3124. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 22 April 1818

3124. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 22 April 1818⁠* 

My dear R.

If the paper makes as much impression abroad as it is has down done upon Murraymagne, the Grand Castrator & G.C.B. it will do its work in the world. [1]  The latter whom I desired not to speak of the article as mine upon the pretext that it was well not to be marked as the writer in case of any mobs upon the business, (a valid reason, – tho I had a further reason which motive for the caution): – replies that it will not be recognized for mine by the style; – & then he praises the style very properly as right good English, & me not quite so properly for having divested myself of all mannerism. This will amuse you. The odd thing is that no {he has not the slightest} suspicion of my real ignorance on such subjects as are there fathomed, – & {nor} what is more, of my incapacity for them. –

I am glad that Pople has resumed my long neglected work; [2]  – the sight of a proof sheet always operating upon me like an encouragement to go forward. You will have seen in these current sheets some curious pag matter respecting the negociations at Utrecht drawn from the correspondence of the Port: Ambassadors. [3]  I am far ahead of the press, & making great way.

In the case of the Appeal, [4]  – to what a reductio ad Absurdum would our Laws have been reduced if the brother had been a stout fellow! It is bad enough as it is, – but a real judicial combat would have been a truly portentous extravagance.

I have a paper in the Grand Castrators hand, which winds up with calling for an amendment in the criminal law in favour of justice, versus rogues & versus Lawyers. [5] 

God bless you


22 April. 1818


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqre
MS: Huntington Library, RS 341. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), p. 203 [in part]. BACK

[1] Rickman’s and Southey’s collaborative article ‘On the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 259–308. BACK

[2] Pople was printing the third and final volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[3] History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. 132–143, partly drawing on the correspondence of Luis da Cunha (1662–1749), one of the Portuguese representatives at the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), so ending the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714); ‘Cartas de Officios de D. Luis da Cunha Embaixador Extr. a Plenopo. dos SS. Sñres Reis de Portugal D. Pedro II e D. Joaom V na Corte de Londres e na Congresso de Utrecht’, no. 3832 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. His colleague, and the other Portuguese representative, was Joao Gomes da Silva, 4th Conde de Tarouca (1671–1738). BACK

[4] The involved case of Abraham Thornton (d. c. 1860). On 8 August 1817 he was found ‘not guilty’ by a jury at Warwick Assizes of the rape and murder of Mary Ashford on 27 May 1817. Her brother, William Ashford (d. 1867), launched a ‘criminal appeal’ (a medieval form of private prosecution) against Thornton, which was heard in London at the Court of King’s Bench on 17 November. Thornton pleaded ‘not ‘guilty’ again and challenged his accuser, William Ashford, to trial by combat. A lengthy legal argument followed, but the Court found that the case against Thornton was not so overwhelming that he could be denied the right to trial by combat. As Ashford declined to fight him, Thornton was finally acquitted on 20 April 1818. The case led to the abolition in 1819 of both trial by combat and criminal appeals. BACK

[5] ‘On the Means of Improving the People’, Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 79–118, especially 116–117, which inveighed against legal loopholes. BACK

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