2904. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 21 January 1817

2904. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 21 January 1817 ⁠* 

My dear R

The Contents wait for the arrival of one more proof. [1] 

Have you read Mariners book which so delights the Capitaneus? [2]  I saw it in Manuscript, – & only wish Mariner had written it himself. It is absurd to suppose that any people should within the memory of man have begun to make war, – for the first time since they were a people, – in imitation of their neighbour. – I suspect also the poem Vol 1. p. 307. [3]  But in the main the book is & must be true, & an admirable picture of savage man, – the animal being <of> a fine sort.

Did I tell you that I have a large cargo of papers from Mr Sydenham (M Wellesleys friend). [4]  – Among other highly curious facts I learn from them that we sent arms & stores to Prussia as early as the autumn of 1811. [5]  – And I have Bluchers [6]  word for it, that if the Walcheren army had landed in the North of Germany, the whole Prussian force in disobedience of their Government would have joined it. [7] 

I am now fairly behind the curtain [8]  with Ld Wellington in all his operations as far as to the end of 1812

God bless you


21 Jany. 1817


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqre/ St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 24 JA 24/ 1817
Endorsement: RS./ 21/ Janry 1817
MS: Huntington Library, RS 305. ALS: 2p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 53–54. BACK

[1] Southey was compiling the Contents page of the second volume of his History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[2] William Mariner (1791–1853) lived in the Tonga islands from 1806 to 1810 after the local people attacked his ship and killed his crewmates. His narrative was published by Murray in 1817, having been prepared for the press by the meteorologist 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). Southey reviewed the book in Quarterly Review, 17 (April 1817), 1–39. BACK

[3] The ‘Song’ transcribed in An Account of the Natives, 2 vols (London, 1817), I, pp. 307–308, was supposed to be an authentic Tongan song. BACK

[4] Benjamin Sydenham (1777–1828), soldier in India, friend of Marquess Wellesley and Commissioner of the Board of Excise 1809–1819. He had sent Southey the papers of his brother, Thomas Sydenham (1780–1816), who had served in Spain 1811–1812 before becoming Minister Plenipotentiary at Lisbon 1814–1816. Sydenham’s papers were to assist Southey in writing his History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[5] This story appeared in Southey’s History of the Peninsular War, 3 vols (London, 1823–1832), III, p. 314. BACK

[6] Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742–1819), Field Marshal in command of the Prussian army at Waterloo (18 June 1815). BACK

[7] In 1809, the British expedition to the island of Walcheren in the Scheldt estuary in the Netherlands was a military disaster; thousands of soldiers died, thousands more were disabled, by ‘Walcheren Fever’, probably a combination of malaria, typhoid and dysentery. No significant aims were achieved. BACK

[8] A synonym for ‘backstage’; i.e. aware of Wellington’s plans that were not known to the public. BACK