485. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 3 February 1800

485. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 3 February 1800 ⁠* 

I do not think you rightly understood my opinions upon the Orientalists. to climate I attribute very little, even referring the sensuality usually attributed to it, to the effect of polygamy. However the more the subject engages my thought & as yet I have only thought about it, the more it convinces me that every fact may be warped to suit a system, & that every system must be erroneous. the evidence of facts (& Lord Grenville risques another campaign for the sake of obtaining it) [1]  proves that under the same climate, the same religion & the same government, the state of society has been very different. climate will influence the mode of life – nothing else. the noon-nap & the garment of fur or of muslin these are its effects – sherbet or brandy.

The Hell of Women is rather about Hudsons Bay than in xx South America. Hearnes Journey to the N. Ocean [2]  contains some singular stories <to this purport> – it is indeed one of the most interesting books I have ever seen. in Mexico the women were xx respected. does it not appear that the women nations remarkable for their courage have usually better treated their females than more effeminate ones? as if a sort of chivalry resulted from courage. Would it not be well to connect with the Beguinage, [3]  a plan for the education of girls? in the early part some of the Sisters might find employment, & the girls might be drafted off to learn each her profession in the establishment. the possible employments are numerous. they are indeed all, except those that do not require muscular strength; farriers, blacksmiths & coalheavers – these will remain to the men I think exclusively. our difficulty I fear will be in acquiring for the establishment that respectability, which religion gave it in the catholic countries. this will be the first obstacle to filling the establishment, but it can only exist at first.

Beddoes’s wife [4]  is recovered & this month is talked of for his lectures. our stay here will be about six weeks longer. it will not exceed that. you will <find> lodgings sufficiently pleasant near the river. you are I suppose aware that our tides here rise remarkably high – the boatmen told me forty feet. at Bridgewater, it comes in in a head, this I have never seen & know not how to account for. xxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xx xxxxx xxxxxxxx.

From Madoc I shall only have to erase the very few lines that are only applicable to Peruvian customs. [5]  Whence the Aztecans originally emigrated is mere conjecture, & they may as well be placed in Brazil or Paraguay as in Peru. the French Letters which you mention I have seen, but not the English tale. [6]  all that can have been taken from Las Casas [7]  must be the account of Spanish cruelty & Indian sufferings. there is much to weave into the poem – to bring forward the characters for whom the first books have excited an interest, particularly the sister of Madoc; – & to describe a well-intentioned & gentle tribe of savages delivered from priestcraft & its consequent enormities. the quantity of knowledge possessed by the Priests of old would be a curious subject of enquiry. faith explains many miracles, & probably chemical science would render credible many more. that the Delphic priests [8]  knew something analogous to gunpowder, or fulminating powders is manifest from their twice defending the mountain, by earthquakes & thunder & the explosion of rocks.

This is a place of experiments. we have consumptive patients in cow-houses some, [9]  & some in a uniform high temperature – & the only result seems to be that a cure may sometimes be effected, but very rarely. I have taken the nitrous oxyd – the wonder-working gas. I think with benefit. at first I was apprehensive that it might injure me, & refrained from it with continence that would not have disgraced a hermit. but on trying its effect, they appear beneficial, & certainly have not been injurious. Davy is making important experiments upon the respiration of the different airs – which will probably occasion an alteration in the nomenclature. I saw a mouse die for want of azote [10]  – to such Hibernicisms the present name would lead.

I wish you had among your schemes a way of manufacturing paper so as to render it cheap. if this could be done from some of our useless vegetables, or the parts of the esculent ones that are thrown away, it would be of great service by rendering publications cheaper, & thereby pos[MS torn]tending their circulation & influence. is not this practicable? – your wooden clogs I shall be glad to profit by. leathern ones are expensive, & wet feet very disagreeable.

This morning I picked up a book upon alchemy, poetry & prose, text & comment; all the others books in this rare science that I had seen were pure dullness, but this soars into the sublime of nonsense – Kings & Queens & deaths & resurrections, & gate after gate, – a perfect book of Revelations. Eirenæus Philalethes the author, alias, if I mistake not, Thomas Vaughan, [11]  one of the last-century quacks, who were a little more decent than the present generation, & contented themselves with driving people mad instead of poisoning them.

Edith & my mother desire to be remembered. – I sent Biddlecombe some fortnight ago a book upon ulcerated legs [12]  – for his mother. I should like to know that he had received it – as otherwise enquiry should be made here.

Yours truly

Robert Southey.

Kingsdown. Feby. 3. 1800.


* Address: To/ Mr John Rickman/ Christ Church/ Hampshire/ Single/ C
Postmark: [partial] OL/ FEB 4 1800
Endorsements: Feb. 3d 1801 <1800>.; Feb. 3d: 1801<1>
MS: Huntington Library, RS 5. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 91–94. BACK

[1] William Wyndham Grenville, Baron Grenville (1759–1834; Foreign Secretary 1791–1801; DNB), had given a speech to the House of Lords on 27 January 1800 on the government’s refusal to negotiate with Napoleon. BACK

[2] Samuel Hearne (1745–1792; DNB), A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort on Hudson Bay to the Northern Ocean (1795). BACK

[3] In a letter to Southey, 4 January 1800, Rickman had proposed a system of ‘beguinages’, modelled on lay Catholic communities of women in the Low Countries, in which poor single women could work and live together. BACK

[4] Anna Beddoes, née Edgeworth (1773–1824). BACK

[5] Southey had given up on his plan to identify Madoc with Manco Capac, the legendary founder of Incan civilisation. Therefore he also intended to shift the location of the poem from Peru. BACK

[6] Unidentified. BACK

[7] Bartolome de las Casas (1484–1566), Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies (1542). BACK

[8] The Oracle of Apollo at Delphi in Greece, the most prestigious oracle of the ancient world. It was said to have been miraculously saved from attacks by the Persians in 480 BC and the Gauls in 279 BC. BACK

[9] For Beddoes’s experiments with tubercular patients see Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 8 January 1800, Letter 474. The Morning Post, 22 November 1799, had announced that Thomas Beddoes’s ‘An Account of the Effects of Residence with Cows, in Phthisical Cachexy and in various Stages of Confirmed Pulmonary Consumption’ would be published ‘Speedily’. BACK

[10] Nitrogen. As azote means ‘without life’, it was a ‘Hibernicism’ that the mouse died for lack of azote. BACK

[11] Thomas Vaughan (1621–1666; DNB), doctor and alchemist. BACK

[12] Probably Thomas Baynton’s (1761–1820) Descriptive Account of a New Method of Treating Old Ulcers of the Legs, first published in 1797, but reissued in Bristol in 1799. BACK

People mentioned

Beddoes, Thomas (1760–1808) (mentioned 1 time)
Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Kingsdown Parade, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)


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