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

2454. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 3 July 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. 3 July. 1814.

My dear Rickman

I am heartily glad to hear of your succession. [1]  If you had your right place in the world, there would be more rewards that imperial observation of which I as well as you have been so often reminded of, would not be somewhat less applicable in these parts of it. You used to notice a sort of entailed longevity belonging to parliamentary offices, may you keep up the custom, & live to a better old age xxxxx than your predecessor. [2] 

There is a portrait of Ferdinand in a vile book by one Walton called the Present State of the Spanish Colonies; there was a the beast has an enormous excrescence of chin, & a correspondent superfluity of forehead, – which beyond all doubt must be filled with a very pappy substance, – it being out of the course of nature to provide such a cavity with good brain. [3]  Having as yet only seen the very brief & unsatisfactory accounts which appear in the Courier, I am very-ill-informed of what has passed in Spain: [4]  but the main cause of the facility with which the King has overthrown the Cortes is I think certainly to be found in the rooted attachment of the populace to all the follies & all the abominations of their Church Establishment. Under such an Establishment men necessarily either believe every thing, – or nothing: the possibility that another form of Xtianity may be more reasonable never occurs to the thinking part of the community, – luckily for them where such an opinion would lead to martyrdom. The Spaniards therefore, as regards their religious feelings & conduct may be considered as divided into three classes: 1. A certain number of bold spirits among the educated classes (the proportion of whom must be much the same in every country) who disbelieved, & would gladly destroy the prevalent superstition. – 2dly those who believed it just as little, – but were snugly provided for in the establishment; & much more disposed to triumph at an auto-de-fe than to suffer in a revolution. – 3dly an enormous majority in all classes believing all the fables in which they have been brought up, with an intensity of faith which can hardly be credited till it has been seen. Here you have in array all the hypocrisy of a country, all the superstition, all the fanaticism & all the attachment to old customs against –– “all the talents”; [5]  – the said talents moreover, like those in our own country having been weighed in the balance & found wanting.

I have received this afternoon a packet of B Ayres papers, – where they go a legislating & revolutionizing in a wild way, – but always, as in the early days of Jacobinism, with fair professions. [6]  There are two curious laws – worthy of notice in the Quakers magazine being very I think the newest improvements in Philanthropy. Among some fair provisions for emancipating at a proper age chi the children of slaves, it is decreed that they shall not be weaned till they are at least twelve months old. – And by another edict all flogging in schools is prohibited, – as a crime of leze-liberty in a free country! – They have a Republic of Paraguay under two Consuls. What will be the end of these things? Ferdinand will send troops, & may very probably get easy possession of B Ayres, – but the revolutionary Government will remove to some town in the interior, – & the extent of the country renders it absolutely impossible to conquer it, if the people chuse to continue their present course. But if our own Americans were unfit for independence, how much more unfit are these! There is something radically wrong in the constitution of all modern colonies. The Greeks seem to have understood these things better.

You must explain to me your privilege of franking, – whether it expires with the session, & to what weight it extends, – if I recollect rightly two ounces. While however I am in ignorance I shall xxx dispatch one more packet under the usual cover, – & then drop my correspondence with the Emperor of the Franks, [7]  wishing that the many services which he has done me may be carried to the account of his good works.

Remember me to Mrs R. – Very few circumstances could have given us more pleasure than the xxx news in your letter. I am closely engaged in finishing my poem [8]  – having but two sections to write, – the one of which I shall begin this evening – another week & then ‘O be joyful’! [9] 

God bless you

Yrs most truly

R Southey


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqre
Endorsement: RS/ 3 July 1814
MS: Huntington Library, RS 228
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 359–361. BACK

[1] Rickman had been appointed Second Clerk Assistant at the Table of the House of Commons, taking his place on 23 July 1814. BACK

[2] John Ley (1733–1814), Deputy Clerk of the House of Commons, had died on 13 June 1814 after 47 years service. His death required a rearrangement of offices that included Rickman’s promotion. BACK

[3] The portrait of Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain, 1808, 1813–1833) was in William Walton (1783/4–1857; DNB), Present State of the Spanish Colonies; Including a Particular Report of Hispanola, or the Spanish Part of Santo Domingo, 2 vols (London, 1810), I, frontispiece [unpaginated], no. 2978 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[4] Ferdinand VII had abolished the liberal Constitution of 1812 on 4 May 1814 and arrested the liberal leaders on 10 May. BACK

[5] William Grenville, Prime Minister 1806–1807, presided over a coalition government in 1806–1807 called the ‘Ministry of all the Talents’, which included some of the Whig leaders who Southey most despised. BACK

[6] Southey was probably reading the Gazeta de Buenos Ayres, a weekly newspaper than ran 7 June 1810 - 12 September 1821. In Argentina the legislature was the ‘Assembly of the Year XIII’, which was called together in October 1812. One of its major achievements was the ‘Libertad de vientres’ law (1813), which decreed all children born of slaves would be free. An elected congress met in Paraguay in September 1813 and declared the country a Republic, with executive authority in the hands of a first and a second consul, who were to exchange power every four months. The first two consuls were Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia (1766–1840) and Fulencia Yegros y Franco de Torres (1780–1821). Francia became sole consul in 1814 and dictator for life in 1816. BACK

[7] i.e. Rickman. The first Emperor of the Franks was Charlemagne (742–814; Holy Roman Emperor 800–814). BACK

[8] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[9] Psalm 100, line 1. BACK

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August 2013