2928. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 24 February [1817]

2928. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 24 February [1817] ⁠* 

My dear R.

I send up the affidavit for Turner, leaving it however in Wynns power to prevent further proceedings if he should change his opinion. [1]  My own is that if I do not act at once, I shall ere lon be compelled to do so at last; & that the plain straight forward course is best. But I care so little about it, that I am very willing to let others decide for me. To be sure it would not be desirable to have Preston or the Dr quote from John Ball upon their trials! – they would find some rich quotations there. [2] 

Hanging so unhappy a wretch as Watson, & such a piece of good stuff as Preston, will only excite compassion, – tho if the guilt be proved, suffer no doubt they must. The root of the evil is in the press, & Cobbett should be the first man to lay in limbo. They should seize him to pre stop his paper, – & prosecute the paper at the same time, – punishment for the past & prevention for the future [3] 

I shall have a second chapter in the next 4trly the Report the text, & the abstract spirit of opposition the Devil which I shall attack – I treat of the growth of discontent in this country, & the causes which make men malcontents under the freest & best government that ever existed. [4] 


24 Feby.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqre
Endorsement: RS/ 24 Febry 1817
MS: Huntington Library, RS 309. ALS; 3p.
Dating note: Year from endorsement. BACK

[1] Southey’s Jacobin drama Wat Tyler, which he had written in 1794 and sent to James Ridgway (1755–1838), and Henry Symonds (1741–1816), radical booksellers, for publication; see Robert Southey to Edith Fricker, [c. 12 January 1795], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 123. Ridgway and Symonds did not publish it and it remained in manuscript until a pirated publication, designed to embarrass the now anti-Jacobin Southey, appeared in 1817. Having taken advice from Rickman, Wynn and Turner, Southey launched a suit in Chancery so as to gain an injunction suppressing the publication, on the grounds that it breached his copyright. To do so, he had to provide an affidavit establishing his authorship and stating his actions with regard to the copyright. BACK

[2] A public meeting of supporters of radical reform at Spa Fields, London, on 2 December 1816, led to an attempt to attack the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange. Four radical leaders were then arrested and charged with treason, including Dr James Watson (1766–1838; DNB) and Thomas Preston (1774–1850; DNB). None was convicted, it becoming apparent at Watson’s trial that the evidence against them was provided by an unreliable government spy and agent provocateur. Southey, however, was afraid that the levelling and revolutionary statements of one of the rebel leaders in his Wat Tyler, John Ball (c. 1338–1381; DNB), might be quoted in order to embarrass their author. BACK

[3] Cobbett’s Political Register (1802–1835) was one of the best-selling radical papers. In March 1817, fearing just such an arrest without trial, after the suspension of habeas corpus, Cobbett went into exile in America, not returning until 1819. BACK

[4] Southey’s article ‘Rise and Progress of Popular Disaffection’, Quarterly Review, 16 (January 1817), 511–552. The books of which it was nominally a review included the Report of the Secret Committee of the House of Commons, Respecting Certain Meetings and Dangerous Combinations (1817), which investigated recent revolutionary outbreaks and reported on 19 February 1817. BACK

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