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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

894. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 8 February 1804 ⁠* 


Wednesday. Feby 8. 1804.

Our friend the Captain is in high luck. if we could but make Wm Taylor pilot him thro the Critical [1]  – he will have cleared all the bars most happily. your letter came too late to help me out with that wretched Malthus [2]  – & I regret it much. I wanted Coleridge to have written the whole reviewal, for it was more his call than mine – but in vain. he delayed me week after week, & at last sent me only a few notes which I have inserted, & which you may distinguish by a difference of texture. his language is more technically argumentative, & his sentences are rounded, whereas mine are pointed – & poisoned into the bargain. I have not said enough – having been hurried in consequence of his delay, but however the blow is a hard one. time was ‘that when the brains were out, the man would die’ [3]  – Malthus however is safe from that kind of death. the ground I have taken is this – that he supposes lust to be like hunger an appetite of physical necessity when he argues against Godwin, that when he proposes his own damned plan he founds it upon the possibility of moral restraint, & the practical virtue of chastity – ergo the scorpion strikes his tail into his own head – the end of his book confuting the beginning. that half his book is altogether superfluous – & that if his propositions respecting population be true they prove the very evils in society for which he apologizes – for if a country be overstocked before it be half peopled xxxxxx in proportion to its power of production, the fault lies in a bad system of society, not in the system of Nature. Mr Malthus therefore is cast in his action against God Almighty. I have shown also that the perfect system on his plan would be to breed slaves & regulate population by the knife of the sow-gelder. If he replies to any effect I will gibbet him in a pamphlet, & draw & quarter him, for I have something of the same sense of strength in me in reference to this dog that Milton must have had when he made minced meat of Salmasius. [4] 

What you say of Wm Taylor gives me much pleasure. he is one of the three great men of my acquaintance, & the more I know him & the longer I know him, the more do I admire his knowledge & love his moral character. To see him speculating by authority upon the taxes & Poole upon the Poor laws would give me hopes for the well doing of the country. but you purveying for the Doctor – makes me think the old fable is reversed & that the Lion waits upon the Jackal. [5] 

I have discovered (at least it is a discovery to me) a very extraordinary fact in ecclesiastical history – nothing less than a design in the Mendicant Orders to ape the Mohammedans – to set Jesus Christ on the shelf & set up Sts Francisco & Domingo [6]  in his stead. The facts on which this opinion is grounded have not to my knowledge been brought together. The scheme originated with the Franciscans & was perhaps chiefly ruined by the rivalry of the other shop. By the life of St Francisco (which I have written & should like to show you) it is certain that he set himself up avowedly as the living parallel & pattern of the Redeeming God. I have Franciscan authority that the Friars dropt the year of Christ at one time & dated from the infliction of the five wounds on their founder. Add to this the Evangelium Aternum [7]  which they brought forward to supersede the Gospels, & I think my assertion is made very probable. This Evang. At. I must if possible hunt out. & also the prophecies of the Abbot Joachim. [8]  these have both been prohibited & will therefore be difficultly attainable especially the former which was never printed, but the MSS. in refutation of it exists in the Museum. [9]  The Revelations of St Brigida [10]  (of Sweden not the Irish Saint who used to hang her clothes upon sunbeams to dry them) [11]  will probably throw some light upon this, & I have sent to Lisbon for them. [12]  This is very curious. their scheme must have been to have established such a system of priest government as the Jesuits effected in Paraguay. [13]  the unlucky vow of chastity prevented them from creating themselves into a cast, or else we might perhaps have had our Bramins in Europe. –

The parcel arrived to day uninjured, tho others which have come by the same conveyance with six fold the circumference of brown paper have suffered sorely. It was fortunate that the reviewal was delayed, as I am now enabled to prove what I could else have only hinted cautiously that his Lordship has fathered his own verses upon Camoens. [14] 

I am living in total seclusion, never seeing any person out of the family except the old carpenter. [15]  this might not do for ever, but indeed at present it seems to have sharpened my wits, perhaps from the uninterrupted exercise which they take – for except at meal times, & an after dinner nap I am always at my book or my pen, exercise of body being impossible in these incessant rains. The last week has been given to Madoc, & I have made a good weeks run. it is now settled that Longman is to print it (with prints for the love of an outlandish costume) at his cost, & I share the eventual profits. [16]  The poem will go to press early in the summer, & then {shall} I have performed my opus magnum, for such do I consider it, tho perhaps the History [17]  will be in your eyes the opus majus. When both are done I shall have a right to be lazy all the rest of my life – if so inclined. but in all probability the first curse will be upon me [18]  – if that can be called a curse which by the necessity of labour produces the enjoyment of its fruits.

Poor Tom has wild weather for his convoy! what are your speculations upon S Domingo? [19]  As for me I rejoice heartily at what is, & have good hopes of what will be. planters throats go for nothing in my calculation of humanity, especially if they be Creoles or Scotchmen.

God bless you.



* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS/ Feby 8: 1804
MS: Huntington Library, RS 51
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 350–352. BACK

[1] The Critical Review published a review of James Burney’s A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean ... Illustrated with Charts (Vol. 1, 1803), in February 1804, 121–130. BACK

[2] Southey reviewed Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the future improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803), in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 292–30. BACK

[3] Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 3, scene 4, line 78. BACK

[4] John Milton (1608–1674; DNB) attacked Claudius Salmasius [Claude Saumaise] (1588–1653) for his Defensio Regia pro Carolo I (1649), a defence of the monarchy provoked by the execution of Charles I (1600–1649; King of Great Britain, 1625–1649), in his Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio (1651). BACK

[5] In Aesop’s fable ‘The Lion’s Share’ the fox and jackal are forced to wait while the lion apportions the game they have divided into portions at his request. The Lion then allots them all to himself. BACK

[6] Credited with establishing Catholic mendicant orders, Saint Francis of Assisi (Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone; 1181/2–1226) was the founder of the Franciscan order, and Saint Dominic (Domingo Félix de Guzmán; 1170–1221) the founder of the Dominican order. BACK

[7] The Introductorium in Evangelium Aeternum (c. 1250) was written by Fra Gherardo of Borgo San Donnino (dates unknown), a Franciscan follower of the mystic Joachim di Fiore. The Franciscan Joachists wished to spiritualise their order: they argued that Joachim’s three books (Liber Concordiae Novi ac Veteris Testamenti, Expositio in Apocalipsim, and Psalterium Decem Cordarum) constituted the Eternal Gospel, replacing the Gospel of Christ, since the spiritual life had ebbed from the Old and New Testaments. The existing priesthood and Bible would be superseded and a kingdom of love would begin. BACK

[8] Joachim di Fiore (1132–1202): Cistercian abbot, mystic and interpreter of Biblical prophecy who argued that the world was approaching a third epoch (superseding the Old and New Testament epochs) – the epoch of the Eternal Gospel, the Kingdom of the Holy Spirit, when all would live in love, no longer needing law. BACK

[9] The British Library holds a manuscript containing the ‘Protocol of the commission of three cardinals held at Anagni, 8 July, 1255, resulting in the condemnation for heresy of the ‘Introductorius in Evangelium Aeternum’’ (shelfmark Royal 8 F XVI). BACK

[10] Birgitta Birgersdotter (1303–1373): Swedish saint whose visions of Jesus and a blonde Virgin Mary were influenced by the Franciscans and published as Revelationes Coelestes. BACK

[11] Saint Brigid of Kildare (c. 451–525): Irish nun and founder of a convent who, according to tradition, hung her wet mantle on a sunbeam when entering her house to welcome Saint Brendan of Birr (died c. 573). BACK

[12] Southey’s copy of Revelationes Celestes … Beate Brigitte … de Regno Suecie (1517) was no. 2395 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[13] Southey’s interest in the Jesuit Reductions (the village colonies in which the Jesuits governed the Indians) culminated in Sara Coleridge translating An Account of the Abipones, an Equestrian People of Paraguay. Translated from the Latin of Martin Dobrizhoffer, Eighteen Years a Missionary in that Country (1821). Dobrizhoffer was a source for Southey’s poem A Tale of Paraguay (1825). BACK

[14] Southey reviewed Percy Clinton Sydney, 6th Viscount Strangford (1780–1855; DNB), Poems from the Portuguese of Luis de Camoens (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 569–577. BACK

[15] James Lawson (dates unknown). BACK

[16] The poem Madoc, which Southey had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication. It was published in 1805. BACK

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

[18] ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou [art], and unto dust shalt thou return’, Genesis 3: 19. BACK

[19] Having defeated French forces in November 1803, the black general and former slave Jean Jacques Dessalines (1758–1806) declared independence for the French colony of Saint-Domingue on 1 January 1804, renaming it Haiti. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013