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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1064. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [1 May 1805] ⁠* 

If my brother Tom were not in the West Indies the French or the Devil might go there without costing me a single oath, or a single uneasy thought. I hate the Planters & the Creoles, & have no love for the Sugar & Rum Merchants; and, moreover one good lesson is wanting to teach this country that as the main use of going to war is to be securely in peace at last, nothing can be so absurd as the restitution of the enemy’s strongholds, when once you have been at the trouble & expense of conquering them. Damnation – at what a price were the French islands purchased last war! thousands & thousands of fine fellows thrown overboard to the sharks, or buried to be dug up by the land crabs. And at what a waste of life have we kept this miserable squadron under Sir Samuel Hood [1]  paid to pick up prizes & send them into harbour – for the French fleet to come & take them out again. The Romans were the only people who ever went wisely to work. – I am very uncomfortable about poor Tom. it had been so long my inclination to see him an Admiral at last, that I don’t like any of these cursed interruptions which are so likely to put an end to his best prospects – & to him too. – He had just sent prizes into St Vincents which would have paid him 1000£, [2]  – & these of course are gone with everything else.

The grandest of all Parleurs has parleyed to some purpose for his own credit. but it is sickening to see how that knot of boobies called the Administration are going thro thick & thin to shelter an old rogue! [3]  My hope is that they {will} so irretrievably implicate themselves with him in the general odium as to damn themselves for ever & ever Amen. Oh Señor Juan Manrique [4]  there are a number of good heads in this island of ours – but there are also a number of great men who would be a great deal better if they {had} a little brains in their heads – or else no brains at all.

I am correcting Joan of Arc for a third edition – merely weeding out a thousand mean & miserable parts which provoke me when I see them. [5]  but this is trouble – & I have nothing but my trouble for my pains – the copy right having been sold – when I had no other means of getting bread to eat. However the book has paid me well in setting me up in the world – & I owe it this amends. – My quarto it is to be feared will not sell, because it is a quarto. [6]  I am got into a good humour with it since it has been published. Yet if I did not play the boy very often & the fool quite often enough, that poem would make me think I had grown old before my time. it is in so sober a tone of thought, & thoughtful feeling, – & its brightest parts have the colouring of an evening sunshine. – The best omen I have heard of its well-doing is that Martin Burney [7]  likes it.

You were quite mistaken about the Abergavenny. there was no misconduct whatever – except in the pilot for running her aground. I can positively & undeniably convince you of this. [8] 

Sir George Beaumont has sent me down a print of Coleridge  [9]  – which if it resembles any one has a distant likeness to Count Burnetski – having exactly his eyes & hair.

A Frenchman’s prize-essay on the Reformation has come here to be reviewed.  [10]  he has been schooled in Germany, & has written better than I thought a Frenchman would have written, or the French Institute have ventured to approve upon such a subject. These reviewals which have any bearing towards any historical subjects I like well enough, & regard them as a good way of getting at my own opinions, & bringing them into some order in a first sketch – & being paid for it. Villars has not fairly stated the evils of the Reformation – he forgets the death-stop which it put to the spread of Xtianity, which I regard as the greatest & best means of civilizing the savage world. I have also 1. a Life of Sir Walter Ralegh as the name is spelt [11]  – which ought to be cut down from two quartos as thin as myself, into an article for the Biog. Brit. [12]  2. Philips Present State of Peru, [13]  of which I knew the history before the book reached me. it is exactly such as a Present state of England would be made up in Peru from a stray volume of the Monthly Magazine, & a print of the Kings procession [MS torn] St Pauls after his recovery, or of the Lord Mayors Show. 3. Lindley’s narrative of his imprisonment at Bahia [14]  – not very much to the credit of xxmy friends the Port. but Mr Lindley should not go smuggling. – In my history [15]  I am coming to a splendid period – the great struggle with the Turks in India – at the siege of Dio, – one of the most extraordinary on record. [16]  D. Manuel gets on with his Letters [17]  – some of which are under transcription to be sent to you. If I be not very much deceived this will be the most profitable of all my labours – which it well may be & yet not be overpaid.

Ld Holland has, through my Uncle, offered me the use of his Library, which as he has laid in an excellent store of books in Spain would be of great xxx advantage to me, were I within reach of it. I am in want of sundry books, yet will not send for them for a while – waiting to see what may turn up with regard to Portugal & to my own destination.

I am xxx as much obliged to Carlisle for his Lecture as if I understood it, which I do sufficiently to see that he is going the right way to work. [18]  – does he or do you know that if any deformity happen to the human nails, it is perpetuated? – or am I reasoning from my own individual experience too generally – for I have the proof at my fingers end.

– The proofs are coming, [19]  & the pamphlet [20]  may be consigned to rest among my other books – as I have seen it. – there has been a smart earthquake in Staffordshire –  [21] 




* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS./ May 1st./ [ MS illegible]/ 1805
MS: Huntington Library, RS 72
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 319–322. BACK

[1] Commodore (later Vice-Admiral) Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet (1762–1814; DNB), in command of the fleet in which Thomas Southey served until he was superseded by Admiral Sir Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane (1758–1832) in 1805. BACK

[2] St Vincent was an island in the southern part of the Windward Islands of the West Indies. It had been ceded to the British by the French in 1763. In December 1804 HMS Amelia, of which Thomas Southey was a lieutenant, captured the Spanish brig Isabella and the ship Conception, both laden with wine and brandy, and the ship Commerce, laden with cotton. It was customary for naval officers to be allotted a share of the value of ships and cargo captured in armed conflict, but Southey was concerned that the arrival of the French Mediterranean Fleet in the West Indies, which had sailed from Toulon in March 1805, would mean the loss of the vessels. BACK

[3] The Speaker (‘Parleur’) of the House of Commons, Charles Abbott, had given his casting vote in the House of Commons in support of a motion of censure of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742–1811; DNB), Secretary of State for War 1794–1801 and First Lord of the Admiralty from 1804. During 1802–1805 Dundas’s misuse of public funds when Treasurer of the Admiralty (1782–1800) was being investigated by a Commission of Inquiry; its report led to the motion of censure. BACK

[4] Meaning ‘John Rickman’. BACK

[5] The third edition of Joan of Arc was published by Longmans in 1806. For the alterations to the poem, see Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), I. BACK

[6] Madoc (1805) was published in an expensive quarto format, costing 2 guineas. BACK

[7] Martin Burney (c. 1788–1853) was the son of Southey’s friend James Burney. He was afflicted with a paralysis of one side of his face, as Southey observed to Coleridge in letter 952 of this edition. Martin Burney became a barrister and a close friend of Charles Lamb and his sister. BACK

[8] After John Wordsworth (1772–1805), captain of the East Indiaman, the Earl of Abergavenny, went down with his ship on the Shambles rocks off Portland Bill, on 5 February 1805, rumours circulated blaming him for negligence. BACK

[9] Southey refers to William Say’s (1768–1834) 1805 mezzotint after James Northcote’s (1746–1831; DNB) portrait of Coleridge 1804. BACK

[10] Southey reviewed Charles François Dominique de Villers (1765–1815), An Essay on the Spirit and Influence of the Reformation of Luther, tr. B Lambert (dates unknown) (1805) in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 177–187. BACK

[11] Southey reviewed Arthur Cayley (1776–1848), The Life of Sir Walter Ralegh (1805) in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 477–483. BACK

[12] The Biographia Britannica (1st edn, 6 vols, 1747–1766; 2nd edn, 5 vols, 1778–1793). BACK

[13] Joseph Skinner (dates unknown), The Present State of Peru, Comprising its Geography, Topography, Natural History, Mineralogy, Commerce, the Customs and Manners of its Inhabitants; Embellished by ... Engravings of Costumes (1805) was published by Richard Phillips (1767–1840; DNB). Southey reviewed this work in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 49–60. BACK

[14] Southey reviewed Thomas Lindley (dates unknown), Narrative of a Voyage to Brazil; ... with General Sketches of the Country ..., and a Description of the City and Provinces of St. Salvadore and Porto Seguro (1805) in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 27–32. BACK

[15] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’, which was never completed. BACK

[16] The Siege of Diu in Gujurat, India (1538) occurred when a combined fleet of Turkey, Egypt, Venice, the Republic of Ragusa (now known as Dubrovnik) and the then Sultan of Gujarat, Mahmud Begada, attempted to capture the city, then held by the Portuguese. The attempt failed. BACK

[17] Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella: Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[18] Carlisle’s Croonian lecture ‘On Muscular Motion’, read to the Royal Society in November 1804 and published in its Philosophical Transactions for 1805, dealt with ‘the combination, by means of nerves, between animated and what may be deemed inanimate matter, as in the instances of bones, shells, teeth and other extravascular and insensible substances, which, when completed, are no longer alterable by the animal functions’. See Abstracts of the Papers Printed in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, from 1800 to 1830 Inclusive, Vol. I, 1800–1814 (London, 1832), p. 165. BACK

[19] Southey was in expectation of proofs from Grosvenor Charles Bedford of their jointly edited anthology, Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). BACK

[20] Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s pamphlet, A Letter to the Right Hon. William Pitt on his Political Experiments (1804). BACK

[21] On Sunday, April 20, 1805, ‘a great shock of an earthquake was felt at Alveton, and the places adjacent, about one o’clock in the morning. During the concussion several chimneys were thrown down, particularly in the hamlet of Prestwood, but the inhabitants received no injury’, William Pitt, A Topographical History of Staffordshire (Newcastle-under-Lyme, 1813), p. 228. BACK

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August 2013