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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1011. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 31 December 1804 ⁠* 

Dec 31. 1804. Keswick.

Dear Rickman

I thank you heartily for your invitation, but if you will look at the map & then at the thermometer, you will allow that weather & distance should be sufficient motives for keeping me at home, were there no others. the book is going to press, or gone, & when once begun it will keep moving for I left more than three fourths or four fifths ready in his hands. [1]  Besides that the journey xxxx is not necessary therefore, travelling is of the nature of a luxury inasmuch as it is expensive. one nights starvation in a stage coach would cost more than would keep my great room warm for three months even in this dear coal country. – If there be war with Portugal I should probably visit London for the sake of meeting my Uncle, & this is so probable that it would be another reason for not going there at present. General Moore, say the papers, is gone to see if we can enable the Portugueze to defend their country. [2]  the country is very defensible – provided there were Englishmen to defend it, or if all the Portugueze officers were hung. It would be very easy to prevent the French from winning it, if it were possible to prevent the nation from losing it. His answer will be no. that is a hopeless business. If however contrary to my belief he take hope & we send off an army I will try for a civil appointment in it.

About George Fricker. I have no particular intentions, & only wish him settled in any office or any counter where he could earn a decent maintenance. his city friends are two people whom Mrs Coleridge fell in with – a Mr Salt [3]  who talked largely & will I suppose from that very circumstance do nothing & Mawman the bookseller. [4]  I design to ask General Peche if he can get him into the India House – expecting a xxxx denial – but what is to be done without asking? To any kind of mill-horse work he is fully competent, & has this in his favour that is he thoroughly trust-worthy. We are trying every quarter to get him a situation, but with little chance of success. If Coleridge were returned there would be more hope, for his friends & mine are quite distinct. he talked of many things when he sent for him up to London & may perhaps do them when he comes back. but meantime I know not how poor George is to shift. What you can do for him I do not see, unless you invent a third office, & so reclerkify him.

The Edithling was vaccinated because I believe the vaccine to be the mildest variety of the small pox, & think it will ultimately answer. [5]  you are a little prejudiced by Carlisle – who is very apt to be prejudiced himself. Of the children vaccinated here some have been inoculated, other exposed to the disease without effect. At any rate if it only secure the constitution for a given time that given time would make it very possible & very practicable to annihilate the small pox. I would rely more upon the belief which Jenner found in the country than upon his own authority in fact the thing was known in many other parts. [6]  Pooles brother [7]  was busied upon it & would have very likely had the start of Jenner, if he had not died. There is a great deal of vulgar knowledge in the world if philosophers would but look for it.

My Uncle will necessarily reside in Hereford city or shire if he comes to England, which he will not do if he can help it. If the army go over I shall thro him apply for a civil appointment to Lord Bute [8]  & to the Duke of Bedford. [9]  to both of whom he could well address himself, xxx knowing them well. Wynn also would do something for me. there are plenty of suitable offices such as inspector store keeper &c &c – & I have no objection to give his Majestys forces my services for the morning, for a xxx xxx {reasonable allotment} of pay, baugh & forage money & rations, & for the privilege of breathing Lisbon air & reading Portugueze in the evening. The probabilities against this are – that we shall send no troops to Portugal – & still more likely that some foolish & disgraceful peace will be patched up – for you must know I am very much in the humour for carrying on a war against the Bonapartes ad infinitum. but he wants to be acknowledged Imperator & our ministers want to get out of a scrape, & it must be confessed that we all want to get rid of a few taxes.

A week will finish my reviewing & send me back to history like a giant refreshed. Madoc, if the last notes do not miscarry on the road is off my hands. my mornings will therefore be given to Portugal or Portugueze Asia [10]  – & my evenings to the very important consideration of – additional ways & means for the year. I expect to do much before the fine weather comes round, & draws me & the dormice out together. My eyes are in tolerable order & have continued so unusually long so as to give me a hope that I shall get rid of the disease, & I am in as sound health of body & mind as x you could wish me to be.

Amadis has been eulogized by the British Critic [11]  – as the work is not original I am not ashamed of their praise, & its not being original accounts for it. translation excites nobodys envy.

There is in one class of diseases something very analogous to vegetation. they strike root, grow, ripen & seed – the variolous sorts blossom xxx the yellow fever is cryptogamic. I suppose this illustration cannot be new to any body else xxx xxx xxx, it is so very striking, but it came into my head as I was looking at the cow pock on the Edithlings arm which xxx is now overblown & has dropt off.

Has George I xxx had a legacy or not? how goes on the Capitaneus with his opus? – did I ever tell you that John Thelwall in a printed poem addresses the head of the office for overseeing returns of the poor – in blank verse – by the name of Arcadian Poole. which would no little annoy the {said Arcadian} in conversation. [12]  – Somebody has christened the young Roscius – Master Helisabad [13]  – presuming that the name has been vulgarized into Betty in process of time.

God bless you. many happy returns!



* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr/ at Mr Postlethwaites/ Harting/ near/ Petersfield/ Hampshire/ Single
Stamped [partial]: KESWICK
Postmark: E/ JAN 3/ 1805
Endorsement: RS./ Decr. 21./ 1804
MS: Huntington Library, RS 66
Note: Joseph Postlethwaite (dates unknown) was the father of Susannah Postlethwaite, who Rickman married in October 1805. BACK

[1] Southey’s poem Madoc, published in 1805. BACK

[2] Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), Scottish General with a long and varied military career. He was also MP for Lanark Burghs 1784–1790. After the controversial Convention of Cintra (1808), Moore was given the command of the British troops in the Iberian peninsula. He was fatally wounded at the Battle of Corunna. The Morning Chronicle reported on 20 December 1804: ‘Government, it is said, aware that the Emperor of FRANCE will endeavour to force Portugal into the War against this Country, has sent General MOORE, in a fast-sailing cutter, to enable them to judge how far any disposable force which we could send to the aid of our ally, might be adequate, with that of the country, to repel such attacks’. BACK

[3] Untraced. BACK

[4] Joseph Mawman (1763–1827): publisher (1804–1813) and joint-editor (1805–1807) of the Critical Review. Mawman wrote and published, in 1805, An Excursion to the Highlands of Scotland and the English Lakes. Mrs Coleridge may have talked with him while he was in Keswick. BACK

[5] Edith May had been inoculated against smallpox, using cowpox serum; a method popularised by Edward Jenner (1749–1823; DNB) in An Inquiry Into the Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ (1798). BACK

[6] The fact that dairymaids did not contract smallpox had long been known in the West Country rural population. BACK

[7] Richard Poole (1770–1798), the only brother of Thomas Poole to reach maturity, was educated for the medical profession. BACK

[8] John Stuart, 4th Earl of Bute (1744–1814; DNB). BACK

[9] John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766–1839; DNB): known as Lord John Russell until 1802, he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1806–1807. BACK

[10] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’ which he never completed. BACK

[11] Southey’s 1803 translation of Amadis of Gaul was reviewed in the British Critic, 24 (1804), 471–481. BACK

[12] Thelwall’s phrase for Tom Poole, implying that his rural location in Somerset was Arcadian, or idyllic, rather than a place of poverty, appears in ‘Lines written at Bridgewater, in Somersetshire’, in John Thelwall (1764–1834; DNB), Poems Chiefly Written in Retirement (Hereford, 1801), p. 131. BACK

[13] William Betty (1791–1874; DNB), the boy actor, termed ‘young Roscius’ after the Roman actor Quintus Roscius (c.126–62 BC), who caused a sensation when he made his Drury Lane debut in 1804. ‘Helisabad’ is a Latinate pun on ‘Elizabeth’, the full form of the colloquial name ‘Betty’, as well as the name of the hero’s companion in Amadis of Gaul, translated by Southey in 1803. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013