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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

890. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [27 January 1804] ⁠* 

Dear Rickman

I trespass upon you & the Grand Parleur [1]  with the inclosed – thank Capt B. for his letter. the book quoted was the Transactions of the Missionary Society, containing their adventures subsequent to the voyage. it will grieve him to learn by that that Tongabatoo is rendered now [MS torn] a desert. the Friendly Islanders may be worth mending, & by what he says [MS torn] best of the breed – but it will be easier to make better than to [MS torn] them. [2]  however they should be kept as stock, & their children all educated. As for the Missionaries themselves they are mere boobies.

Is it not a discovery of mine that the old metrical Romances were not a whit more marvellous to their auditors than our novels to their readers? for all the miracles were supposed to be either naturally or preternaturally possible & such as were occurring. I am making, as occasion offers, a catalogue of wonderful wells & lakes, which are stated to be in existence in old books of natural history, to prove this, for magical fountains are the most common things in romances, next to them come gems – & you know what a science was made of their mystical virtues.

Have you seen that wretched Philosophers Life of Chaucer? [3]  there was never a worse book. My Gentleman spends sheet after sheet in analysing his poems – & not a word of analysis of the Astrolabe. no! that was hard, so he skipt & went on!

God bless you.

RS.

Friday


Notes

* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS/ End of Janry,/ 1804
MS: Huntington Library, RS 50
Unpublished.
Dating note: Dating from John Rickman’s endorsement. Southey dates the letter ‘Friday’: probably 27 January, which was a Friday in 1804. BACK

[1] Southey’s nickname for the Speaker of the House of Commons, Charles Abbott, who had the power to frank mail. As his secretary, Rickman used this facility on Southey’s behalf. BACK

[2] Southey had read about recent developments on the Pacific islands, including Tonga, the largest of the Friendly Isles, in the course of reviewing Transactions of the Missionary Society (1803) for the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 189–201. BACK

[3] Southey reviewed William Godwin, Life of Geoffrey Chaucer ... Including Memoirs of ... John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; with Sketches of the Manners, Opinions, Arts and Literature of England in the Fourteenth Century (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 462–473. BACK

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August 2013