910. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 9 March 1804

910. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 9 March 1804 ⁠* 

Dear Rickman

I have to acknowledge the receipt of a Billum Curiosum & eke of a letter, & I have moreover something to say. – first to thank you for what notice you have taken of George Fricker, a poor fellow who has been hitherto very unfortunate, but who is altogether free from vice & deserves to do well. I did not ask you to help him forward because the employment under Poole could be but temporary, & because I have a sort of conscience about asking favours of this kind, & now that he is in town I need not ask you, being sure that you will help him if you can. if he were in any situation wherein regularity & good conduct would bring him forward he would certainly do well: – And next to your invitation, which has come seasonably, for if all things go on well here, my business will lead me to London towards the close of April, partly for Madoc, [1]  but more particularly to compleat for the printer another job whereof I believe you have heard nothing & whereby I hope I shall get much. This is a companion, continuation or supplement to Ellis’s Specimens of the Early English Poets, [2]  beginning where he ends, & the plan simply this. a very brief notice of xxx each author with an opinion as brief & rememberable as may be of his merits, & then the best, or most characteristic – or worst specimen of his poems, excluding always such as are generally known & in every bodys memory thus to arrange chronologically specimens of every poet of any name at all either now or in <his> own time, from Charles 2 [3]  down to the present time, exclusive only of living writers. a preface of course, to treat upon the state of English literature when the selections begin – & perhaps a post-tail upon the same topic in reference to xxxxxxx <these> days. [4]  This is easy work. about three parts I can do here, & must visit London to rout out or resurrectionize certain of the worthies who sleep in Stationers Hall. [5]  To the great encouragement of letters this is to be published upon the same terms as Madoc – & if it take as a companion to Ellis’s – my profits will be far greater than I expect them to be from what has cost me many an hours thought, feeling & research. The book will be useful certainly – but certainly I am making it for the lucre of gain.

You have read Barrows Account of the Cape – & remember how probable he has made appear the existence of the Unicorn. [6]  We have a neighbour here, General Peche, [7]  of the E. India-Company’s service, who being in 1780 at Cochin, [8]  commanding the English forces there, saw one alive, in the possession of the Dutch Governor – General Moens. [9]  It was made like a deer, xx of the common brown colour, & of the common fallow deer size, timid, with a beautiful black eye, & the horn about three feet in length. General P. had neither seen Barrows Account nor heard of it, when he told me this, which is to me proof positive. I conclude that the animal was sent from the Cape to the Dutch Governor.

Sofala probably was Ophir. for some distance inland by the mines there existed three centuries ago, & probably do exist now, ruins resembling those of Axum. the natives call them Symbave – or the Court, & of course ascribe them to the Devil. they stand 170 leagues W of Sofala – South Latitude 20 or 21, & from the name & situation Barros conjectures it to be th xx Agasymba of Ptolemy. [10]  there was an inscription over the entrance. – It is remarkable that the Africans, Moors & Negroes alike, manage their cattle by whistling, & that with xxxxxxxx almost incredible address – having herds of hundred as much under command as a huntsman has his dogs – & this practise extends over the whole continent – from the Caffers to the shores of the Mediterranean, thro every variety of colour – religion – manners – & language.

Malthus is as great a favourite with the British Critic [11]  as with the other voiders of menstrual pollution. I shall be very glad to lend a hand in some regular attack upon this mischievous booby, & if you will put your shoulder to the work we may in a few evenings effectually demolish him. George B. wrote to me upon his Polish scheme. – I replied by commenting upon the old proverb respecting a Bird in the hand – stating that he knew no German, no Sclavonian – little French, little of any literature, nothing of such books as he would find in a Poles library. If this be not stark madness it is stark folly. but there is not enough hellebore in Apothecarys hall to cure him. – What you say of Poole surprized me – for I did not know him well enough not to be surprized at it. but it tallies with other accounts. We are poor creatures, either pining in the shade, or withering in the sun. You never mention Davy – alias the Galvanic Spark, & I never think of the baneful effect of prosperity without remembering him.

If you see Turner ask him how to spell a word which shall be good Welsh for what I call Caermadoc [12]  – whether the m be to be changed for any other letter for euphony. When I come to London I shall beg him to look over the Welsh part of the poem & detect my blunders.

God bless you.


Wednesday. March 9. 1804.  [13] 

Does the Grand Parleur [14]  frank any weight? When in doubt – I take the safe side – & therefore send a brace.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS./ Mar: 1804
MS: Huntington Library, RS 52. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 356–358. BACK

[1] Southey’s poem Madoc, which he had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication. It was published in 1805. BACK

[2] George Ellis, Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790; 2nd edn 1801; 3rd edn 1803). BACK

[3] Charles II (1630–1685, King of Great Britain 1660–1685; DNB). BACK

[4] Southey’s anthology, jointly edited with Grosvenor Charles Bedford, and published as Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). BACK

[5] Near Ludgate Hill, in the City of London: a repository for old books because the Stationers’ Company, whose headquarters it is, had a royal monopoly on book production in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. BACK

[6] The unicorn features in John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB), An Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa, in the Years 1797 and 1798, 2 vols (London, 1801), I, pp. 302–317. A copy of this work, with its pages uncut, was listed in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library after his death as no. 178. BACK

[7] John Peche (dates unknown), who had served in the East India Company’s army and was gazetted as Colonel in 1796 and Major-General in 1798. BACK

[8] The town of Cochin, now Kochi, Kerala, India. It was colonised first by the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century, then, in 1663, by the Dutch. In 1780, it was the subject of dispute between Hyder Ali (c. 1722–1822), ruler of the southern Indian kingdom of Mysore, and the British East India Company; the latter took possession in 1814. BACK

[9] Adriaan Moens (1728–1792) was the Dutch Commander of Cochin (now Kochi, Kerala, India) from 1770–1781. BACK

[10] Sofala, in present-day Mozambique, is the oldest port in southern Africa. Taken by the Portuguese in 1505 who made it their first African colony, Sofala is discussed by Joao de Barros (1496–1570) and Diogo de Couto (c. 1542–1616) in Decadas da Asia dos Feitos, que os Portuguezes Fizeram na Conquista, e Descubrimento das Terras, e Mares do Oriente, 24 vols (Lisbon, 1778–88) , I, Book 10. Sofala’s relation to Ophir and to the place called Agizymba which, according to Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus, 90–168), the Romans reached from the north, are also mentioned. BACK

[11] The British Critic reviewed Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803) favourably in its 23rd volume (1804), 59–68. BACK

[12] Meaning ‘home of Madoc’. BACK

[13] Southey’s slip. 9 March 1804 was a Friday. BACK

[14] Southey’s nickname for Charles Abbott, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who had the power to frank mail. Rickman, his secretary, used this facility on Southey’s behalf. BACK

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