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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

1734. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 17–21 January 1810 ⁠* 

Wednesday. Jany. 17.

My dear Rickman

I am one of those lucky people who find their business their amusement, & contrive to do more by having half a dozen things in hand at once, than if any employed upon any single one of them. It is the Printers fault that you have not {ere this} seen the best of my labours in a ‘tangible shape, [1]  – such however are his delays, that more proof sheets are likely to visit you, before you receive the collected volume [2] Ballantyne does not hurry me with the Register, [3]  & till me {he} hurries me I let it sleep & work at my second volume, for which I have collected a considerable quantity of materials, have pretty well mapped out the arrangement, & am proceeding with the straight forward narration. There are a few books still wanting which are of more importance to one chapter, & for these I have advertised at the end of my Preface. [4]  So many offers have been made me of books which I did not want, that this method may very probably bring in some of those which I do. – They have printed only five sheets of the Register, & have about five more in their hands, – my part of that {the} labour is half done, – when they jog me with another proof, I, shall take another heat, & without hurrying myself wr can write a sheet a week that {which} is as fast as they will print it, leaving my evenings (the best portion of the writers day) for other calls. You will like what I have said concerning the Catholick Question, [5]  & not dislike the way in which I have xx discharged a little of my gall upon the Foxites, the Peace-mongers, & Mr Whitbread. [6]  – This is a very profitable engagement. They give me 400 £ – for it, & if it continues two or three years (which I believe rests wholly with myself) it will set me y make me altogether at ease in circumstances, for by that time my property in Longmans hands will have cle right cleared itself, – the Constable will come up with me, & we shall travel on I trust to the end of our journey cheek by jowl, – even if I should not be able to send him forward xxx like a running footman. [7] 

The Quarterly pays me well, 10 guineas per sheet, – at the same measure the Annual was only four. [8]  I have the bulky life of Nelson in hand, & am to be paid double. [9]  This must be for the sake of saying they give 20 G. per sheet, as I should have been well satisfied with ten, & have taken exactly the same pains. In the last number I have only the American Article of Dr Holmes [10]  – A load of work for it arrived this quarter, evening, & is at this moment littering my floor, just as it was unpacked. It will distil to the amount of 40 G. at the O. P. [11]  in the course of the next six months.

The next news of my grey goose quill, is, that as I have one quarto just coming out of the press for you, I have another just going in for Mrs Rickman. [12]  {Though} I suspect it will be less to her taste than any of my former poems. Kehama has been finished these two months, is more than half transcribed, & the first quarter ought to have reached Ballantyne a month ago, but those rascally carriers have delayed or lost it. The days are now sufficiently lengthened to give me some half a hour before breakfast, & I have begun Pelayo, [13]  conquered the difficulty of the opening, & am fairly afloat. Add to all this, that from the overflowings of my notes & notanda I am putting together some volumes of Omniana  [14]  (which will I have no doubt pay better than if any of the works from {of} which they are {in the main} as it were the crumbs & leavings) – & then you will have the catalogue of my works in hand, – unless a drawer-full of materials for D Manuels next travels, [15]  which is constantly receiving of some addition, should be added thereunto.

Mathetes  [16]  is not De Quincey, but a Mr Wilson, – a very odd homo, – who might be shown at Pidcock’s [17]  for a perfect Kelt, – only that xx luckily by some accident he has just been trained enough to come within the {protection of the} Habeus Corpus Act. [18]  De Quincey is a singular little man, but better informed than any person (almost) that I ever met at the {his} age. – Lamb I know has unaccountably taken a dislike to him, & despises him, but this is one of Lambs crazy humours. Wordsworths reply to Mathetes, [19]  has the fault of the letter itself, – both are about nothing at all, – things that you & I have never thought about because they were not worth thinking about. It is beautifully written, but {when} you have done with it it is but a xxxxxxx {mouthful} of moonshine, – ex nihilo nihil fit. [20]  – The vice of the Friend is its round-aboutness – Sometimes it is of the highest merit both in matter & manner, – more frequently its turnings & windings & twistings & doublings provoke my greyhound propensity of darting straight forward to the mark.

My visit to London must be delayed till my Uncle is settled at Streatham, & then I shall with much pleasure divide my time between his parsonage, & St Stephens Court. Tell Mrs R. I shall be very glad to see the little girls, [21]  & communicate to their father the secret of a pocket-swing, – for which General Bentham [22]  would perhaps take out a patent. In April I purpose going to Durham, & taking with me the two Ediths, [23]  of whom the elder has never been out of sight of these mountains since we came among them in 1803. My reason for going in that month is that Don Manuel may attend at the Long-Main, [24]  – he has a number of odd things to relate of the Cock-fighters & Fox hunters of the Bishoprick.

The Coalition to which you seem to look on is likely enough to take place – if it should & Dutens [25]  were to die I might be the better for it, – the country would not. [26]  These people have all been tried & found wanting. Look where I will, I can see no good, – the journey to Falmouth seems the best prospect, & yet at my time of life (the grey hairs are coming) – & with my habits, it would be much more agreeable to me to stay at home. I have no hope from chopping & changing while the materials must remain the same. It signifies little who plays the first fiddle, – tantararara will always be the tune, till be a there be an entirely new set of performers. And God knows where they are to go from. Here is Lord Folkestone, [27]  whom I used to think well of talking like a fool about Ferdinand 7 [28]  as our making, & of the danger of an army of foreigners! God help the man. Are we to be bugbeard by a few poor Germans in these days! [29] 

Bedford hinted something about Duppa’s folly. He never spoke a word about it to me, – which is some proof that he is ashamed of such a fools trick. God Was ever any thing so absurd! – It is letting every body knows, he feels his education to have been defective, – but as for remedying it in this manner, – it is just as if a man who had been bred up by hand (as they call it) in his infancy, should fancy when he grew up that his constitution had been hurt by it, & put himself to wet out to be wet-nursed. [30] . I am sorry for it, & if any stranger should mention it to me shall feel half-ashamed.

You will serve me during the next sessions by sending as many Parl. Procs. as may be of use towards the Hist. of the year.

God bless you


Jany. 21. 1810.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: From/ RS./ Janry 17: 1810
MS: Huntington Library, RS 146
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 273–275 [in part; dated 21 January 1810]. BACK

[1] The phrase had been used by Charles Philip Yorke (1764–1834; DNB) in a Commons debate on 27 January 1809 about the accusations of corruption brought against Frederick, Duke of York (1763–1827; DNB), Commander-in-Chief of the Army 1798–1810, 1811–1827, and soon became a political joke. BACK

[2] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[3] The Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810), for which Southey wrote the historical sections. BACK

[4] See Southey, History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), I, p. [vi]. BACK

[5] i.e. the question of Catholic emancipation. For Southey’s anti-emancipation views, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), esp. 131–133. BACK

[6] For Southey’s attack on Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB) and his allies, see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 37–38. BACK

[7] To ‘outrun the Constable’ was an old phrase that signified getting into debt. Southey is joking that he hopes to break even, though it is unlikely he will accumulate much in the way of savings, by sending the Constable ahead of him, in the manner of a running footman, who was paid to run in front of a rich man’s carriage. BACK

[8] Southey had contributed to the Annual Review until its demise in 1809. BACK

[9] For Southey’s review of John Charnock (1756–1806; DNB), Biographical Memoirs of Lord Viscount Nelson, &c., &c., &c.; with Observations, Critical and Explanatory (1806); James Harrison (d. 1847), The Life of Lord Nelson (1806); T. O. Churchill (fl. 1800–1823), The Life of Lord Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronté, &c (1808); and James Stanier Clarke (c. 1765–1834; DNB) and John McArthur (1755–1840; DNB), The Life of Admiral Lord Nelson, K.B. from his Lordship’s Manuscripts (1809); see Quarterly Review, 3 (February 1810), 218–262. It was later expanded into a full-scale Life of Nelson (1813). BACK

[10] Abiel Holmes (1763–1837), American Annals; or, a Chronological History of America, from its Discovery in 1492 to 1806 (1808), for Southey’s appraisal see Quarterly Review, 2 (November 1809), 319–337. BACK

[11] 40 guineas at the ‘Old Price’ of 10 guineas per sheet, rather than the 20 guineas Southey was paid for reviewing works on Nelson. Southey probably used the abbreviation O.P. in reference to the Old Price or ‘O.P.’ riots of 1809 at Covent Garden Theatre, in opposition to increased ticket prices. BACK

[12] The Curse of Kehama, published later in 1810. BACK

[13] The early name for Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[14] Published in 2 volumes, with contributions from Coleridge, in 1812. BACK

[15] Southey’s proposed sequel to Letters from England (1807) was never written. BACK

[16] A letter signed ‘Mathetes’ (‘Learner’) had appeared in The Friend, 17 (14 December 1809), 257–268. De Quincey provided some ideas for the letter, but it was written by the author and journalist John Wilson (pseud. ‘Christopher North’) and his friend Alexander Blair (dates unknown), Professor of English Literature, University College, London, 1830–1836. Wilson was a Scot, but had graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford in 1807 and was living at Elleray in the Lake District – hence Southey’s comments. BACK

[17] The celebrated menagerie at Exeter Change, London, run by ‘the modern Noah’ Gilbert Pidcock (d. 1810; DNB). BACK

[18] The Habeas Corpus Act (1679), strengthened the English legal principle that persons could not be unlawfully imprisoned. BACK

[19] The Friend, 17 (14 December 1809), 268–272 and 20 (4 January 1810), 305–318, signed ‘M. M.’ BACK

[20] ‘Nothing comes from nothing.’ BACK

[21] Martha Rickman (d. 1810) and Ann Rickman (b. 1808). BACK

[22] Samuel Bentham (1757–1831; DNB), Inspector-General of Naval Works (1796–1807) and a prolific inventor, sometimes in conjunction with his brother the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832; DNB). BACK

[24] The Long Main was a famous week long cock-fight that coincided with Newcastle races in the last week of April or first week of May. BACK

[25] The diplomatist and writer Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB). Southey hoped to succeed him as Historiographer Royal. BACK

[26] Southey might especially hope to benefit if the Grenville group, which included his friend, Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, joined the government. BACK

[27] The politician William Pleydell-Bouverie, Viscount Folkestone, 3rd Earl of Radnor from 1828 (1779–1869; DNB), MP for Salisbury 1802–1828. Folkestone was a Radical critic of the administration. At a county meeting in Berkshire on 17 January 1810 he had denounced most aspects of their policies, including the consequences of the British intervention in Spain. BACK

[28] Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808, 1813–1833). BACK

[29] The Kings’ German Legion. A British Army unit 1803–1816, made up of expatriate Germans. BACK

[30] Duppa entered as a student of the Middle Temple on 7 February 1810. Southey’s hostile response is probably connected to his own enforced – and uncompleted – legal studies BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013