3396. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 3 December 1819

3396. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 3 December 1819⁠* 

My dear R.

Thank you for the Parl: Procs- [1]  & the pamphlett. Badly as I thought of the Whigs, they have on this occasion shown themselves at once greater knaves & greater blockheads than I had expected. The measures of Government are much as I expected <looked for>; [2]  – more efficient ones might have been carried without exciting more opposition. But ministers are safe from the current charge strongest ground that could be taken against them. – Why was not all this done three years ago, when there was the same reason for it? [3]  – The eruption will be cured, – but the body will remain diseased. Of this I am convinced that all governments which must be considered as imperfect which do not keep in their own hands the direction of public instruction, & the control of the press. This has always been required in Utopian romance. [4] 

I have been doing my task for the Court Fiddlers, – which goes inclosed. [5]  And there is some danger that I may lose my labour, by having done it too soon. Whenever the King dies [6]  I must do some thing more than task verses which are fit only to be befiddled. & this present alarm has made me think about it in earnest, that I may not be wholly unprepared. This will be an inconvenient interruption, – but I have planned something, which, ni fallor [7]  is capable of some effect, – which will be a good deal out of the common, & in which I shall have an opportunity of speaking what in Dahomy would be called strong words. [8] 

I have some inscriptions in hand, [9]  which I shall send you, as soon as I can satisfy myself with them, – & thro you, to the Pontifex Maximus.

Giffords illness I app suspect was nothing more than his constitutional want of health, – some temporary exacerbation of an habitual disease. I find Government have set on foot a weekly paper, [10]  – they would do better to frame such laws as would put a stop to many of those already in existence. An act against Sunday newspaper would have had much of this effect.

God bless you. Remember me to Mrs R. Ann Franco & the young Giant. [11] 


3 Dec. 1819.


* Endorsement: 3 Dec – 1819
MS: Huntington Library, RS 380. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 161–162. BACK

[1] The official Report of Parliamentary Proceedings, usually known as Hansard, after its publisher, Luke Hansard (1752–1828; DNB). The pamphlet is unidentified. BACK

[2] The Cabinet had published its proposals on 29 November 1819 for what became known as the ‘Six Acts’ to suppress radical agitation, including a new Criminal Libel Bill. BACK

[3] A huge radical meeting was held at Spa Fields on 2 December 1816; a group of revolutionaries had used the occasion to lead some of the crowd in an attempt to storm the Bank of England and the Tower of London. BACK

[4] For example, Sir Thomas More (1478–1535; DNB), Utopia (1516) and Samuel Hartlib (1600–1662; DNB), A Description of the Famous Kingdom of Macaria (1641). BACK

[5] Southey’s duty as Poet Laureate was to produce a New Year’s Ode for 1820; a copy of his ode was enclosed in this letter; see Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 3 December 1819, Letter 3395. The poem was later published as ‘The Warning Voice. Ode I’ in The Englishman’s Library: Comprising a Series of Historical, Biographical and National Information (London, 1824), pp. 381–383. BACK

[6] George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) died on 29 January 1820. Southey responded with A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[7] ‘unless I am mistaken’. BACK

[8] Dahomey was a powerful West African kingdom; ‘strong words’ were words inspired by the gods. Southey’s knowledge of the kingdom probably derived from Archibald Dalzel (1740–1811; DNB), The History of Dahomey (1793), no. 893 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] Southey’s three ‘Inscriptions for the Caledonian Canal’, which he had visited with Rickman in August–September 1819: ‘Inscription for a Tablet at Banavie, on the Caledonian Canal’, Friendship’s Offering. A Literary Album (London, 1826), pp. [167]–168; and ‘At Clachnacharry’ and ‘At Fort Augustus’, The Anniversary; or, Poetry and Prose for MDCCCXXIX (London, 1829), pp. 194–197. BACK

[10] The Guardian (1819–1824), a weekly Sunday newspaper masterminded by John Wilson Croker. Southey became a subscriber. BACK

[11] Rickman’s children: Ann Rickman (b. 1808), William Charles Rickman (1812–1886) and Frances Rickman (dates unknown). BACK

People mentioned


JSON What's this?
As you're browsing RC, you might see small buttons scattered on various pages. These buttons let you download that page's content in a ready-to-use data file! Learn more on our RC Data page.