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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1074. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [started before and continued on] 11 June 1805 ⁠* 

Dear Rickman,

The Birth day is over, & I looked for a letter from you in the joy of your heart. it has not appeared – & so I will write to you in the sorrow of mine – for my eyes are out of order, & nothing so much oppresses my spirits as this grievance for nothing else renders me so perfectly helpless.

I have references to certain statutes which perhaps you can with little trouble verify for me at your leisure. – A statute made at Kilkenny, 3rd of Edward 2. AD. 1310 mentions the Shells of Cocoa-Nuts for drinking cups. [1]  – This implies more inter course with the East than is consistent with other facts. for Boccacio tells you of a parrots feather which was shown by a friar for one from the Angel Gabriels wing. [2]  & but cocoa shells are so bulky & so little worth that they seem odd articles to be imported into Ireland by the Frescobald Society at Florence. [3] 

The law against ravishment makes it felony to commit a rape upon a lay woman, & only a trespass upon a nun. 3 Edward 1. Cap. 13 & 33. the latter is omitted in the statute book. – This I copied from a magazine. Where is the omitted part to be found? [4]  – if the xxxx law be accurately stated it was designed to afford an excuse to the nuns for incontinence. – If at your leisure you can send me the authorities I shall be glad, – xx if you are over busy, as most likely you are, – xxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxx when you see xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxx perhaps {I will ask Wynn to} refer to the Statutes for me.

The papers which Turner spoke of must mean his new volume. [5]  At your leisure send it me with the Volume & odd numbers of the Beauties of England, [6]  & the Theatro-Critic of Feyjoo [7]  – indeed all of Feyjoo that you have. thin quartos in parchment & sore sufferers by the sea. I want both books, heterogeneous as they are for the same purpose. the one for D. Manuels journey, the other for his allusions. [8]  Much as I want other books I will not have them down in the hope that I may be ere long able to effect a removal. There is reason to hope that the best of Toms prizes have escaped, [9]  & if so he will be able to lend me 250£– to furnish a house. in that case I will remove in the Autumn. – I begin to grow impatient of the discomforts of an unsettled life xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, – the want of my own books, & of access to others becomes daily more & more grievous – & it is time to have done with procrastination. I am older in habits & in constitution than in years, – xxxxxxxxxxx & have enough in hand for a longer life than mine is likely to be. that I should ever be able better able or better willing to work than at present is not very probable, & I am now working to disadvantage, for want of materials at hand. In short my resolution is made up, & as soon as Tom remits me a bill of exchange I shall write to John May to look me out a house near Richmond as may be, & will remove to it in the winter. My expenses will be increased a clear hundred a year by this change – if need be I will rise two hours earlier & supply the additional charge, but I shall soon have a right to expect some little incomings from old labour, & also shall be in the way of becoming known to persons who may serve me hereafter, for my eye is fixed upon the Consulship at Lisbon, & what between my own friends & my Uncles, I think it an attainable object.

Since this letter was begun I have heard from Tom, stating that his prizes are safe – so that that danger is over, & I can calculate, as far as the main-spring is concerned, with tolerable certainty upon my own movements. He desires me to get him an introduction to Tobins brother, who is Admiral Cochranes Captain. [10]  Say this to Tobin for me when you see him. Tom thinks Capt T. could be of service to him. – I know not that whether this be the case, but if it be James Tobin I think will give him his good word. he is now in the Amelia frigate [11]  – still in the way of prize money, but his hopes of promotion destroyed by Cochranes arrival, for Sir Samuel Hood was his friend. [12] 

A Mr Allen, of high reputation at Edinburgh, who has been travelling with Lord Holland in a medical capacity, is busy upon Spanish history. [13]  This is likely enough to render much of my preliminary matter superfluous. My uncle speaks very highly of him, & as my acquaintance is bespoke by him & for him, I shall of course avoid trespassing upon his ground, & we shall I suppose agree to a line of partition like the kings of whom we are to treat. Lord H. has made a noble collection of Spanish books, & has offered me the use of them, – this will in all likelihood be of great advantage to me, & save me much expence of time in going backward & forward to the Museum, [14]  xxxx if those which I shall want should happen to be there. There is a Madeira Merchant now settled in Tavistock Square, a friend of my Uncles, on whom I am engaged to call, & from whom I am taught to expect much valuable information, as he has all his life lived among the Portugueze, & is a man of [MS torn] & research. You see these are additional motives for my removal.

If you have ever travelled between Salisbury & London tell me the stages & such hints of the country as may enable me to travel it on paper – simply what part is over the plain – if any, – what cultivated – what over heaths. Don Manuel cannot get on for want of such knowledge [15]  & of a book of the roads – & in this place there is no resource when I am at a loss for the commonest book, or the most trivial information. Do not forget the Election reports. [16] 

My Uncle tells me his shelves are filled with books for me if he could get them over, but they are not worth the duties, tho all would be of some use. Is not this a hard case! some few I can smuggle by way of Liverpool, & could also land them at Falmouth, – but to get them from Falmouth would be as difficult as from Lisbon. This damned tax will one day or other be repealed as insignificant & directly impeding literature. it is intolerably vexatious to pay for duty as much as the prime cost of the books.

Bedford works well. – he tells me Horace is likely to get a berth at the Museum. [17]  there is a fitness that he should – inasmuch as I can then get books at extra hours & sit by the fire to examine them.

How is Martin the Cat?

God bless you


June 11. 1805.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS./ 11 June, 1805
MS: Huntington Library, RS 75
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 325–328. BACK

[1] Southey had been reading Edward Ledwich (1738–1823), The Antiquities of Ireland. The 2d ed., with Additions and Corrections, to Which is Added a Collection of Miscellaneous Antiquities (1804), pp. 262–263. Southey reviewed this work in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 398–413. BACK

[2] See Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375), The Decameron, Sixth Day, Tenth Tale: ‘Friar Cipolla and a Feather of the Angel Gabriel’. BACK

[3] The Frescobald Society’s role is discussed in Ledwich, The Antiquities of Ireland, 2nd edn (Dublin, 1804), p. 262. BACK

[4] The statute is to be found in the publication of the Records Commission for which Rickman worked, Statutes of the Realm, I (1810), pp. 81, 87–88, 91–97. BACK

[5] A reference to the latest volume of Sharon Turner, History of the Anglo-Saxons, 4 vols (1799–1805). BACK

[6] The Beauties of England and Wales (1801–1818) was a series of lavishly-illustrated accounts of the historical features of Britain, produced by John Britton (1771–1857; DNB), an antiquary, with his friend Edward Wedlake Brayley (1773–1854; DNB). BACK

[7] Benito-Gerónimo Feyjoo y Montenegro (1676–1764), Teatro Critico (1726–1739). Southey owned an edition of this, as well as his Obras, or works (amounting to 37 volumes), listed in the sale catalogue of his library, nos 3297 and 3298. BACK

[8] Southey’s fictional traveller refers to ‘Feyjoo’ in Letters 49 and 54 of Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella: Translated from the Spanish, 3 vols (London, 1807), II, p. 330 and III, p. 34. BACK

[9] It was customary for naval officers to be allotted a share of the value of ships and cargo captured in armed conflict. Southey was hopeful that the Spanish ships taken by HMS Amelia in December 1804 and brought into port in the West Indies had escaped being recaptured by the French fleet. BACK

[10] George Tobin (1768–1838), brother of Southey’s friend James Webbe Tobin, a naval officer and natural history artist who served on HMS Thetis under Admiral Sir Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane (1758–1832), in the Atlantic and Caribbean. He was promoted to captain in 1802. BACK

[11] HMS Amelia was a 38-gun Hébé-class frigate of the French navy captured in 1796 and commissioned into the navy. BACK

[12] Commodore (later Vice-Admiral) Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet (1762–1814; DNB), in command of the fleet in which Tom Southey served, before Cochrane superseded him. BACK

[13] John Allen (1771–1843), an Edinburgh trained doctor who accompanied Lord Holland on two trips to Iberia but never finished his projected history of Spain. BACK

[14] The British Museum. BACK

[15] Rickman’s description of the journey from Salisbury to London is included in Letters from England, Letters 4 and 5. BACK

[16] Southey was collecting material from election reports to include in Letter 48 of Letters from England. BACK

[17] The British Museum. BACK

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August 2013