727. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 14 October [1802]

727. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 14 October [1802] ⁠* 

Dear Rickman

It is prudent to begin a letter with its matter of business – if it be to contain any. Will you send me a box of books when you conveniently can. the Scriptores Rer. Hisp. [1]  a thick folio in bad, rough calf binding. – the Anales del Aragon of Zurīta [2]  – 7 folios Garibay [3]  4 folios taller by a head. Marca Hispanica [4]  a tall folio, moderately thin, that has been lettered but has lost its lettering. Froissart [5]  in parchment. Reyes Nuevos de Toledo [6]  a little square 4to. History del Rey S. Fernando [7]  another. & the Memoirs of Du Guesclin [8]  two French twelves.

My Cumberland plan is destroyed when I thought it settled. I had trusted to Coleridges account with more confidence than was prudent. & on nearer enquiry found that there was not room enough. – Where then to go? I went some little way down the Welsh coast & am in treaty for a house near Neath [9]  – well situated for beauty, climate & oeconomy – & near a canal for water carriage & coal. but if this treaty succeed the house cannot be tenable before Xmas – till then I am settled here. & working away so willingly & well – that I want these books to finish off the first period of my history. [10]  I am in good working trim & temper. a booksellers job [11]  takes me two hours every morning & will so do till Xmas, when I shall be richer by sixty pounds & the reversion of the time sold till then. by the end of this year I hope to have my first volume transcribed fairly – so that you may read it whenever we meet – & what is better, I think you will like its manner & matter. I am aware that documents which I do not yet possess, & cannot procure in England will cause some alterations & many additions. that is inevitable – but it must be my plan to exhaust my home stock & then go abroad. You perhaps will not be displeased to hear that I find no time for poetry. but I must not suffer the power to depart from me.

Burnett – God knows why – thinks my acquaintance beneath him– & talked so very absurdly about me to Danvers, that Danvers made him this answer. George Burnett – if I had a horsewhip – & xxxx we were not in the street – I would lay it over you as long as I was able. poor fellow – xxxx an envy – of which he is too proud & too self-satisfied to be conscious has ripened into dislike – & will end in hatred. I am really sorry – for you know what a bottom of affectionate good-will there has been & is in all my feelings respecting him. he talks of a pistol – & will talk of it till pure shame forces him to play the fool with it for because he is laughed at for his cowardly bravados. God Almighty must have designed him for a gentleman at least if not for a higher rank – he is so utterly <un>fit for any one earthly employment.

There is more Geberish [12]  as Lamb calls it in the world. a little volume just out – with specimens of an epic “The Phocæans” – of which the end & aim is – how they began French Liberty. the man talks treason safely because he uses such hard language & wraps up his meaning so that nobody will find it out. Yet there is very admirable stuff in him. You should see the book having teeth that can crack the shell – & the kernel will repay you. – there is a good book about Egypt by Denon [13]  which if you have not seen you ought to see, & try your hand upon the Sphere – & the hieroglyphics. It has struck me that some side-light might be thrown thus upon the hieroglyphics. The Mexicans used a symbolic writing, & those symbols are unquestionably known (see Clavigero [14]  among my books from Burton.) now tho there was certainly no connection between Egypt & Mexico – yet will the principles of hieroglyphic writing be perhaps found the same, & a knowledge of the one might help to guess at the other. by the by let me know what I am indebted to you for the carriage of my books from Burton.

A Baptist mission in Hindostan has made the Bramins angry. I have been reading their periodical accounts, [15]  & thinking over the subject with which I have some concern, by way of the Jesuits. the Jesuits understood the business best – they asked for an inch – that they might take an ell at last. but when a Calvinist insists upon making a Hindoo understand his creed before he dips him – Lord have mercy upon his patience! The government sanction & the general countenance of English East Indians is necessary to make such a scheme succeed. its success is very desirable – x I speak not as a bigot, – but with good wishes & good hopes, for the future & the whole. the Trinity is better than the Trimourtree [16]  – I prefer the Devil to Seeva the Destroyer – a thousand arms are unpicturesque – & a sad plague to the taylor if he xxxx has to make a breeches pocket for each – give me horns – cloven feet – & a tail. – But man is a religious animal – & national faiths moulds the national character. the Hindoo system of caste is the worst ever devised for cramping human intellect – & any thing to destroy it were desirable. there are diseases wherein arsenic becomes medicine.

farewell. Ediths remembrance – & Toms. my little girl grows well – & does not make too much noise. Mrs Danvers has recovered an illness, & still lives on by the courtesy of Nature. an excellent old Lady! – She & Charles remember you as regularly as you remember them – he is quite my right hand – I can trust his eyes to see for me – & his tongue to answer for me. – Wynn is gone to Paris to see the Wild Beast [17]  – will nobody shoot him!


R. S.

Friday. Oct 14.

12. St Jamess Place. Kingsdown. – this is the direction for the books. plain Kingsdown Bristol carries a letter safe.

I direct straight – suspecting that at this season Mr Abbott [18]  may be from town.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr / St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Postmark: B/ OCT 16/ 1802
Endorsement: RS/ Oct. 14./ 1802
MS: Huntington Library, RS 27. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 290-293; Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census-Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), p. 82 [in part]. BACK

[1] Robert Beale (1541-1601; DNB), Rerum Hispanicarum Scriptores (1579), no. 1420 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[2] Jeronimo Zurita (1512-1580), Anales de la Corona de Aragon (1585-1610), no. 3811 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] Esteban de Garibay (1533-1600), Compendio Historial de las Chronicas y Universal Historia de todos los Reynos de Espana (1556-1566), no. 3390 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[4] Pierre de Marca (1594-1662), Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus (1688), no. 1700 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[5] Jean Froissart (c. 1337-c. 1405) Histoire et Chronique Memorable, par Denis Sauvage (1574), no. 980 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[6] Cristobal Lozano Sanchez (1609-1667), Los Reyes Nuevos de Toledo, Descrivense las Cosas mas Augustas y Notables desta Ciudad (1674), no. 3509 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] Alonsa Nunez de Castro (fl. 1660s), Vida de San Fernando el Tercero, Rey de Castilla y Leon (1673), no. 3554 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[8] Guyard de Berville (1697-1770), Histoire d’Bertrand du Guesclin Comte de Longueville (1767), no. 276 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] Maes Gwyn in the Vale of Neath. BACK

[10] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[11] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[12] Walter Savage Landor, Poetry by the Author of Gebir (1802). BACK

[13] Dominque Vivant, Baron de Denon (1747-1825), Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte (1802). BACK

[14] Francisco Saviero Clavigero (1731-1787), La Historia Antigua de Mexico (1780), no. 659 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[15] Periodical Accounts relative to the Baptist Missionary Society, for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen (1800); reviewed by Southey in Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 207-218. BACK

[16] The three Hindu deities Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer). BACK

[17] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[18] Charles Abbot, 1st Lord Colchester (1757-1829; DNB), Chief Secretary for Ireland 1801-1802, The Speaker 1802-1817. Rickman was his secretary. BACK

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 2 times)
Maes Gywn, Neath (mentioned 1 time)