929. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 29 April [1804]

929. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 29 April [1804] ⁠* 

Bonaparte <The Grand Consul> may be Emperor of the Gauls [1]  – but I say that the Grand Parleur is Emperor of the Franks. [2] 


I have waited too long to tell you that I am not coming yet, & yet you will excuse me for having so long waited when it was probable that every day would give me cause to write. Indoors we are just as we were a month ago, save that the curst March winds are over & we can be very comfortable by the fireside at night. & at the window by day. However if this be no strange deviation from the ordinary course of nature a few days must lighten Edith of her load  [3]  & I will then give you quit notice enough to prorogue my coming should it not be convenient, – for my delay amounts to a fair forfeiture – & when you offered me a bed in April – you may have needed the reversion for somebody else in May.

Meantime I have transcribed the first part of Madoc for the Press, [4]  & done as much towards my specimens [5]  as can be done from accessible materials. At this I have been working hard, & having now finished, return to my old Monks.

I conceived of a book the other day. xx the main & sole object of it is utility. nothing more than to collect what I can remember & what I shall read that can be of any practical use, or is fit subject for experiment or speculation. to arrange the facts under different heads, & comment upon them when they require any comment that I can bestow, & so furnish hints for to cooks & chymists, Physicians & Philosophers. [6]  taking however due care that some wiser eye than my own oversee the manuscript & hunt out such gross blunders as would be very likely to creep in.

Alexander the Great went down into the sea in a glass case to see the wonders of the deep. I have found this in an old Spanish romance, [7]  & Coleridge found it before me in an old German one, [8]  & in all probability it will be found in Adam Davies poem. [9]  for all old fictions are cosmopolitan. But is this only mere fiction, or had they in the Romancers days any second sight of the diving bell? Roger Bacon can answer the question, either by xx xxx xxxxxxxx his Brazen Head or his Opus Majus. [10] 

My eyes continue weak – I suspect from general debility – for when I take steel they mend, & when I leave it off they become blood-shot, & the lids discharge. the sight of one is certainly much weaker than the other. objects which are distinct to the other become quite dim to that. Carlisle must put me in tune or in tone. Man is an organic being, & as long as the bellows are not out of order, I shall not mind a little relaxation of the strings.

God bless you.


April 29. Sunday.

I should not have inclosed that letter of George Frickers had we then known any other direction it was breach of principles on my part


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS./ Ap. 29:/ 1804
MS: Huntington Library, RS 56. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 273–275 [in part; minus postscript].
Dating note: year from JR’s endorsement BACK

[1] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; First Consul 1799–1804; Emperor of the French 1804–1814). BACK

[2] A jokey reference to Charles Abbott, the Speaker of the House of Commons. Rickman, who was his secretary, extended his right to frank letters to Southey. BACK

[3] The Southeys’ second child, Edith May, was born on 30 April 1804. BACK

[4] The poem Madoc, which Southey had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication. It was published in 1805. BACK

[5] Specimens of the Later English Poets, jointly edited with Grosvenor Charles Bedford and published with Longman in 1807. BACK

[6] An early reference to the project that culminated in Southey’s and Coleridge’s jointly authored volume Omniana; or Horae Otioisiores (1812). BACK

[7] The romance was the Libro de Alexandre, a Spanish epic poem written between 1178 and c.1250. It is attributed to several authors, including Joan Lorenzo Segura de Astorga (dates unknown). Southey refers to this work in Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 11. See Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II, pp. 304–306. BACK

[8] In the German epic poem Alexanderlied, which was composed in the twelfth century by Lamprecht (der Pfaffe [the Priest]). BACK

[9] In George Ellis, Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790; 2nd edn 1801; 3rd edn 1803), the English version of the collection of stories and legends which originally appeared in Greek between AD 200–300 and is attributed to Pseudo-Callisthenes – the Romance of Alexander – was ascribed to Adam Davy (fl. early 14th century). Davy, author of a verse account of five prophetic dreams (in Bodleian MS Laud misc. 622) described himself as ‘Adam, the marshal’ of ‘Stratford-atte-bowe’ (London) (DNB). The story of the diving bell does appear in the Romance. BACK

[10] In fact the use of the diving bell had been known since classical times: it is discussed by Aristotle (384–322 BC) in his Problemata. It is also described by Roger Bacon (c.1220–92) in Frier Bacon his Discovery of the Miracles of Art, Nature, and Magick Faithfully Translated out of Dr. Dees Own Copy by T.M. and Never Before in English (London, 1659), p. 18 (a translation of De Mirabili Potestate Artis et Naturae (1542)), who notes that Alexander used one. Bacon’s brazen head was a mechanical device supposedly able to give answers to any questions asked of it; his Opus Majus was written in 1267 and published in 1733. BACK