Printer-friendly versionSend by email
The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

2013. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 6 January 1812 ⁠* 

Jany. 6. 1812. Keswick.

My dear Rickman

Whatever other good the merry men of St Stephens [1]  may do, they bring with them a very comfortable privilege of franking, from which it is probable that I derive as much benefit as any person in Cumberland. There is another of their privileges from which it remains to be seen whether I shall derive any benefit or not. You may have seen or heard that the Edinburgh Review (Brougham loquitur, – ni fallor) [2]  – recommends a certain Annual Register for parliamentary notice; [3]  – & Sharp gives out that Ld Dudley & Ward [4]  told him the hint was to be taken, – which I do not believe, for good & true friends as that precious party are to the freedom of the press, it is very unlikely that they will so expose themselves. However it as we must never calculate that a thing will not be done because of the egregious folly which would be committed in doing it, it is possible that you may have to introduce me to poor Colmans successor. [5]  I have no other objection than that the interruption will be inconvenient & the journey to town at this time of year not very agreable.

Do you know Shelly the Member for Shoreham? [6]  (not the Lewes Member). [7]  His eldest son is here under curious circumstances. At Eton he wrote poetry & romances, – went to University College & not liking Oxford society amused himself with studying Hebrew, of metaphysics, & Godwin’s original quartos. [8]  What may come of the Hebrew remains to be seen, what came of the metaphysics was the usual result, followed however by consequences not quite so usual; for the youth happened to have an excellent heart, high moral principles, & enthusiasm enough for a martyr. So he printed half a dozen pages which he entitled The Necessity of Atheism, [9]  prefixed a short advertisement requesting that any person who felt able would publish a reply to it as bri {in} the same brief clear & methodical form, – folded up one of the pamphletts with this taking title, & directed it to Copplestone. Copplestone either tracing the hand writing, or finding out the author by thro the printer [10]  (for he printed it at Worthing), sends the argument to the Master of University. [11]  He calls for Shelly, & asks if the argument be his, which the philosopher of course avows – Dr Griffiths then offers to pass the thing over if he will recant his opinion – A Xtian might do that, was his reply, but I cannot. Expulsion of course followed instanter. – Away goes Shelly to a graduate [12]  (a friend of Hannah Mores) whom he had been zealously helping to raise a subscription for some protegè, to settle this business with him – tells him for what he came, & that the reason was that he was about to leave Oxford having been expelled for atheism, at which terrific word the man absolutely fainted away!! Poor Shelly a little astonished at finding himself possessed of this sort of basilisk property, used his best endeavours to recover him, – led him out into the garden, – & happe had the farther pleasure of hearing himself addressed, as soon as the Evangelical could spe recovered his speech in these charitable words – I pray God Sir that I may never set eyes on you again.

Well, – the story does not end here. My philosopher feeling how much better he himself was made by his new philosophy (which in truth he was for he would have been burnt alive for it as willingly as the Evangelicals would have burnt him) thought it incumbent upon him to extend the benefits of his saving anti-faith, & xx all xxx where if after the examples of Mahomet [13]  & Taylor the Pagan [14]  began with his own family. Of his father & mother [15]  there was no hope, – but he had a sister [16]  at school who was old enough for a disciple. Accordingly he writes to her upon upon this pleasant subject. The correspondence is forbidden, but as she loved her brother dearly, means were found of carrying it on thro a Miss Westbroke her schoolfellow & intimate friend. This is discovered at last, Miss W. gets miserably tormented (I believe the school was an Evangelical one) – becomes very unhappy in consequence, – dreads the thought of returning to this place of suffering after the holydays, – & he to deliver her, – proposes a journey to Gretna Green, – he 19 – she 17. His father has cast him off, – but cannot cut off 6000 £ a year, tho he may deprive him of as much more, – hers allows them 200 £ a year – & here they are. The D of Norfolk [17]  is trying to bring about a reconciliation. I liking him as you may suppose the better xxxx for all this am in a fair way of convincing him that he may enjoy 6000 £ a year when it comes to him, with a safe conscience: – that {tho} things are not as good as they will be at some future time, but that he has been mistaken as to the way of be making them better, & that the difference between my own opinions & his is – that he is 19 & I am 8 & 30. No other harm has been done than the vexation he has given his family, – for as for the early marriage I consider that rather a good than an evil, seeing – as far as I have yet seen, that he has chosen well. – If you know the father well enough to speak upon such a subject give endeavour to make him understand that a few years will do every thing for his son which he ought to wish. He is got to Pantheism already, & in a week more I shall find him a Berkeleyan for I have put the Minute Philosopher [18]  into his hand. – He will get rid of his eccentricity, & he will retain his morals, his integrity & his genius. & unless I am here {greatly} deceived than my experience of human character there is every {every} reason to apprehend he shall be (xxxxxxxx what I have experienced as well as seen) believe he will become an honour to his name & his country. No possible chance could have thrown him in the way of a better physician, nor of one who would have taken a more sincere interest in the patient.

Remember me to Mrs R & Little Anne. [19]  We are going on well, & I am as busy – & have my orders of the day as regularly as you H. of Commoners are about to.

God bless you



* Endorsement: RS/ 6 Janry 1812
MS: Huntington Library, RS 178
Previously published: Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census-Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), pp. 158–160 [in part]. BACK

[1] St Stephen’s Chapel, in the Palace of Westminster, was the meeting-place of the House of Commons. BACK

[2] ‘Brougham speaks, – if I err not’. BACK

[3] A long aside in the Edinburgh Review, 18 (August 1811), 420–423n, had questioned whether the ‘virulent personal abuse … levelled at the most respectable members of the Legislature’ in the Edinburgh Annual Register was in breach of Parliamentary privilege and hinted that action against the author and publishers might be taken. In the event, the Edinburgh Review’s suggestion was not acted on. BACK

[4] The politician John William Ward, Earl of Dudley (1781–1833; DNB), MP for Wareham 1807–1812. BACK

[5] Francis John Colman, serjeant-at-arms (i.e. the chief law enforcement office in the Houses of Parliament) 1805–1811 had died in Portugal on 12 December 1811. His successor was John Clementson (1780–1856), who served in a temporary capacity from January-March 1812, when the post went to Henry Seymour (1778–1844), who held it until 1835. BACK

[6] Timothy Shelley (1753–1844), MP for New Shoreham, Sussex, 1802–1818. BACK

[7] Henry Shelley (1767–1811), MP for Lewes, Sussex, 1802–1811, and a very distant relative of Timothy Shelley. BACK

[8] i.e. Godwin’s An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). BACK

[9] The Necessity of Atheism, published in March 1811. It was co-authored with Thomas Jefferson Hogg (1792–1862; DNB), who was also expelled from the university. BACK

[10] The printers were two brothers, Charles and William Phillips (dates unknown), who had started a branch of their father, James Phillips of Horsham’s, business at 12 Warwick Street, Worthing. BACK

[11] James Griffith (1761–1821), Master of University College, Oxford, 1808–1821. He and a number of other college Fellows had questioned Shelley about his authorship of the Necessity of Atheism on 25 March 1811. BACK

[12] The ‘graduate’ was a Mr Strong, who had interested Shelley in the work of Janetta Philipps (fl. 1811). Shelley corresponded briefly with the latter and offered to pay for the publication of her poems. She refused. An edition of Philipps’ Poems was published in Oxford in 1811, and Shelley was listed amongst the subscribers; as were two Strongs, R.H. Strong of Tiverton and the Revd Charles Strong (d. 1864), who in 1812 was a Fellow at Wadham College, Oxford. BACK

[13] Muhammad (c. 570–632), Prophet of Islam. BACK

[14] The philosopher, translator and neoplatonist Thomas Taylor (1758–1835; DNB). BACK

[15] Timothy Shelley and his wife Elizabeth Shelley, née Pinfold (1763–1846). BACK

[16] Hellen Shelley (1799–1885), who was being educated at Miss Fenning’s School at Church House, Clapham, near London. BACK

[17] Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk (1746–1815; DNB), an active Whig, he controlled the borough for which Timothy Shelley was returned as an MP. BACK

[18] George Berkeley (1685–1753; DNB), Alciphron: or, The Minute Philosopher (1735), a series of dialogues designed to combat unbelief, no. 270 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[19] Ann Rickman (b. 1808). BACK

About this Page

Published @ RC

August 2013