3219. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 11 December 1818

3219. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 11 December 1818⁠* 

My dear R.

Your last note makes me apprehend that you are not in your usual health, – & indisposition is apt to throw a dark hue over every thing. I was therefore glad to hear that you were going into the country, – for notwithstanding the longevity which belongs to your office, there are better atmospheres than that of Palace Yard, & you would be the better for more air & more bodily exercise than are within your power during the sessions. I sometimes try to persuade myself that mine is a Turkish sort of constitution, & that exercise & out-of-doors air are not needful for its well-being: – but the body begins to require better management than it did, – it will not take care of itself so well as it did twenty years ago, & I need not look at the in the glass for a memento that I xxx have begun the down hill part of my journey. So be it. – There is so much for my heart – & hope – & curiosity at the end of the stage, that if I thought only of myself in this world, I should hav wish the journey be I were fairly there.

It is a strange folly – or fatality that men in power will not see the prudence of x anticipating public feeling sometimes instead & doing things with a grace for the sake of popularity, which must be done with ignominy upon compulsion. For instance in that vile Lord Cochranes affair. It was wrong to condemn him to the pillory; – but if that part of the sentence had been annulled before popular opinion was expressed, the Prince would have gained credit instead of being supposed to yield to the newspapers. [1]  Here will be another case in the suicide-laws, – which seem in this Spaniards case to have been so executed as if the object were to insult common humanity, & provoke public indignation. [2]  And again in the matter of forgery. The laws must be altered, – & that not from the judgement of the legislature – but by the will of the London juries! [3]  The Juries however if they go on in their present course will do more than this, – they will prove that the very institution of juries on which we have prided ourselves so long, is inconsistent not only with common sense, but with the safety of society & the security of government. I wish, when this question of forgery comes before the House, (as it surely must do) that some thing may be said, & done also, for restoring that part of the system which makes the jurymen xx punishable for a false verdict. [4] 

I have written shortly about the Copy-right question for the QR. & put in a word, without any hope of good effect in my time, upon the absurd injustice of the existing laws. My own case hereafter will plead more strongly against them than it is in my power to do now, as according to all appearances, my works will copy rights will be much more valuable property after my death than they have ever yet proved. [5] 

I thought to have seen you before Xmas. But an event altogether unexpected, perhaps I might say undesired, – will detain me till March. About that time the number of my children is likely to be increased. [6]  At present this is a brings with it far more of pain than of hope. But this is a case in which resignation to that Providence which knows better what is best for us than we ourselves, – is an easy thing. – Meantime I shall work steadily & finish Brazil & Westl Wesley before I leave home. [7]  – The latter will be an especially curious book to those who are unacquainted with the class of men & feelings to which it relates: – to them (& I shall have many such readers) it will be as strange as a tale of Tonga or Tombuctoo. – I am now going to rake in Gospel Magazines; [8]  – it is literally searching dunghills for a few grains of wheat.

God bless you my dear R. Remember us kindly to Mrs R. & believe me

always & affectionately yours


11. Dec. 1818.


* Address: To/ J Rickman Esqre
MS: Huntington Library, RS 360. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 331–333 [in part]. BACK

[1] Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (1775–1860; DNB). Cochrane, a naval hero and radical MP for Honiton 1806–1807 and Westminster 1807–1818, was convicted on 9 June 1814 of involvement in an attempt to defraud the Stock Exchange. Cochrane’s sentence was a year’s imprisonment, a £1000 fine and an hour in the pillory. Subsequently he was dismissed from the navy, expelled from parliament and his knighthood was withdrawn. Cochrane was re-elected for Westminster unopposed on 16 July 1814 and the sentence to stand in the pillory was withdrawn for fear of a riot. BACK

[2] The radical newspapers aroused public anger by highlighting the story of the treatment meted out, according to the common law, to the corpse of a Spanish exile, Mariano Marquez de Castro (1788–1818), who had, on 3 December 1818, shot himself in London. The coroner’s jury deciding he was not insane at time of death, Castro’s body was buried at night at a crossroads; see the report in the Morning Chronicle, 7 December 1818. Crossroads burial for suicides was prohibited in 1823. BACK

[3] In 1817, in an effort to defend the paper money on which the economy now depended from forgery, the Bank of England prosecuted one hundred and forty two people in connection with forging banknotes, or handling forged banknotes. Because the penalty was death, juries were reluctant to convict. See, for instance, Morning Chronicle, 7 December 1818, for the acquittal of John Williams and William Connor because the jury did not accept that the banknotes they had passed on were definitely forgeries. BACK

[4] An obsolete practice in English law was the ‘writ of attaint’ against a jury. If the Crown, or any of the parties to a suit, believed a jury had delivered a false verdict, the jury’s decision was reviewed by a grand jury of attaint. If they found the verdict was false, it was overturned and the jury punished. Though this procedure had not been used since 1670 it was not finally abolished until the Juries Act (1825) – and even then it was theoretically retained for the crime of ‘embracery’, i.e. corruptly influencing a juror. BACK

[5] Southey’s article on the ‘Inquiry into the Copyright Act’, Quarterly Review, 21 (January 1819), 196–219. Under the Copyright Act (1814) authors had copyright in their works for 28 years from publication, or the life of the author if longer. Southey was convinced his works would sell very well after his death. BACK

[6] Charles Cuthbert Southey was born on 24 February 1819. BACK

[7] Southey’s The History of Brazil (1810–1819) and The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[8] Copies of the Gospel Magazine (1766–present), a publication mainly aimed at evangelical Anglicans. BACK

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