1005. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 18 December 1804

1005. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 18 December 1804 ⁠* 

Tuesday. Dec. 18. 1804.

Dear Rickman

The Frank imperial [1]  reached me last night at the same time with a letter from Tom of rather a vexatious nature. He has been tried by a Court Martial for disobedience of orders, neglect of duty & insolence to his Captain. [2]  the two first charges were not proved, the last was. that is it was proved by a Black Servant who overheard the conversation from the Quarter Gallery unseen by my brother, that when the Captain accused him of being off deck &c he replied ‘I beg your pardon Sir I must contradict you’. – for this he is sentenced to be dismissed the Ship. – He writes from Barbadoes having that morning breakfasted with Commodore Hood, [3]  to whom he had applied for an appointment. The Commodore very properly replied, ‘He could not do that till he had seen the Minutes of the Trial which had not reached him only the sentence having arrived, & he must not prejudge the case. If however he chose to wait till the Minutes came he would let him know.’ – This was unlucky as the Emerald frigate sailed for England next day, & no other Kings ship will offer till April. However Tom could not but stay, for the Minutes will be far more in his favour than the sentence, – & the Commodore knows that Tom was a favourite of his brothers, & in the action with him when he fell. [4]  When he wrote he was worth 200 dollars which with economy would last him six weeks – so enormously dear is every thing there – & before that the Minutes would arrive. his letter is eight 9 weeks old – so that he is either penniless or provided for. I wrote of course directly telling him to draw on me thro Danvers for thirty pounds. little as that is it may rub off a debt & set him fairly afloat if he gets another ship. –That he has been in the right I have little doubt. & as little doubt that his fortunes will suffer for it. However there is no evil without some good. he being under arrest could not go in the boats, & the Lieutenant who did go received the ball which might else have borne a billet for him. [5] 

As for brother Hempstretch to the Devil he must go, & I shall not waste one uneasy feeling upon him. My plagues it is true are quite enough in all conscience, but they are not so many as I had reason to expect, & my enjoyments on the contrary are more. per sheet work is certainly sad drudgery & a miserable misapplication of the time & talent which I neither want will nor ability to employ on very noble purposes. [6]  But it might have been much worse. Even as it is I have xxxx been able to make for myself a respectable present reputation, which by God’s blessing is likely to mature into a fair & perpetual fame. The best effect of this is that it leaves me without anxiety for Edith & the young one if that cursed disease to which I have the full claim of inheritance & physical formation, should cut me short before my work be done & the harvest of so many years got in. When I am dead it will be ‘poor Southey’ – some kind hearted friend will do for me what Currie has done for Burns [7]  & Hayley for Cowper, [8]  & what I leave behind will be both more & better than has sufficed in those cases for great profit & great popularity. – This is putting the case at the worst. but if it please God to let me live & do well I have not the slightest doubt in the course of the next seven years, of realizing what will secure me from the necessity of future task work, even if none of the lucky accidents of life should turn up in my favour. – And after all the disadvantage of my business is that it is xxx worse paid than any other. Turner has his law, & you have your bag & ruffles, & Carlisle has to finger ulcers & cut off legs & arms. Even Wynn is obliged to hear the nonsense in the House of Commons – or to drill Welshmen in the country. Now assuredly writing per sheet is far more agreable to me than any of these employments would be. The only thing that really frets me is the want of my books. it is vexatious to possess such a collection – & yet be deprived the full use & enjoyment of them for want of a fixed habitation. – The great misfortune of my life has been the want of a couple of hundreds to begin with. could I ever have been able to have chosen a house & furnished it – that would have anchored me, & I should have saved twice the sum which lodgings & removals have in consequence cost.

Our house is not sold – the bargain is broken off & we remain possessors as long as may suit us. [9]  however the place does not suit me, & I mean to make another attempt at settling by writing an anonymous book purporting to be the letters of a Spaniard from England [10]  – & so putting in all I know & think which I can do in character: two octavo volumes I could get ready by the end of autumn, for this thing has long been thought of, & the Devil would be in it if such a book so seasoned as it would be with all wholesome stimulants, did not sell fast enough to answer my purpose, when the chance of Madoc be considered & of this sale-book which Bedford has so idly delayed. [11]  – very useless I grant him, & very conceited, & daily growing worse & worse. but time was that he was better, & school boy associations hold the next place to family ones. – xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

This dreadful pestilence [12]  will most likely keep me from Portugal & drive my Uncle to England. that evil also will bring its good with it. being certain that I cannot go I shall cease to wish to go. the books will have a home directly, & I shall have a motive for preferring one place to another by his residence, be that where it may.

I have dispatched two cargos of the killed & wounded – & have a third in hand. this Annual Reviewing has at least this comfort – that like Xmas it comes but once a year. [13]  I shall have done with all onx hand by the end of the year, & may expect some leisure during the two next months, & plenty afterward. you will then have a good report of my history. [14]  Indeed if my Uncle should come home as I shall earnestly urge him to do I should soon prepare a volume for the press – but that must be done near some public library.

Harry is gaining great honours at Edinburgh. President of the Speculative & of the Medical Societies. I have good hopes of him & should have better if by any happy accident he were to get uglified, being at present handsomer than is fit for man to be. – There is in the bookcase below stairs the beginning of a catalogue [MS torn] my books: I should like to have it sent down when the Emperor of the Fran[MS torn] [15]  in the way – in order to add to it all that are here, for such labours must be [MS torn] by little & little. – Letters have been received by Danvers from Count Burnetski, who believeth himself restored to a sane state of mind. he is clothed in fine linen, & fareth sumptuously every day, having nothing to do but to tell the Count Major [16]  what such a thing is called in English, when he chuses to enquire. If Burnetski should think of settling in Poland the Diet ought seriously to interfere, for the Polish race is a good race, & the Unsounds ought not be propagated.

The extracts from Cotton which I wished Lamb to supply xxx will be wanted in the very first or second sheet. [17]  when that shall go to press only G. Bedford can tell! this I can tell – that the book ought to have been ready for publication now, & would have been so had I remained in London another month – or even half the time. – if Horace [MS torn]edford should get the appointment, his room would be more convenient for me than the Reading Room inasmuch as I could sit near the fire & chuse my own hours. [18]  – So much for that. – The Edithling is just vaccinated, small pox being in Keswick. She is too clever to live – as the proverb says, & that feeling is my only serious cause of sober uneasiness.

God bless you –



* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr/ St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ DEC 21/ 1804
Endorsements: RS./ Dec [MS obscured] 18th/ 1804; R. Duppa. 13 Poland Street
MS: Huntington Library, RS 65. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 369–372. BACK

[1] That is, letters received postage-free under the frank of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Charles Abbott, which Rickman was able, as a civil servant in the Speaker’s office, to use on Southey’s behalf. Southey referred to Abbott jokily as ‘Emperor of the Franks’, hence here the reference to the ‘Frank imperial’. BACK

[2] Captain (later Admiral) Henry Heathcote (1777–1851), in command of HMS Galatea 1803–1805. BACK

[3] Commodore (later Vice-Admiral) Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet (1762–1814; DNB), in command of the fleet in which Thomas Southey served. BACK

[4] Captain Alexander Hood (1758–1798): on 2 April Hood died of a wound to the thigh sustained when his ship HMS Mars engaged the French ship Hercule off the coast of Brittany. Nearly 400 men, and both captains, died in the fight; Thomas, on board the Mars, was wounded. BACK

[5] Thomas Southey’s ship, HMS Galatea, a fifth-rate 32-gun frigate, had, on 14 August 1804, made an unsuccessful attempt to cut out the French privateer General Ernouf (formerly the British sloop of war Lilly) lying at the Saintes near Guadeloupe. Of the 90 men sent on the mission 65 were killed or wounded. Southey had suspected that his brother was among them because the first lieutenant had been reported as dead, but he was absent from the raid because he had been placed under arrest. Charles Hayman (d. 1804) was made first lieutenant in his stead and died in the attack. BACK

[6] That is, Southey’s work for the Annual Review. BACK

[7] James Currie (1756–1805; DNB) edited the works of Robert Burns (1759–1796; DNB) and wrote his biography: The Works of Robert Burns; with an Account of his Life, and a Criticism on his Writings. To which are Prefixed, some Observations on the Character and Condition of the Scottish Peasantry (1800). BACK

[8] William Hayley (1745–1820; DNB) wrote a biography of William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB) including previously unpublished poems and letters: The Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper Esqr. (1803). BACK

[9] Southey’s landlord, William Jackson, had been negotiating the sale of his house to Mr White (names and dates unknown) of Keswick. BACK

[10] This was published as Letters from England: by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[11] The project that Southey undertook with Grosvenor Bedford and published with Longman in 1807 as Specimens of the Later English Poets. BACK

[12] Yellow fever was epidemic in Iberia in 1804, and killed an estimated 60% of Gibraltar’s population. BACK

[13] Southey reviewed, in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805): John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB), An Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa, in the years 1797 and 1798, including Observations on the Geology & Geography, the Natural History ... and Sketches of the Various Tribes Surrounding the Cape of Good Hope, Vol. II (1804), 22–33; Robert Percival (1765–1826), An Account of the Cape of Good Hope (1804), 34–41; Daniel Mackinnen (1767–1830), A Tour Through the British West Indies, in the years 1802 and 1803 giving a Particular Account of the Bahama Islands (1804), 50–56; John Barrow, Travels in China: Containing Descriptions, Observations and Comparisons Made and Collected in the Course of a Short Residence at the Imperial Palace of Yuen-min-yuen, and on a Subsequent Journey from Pekin to Canton (1804), 69–83; Sir John Froissart’s Chronicles of England, France, and the Adjoining Countries, from the Latter Part of the Reign of Edward II to the Coronation of Henry IV, trans. Thomas Johnes (1748–1816; DNB) (1804), 189–194; George Heriot (1766–1844), The History of Canada, From its First Discovery: Comprehending an Account of the Original Establishment of the Colony of Louisiana, 194–197; Part the First of An Address to the Public from the Society for the Suppression of Vice, Instituted, in London, 1802, Setting Forth, with a List of the Members, the Utility and Necessity of such an Institution, and its Claim to Public Support (1803), 225–231; Edward Ledwich (1738–1823), The Antiquities of Ireland (1804), 398–413; Original Correspondence of Jean Jacques Rousseau, with Mad. La Tour de Franqueville and M. Du Peyrou (1804), 485–488; Anna Seward, Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin, ... with Anecdotes of his Friends and Criticisms on his Writings (1804), 488–93; David Irving (1778–1850), The Lives of the Scotish Poets; with Preliminary Dissertations on the Literary History of Scotland and the Early Scotish Drama (1804), 493–499; Walter Scott, Sir Tristram: A Metrical Romance by Thomas of Ercildoune (1804), 555–563; Charles Abraham Elton (1778–1853), Poems (1804), 564–565; William Day (dates unknown), The Shepherd’s Boy: being Pastoral Tales (1804), 567–568; E. Warren (dates unknown), The Poet’s Day, or, Imagination’s Ramble (1804), 568; Cupid turned Volunteer: in a Series of Prints, Designed by her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth; and Engraved by W. N. Gardiner, B.A., with Poetical Illustrations by T. P [Thomas Park (1758/9–1834; DNB)] (1804), 568–580; Thomas Green Fessenden (1771–1837), Original Poems (1804), 571; John Blair Linn (1777–1805), The Powers of Genius (1801), 571; Thomas Clio Rickman (1761–1834; DNB), An Ode in Celebration of the Emancipation of the Blacks of Saint Domingo, November 29, 1803 (1804), 572; Robert Bloomfield, Good Tidings (1804), 574; William Robert Spencer (1770–1834; DNB), The Year of Sorrow (1804), 574–575; British Purity: or, the World we Live in. A Poetic Tale, of Two Centuries…By Lory Lucian and Jerry Juvenal, … Assisted by S. Scriblerus, etc. [pseud.] (1804), 575; William Falconer (1732–1769), The Shipwreck, (1804), ed., James Stanier Clarke (1766–1834; DNB), 577–580; William Tooke (1777–1863), ed., The Poetical Works of Charles Churchill: with Explanatory Notes and an Authentic Account of his Life, (1804), 580–585; J. Amphlett (dates unknown), Invasion: a Descriptive and Satirical Poem (1804), 585; Joseph Jefferson (1766–1824), Horae Poeticæ. Poems, Sacred, Moral and Descriptive (1804), 586–587; Alexander Campbell (1764–1824; DNB), The Grampians Desolate, a Poem in Six Books (1804), 587–591; William Crowe (bap. 1745, d. 1829; DNB), Lewesdon Hill (1804), 593–594; John Finlay (1782–1810), Wallace, or, The Vale of Ellerslie, and other Poems (1804), 594–596; Jessie Stewart (dates unknown), Ode to Dr. Thomas Percy (1804), 597; John Belfour (1768–1842), Fables on Subjects Connected with Literature. Imitated from the Spanish of Don Tomas de Yriarte (1804), 597–598; Transactions of the Missionary Society (1804), 621–634; Edward Davies (1756–1831; DNB), Celtic Researches, on the Origin, Traditions, & Language, of the Ancient Britons; with some Introductory Sketches, on Primitive Society (1804), 634–644; [Anon.] No Slaves - No Sugar: Containing New and Irresistible Arguments in Favour of the African Trade by a Liverpool Merchant (1804), 644–648; William Tennant (1758–1813), Indian Recreations, Consisting Chiefly of Strictures on the Domestic and Rural Economy of the Mahommedans and Hindoos (1803), 658–670; John Gardiner (fl. 1758–1792), Essays Literary, Political and Economical (1804), 670–674; Richard Duppa, Heads from the Fresco Pictures of Raffaele in the Vatican (1802), 918–923. BACK

[14] Southey’s projected ‘History of Portugal’, which was never completed. BACK

[15] See note 1. BACK

[16] Count Zamoyski (dates and first names unknown), Burnett’s employer. BACK

[17] Charles Cotton (1630–1687; DNB): poet, translator of Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) and author of an ‘Ode to Winter’, admired by Wordsworth and Coleridge. Lamb quoted Cotton’s ‘The New Year’ as an example of nature poetry in his 1821 Elia essay ‘New Year’s Eve’. Poems by Cotton appear in Southey’s Specimens of the Later English Poets, 3 vols (London, 1807), I, pp. 31–47. For Southey’s suggestion that Bedford contact Lamb; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 1 December 1804, Letter 994. BACK

[18] Horace Bedford was looking for an appointment at the British Museum, and Southey anticipates using his office there to work in rather than the public reading room. BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)