3133. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 9 May 1818

3133. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 9 May 1818⁠* 

My dear R.

Thank you for your note upon the Ava-leprosy. [1] Kava this liquor is also called, & it is not a little remarkable that the same preparation with the same name should be found in Chile & in Brazil also; – tho not (I believe) made from the same root. – What therefore (the thought this instant occurs to me) – if the saliva should be the cause of the disease? the secretion of one human body taken into the system of another? – as the transfusion of healthy blood, & the transplantation of a sound tooth have been known to prove fatal. There is indeed in the Kava case a fermentation which must be taken into the account.

I have heard to day of a custom remembered in Keswick & still practised in Borrodale. A married couple who have had no children, after a certain number of years, are compelld by their neighbours to give what is call A Fumblers Feast, & entertain them with sweet-butter, cawdle, [2]  & other such regalements as are produced at lying-in visits after the fashion of the country. This they do sorely against the grain, the company entertaining themselves at their expence in every sense of the phrase.

Such a feast was expected from (or inflicted upon) the couple who live opposite Miss Barkers house, last week.


9 May. 1818.


* Endorsement: 9 May – – 18
MS: Huntington Library, RS 344. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 89–90. BACK

[1] Kava or Ava is a narcotic preparation made from the root of the long pepper (Macropiper methysticum). Southey discusses a disease to which the Manicica people were subject in his History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, p. 180. In his notes (III, p. 890) he added: ‘A friend, to whose sound judgement this work has frequently been beholden during its progress through the press, reminds me that the libertine drinkers of ava, in the South Sea Islands, are covered with such a leprosy; and suggests that the disease of the Manicicas may proceed from the same cause.’ BACK

[2] A warm, spiced drink made from wine or ale. BACK

People mentioned

Barker, Mary (c. 1780–1853) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Rosthwaite, Borrowdale (mentioned 1 time)