2920. Robert Southey to Messrs Longman and Co., 15 February 1817

2920. Robert Southey to Messrs Longman and Co., 15 February 1817⁠* 

Keswick, Feb. 15. 1817.

Dear Sirs,

There is, unluckily, a very sufficient reason for not disclaiming Wat Tyler, – which is, that I wrote it three-and-twenty years ago. [1] 

It was the work, or rather the sport, of a week in the summer of 1794: poor Lovel took it to London, and put it into Ridgeway’s hands, [2]  who was then in Newgate. Some weeks afterwards I went to London and saw Ridgeway about it; Symonds was with him, and they agreed to publish it: (I believe, or rather I am sure the publication was to have been anonymous), and what remuneration I was to have was left to themselves, as dependent upon the sale. [3]  This was the substance of our conversation; for nothing but words passed between us. From that time till the present, I never heard of the work: they of course, upon better judgment, thought it better left alone; and I, with the carelessness of a man who has never thought of consequences, made no inquiry for the manuscript. How it has got to the press, or by whose means, I know not.

The motive for publication is sufficiently plain. But the editor, whoever he may be, has very much mistaken his man. In those times and at that age, and in the circumstances wherein I was placed, it was just as natural that I should be a Republican, and as proper, as that now, with the same feelings, the same principles and the same integrity, when three-and- twenty years have added so much to the experience of mankind, as well as matured my own individual intellect, I should think revolution the greatest of all calamities, and believe that the best way of ameliorating the condition of the people is through the established institutions of the country.

The booksellers must be disreputable men, or they would not have published a work under such circumstances. I just feel sufficient anger to wish that they may be prosecuted for sedition. [4] 

I would write to Turner, if my table were not at this time covered with letters; perhaps if you see him you will ask his opinion upon the matter, – whether it be better to interfere, or let it take its course.

Yours very truly,



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 241–242. BACK

[1] Southey’s Jacobin drama Wat Tyler, written in 1794, it had been published without his knowledge in 1817. BACK

[2] James Ridgway (1755–1838), radical publisher. BACK

[3] Southey had visited Ridgway in Newgate Prison on 12 January 1795 to arrange publication of Wat Tyler; see Southey to Edith Fricker [c. 12 January 1795], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 123. Ridgeway shared his rooms at Newgate with his fellow-publisher Henry Symonds (1741–1816), and William Winterbotham. Ridgway and Symonds had been imprisoned for four years in 1793 for publishing Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man (1791–1792), but continued to publish works from Newgate, including Winterbotham’s An Historical, Geographical, Commercial, and Philosophical View of the American United States (1795). BACK

[4] The publishers were the firm of William Sherwood (1776–1837), Samuel Dunbar Neely (dates unknown) and Robert Jones (dates unknown). They were not prosecuted for sedition, but, having taken advice from Rickman, Wynn and Turner, Southey launched a suit in Chancery so as to gain an injunction suppressing the publication. BACK

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