853. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 18 November 1803

853. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 18 November 1803 ⁠* 

Dear Rickman

I am manufacturing a piece of Paternoster-Row-goods, [1]  value three guineas out of Captain Burneys book. [2]  & not very easy work, it being always more difficult to dilate praise than censure – however by help of Barros [3]  I have been able to collate accounts with him in the great voyage of Magalhaens [4]  (for he has misnamed him) & so to eke out my pages by additions. About the other worthy Sir Francis [5]  I have invented a quaint rhyme which I shall insert as antient, & modestly wonder that as the author has a genuine love for all quaint things it should have escaped his researches–

Oh Nature to old England still
Continue these mistakes!
Give us for our Kings such Queens [6] 
And for our Dux such Drakes.

thank him in my name for his book. my Uncle has sent for what he desired from Madrid. does he want only what was published in 1788? if so my Uncle will procure that seperately & keep the complete set himself.

My history [7]  goes on well – I am full sail in the Asiatic channel & have found out some odd things. The Christians of St Thomas [8]  worshipped the Virgin Mary, which throws back that superstition to an earlier date than is generally allowed it. The astrolabe, the quadrant, the compass were found in the East. quomodo Diabolus? [9]  Martin Behain [10]  invented the sea-astrolabe at Lisbon, by express direction of Joam 2. [11]  – & behold within ten or a dozen years Vasco da Gama finds it in India. They had gunpowder there, espingards [12]  (what shall I call these?) & cannon, but the Portugueze aver their success to the great superiority of their artillery. in fact the main improvements in sea-artillery were invented by Joam 2. himself. but the great intercourse between India & the Europe old world is most remarkable. in the first voyage of Gama [13]  he met with a Moor of Fez. a Moor [14]  of Tunis – a Venetian, & a Polish Jew. The world was not so ignorant as has been supposed, individuals possess knowledge which there was no motive for communicating – no sooner was it known that K Joam 2 would reward people for intelligence respecting the East, than two of his own Jew subjects came & told him they had been there. the commercial spirit of the Moors is truly astonishing – Dutchmen or East India Directors could not be more jealous of their monopolies. the little kingdoms which Gama found resemble Homers Phocæa. [15]  Every city had its monarch, & he was the great merchant, – his brothers were captains of ships. – Spice – spice was what the Europeans wanted – & for what could they require it in such quantities & at such a cost? spiced wines go but a little way in answering this. The Hindoos too wanted coral from the Portugueze – odd fellows when it grows in their own seas. I believe the Portugueze conquests to have been the chief cause that barbarized the Mohammedans; their spreading commerce would else have raised up a commercial interest, out of which an enlightened policy might have grown. The Koran was a master piece of policy, attributing sanctity to its language – Arabic thus became a sort of free-masons passport for every believer – a bond of fraternity.


Has Biddlecombe ever forwarded the remainder of my chattels from Burton, as I desired him immediately on my return from London? my own views are very unsettled & must be a good deal influenced by the fate of Portugal. if my Uncle be driven to England, his fixing will give me a local preference. else if the climate do not nip me I am well where I am, & having tried it shall remove my books here & look out for a freehold in the chur parish church yard.

What news of George I & George II? which puts me in mind of the third person of that Trinity [16]  – & that Milton has devised a name expressive of the present government of Great Britain & the only word that can express it – a Duncery. [17]  it suits both houses – not to go farther. however God preserve us from the old administration – any thing but that.

Can you get over for me my things from Dublin? the Bruce [18]  you know is an Irish book & seizable, by our cursed custom house laws. I must [MS obscured] a good thing of my friend Solomon. [19]  he entered a large cargo of Balm of Gilead for exportation at 7<s>–6 per bottle – the Custom House Officer said he sold it for 10–6 – & was underrating it to defraud the revenue – he should therefore sieze it. Do as you please – quoth the Doctor – I shall enter it at 7<s>–6 – accordingly the man detained it, paying by law the price xxx at which it was entered – whereby Solomon got the money & the Officer remained with a stock in hand of Balm of Gilead for sale.

My brother Harry is just gone to Edinburgh to begin the preliminaries of Doctorification. if I had any business with the Press I should probably remove there for the sake of seeing him & the finest city in the British dominions.

God bless you.

Friday. Nov. 18. 1803.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr / St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Postmark: 3 [upside down]/ NOV 21/ 1803
Endorsement: RS/ Nov. 18./ 1803
MS: Huntington Library, RS 44. AL; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 234-236 [in part]. BACK

[1] Paternoster Row, near St Paul’s Cathedral, was well-known for its booksellers and publishers, including Longman and Rees, Southey’s publishers. BACK

[2] James Burney, A Chronological History of the Voyages and Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean (1803). Southey reviewed the book in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 3-12. BACK

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

[4] Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480-1521), commander of the first European expedition to enter the Pacific from the Atlantic and the first to cross the Pacific. BACK

[5] Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540-1596; DNB), explorer and sailor. The ‘other worthy Sir Francis’ may have been Sir Francis Burdett (1770-1844; DNB), radical MP. BACK

[6] Elizabeth I (1533-1603; reigned 1558-1603; DNB). BACK

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

[8] A group of Christians in south-west India, whose origins date back before the 6th century. BACK

[9] ‘How the Devil?’ BACK

[10] Martin Behaim (1459-1507), German navigator and geographer. BACK

[11] John II (1455-1495, King of Portugal 1481-1495). BACK

[12] The Portuguese word for an early form of rifle. BACK

[13] Vasco de Gama (1460/1469-1524), commander of the first European ships to sail directly from Europe to India, around the Cape of Good Hope, 1497-1498. BACK

[14] Southey inserts note: + The first Portugueze who landed at Calicut was led to the house of this man. who looked at him – knew the cut of his gib, & explained in good Spanish the Devil take thee what brought thee here? BACK

[15] An ancient Greek city on the west coast of Anatolia, famous for its inhabitants’ long sea voyages and widespread trade network. BACK

[16] In the Southey-Rickman correspondence, the first two George’s were Dyer and Burnett. The identity of the third George is unclear. One possibility is Southey’s brother-in-law George Fricker. BACK

[17] John Milton (1608-1674; DNB), Reason of Church-Government urg’d against Prelaty (London, 1642), p. 40. BACK

[18] James Bruce (1730-1794; DNB), Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, in 1768-73 (1790), no. 377 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[19] Samuel Solomon (1768/9-1819; DNB), manufacturer and promoter of the best-selling quack medicine ‘Cordial Balm of Gilead’. Southey met him on the boat to Dublin in 1802. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Dublin (mentioned 2 times)
Burton (mentioned 1 time)