751. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 12 January 1803

751. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 12 January 1803 ⁠* 

Dear Rickman

George the Second has quarrelled with me in the oddest of all possible ways. he says I treated him with neglect & contempt in London. & that another person saw it as well as himself. there is reason to believe he means Lamb, & if it be so Burnett has been making some mistake about him as well as me, taking jest perhaps for sober earnest. this however is the least part of my offence. I & Coleridge he says have been the cause of all his unhappiness & what he justly calls idiotism. we never treated him properly. now treated is here used in the Dispensary sense of the word. “Every human being can influence the mind of another human being if placed near him, & upon this great truth all the principles of education depend”. xxxxx the Second George laid down this proposition in Bristol streets at noon day, xxx speaking so loud that every body might hear him, & rolling his eyes to see who listened. well – now for the xxxxxx minor. but you & Coleridge did not properly influence my mind. & so the syllogism was to end in a quarrel. that is he gravely desired never to see me while he was in Bristol. his mind was not healthy enough to form a sound result (tho he was sure he was right) – & if on his recovery from a stomach complaint he found out that he had been mistaken in thinking thus harshly of me – why he would let me know. All this is truly absurd – but certain old habits of affection make me sorry for it. damn his fools head – he has been feeding upon Scotch metaphysics & now brings up a crude mouthful at every eructation. he xxxxxx walks tiptoe & talks of his “high moral views of things & principles of action above those of common men.” common men! by God he is an uncommon one. mad as ever was Don Quixote [1]  or Loyola, [2]  & precisely from the same cause – exclusively reading what he did not understand. the lying dog says I never gave him any advice!

Since your last I have been uncomfortably & unsuccessfully employed in seeking a habitation. of the Welsh house I have been disappointed – & shall therefore turn in to the first suitable place that can be found in this neighbourhood. I want a house for my wife, & you a wife for your house: take one! she will double your comforts & not lessen your utility – that is such a one will as you will chuse.

As for my utility God help it! it is often enough put out of its way, not to mention sometimes rambling astray. sore eyes have played the Devil with me this winter. I have no choice at candlelight but idleness – or what can be done with no exertion of sight – that is – poetry. so Madoc [3]  is on the anvil. History [4]  gets on by day as fast as certain money getting jobs will let it – that is – reviewing – writing dull comments on dull books – & a version of old Amadis, [5]  about which I bargained for & paid for secresy, & some fool has paragraphed me. [6]  this I am trying to explain away with tolerable skill, by giving John Southwell Esqr – the credit of the work – & so you see the mistake was easy. but if you are interrogated about it before Southwell claims it – say deny me for the author & suspect Sotheby. [7] 

I am ready for another box of books before the whole cargo will have a house to receive them. the four blue-paper bound <small> volumes of Lucenas Vida de S. Francisco Xavier. [8]  this is the book which came to pieces in carriage. a small 4to calf-bound Spanish life of the same man [9]  x – a very great man he was. Herreras four folios. [10]  the whole set of Joao de Barros & Diogo de Couto. [11]  two volumes alongside that set of Epistolæ Japonicæ [12]  – or some such title. Pietro de la Valles Travels. [13]  an English folio of 167ty something. [14]  Annales del Reino de Navarra by Moret. [15]  Two parchment folios, [16]  Bartrams Travels. [17]  a new octavo. [18]  & any thing else that may fill a box. Historiá Insulana, [19]  a parchment-folio.

Margaret grows apace – a grey-eyed, flat nosed girl, all life & spirits & good humour. strong as a young savage. milk has been her only food, & that almost wholly her mothers. I now wish Edith to wean her – for she herself is unwell. My way of thinking has so much of optimism in it that I have found xxxxxxxx out all the reasons why girls are more desirable than boys. if there be any brains in her skull she shall have the full use of them.

I have made the discovery that Robertson [20]  is a bad historian, for I have been gleaning in the fields which he reaped, & my gleanings are more than his harvest. he seems only to have read what was absolutely necessary. never for the pleasure of the pursuit. both of his Charles 5 & America I can speak safely. concerning Mexico he has written very carelessly, & drawn a very false conclusion. the arts of life were surprizingly – unaccountably advanced in that country. war – religion – government – all methodized & that most complicately. – On my conscience I believe that if I had a competence, history would be my exclusive pursuit, the pleasure of research is so eternally new! my great danger will be of saying too much. I could make a very amusing volumes with the title Works of Supererogation.

Remember me to Mary Lamb & her brother. so soon as I have a house I shall write to tell them that their first summer journey must be to us. – Chatterton [21]  is finished – with certain grand Cottleisms at which <xx> <wherewith> I shall make mirth for you when we meet. Tom & Ediths remembrance, & Danvers’s. he & his dog Cupid, so christened by me for his huge ugliness, are my chief companions here.

God bless you.

Robert Southey.

Wednesday Jany. 12. 1803.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr / St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Postmark: B/ JAN 13/ 1803
Endorsement: RS/ Jany 12th/ 1803
MS: Huntington Library, RS 29. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 300-302; Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census-Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), pp. 84-85 [in part]. BACK

[1] Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), Don Quixote (1605-1615). BACK

[2] St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuit Order. BACK

[3] Southey had finished a version of Madoc in 1797-1799. He was revising it for publication, though it did not appear until 1805. BACK

[4] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[5] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[6] See, for example, Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 597. BACK

[7] William Sotheby (1757-1833; DNB), poet and translator. BACK

[8] Joao de Lucena (1549-1600), Historia da Vida do S. Francisco de Xavier (1788), no. 3412 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] Fr Martinez (dates unknown), Vida de S. Francisco Xavier Apostol de la India (1620), no. 3525 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[10] Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas (1559-1625), Historia General de las Indias Occidentales o de los Hechos de los Castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del Mar Oceano (1728), no. 3563 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[11] Joao de Barros (1496-1570) and Diogo de Couto (c. 1542-1616), Decadas da Asia dos Feitos, que os Portuguezas Fizeram na Conquista, e Descubrimento das Terras, e Mares do Oriente (1778-1788), no. 3180 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[12] Emanuel Acosta (dates unknown), Rerum Oriente Gestarum Commentarius et Epistolarum Japonicus Libri IV (1572), no. 6 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[13] Pietro della Valle (1586-1652), Travels into East Indies and Arabia Deserta (1665), no. 2894 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[14] Unidentified. BACK

[15] Jose Moret (1615-1687), Investigaciones Historicas de las Antiguedades del Reyno de Navarra (1665), no. 3594 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[16] Unidentified. BACK

[17] William Bartram (1739-1823), Travels through Carolina, Georgia and Florida (1794), no. 125 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[18] Unidentified. BACK

[19] Antonio Cordeiro (1641-1722), Historia Insulana das Ilhas a Portugal Sugeytas no Oceano Occidental (1717), no. 3363 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[20] William Robertson (1721-1793; DNB), History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V (1769); and The History of America (1788), no. 2456 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[21] Southey and Joseph Cottle’s edition of The Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803). BACK