems to me not improbable. The supposition serves for dreams & systems, – the belief is a possession more precious than any other. I love life, & can thoroughly enjoy it, – but if to exist were but a lifehold property, I am doubtful whether I should think the lease worth holding. It would be better never to have been than ever to cease to be.

Still I shall hope for your coming. You would at any rate have been inconveniently late for the Highlands, for which as near Midsummer as possible is the best season. September is the best for this country.

I have been made to do what has proved to be a foolish thing. Walter Scott wrote to me to say that Canning had a great wish to serve me, & that he Scott had been commissioned by him to find out in what manner it might be done conformably to my inclinations. Sharp was here at the time, – I told him of this & he advised me to ask for the Stewardship of the Derwentwater Estates which will soon be vacated by death. Upon this I wrote to Scott & also to Wynn, [1]  – both agreed that it would be the best thing possible for me, & both advised me as a sine quâ non [2]  to make interest for Lord Lonsdales countenance. Behold me thus place-hunting in regular form. I got Sir George Beaumont to write to L Lonsdale. – my friend Humphrey Senhouse (who has election weight with him) did the same, [3]  – & that positi[MS torn] was effectually secured. He promised every thing, & instructed Sir George to write to Lord Mulgrave [4]  in whose gift it lies. Lo & behold I had proceeded upon the opinion of the equal eligibility of all men to all offices under our happy form of Government, – which custom should seem in that respect to have been framed upon the system of M. Helvetius. [5]  But it turns out that this place requires great practical knowledge & very hard work, & so there is an end of the business. But all this produced an invitation to Lowther Castle couched in such a manner that I could not well avoid going, – & there I went – slept two nights, walked over his grounds with one of his daughters for my guide & came back yesterday.

The shortest way here is by the Carlisle mail, not that which goes through Manchester by which many persons are fraudulently sent, for that lengthens time & distance, – & involves a miserable two hours about midnight at Manchester, – but that which takes the Newark & Greta Bridge road & sets off from the Bull & Mouth. You take your place for Penrith, 17 miles distant from hence.

I hope soon to hear that you are coming. Remember me to Mrs Rickman – I admit that she is better employed than in visiting the Lakes, – but it is the only employment that I should admit to be so.

God bless you


August 17 20. 1809


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: Fr./ RS./ 20 Augt. 1809
MS: Huntington Library, RS 144. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 159–161. BACK

[1] For these, see Southey to Walter Scott, 6 July 1809 (Letter 1648) and Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 8 July 1809 (Letter 1651). BACK

[2] Meaning ‘an essential element’. BACK

[3] For Southey’s letters to Beaumont and Senhouse, see Southey to Sir George Beaumont, 17 July 1809 (Letter 1656) and Southey to Humphrey Senhouse, 25 July 1809 (Letter 1659). BACK

[4] The politician Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831; DNB), First Lord of the Admiralty 1807–1810. BACK

[5] The French philosopher and writer, Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715–1771), who espoused the natural equality of all men in all nations, though he applied this particularly to intelligence, or ‘disposition for understanding’. BACK