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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1115. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 27 October 1805 ⁠* 

October 27. 1805.

Dear Rickman

First I must congratulate you on the experiment.

The inclosed sheets contain Don Manuels journey to London. [1]  there is no date, because I have no almanac of 1802, & no means of ascertaining on what day the proclamation of peace took place. [2]  You can supply the dates, only letting xx it be as near the time of Governor Walls execution as may be. [3]  There is also a blank (page 9) for lack of a book of the roads. In that same page is a prosingish sort of passage, following the word dramatist to the end of the paragraph, which if you think of as I do, you will draw your pen across it. [4]  – The second importation whenever it arrives will let you more into the temper of the book. this is the mere stuffing, the necessary preliminary matter; & in this manner will all the journies be written which for the sake of verisimilitude & of correspondence of book to title page Don Manuel must take. – On revision I perceive an omission of country houses in these journals, something shall be said about them in speaking of the vicinity of London. [5] 

I have about three times as much more transcribed or in a state for transcription, but not in regular sequence. when about 100 of these pages in continuance are copied & have past under inspection I shall put them to press for the sake of gaining time & spurring myself. I calculate upon making 300 such. Artaxerxes will publish in what shape seemeth good unto him – & the most profitable will be the best. If it be desirable to extend it to two octavos, or three duodecimos, I can add some fifty or fourscore pages more. [6] 

I want no more secresy than just enough to create a little wonder & a little enquiry at first, – & this – you will see by the second batch the book will infallibly excite. – Let Duppa & Bedford see the papers – Bedford knows I have a secret, but does not yet know what it is. He will add something to my stores, & will visit certain conventicles which I want to describe. You will correct & amplify at pleasure – only remember that in some places where you may detect an awkward word or phrase, that it is a translation. I have aimed at this, but not so often as I could wish. There is no interleaving, because blank paper would swell the packet, & you can with little trouble insert national foolscap where needful.

Edinburgh is a magnificent city – too good for the villainous country in which it stands. I took with {me} no great liking for Scotland & have returnd with less, – above all with an utter abhorrence of Presbyterianism. Upon my soul I think even Danvers himself would have turned Episcopalian if he had heard as I did, a fellow talking broad Scotch to the Lord in a kirk built in the middle of Melrose Abbey [7]  – the Abbey itself being the most beautiful ruin in the whole xxxxx {Island}, & the Kirk such that no English pig would condescend to set foot in it.

The land of itch & oatmeal was truly called by Johnson a dolorous country.  [8]  Such a dismal people God keep me from ever again beholding. they look as if they never laughed. & so deplorably ugly are they, that on my conscience I think an act of parliament should be past to prevent intermarriages. Of the men of letters, with the exception of old Playfair, [9]  who I suspect has English blood in his veins – I think very little. I met Jeffrey the reviewer of Thalaba & Madoc [10]  even if my temper had been more irascible, the sight of a thing not above five feet two would have quieted me. In argument he was quick, conceited & as shallow as heart could wish. I could not be angry with an homunculus, [11]  & so we are very good friends.

Elmsley was a delightful companion, an easy temper, a quiet mind, playful or serious at proper seasons, a cool judgement, & a memory excellently stocked. The Scotchmen looked as little beside him in intellect as they did in body. I wish you knew him more, – he is a sound man, & the more you knew him the higher you would value him.

My busy season is come upon me – I am on the brink of reviewing & wish it were over. Such a cart load of books! but it is my last year, [12]  & I shall get thro it steadily.

God bless you



* Endorsement: RS./ 27 Octr. 1805
MS: Huntington Library, RS 80
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 405–406. BACK

[1] For Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella: Translated from the Spanish (1807). The account of the journey to London is given in Letters 4 and 5. BACK

[2] Don Manuel Espriella’s fictional visit to England occurred between April 1802 and September 1803. The Treaty of Amiens, which temporarily ended hostilities between France and Britain, came into force on 25 March 1802. The celebrations after the proclamation are described in Letter 8. BACK

[3] Joseph Wall (1737–1802; DNB) was a military officer in the African corps who, in 1778, became Lieutenant-governor of Senegambia. His brutality and maladministration culminated in the deaths by flogging of three African corps members, who were punished for mutiny. In 1784, after his return to England, Wall was arrested and charged with murder, but escaped abroad. In 1801 he gave himself up for trial, and having been found guilty was executed on 28 January 1802. Southey recounts these events, and Wall’s public hanging in London, in Letters from England, Letter 9. BACK

[4] In Letter 2 is a description of the interior of a Devon coaching inn, with a portrait of the ‘dramatist’ Shakespeare on the wall. BACK

[5] An English country house is described in Letter 14. BACK

[6] Letters from England was published in three volumes. BACK

[7] Melrose Abbey is a picturesque ruin located in the Scottish borders. It was founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks, and in the early seventeenth century a portion of the Abbey’s church (or kirk) was converted into a parish church for the surrounding town of Melrose. It was used until 1810 when a new church was erected in the town. The Abbey is close to Walter Scott’s then home, Ashestiel. BACK

[8] Samuel Johnson (1709–1784; DNB) described Scotland as ‘a most dolorous country!’ in James Boswell’s (1778–1822; DNB) Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson LL.D (London, 1785), p. 398. BACK

[9] John Playfair (1748–1819; DNB) was a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Edinburgh university, a geologist, builder of scientific institutions, founder member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and a man of letters. He published several works on mathematics and geology as well as writing reviews on scientific topics for the Edinburgh Review. BACK

[10] Jeffrey reviewed Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) in the Edinburgh Review, 1 (October 1802), 63–83, and Madoc (1805) in the Edinburgh Review, 7 (October 1805), 1–29. BACK

[11] Meaning a little or diminutive man; a mannikin. BACK

[12] Southey planned a return visit to Portugal but did not, in the event, travel. BACK

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August 2013