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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

983. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 15 October 1804 ⁠* 

Monday Oct 15. 1804.

Dear Rickman

My silence has been longer than yours, – occasioned by that want of leisure which always is the consequence of loss of time. Fine weather & the wish of showing the country to my friends, & moreover the sad necessity of working the legs to keep the kidney quiet, have been so many motives for morning exercise. business of course accumulated for the evening, & letter writing as the least important has always been the most readily postponed. Duppa is now gone, & George I is gone, our only neighbours whom we care about go tomorrow also – I shall then shut myself up for the winter tho not like the bee to rest, or feed upon my summer gatherings, for alas my summer gatherings supply no winter store.

I have nothing but ill to communicate. that rascally brother has again left his ship or been turned out of it, & is again sharping about the country. I have made up my mind to the fitness of his being hung, & am therefore prepared to think any thing short of the gallows will be good luck for him. Of course I pay none of his alehouse debts, & give him up as utterly irreclaimable. The whole current of politics public & private is set in against me. A war with Spain will renew all the alarm at Lisbon & prevent me from taking a family there – & even if this blow over; I should think it more advisable for my Uncle to remove from the neighbourhood of that accursed yellow fever than for me to approach it. for to Lisbon it will get sooner or later, beyond a doubt. So that about going there I am quite at a stand. Meantime, as if the very Diabolus ipse [1]  had taken upon himself the management of my affairs, this excellently good house which we inhabit has been sold over our head to one White, [2]  a fellow all paunch, whom I compare to Bonaparte, as being the great belly-gerent & we must turn out at Whitsuntide. the World is all before me, as it was before Adam, [3]  & by the Lord I am almost as much unprepared for the occasion & as little furnished as Adam himself. However I must clap my shoulder to the wheel. Madoc will soon be done. 346 pages are printed. a month more will nearly carry it thro the press. [4]  My untouched regiment of authors must be killed off [5]  – I shall attack them immediately – & I have a plan for making a saleable book in the shape of translated Letters from a Spaniard in England [6]  meaning thereby to transmute certain of my opinions & some of my knowledge into chairs tables &c. hoping I should have said, for this is the philosophers stone in the pursuit of which some damned thing or other has always baffled me. – Bedford will never do my work in London. I was a fool for trusting him. could I have got at the books as he can two mornings might have done it. [7]  I thought to make him work but he is one of the incurables whose cases do not entitle them to a place in St Lukes. [8] 

Towards London I suppose we must move, & I shall make one great effort to gather together my books & be gathered to them. thirty miles will not be too far, ten not too near. but thirty better than ten, & it matters not in what direction. Kent or Hertfordshire or Surry the pleasantest counties, & your population calculation would induce a preference of the latter, downy counties favouring longevity, & I having much to do would willingly live as long as possible.

By all means take a wife, if only in abhorrence of Mr Malthus’s Essay, [9]  & if you do take one I bespeak a Godfathership for myself, having a liking for these conventional sorts of relationry which used in old times to mean something. Tis a fit thing in the present state {of the world } to propagate health & intellect. besides marriage doubles a mans enjoyment. home is not quite home without it, nor a house quite furnished without a wife.

The book concerning which the Captain enquires is not among my collection but his question shall be transmitted to Lisbon & I promise him an answer. [10]  Did I tell you that I had determined instead of compressing a sketch of the history of Monachism into certain episodical chapters, to give full & fair play to the subject in a seperate volume? [11]  probably to be the most am[MS torn] of the whole series. It does xx provoke me & at times dispirit me this work should be so perpetually interrupted by two-penny-half-a-penny jobs, in which the main consideration is – how many pages will this make.

George I is the better for his journey. We have discovered here a most odd & perfect resemblance to the profile of George 3 [12]  in the outline of a mountain called Causey Pike – the Peak forming his majestys nose. [13]  I mean to send a paragraph about it to the Whitehaven paper. [14]  xxxx a party of Gentlemen went up on purpose to christen it Georgris, omitting the main resemblance it bears to the royal head – in being almost as thick. what is become of George II ?

There are some lines of an old French Poem which I want for a note to Madoc. the poem is entitled Legend (if I mistake not – de Pierre Faifeu [15]  – of the name I am certain, & it forms one of eight little volumes standing in the room below. the extract I want is from P. 58. the whole of the 22 Chapter some 20 or 30 lines, which George [16]  may copy out for me, & you can inclose in the first frank. With a story from Niebuhr, a fact which I know of John Henderson & the Jewish Water of Jealousy it will form a good note of parallelisms. [17]  – You expect too much from this said poem of mine. It dissatisfies me. it has been too long in hand, & the patchwork of different years is but too visible. I do not find in it any of the merits you are disposed to look for. On the whole Thalaba is a far better poem, [18]  tho of a lower class.

God bless you. tell me when the days of franking return. we are all well – but the Edithling is so prematurely quick that I am by no means easy about her –




* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr/ St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ OCT 18/ 1804
Endorsement: RS./ 15 Octr./ 1804
MS: Huntington Library, RS 63
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 362–364. BACK

[1] The Latin translates as the ‘devil himself’. BACK

[2] Mr White (dates unknown), a local man who negotiated to buy Greta Hall from the builder and owner of the house, William Jackson. BACK

[3] ‘The World was all before them, where to choose’, Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 12, line 646. BACK

[4] Southey was correcting proofs of Madoc (1805) and still revising sections of the manuscript not yet sent to the printer. BACK

[5] Southey is referring to his reviewing work for the Annual Review. BACK

[6] The first reference to the project that was published in 1807 as Letters from England: by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish. BACK

[7] The project that Southey undertook with Bedford and published with Longman in 1807 as Specimens of the Later English Poets. BACK

[8] St Luke’s Workhouse on the corner of Shepherdess Walk and City Road, London. BACK

[9] Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB) called for ‘moral restraint’ – late marriage and sexual abstinence in order to control population increase – in 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). Southey’s review of Malthus appeared in The Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 292–301. BACK

[10] Rickman and Southey were finding books to help their mutual friend James Burney to continue his A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean ... Illustrated with Charts (1803–1817), the first part of which was reviewed by Southey in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 3–12. BACK

[11] Southey’s intended ‘History of Monachism’ was never written. BACK

[12] George III (1738–1820, King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[13] Causey Pike lies in the Newlands valley, south of Keswick and visible from Greta Hall. Seen from Derwentwater, it displays a prominent bump on the ridge line near the summit. BACK

[14] The Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser. BACK

[15] No. 2269 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library was Poètes Anciens Francais; Savoir, La Farce de M. Pierre Pathelin avec. son Testament – Fr. Villon, G. Cretin, Jean Marot, P. Facifeu, G. Coquillart, et Martial de Paris, dit d’Auvergne, 2 vols, (1723–1762). This set included Charles de Bourdigné, La Légende de Maistre Pierre Faifeu (1723). BACK

[16] Southey could be referring to George Fricker, George Burnett or George Dyer. BACK

[17] The extract from Faifeu, an extract from Carsten Niebuhr (1733–1815), Travels Through Arabia and other Countries in the East (1792), the story of the water of jealousy and the following anecdote about John Henderson (1757–1788; DNB) appear as a note to Madoc, Part 2, Book 20: ‘I remember an anecdote of John Henderson, which is characteristic of the man. The maid servant one evening, at a house where he was visiting, begged that she might be excused from bringing in the tea, for he was a conjuror, she said. When this was told him, he desired the Mistress would insist upon her coming in; this was done: he fixed his eye upon her, and after she had left the room said, take care of her; she is not honest. It was soon found that he had rightly understood the cause of her alarm’ (Robert Southey: Poetical Works, 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II, pp. 347–350; 588–590). BACK

[18] Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013