3458. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [c. 27 March 1820]

3458. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [c. 27 March 1820] ⁠* 

My dear R.

I am very sorry for the news which your letter communicates. [1]  The improved state as it is called, of medical knowledge, is little more than a discovery of our ignorance. And I suspect that we lose more by want of faith in the patient, than we gain by any increase of skill in the physician. Yet I have a hope that we shall one day discover the real nature of fever, & by ascertaining the cause & seat of, the disease, understand how to remedy it.

Turner has sent me an unfavourable opinion upon my claims. [2]  Twice in my life has the caprice of a testator cut me off from what the law would have given me, if it had taken its course; [3]  & now the law interferes & cuts me off from what would have been given me by a testator. [4]  It is however a clear gain to escape a suit in chancery, & the vexation which that would have brought with it.

Broughams advantage was thro the creation of new freeholds, chiefly enfranchisements made by Lord Thanet. [5]  The Lowthers [6]  will beat him at this game next time. Their popularity has much risen since the former election.

You will have Wesley [7]  in a few days, & you will see in it strange cases of the effect of the mind upon the body, & again of the body upon the mind. Some I can understand, – but there are others which I cannot, & yet believe them I must, if or give up all trust in human testimony. I do not know whether I have employed my time in the best way in composing this book (for it has been a work of considerable labour, so scattered were the materials) – but it will show you the ways & feelings & notions of a set of people of whom most readers will previously have known as little as they did of the Tupinambas. [8] 

God bless you


Poor Mrs Wilsons legacies will be preserved in some such way as you suggest. [9] 


* Address: To/ J Rickman Esqre
Endorsements: Fr RS./ March 1820; Circa:/ 27 March 1820
MS: Huntington Library, RS 394. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 188–189 [in part].
Dating note: Dating from endorsement. BACK

[1] Rickman’s letter of 24 March 1820 carried the news of the death of his brother-in-law, Henry Postlethwaite (1773–1820), from a fever. BACK

[2] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), agricultural reformer and third cousin of Southey, had died on 5 October 1819. This produced a further round of legal tangles over the Fitzhead estate in Somerset, which Somerville had inherited under the complex will of his great-uncle, John Cannon Southey (d. 1768). BACK

[3] Southey had inherited nothing from his two uncles, John Southey (d. 1806) and Thomas Southey (d. 1811). BACK

[4] Southey felt that it had been John Cannon Southey’s (d. 1768) intention to leave his property at Fitzhead to his Southey relatives should Lord Somerville have no children, rather than allow Lord Somerville to dispose of it as he wished. BACK

[5] Brougham had again been defeated by the Lowther family at Westmorland in 1820, but improved his poll from the 1818 general election. Sackville Tufton, 9th Earl of Thanet (1769–1825; DNB), was the largest landowner in Westmorland to support the Whigs, and was Hereditary High Sheriff of Westmorland 1786–1825. Both Whigs and Tories had made efforts to increase their numbers of freeholders – only owners of land worth 40 shillings per annum could vote in county elections. BACK

[6] The two sitting MPs for Westmorland were the brothers Henry Lowther (1790–1867), MP for Westmorland 1812–1867, and William, Viscount Lowther (1787–1872), later 2nd Earl of Lonsdale and MP for Cockermouth 1808–1813, MP for Westmorland 1813–1831 and 1832–1841. BACK

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

[8] The language group who inhabited the coast of Brazil when the Portuguese arrived in the sixteenth century. They figured prominently in Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[9] Rickman had suggested Mrs Wilson’s legacies to the Southey children should be used to buy table spoons engraved in her memory. BACK

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