3449. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 1 March 1820

3449. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 1 March 1820⁠* 

My dear R.

Your guess about the parallel roads [1]  has this in its favour. that if Glen-Roy [2]  mean the Kings glen, the word Roy would not have been used before there was an intercourse between the Scotch & the French, – they were never such friends with the our Normans as to have taken it from them. In point of time therefore this would suit well. On the other hand in that age chroniclers delighted as much in a good show as in a good battle, & Froissart [3]  would hardly have failed to describe a hunting party upon so grand a scale as that for which these roads were made. It appears to me impossible that they should have been made for any other purpose. And when our friends at Corpach procure a list of the names of places, & some Gael is found learned enough to translate them, this main fact, I have no doubt, will be established. [4]  There is even a possibility that by this means also we may come near the age: not by the language, (for it I believe the Gaelic is not <like> the Welsh, in this respect, which the date of a composition may be referred with inferred with some certainty by its language) but by the names of the some of the party, & perhaps of some of the implements used.

You are quite right in thinking funded property better than landed property for charitable institutions, as being rather more than less secure, safe from fraudulent management, & requiring no trouble. There remains an objection from the uncertainty of the value of money, – but it appears to me altogether impossible that money should ever fall in value x as it has done since the middle ages; – perhaps even such an advance of prices as has taken place within our own recollection, will never again occur; – I mean as affecting every thing, the occurrence of an accidental scarcity is would produce but a temporary effect. In the view which I take of the improvement of society, stability is one of the good things xxxxx to xxx to be expected.

I like your Beguinage scheme in all its parts. [5]  Endowments (analogous to f x college fellowships) would grow out of it in due course of time. And great part of the business of female education be transferred to these institutions, to the advantage of all parties.

The D. of Berry will do more good by his death than he would ever have done by his life. [6]  I had been saying that such a tragedy <in France> surprized me in France much more than it would have done in England. The will I know was not wanting, – & intelligence soon came that the purpose had been formed. [7]  Your Opps. will call this discovery a most unfortunate business, & such I trust it will prove for them. The jury who acquitted Thistlewood & Watson, [8]  the opps. in Parliament & out of it who ridiculed the green-bag plot, [9]  & the subscribers to Hone & Co, [10]  – are much more deeply implicated in the guilt of this business, than they would like to be told, – they have given every encouragement to traitors, & thereby have made themselves morally art & part in the treason. What a fortunate thing that the H Corpus was not suspended, – in that case these miscreants would (most of them) have been in confinement, & the Whigs lamenting over them & promoting subscriptions for them as the victims of oppression. The Gallows will now have its due. [11]  –– Luckily for Brougham, one of his friends in this country had just been writing upon the duty of putting down tyrants, & had chosen the choice signature of Bradshaw. [12] 

Yesterday I finished the Life of Wesley, [13]  – two bulky octavos. The printer [14]  is far behind me, so that the book will hardly find its way to you, before I find mine to London, in the first or second week of April.

A highly civilized society seems to be within reach, if the devils who are got into the swinish multitude can be cast out; – & then I suspect our notions concerning government will undergo a considerable change. Concerning the press I have no remaining doubt, – tho I have been reading Coleridges arguments against a Censorship in the Friend. [15]  The difficulty in effecting this necessary alteration, like most other difficulties, would be found much less than it appears; & I believe a minister with Pitt’s [16]  courage (the main – if not the only qualification for a premier which he possessed) might effect it. There would be more difficulty in getting at a thorough system of police, – which ought in an improved state of society to be as compleat as it is in Japan. [17] Upon the finer xxxxxxxx Our modes of life, are the nature of our large cities, & especially of the metropolis oppose great obstacles. But with the authority of Alfred, [18]  & an improved parochial system, I do not doubt its practicability. But the swine must be exorcised first, & words which have been grossly abused must be restored to their proper meaning. – I hope I shall do something x for towards this.

I hope this letter may arrive before the suspension of franking, [19]  – a matter which concerns me much more than the H. Corpus. It goes singly for fear.

God bless you


1 March. 1820.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqre/ St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] 4 MR 4/ 1820
Seal: black wax; arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine
Endorsement: Fr RS./ 1 March 1820
MS: Huntington Library, RS 391. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, pp. 24–26 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Parallel Roads of Glen Roy are lake terraces formed along the shoreline of an ancient ice-dammed lake. They remained the subject of much speculation throughout the nineteenth century. Rickman suggested in his letter to Southey of 20 February 1820 that the Roads were made in the fourteenth century for a ‘hunting spectacle’. Rickman and Southey visited on 20 September 1819, Journal of a Tour in Scotland, ed. Charles Harold Herford (London, 1929), pp. 212–216. BACK

[2] Glen Roy is an Anglicization of the Gaelic Gleann Ruaidh, or ‘red glen’, rather than the French Glen Roi, or ‘royal glen’. BACK

[3] Jean Froissart (c. 1337–c. 1405), Chronicles (c. 1370–c. 1400). Rickman’s idea about the Parallel Roads was suggested by a mention of a hunting party in the Highlands in Froissart’s Chronicles (Chapter 61). BACK

[4] Southey was convinced by Rickman’s theory that the Parallel Roads were man-made for ‘a display of barbarous magnificence in hunting’ and had asked Telford and Rickman to obtain the Gaelic names, and translations of the names, of the surrounding hills and glens to confirm this idea, Journal of a Tour in Scotland, ed. Charles Harold Herford (London, 1929), p. 216. BACK

[5] Rickman’s longstanding plan for communities of single women, which owed something to the Beguines, religious communities of the medieval Low Countries. BACK

[6] Charles Ferdinand d’Artoise, Duc de Berri (1778–1820), a nephew of Louis XVIII (1755–1824; King of France 1814–1824), had been mortally wounded at the Paris Opera on 13 February 1820 by Louis Pierre Louvel (1783–1820), a Bonapartist. BACK

[7] The Cato Street Conspiracy, to murder the Cabinet at dinner, had been broken up on 23 February 1820, and the conspirators were arrested over the next few days. BACK

[8] A group of revolutionaries had attempted to lead part of the crowd at a radical meeting at Spa Fields on 2 December 1816 in an attempt to storm the Bank of England and the Tower of London. James Watson (1766–1838; DNB) was charged with High Treason, but acquitted on 16 June 1817 after evidence emerged of the role of an agent provocateur. The case against Arthur Thistlewood (1774–1820; DNB) was then dropped. BACK

[9] In 1817 the Cabinet had produced legislation to suspend habeas corpus, and a new Seditious Meetings Act, to suppress radical agitation. These actions followed Reports from Committees of the House of Lords and House of Commons on 18–19 February 1817, which had examined evidence of revolutionary conspiracies that the government claimed existed. The documents had been provided in green bags; hence the name ‘green bag plot’. BACK

[10] William Hone had been acquitted of blasphemous and seditious libel at three successive trials on 18–20 December 1817. His defence fund had been liberally subscribed to by prominent radicals and some Whigs. BACK

[11] Five of the Cato Street conspirators were hanged at Newgate Gaol on 1 May 1820: Arthur Thistlewood (1774–1820; DNB); Richard Tidd (1775–1820; DNB); James Ings (c. 1785–1820; DNB); William Davidson (1781–1820; DNB); and John Brunt (1782–1820; DNB). BACK

[12] Westmorland Gazette, 26 February 1820, reported a letter in the Westmorland Advertiser and Kendal Chronicle, 12 February 1820, signed ‘Bradshaw’, which argued resistance to tyrants was obedience to God. The pseudonym ‘Bradshaw’ was probably adopted to honour John Bradshaw (1602–1659; DNB), President of the High Court of Justice that had condemned to death Charles I (1600–1649; King of Great Britain 1625–1649; DNB). BACK

[13] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[14] Andrew Strahan (1749–1831; DNB), MP for various constituencies 1796–1820 and head of a highly successful printing business. BACK

[15] The Friend, 4–5 (7–14 September 1809), 56–68, no. 630 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Southey had his copies bound in calf-skin. BACK

[16] William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806. BACK

[17] In Japan under the Tokugawa regime (1603–1867), appointed town magistrates combined the functions of police, prosecutors and judges, assisted by a professional police force. Commoners were organised into ‘five family associations’, collectively responsible for the actions of all their members. Southey noted Japan’s police system in his review of Benjamin Haydon, New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818) in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591 (579). BACK

[18] Alfred the Great (849–899; King of Wessex 871–899; DNB). During his reign, groups of ten households were formed into ‘tythings’ to protect their property and deliver criminals to justice. In effect, members were responsible for each other’s actions and the community could be fined for individuals’ wrongdoing. BACK

[19] The House of Commons was dissolved on 29 February 1820, so suspending Rickman’s power to provide official franks for letters until the new parliament met. BACK