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479. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 17 January 1800 ⁠* 

Janry 17. 1800

Dr Beddoes’s lectures [1]  will probably commence about the middle of February, but the state of his wifes [2]  health may possibly prevent them. she is far advanced in pregnancy, & has just had pleuresy, from which she is now only recovering, & not yet safe. your own time will suit me – we are but in lodgings, it is true – but what of that? we can provide you a bed – & there will not be the slightest inconvenience in your sojourning with us.

I will work & in right willing earnest. we have in England something like Beguinages [3]  among the Moravians. [4]  there is an establishment of these sectaries at Bristol, of which it will not be difficult to obtain an accurate account. they do not marry by lot as in Germany, nor is the property of the whole community common, but the young women live together & work as in the Beguinages. formerly I have been among them, when I was quite a child, x worked muslins were fashionable, my father who was a linen draper was often employed to get xxxxxxx {them} worked, & xxxx as this was done by the Moravians I have sometimes accompanied my mother to their dwelling.

There is not much hope x from Hannah More & the vital Xtians. they would so clog the institution with chapels & chaplains as to pervert it into a Calvinistic Nunnery. the Dutchess of Devonshire [5]  would be a probable patroness & an able one. vain she is, but she has more sense than usually falls to the lot of a Dutchess, & I believe her a well-wisher to society. I have among my friends some of wealthy & extensive connections, who would effectually assist the first foundation. will not the chief difficulty be in making respectable an institution like a public charity? in the pride of that class of female whom it would immediately benefit? hence an objection perhaps insuperable, to any common form of dress, – & if they once dress ad libitum – I am afraid but few of their earnings will go to the booksellers. a library will form a very useful part of each establishment, & might perhaps be almost made from donations.

The influence of women in society would make an interesting chapter. among savages, as far as my reading reaches, they are universally despised. hence, nothing to humanize & soften. the Spartan females – like the men of Sparta, seem out of the limits of calculation, – with all their Helot-enormity [6]  I reverence the Spartans. the Athenians are not unlike the modern French – save that we see no Aristotle – no Zeno, no Aristides [7]  in France. French women seem to have something of Aspasia [8]  about them, certainly more sensual than our country women, they are withal more intellectual. Jardine [9]  whom I knew (the author of letters from Barbary Spain &c.) among his other whims had a quaint one for making cross breeds to improve the human species; so he married a Spaniard. but upon his theory I should think the best breed would be from a French mother & an English father. the state of women in the East, is to my judgement, the main cause why those countries are enslaved & stationary or rather retrogressive.

Polygamy enslaves necessarily & voluptualizes the women. so, except in perpetuating the race, they do no good in society – & one might doubt whether they do any good by that – for better is a wilderness than a Turkish province. in a harem vanity & envy will predominate, & each seeks the caresses of the husband to mortify the rest, & the whole of female education there is limited to instructions how to stimulate desire. the perpetual excitements of polygamy probably occasion at least half the libidinous habits attributed to climate. early debility is the consequence, & such men must be slaves.

In Arabia the women are not ashamed to shew their faces to a stranger – because they are not unchaste. polygamy is not common, & I believe the usual vice of the East, almost unknown. voluptuousness is not the characteristic of the Arabs – yet their climate is at least as hot as any part of Persia.

Popular superstitions cannot have occasioned the despotisms of the East. perhaps no religion is hostile to improvement (except the Hindoo –) but every religious establishment. a Mufti is no worse than an Archbishop – & certainly not so bad as the Pope. xxxxxxx Besides the religion of Mohammed [10]  is not in itself a barrier to science & civilization. look at Bagdat & at Cordova. In the system of Zoroaster I find much that is favourable to imagination, & little that is hostile to [six lines of MS missing] inculcated morality. Am I then right in referring the inferiority of the Orientals to polygamy as the chief cause? China is a paradox in every thing – one might as well draw an inference from the or an objection from the Man in the Moon, who by the by looks of the Chinese breed by his broad face & his no eyebrows.

I am materially better – yet I think a long journey & another climate will be materially beneficial to my health. I have ever been a temperate man, & since I first perceived my usual state of health declining, watchful of what affected me either well or otherwise. a visit to the Western island would involve many voyages – now at sea I am always emptying my bowels at the fore-door –, & loathe ship food too much to replenish them. I am I believe secure of an English passport to France – if I like to go – & if I can find a woman-companion for Edith, I will go. but it will not be well to leave her alone among foreigners while I make my rambles to the right & left of our halting places. I have a way open to procure the French passport, & what is more difficult, can settle my money matters so as to receive cash from Perigord [11]  the French banker, by purchasing an English debt which he has long been seeking means to pay. Edith & my Mother desire to be rememberd.

Yrs truly

Robert Southey.

Friday. 17 Jany. 1800


Notes

* Address: [partial] Rickman/ st Church/ Hampshire. B.
Stamped: [partial] BRIST
Endorsement: Jany 17. 1800
MS: Huntington Library, RS 4
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 217–219. BACK

[1] Beddoes gave regular lecture series in Bristol in the 1790s and early 1800s. His interest in popular medicine resulted in Hygëia; or, Essays Moral and Medical on the Causes Affecting the Personal State of Our Middling and Affluent Classes (1802). BACK

[2] Anna Beddoes had married Beddoes in 1794. This pregnancy ended badly. The Beddoes’s eldest surviving child (also called Anna) was born in 1801. BACK

[3] In the middle ages, communities of lay women, particularly popular in the Low Countries. In the 14th century they were often accused of heresy. BACK

[4] The Moravian Church, or Unity of the Brethren, derived from followers of the religious reformer Jan Hus (1372–1415) in central Europe in the 14th century. In the 1720s they experienced a huge revival, spreading out from their new settlement at Herrnhut in Germany, which emphasised communal living and missionary work. A group settled in Bristol in 1755. Southey was not quite correct in describing their traditions. Moravians sometimes took decisions ‘by lot’, but they did not determine marriages in this way. Nor did they hold all property in common. Single men and women did, however, live in separate communities, called Choirs for Single Brethren and Sisters. BACK

[5] Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757–1806; DNB), wife of the fifth Duke of Devonshire, Whig hostess and poet. BACK

[6] Sparta depended on the agricultural produce of the Helots, a group of unfree workers on the land. Southey had once planned, but did not execute, a story on the ‘oppressions exercised’ upon them; see Robert Southey to John May, 14 December 1798, Letter 360. BACK

[7] Zeno of Citium (334–262 BC), founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, which he taught at Athens from c. 300 BC; Aristides ‘the Just’ (530–468 BC), Athenian general and statesman. BACK

[8] Aspasia (470–400 BC) was the partner of the Athenian statesman Pericles (495–429 BC). In the 19th century it was assumed she was a courtesan; recent scholars are less sure of her status. BACK

[9] Alexander Jardine (d. 1799; DNB), author of Letters from Barbary, France, Spain, Portugal &c. (1788). Southey met Jardine in 1795–1796 when he was consul in Galicia. BACK

[10] Muhammad (570–632), Prophet of Islam. Baghdad in Mesoptomia and Cordoba in Spain were centres of Muslim civilization, especially in 9th–12th centuries. Zoroaster (11th/10th century BC), Prophet and founder of Zoroastrianism, the dominant religion in Persia until the Muslim conquest in the 7th century. BACK

[11] Unidentified. BACK

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August 2011