2834. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 31 August [1816]

2834. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 31 August [1816] ⁠* 

My dear R.

I have seen enough of Owen to understand that what he proposes for practice, – & a glimpse at his Address shows the crudity & folly of his metaphysics & his theories. [1]  But any proposal from a man who has really effected so much deserves attention, – in spite of his books.

His project is to raise money upon the Poor rates, & employ it in purchasing land upon which those who require parish aid should be settled in villages averaging <about> 1000 persons, – living separately as families, but working as a community each for the benefit of the whole. In short villages of industry, instead of houses of industry, & that industry employed upon the soil not upon manufactures, – because to employ them in manufacture is only bringing more goods into a market which (from the use of machinery) is now overstocked [2] 

Upon this he would graft schemes of education, & with a suicidal enthusiasm he predicts from the certain success of such establishments, the certain but gradual overthrow of all existing systems. With this prospect he has gone to the Archbishop, [3]  the ministers &c – & he insists upon it that they have approvd his pamphletts. I tell him I would more readily undertake to convert the A Bishop to the Mahommedan faith than to make him assent to such principles. – He will probably find indi individual funds for trying his experiment in a single instance.

God bless you


31 August.

Thank you for the Mad house Reports. [4] 


* Endorsement: 31 Augt. 1816
MS: Huntington Library, RS 291. ALS; 2p.
Dating note: Year from endorsement BACK

[1] Robert Owen (1771–1858; DNB), manager and owner of the mills and model community at New Lanark in Scotland 1799–1825. He had visited Southey, discussed his ideas with him and shown him An Address delivered to the Inhabitants of New Lanark ... at the Opening of the New Institution Established for the Formation of Character (1816). BACK

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

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

[4] The House of Commons appointed a Select Committee on Madhouses in England in April 1815. It reported in July 1815, but was reappointed in February 1816 and produced three further reports up to June 1816. Wynn was a member of the committee. BACK