3112. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 5 April [1818]

3112. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 5 April [1818] ⁠* 

My dear R.

I apprehended, – as you know, some such demurral on the part of the feeble. [1]  They are I believe the only persons who when engaged in mortal combat, were {ever} afraid of provoking their enemys, or striking them too hard. As for Asmodeus he has, I verily believe, a disinterested love of mutilating whatever comes before him.

Murray wrote me a brief note the other day wherein without any mention of this paper, he said that he never desired to see another article upon either politics or religion in the Review, – because they are “certain of offending a great mass of people!” – I replied to this at some length & in a way which for a little while would impress the Magnus Homo. [2]  But he of course quasi Br Cormorant, & quasi Scotchman has no other object in view than the sale of his journal, & because Mackintosh [3]  & a few other Ops [4]  praise a number which does them no harm, he fancies because they are pleased, that the rest of his readers must be pleased too. – This is the mere impression of the moment, – but that the Review will ever proceed in a bold, upright & straight forward course is not to be expected.

I suppose Canning will be consulted on this case, [5]  – for he is on familiar terms with Gifford. But that they will make a mess of it between them I dare say! –

I have a chance letter from Stuart. He says Cobbett has fallen one third in sale, [6]  & all such publications are declining, but the Anarchists are as active as ever & new opportunities will occur for bringing their venom into life. “These wretches are effecting their purposes by libelling, – they are driving off the ground every man that can oppose them they are conquering by scandal, & Ministers wish as much as others to keep out of the way. Unless this spirit of scandal is put down, unless the licentiousness of the Press be restrained, certainly it will effect a Revolution, – restrained I mean by new laws & new regulations. It is altogether, as at present practised a new thing, not older than the French Revolution. I can perceive every one shrinking from it, – you, me, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Street. [7]  Every one about the Press dreads Cobbets scandal, & thus when a man throws off all considerations of character, he has all others in his power. Even the Ministry too, & their friends, I think, shrink from those who fight their battles, when covered with filth in the fray.”

Stuart is wrong in two points. This sort of scandal is certainly as old as Junius & Wilkes, [8]  – perhaps much older. – And he mistakes my feeling upon the subject & Wordsworths, who (inter nos) [9]  is at this very time preparing a heavy battery against Brougham. [10] 

It is time that Espriella was actually on his travels; – he may speak as plain as old Tom Truth Tell-truth. [11] 

And now that this note may not be made up wholly of uncomfortable things, – you will be glad to hear that the Irish Scriptores are not laid aside as we apprehended they would be. The second volume (Wynn tells me) waits only for a sheet or two to be published, & at the same time there will be a catalogue by O Connor of the Stowe MSS. [12] 

Thank you for the Bankruptcy Report. [13]  A well-directed cross examination might have got out more roguery from one of the Witnesses than ap as his occasional practise, than appeared from his voluntary statement: – Pray send me the report about the Church [14] 


5 April


* Endorsement: RS/ 5 April 1818
MS: Huntington Library, RS 339. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 298–299 [in part].
Dating note: Year from endorsement. BACK

[1] i.e. that the manuscript of ‘On the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 259–308, would be watered down before publication (on 9 June 1818). BACK

[2] ‘Great Man’: Southey’s sarcastic nickname for Murray. For Southey’s reply to John Murray, 3 April 1818, see Letter 3110. BACK

[3] Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832; DNB), the Whig writer and lawyer, MP for Nairn 1813–1818, MP for Knaresborough 1818–1832. BACK

[4] The Whig political opposition. BACK

[5] i.e. on the editing of ‘On the Poor Laws’. BACK

[6] Cobbett’s Political Register (1802–1835), the best-selling weekly paper among labouring class readers. Cobbett had fled to America in 1817 to avoid arrest, but continued to edit his paper. BACK

[7] Thomas George Street (dates unknown) was the editor and part-owner of the Courier, the pro-government paper to which Coleridge contributed and to which Southey subscribed. BACK

[8] Junius, the pseudonym of the author of a series of letters to the Public Advertiser, 1769–1772, defending liberty and attacking government corruption; and John Wilkes (1727–1797; DNB), radical journalist, politician and pornographer, whose exclusion from his seat in parliament had led to a prolonged political crisis in 1768–1772. Southey attacked Junius and Wilkes in ‘Rise and Progress of Popular Disaffection’, Quarterly Review, 16 (January 1817), 511–552 (530–531). BACK

[9] ‘between ourselves’. BACK

[10] In the form of the anonymous pamphlet, Two Addresses to the Freeholders of Westmorland (1818), first distributed c. 8 April 1818. BACK

[11] The fictional traveller of Letters from England: By Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella (1807). Southey did not publish a second instalment of this work. ‘Tom Tell-Truth’ was the title of a ballad from the 1680s: ‘All that you will not believe me, disprove me if you can;/ You by my story will perceive, I am an honest man’. BACK

[12] Charles O’Conor (1764–1828; DNB), Rerum Hibernicarum Scriptores Veteres, 4 vols (1814–1826), no. 2112 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. This was an edition of some of the manuscripts in the library at Stowe. O’Conor was the chaplain of Mary, Marchioness of Buckinghamshire (d. 1812). Her husband, George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham (1753–1813; DNB), provided financial support for the project. O’Conor also edited Bibliotheca MS. Stowensis. A Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Stowe Library (1818–1819). BACK

[13] The Select Committee on the Bankrupt Laws reported in 1817 and produced three further Reports in 1818. BACK

[14] On 16 March 1818, Nicholas Vansittart (1766–1851; DNB), Chancellor of the Exchequer 1812–1823, drew attention to statistics collected on the deficiency of Church of England places of worship and proposed £1,000,000 be spent on constructing new churches. This proposal was embodied in the Church Building Act (1818). BACK