873. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 23 December 1803

873. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 23 December 1803 ⁠* 

Dec. 23. 1803

Dear Rickman

Some translations from Camoens by a Lord Strangford [1]  have reached me in the course of business, & I shall be enabled to make a two guinea job of them if you will send me down by coach the originals in five duodecimo volumes, [2]  bound, without any ornament on the backs which is rather unusual for Portugueze books. I want this edition & not an unbound one in three volumes [3]  which is also in your house, because it has more matter & some useful criticism & notes. With them I should be glad also of Mickles Luisad [4]  – a quarto in boards – but I am not certain whether or no it be in your possession or among the books still at Biddlecombes, from whom I shall be glad when you have recovered them.

Now as this implies charge & trouble of conveyance to the coach, & as I shall ere long stand in need of another supply for better purposes, it may be as well if you have leisure to pack off a parcel per waggon at the same time. In this I would have the Chronica del Rey D Joaõ 3. [5]  in four small quartos well bound after their manner. Commentarios do Albuquerque [6]  4 volumes common Spectator size – they were in the bookcase to the right of the fireplace. the volumes of that twenty-tomed Historia Genealogica which contain the Provas (documents) I forget whether four or six in number, but rather think four. [7]  & for Madoc [8]  omnia opera [9]  Sharonica, [10]  Saxon as well as Welsh, with my Pierce Ploughman, [11]  a book which will materially help me to delineate the moral history of Europe before the Maritime Discoveries changed every thing. And now that I am on the subject of my books let me mention the few at Dublin – I do not know Roes [12]  direction – George I can obtain it from Robert Cottle who is at Hoares the banker [13]  – & if you will write xxx cum potentia frankande [14]  that will be the shortest way – & have them sent to you – for I shall not want them here, & my resting place at last must be within reach of some public library.

I am about a curious review of the Mission at Otaheite. [15]  Capt Burney will find his friends rather roughly handled for I look upon them as the most degraded of the human species – they have convinced me that Moses went the right way to work with the Canaanites, [16]  & induced me to think it probable that the Spaniards did less evil in Hispaniola [17]  than we suppose. Coleridges scheme to mend them is by extirpating the Bread Fruit from their island, & making them live – by the sweat of their brows. It always grieves me when I think that you are no friend to colonization. my hopes fly farther than yours – I want English knowledge & the English language diffused to the East & the West & the South.

Can you get for me the Evidence upon the Slave Trade as printed for the House of Commons? [18]  I want to collect all materials for speculating upon the negroes. that they are a fallen people is certain – because being savages they have among them the forms of civilization. It is remarkable that in all our discoveries we have never discovered any people in a state of progression except the Mexicans & Peruvians. that the Otaheiteans are a degraded race is proved by their Mythology which is physical allegory – ergo the work of people who thought of physics. I am very desirous to know whether the Negro Priests or Jugglers be a cast – or if any man may enter the fraternity; & if they have a sacred language. We must continue to grope in darkness about early history till some strong-headed man shall read the hieroglyphics [19]  for us. Much might yet be done by comparison of languages. some hundred words of the most common objects – sun moon & stars – the parts of the body the personal pronouns – the auxiliary verbs &c if these were collected as occasion could be found from every different tribe, such languages as have been [MS obscured]if fluent we should certainly be able to trace to their source. In New Holland [20]  language is said to be confluent – every tribe – & almost family – having its own. but that Island is an odd place – coral above water & coal – new birds beasts & plants, & such a breed of savages! it looks like a new country, if one could tell where the animals came from. Do you know that the Dodo is actually extinct? having been beyond all doubt too stupid to take care of himself. the learned Shavius [21]  found part of one in the Museum. There is no hope of recovering the species unless you could get your friend the bridge-maker [22]  to sit upon a ganders egg.

God bless you.


The Brig [23]  has been so succesful since my Whelp of a brother left her that his share of prize money, only as a foremast man would have exceeded 300 £. so Tom tells me – who is now first Lieutenant & going out with convoy to the W Indies.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS/ Dec 23:/ 1803
MS: Huntington Library, RS 48. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 243-244 [in part]. BACK

[1] Percy Clinton Sydney, 6th Viscount Strangford (1780-1855; DNB), Poems from the Portuguese of Camoens, with Remarks and Notes (1803), reviewed in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 569-577. BACK

[2] Luis Vaz de Camões (1524-1580), Obras (1782), no. 3185 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] Unidentified. BACK

[4] William Julius Mickle, (1734/5-1788), The Lusiad, or the Discovery of India, a Poem (1778), no. 440 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[5] Francisco de Rades y Andrada (d. 1599), Chronica do Rey D. Joaom o III (1796), no. 3260 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[6] Afonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515), Commentarios (1774), no. 3165 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] Antonio Caetano de Sousa (1674-1759), Historia Genealogica de Casa Real Portugueza (1735-1748), no. 3738 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. There were six volumes of Documents. BACK

[8] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

[9] The Latin translates as ‘all the works’. BACK

[10] Sharon Turner, History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799-1805) and Vindication of the Genuineness of the Ancient British Poems (1803), no. 2776 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[11] William Langland (c. 1325-c. 1390; DNB), The Vision of Pierce Plowman, Nowe the Second Time Imprinted (1550), no. 1414 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[12] Possibly Richard Baillie Roe (1764/5-1853; DNB), Irish stenographer and writer. BACK

[13] C. Hoare & Co., a private bank in Fleet St, London, founded in 1672. BACK

[14] The Latin translates as ‘With the power of franking’, a jokey reference to Rickman’s privileges as The Speaker’s Secretary. BACK

[15] Southey reviewed London Missionary Society, Transactions of the Missionary Society (1803) for Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 189-201. BACK

[16] Numbers 21: 34-35; 31: 1-54; 33: 50-52, contains numerous examples of Moses urging the killing of all the Canaanites. BACK

[17] The aboriginal population of Hispaniola was virtually wiped out by disease in the 16th century. BACK

[18] An Abstract of the Evidence Delivered Before a Select Committee of the House of Commons: in the Years 1790 and 1791; On the Part of the Petitioners for the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1791). BACK

[19] Egyptian hieroglyphics were not deciphered until 1822. BACK

[20] Australia. BACK

[21] George Shaw (1751-1813; DNB), The Naturalist’s Miscellany (1793) illustrated a preserved foot of a dodo. Shaw was assistant keeper of natural history at the British Museum. BACK

[22] Rickman and Telford were at this time members of parliamentary commissions on the Caledonian Canal and Highland Roads and Bridges. BACK

[23] The brig-sloop HMS Suffisante, on which Edward Southey had briefly served. BACK

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