2832. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 25 August 1816

2832. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 25 August 1816⁠* 

25 Aug. 1816. Keswick

My dear R.

I have been long in your debt; – my summers are more like those of the grasshopper than of the Ant. [1] Wynn was here nearly a week, – & when he departed I rejoined him with my guest Nash at Lowther; – a great house serving the purpose of a good inn, from whence I could show Nash a part of the country which would not have been easily accessible from any other point. This, & a round home by way of Wordsworths employed a week, & what with the King of Prussias Librarian, [2]  – the two Secretaries of the Bible-Society, [3]  & other such out of the way personages who come to me by a sort of instinct, – at I have had little time & less leisure since my return.

The last odd personage whose made his appearance was Owen of Lanark, [4]  – who is neither more nor less than such a Pantisocrat as I was in the days of my youth. He is as ardent now as I was then; – & will soon be cried down as a visionary. Certainly he proposes to do more than I can believe practicable in this generation after the way in which he would introduce it – but I will go to Lanark & see what he has done. [5]  I conversed with him for about an hour, – & not knowing any thing about him good part of the time elapsed before I could comprehend his views, – so little probable did it appear that any person should come to me with a levelling system of society & tell me that he had been to the Archbishop of Canterbury [6]  – the Ministers &c. But he will be here again in a day or two, & meantime have read a pamphlett, which is much more injudicious than his conversation, & will very probably frustrate the good which he might by possibility have produced. [7] 

To this system, he says, we must come speedily, – I think we shall come to it at last, – but that we are far from it. However What he says of the manufacturing system has much weight in it, – the machinery which enabled us to manufacture for half the world, has found its way into other countries, – every market is glutted, – more goods are produced than can be consumed, – & every improvement in mechanism that renders fewer performs the work of hands – throws so many mouths upon the public, – a growing evil which has been increased by the premature employment of children, bringing them also into competition with the grown workmen – when they should have been at school or at play. Great eventual good, thus produces great immediate distress. He wants Government to settle its paupers & supernumerary hands in villages upon waste lands, to live in community: [8]  urging that we must go to the root of the evil at once: he talks of what he has done at Lanark (& this indeed has been much talked of by others) but his Address to his people there has in it some much that is misplaced, injudicious, & reprehensible. – Did you see him in London? Had we met twenty years ago the meeting might have influenced both his life & mine in no slight degree: during those years he has been a practical man, & I have been a student, – we do not differ in the main point, – but my mind has ripened more than his.

You have well answered my query respecting Bedford & Herefordshire. [9]  I see clearly the infinite applicability of your columns: [10]  – & the necessity of local knowledge to extract the most from them. There are two branches of industry which I should have thought would have added much to the agricultural produce of Bedfordshire (if I am right in classing them under that head) – basket making, & straw plaiting, the latter wholly & the former in great part (osier peeling) performed by the females of the agricultural families.

You talk of brain-transfusion, – & placing one mans memory upon another mans shoulders – that same melancholy feeling must thro the mind of every man who labours hard in acquiring knowledge; for communicate what we can, & labour as assiduously as we may how much must needs die with us! This reflection makes me sometimes regret (as far as is allowable) the time which I employ in doing what others might do as well, or what might as well be left undone. The Quarterly might go on without me, & should do so if I could go on without it, – but what would become of my Portugueze acquirements & of yonder heap of materials which none but myself can put in order, – if I were to be removed by death! [11]  I had 50 £ from the last Quarterly for a sketch of the La Vendee war, & 100 £ for a paper upon the Poor, which might have been good if I could have <freely> pursued some of the topic this touched upon it. – these two sums are more as more than the second volume of Brazil will give me. [12]  Two chapters more will conclude the volume, – one of the general history, – the other miscellaneous upon the state of the country at that time, – & its manners, – this will be rich in Catholicana. [13] 

I have seen no other Canal reports than those with the maps of the intended roads – & of the canal itself [14]  – For the <two> voted monuments I want one durable one which should ultimately pay itself, – a pyramid not smaller than the largest in Egypt, – the inside of which should serve London for catacombs, – some such provision is grievously wanted for so huge a capital. [15] 

God bless you



* Endorsement: 25 Augt. 1816
MS: Huntington Library, RS 290. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 195–197 [in part]. BACK

[1] In Aesop’s (c. 620– c. 560 BC) Fables the story of the ‘Ant and the Grasshopper’ is used to illustrate the virtues of hard work – the grasshopper sings all summer, while the ant stores up food for the winter. BACK

[2] Samuel Heinrich Spiker (1786–1858). An English translation of his account of his experiences in Britain was later published as Travels through England, Wales, & Scotland, in the Year 1816, 2 vols (London, 1820). His meeting with Southey was described on I, pp. 269–272. Naturally, Spiker was most interested in Southey’s library. BACK

[3] The Secretaries of the British and Foreign Bible Society (founded 1804): John Owen (1766–1822; DNB), Curate of Fulham 1795–1813; and Joseph Hughes (1769–1833; DNB), Baptist Minister who held various posts at Bristol’s Broadmead Baptist Church 1791–1796, where he met Southey. BACK

[4] Robert Owen (1771–1858; DNB), manager and owner of the mills and model community at New Lanark in Scotland 1799–1825. BACK

[5] Southey paid a brief visit to New Lanark on 28 September 1819, whilst returning from his tour of Scotland; see Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (London, 1929), pp. 259–266. BACK

[6] Charles Manners-Sutton (1755–1828; DNB), Archbishop of Canterbury 1805–1828. He chaired a committee set up in 1816 by the Association for the Relief of the Manufacturing and Labouring Poor to look into ways of relieving distress. Owen was invited to become a member. BACK

[7] Robert Owen’s An Address delivered to the Inhabitants of New Lanark ... at the opening of the New Institution Established for the Formation of Character (1816). BACK

[8] Owen embodied these ideas in his Report to the Committee of the Association for the Relief of the Manufacturing and Labouring Poor (1817). BACK

[9] For this query, see Southey to Rickman, 9 June [1816], Letter 2809. Southey had been studying a ‘Comparative View of the Area, Fertility and Agricultural Population, of Several Counties of England and Wales’, The Literary Panorama and National Register, 7 (June 1816), 447–448. BACK

[10] The Census which Rickman had organised in 1801 and 1811. BACK

[11] Southey never completed his planned ‘History of Portugal’ and his collection of rare books and manuscripts was auctioned and split up in 1844, after his death. BACK

[12] Southey reviewed in Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 1–69, a series of memoirs of the French Revolutionary wars and wrote an article ‘On the Poor’, 15 (April 1816), 187–235. The second volume of Southey’s three–volume History of Brazil was published in 1817. BACK

[13] Southey’s History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), II, pp. 588–692, constituting Chapters 29–30. Chapter 30 included several sections on ‘the extravagances to which Catholic superstition was carried in Brazil’ (p. 689). BACK

[14] Rickman had been, since 1803, the Secretary to both the Commissioners for the Making and Maintaining of the Caledonian Canal and the Commissioners for Roads and Bridges in the Highlands. On 22 July 1816 Rickman had written to Southey mentioning that his Annual Reports on the Caledonian Canal, from 1804 onwards, constituted the first detailed history of the building of a canal, Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census-Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), p. 181. The Commissioners for Roads and Bridges issued their first Report, which contained detailed maps, in 1804 but subsequent Reports appeared irregularly. BACK

[15] The House of Commons had voted on 29 June 1815 to erect a monument to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815) and on 5 February 1816 also agreed to a monument to the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805). Designs were drawn up and debated extensively, but neither monument was built. Southey’s idea was ingenious as London was desperately short of space for burials, though no solution was found until the construction of large private cemeteries in the suburbs from 1832 onwards. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Lowther estate (mentioned 1 time)


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