2889. Robert Southey to John Murray, 31 December 1816

2889. Robert Southey to John Murray, 31 December 1816⁠* 

My dear Sir

I should very like to know something more about the ‘Spencean Philanthropists’ than their handbill tells me. [1]  One of their meetings is held at the Cock, Grafton Street, Soho, – every Wednesday at a quarter after eight. They must have some publications, & perhaps by enquiring there you might be able to obtain them.

Spence I remember was punished either for selling the Rights of Man, – or for publishing a collection of his own called Pig’s Meat. [2]  I heard of him many years ago as a fanatic, miserable beyond all men in his mean & xxx squalid appearance. As the great landholders most of whom are with Opposition will not much a sect who take No Landlords for their motto, – I am by no means sorry that these xxx consistent Levellers have made their appearance. The handbill is not ill-written, – & they are very far from being such blockheads as the Spa fields politicians. [3] 

For the S Sea article [4]  I should like to have the different accounts of the Russian voyage of discovery, [5]  – & that American Voyage (Porters) which was so properly dealt with by Barrow. [6] 

Would not Mexico be a good subject at this time? [7]  There was a Spanish history of the present war there printed three or four years ago in London, which Longman could not get for me, [8]  – I fancy for want of properly enquiring for it. I believe I have every thing else which would be required –

Believe me my dear Sir

yrs very truly


Keswick. 31 Dec. 1816.


* Watermark: [partial] 181
Endorsement: 1816 Dec. 31/ Southey R
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42551. ALS; 2p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The ‘Society of Spencean Philanthropists’ comprised a number of small groups of radicals who met at various London public houses. Their political ideas were modelled on the writings of Thomas Spence (1750–1814; DNB), the radical journalist and campaigner for communal ownership of land. Southey dealt with the Spenceans in his article, ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278, and reproduced their handbill advertising their meetings in Grafton Street at 263. BACK

[2] Spence was jailed without charge in May–December 1794, during the suspension of habeas corpus, though his production of his own weekly journal, Pig’s Meat (1793–1795) and sales of Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB), The Rights of Man (1791–1792) were undoubtedly factors in his imprisonment; in 1801 he was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for publishing a seditious libel, The Restorer of Society to its Natural State (1801). BACK

[3] Southey’s judgement reflects his own Pantisocratic enthusiasm in 1794–1795 for the communal ownership of land. Several Spenceans, however, were among the radicals who attempted to lead some of the crowd at a public meeting at Spa Fields, London, on 2 December 1816 in an attempt to seize the Tower of London and the Bank of England. BACK

[4] Southey reviewed John Martin (1789–1869; DNB), An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean, with an Original Grammar and Vocabulary of their Language (1817) in Quarterly Review, 17 (April 1817), 1–39. This book told the story of the ship’s boy William Mariner (1791–1853) who lived in the Tonga islands from 1806 to 1810 after the local people attacked his ship and killed his crewmates. Southey also discussed in the same review Burney’s A Chronological History of the Voyages and Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean; Illustrated with Charts and Plates (1816). BACK

[5] Murray had published Voyage Round the World in the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, & 1806: by Order of His Imperial Majesty Alexander the First, on Board the Ships Nadeshda and Neva, under the command of Captain A.J. von Krusenstern of the Imperial Navy (1813). Another account of the same voyage was by Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff (1774–1852), Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World, during the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806 (1813). These works were reviewed in Quarterly Review, 11 (July 1814), 285–304, by John Barrow (1764-1848; DNB). BACK

[6] John Barrow had also reviewed in Quarterly Review, 13 (July 1815), 352–383, David Porter (1780–1843), Journal of a Cruize made to the Pacific Ocean by Captain David Porter, in the United States Frigate Essex, in the years 1812, 1813, and 1814, containing Descriptions of the Cape de Verd Islands, Coasts of Brazil, Patagonia, Chili and Peru, and of the Gallapagos Islands. Also a full Account of the Washington Group of Islands; the Manners, Customs, Dress of the Inhabitants, &c. &c. (1815). BACK

[7] Southey did not publish an article on the Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821) in the Quarterly Review. BACK

[8] Jose Servando Teresa de Mier Noviega y Guerra (1763–1827), Historia de la Revolución de Nueva España (1813), no. 3401 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

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