LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to John Rickman, 18 May 1812

Vol. I Contents
Early Life: I
Early Life: II
Early Life: III
Early Life: IV
Early Life: V
Early Life: VI
Early Life: VII
Early Life: VIII
Early Life: IX
Early Life: X
Early Life: XI
Early Life: XII
Early Life: XIII
Early Life: XIV
Early Life: XV
Early Life: XVI
Early Life: XVII
Ch. I. 1791-93
Ch. II. 1794
Ch. III. 1794-95
Ch. IV. 1796
Ch. V. 1797
Vol. II Contents
Ch. VI. 1799-1800
Ch. VII. 1800-1801
Ch. VIII. 1801
Ch. IX. 1802-03
Ch. X. 1804
Ch. XI. 1804-1805
Vol. III Contents
Ch. XII. 1806
Ch. XIII. 1807
Ch. XIV. 1808
Ch. XV. 1809
Ch. XVI. 1810-1811
Ch. XVII. 1812
Vol. IV Contents
Ch. XVIII. 1813
Ch. XIX. 1814-1815
Ch. XX. 1815-1816
Ch. XXI. 1816
Ch. XXII. 1817
Ch. XXIII. 1818
Ch. XXIV. 1818-1819
Vol. IV Appendix
Vol. V Contents
Ch. XXV. 1820-1821
Ch. XXVI. 1821
Ch. XXVII. 1822-1823
Ch. XXVIII. 1824-1825
Ch. XXIX. 1825-1826
Ch. XXX. 1826-1827
Ch. XXXI. 1827-1828
Vol. V Appendix
Vol. VI Contents
Ch. XXXII. 1829
Ch. XXXIII. 1830
Ch. XXXIV. 1830-1831
Ch. XXXV. 1832-1834
Ch. XXXVI. 1834-1836
Ch. XXXVII. 1836-1837
Ch. XXXVIII. 1837-1843
Vol. VI Appendix
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“May 18. 1812.
“My dear Rickman,

“The fate of poor Perceval has made me quite unhappy ever since I heard of it, not merely from the shock and the private misery which it is quite impossible to put out of mind, but from the whole train of evils to which this is but the beginning. I would fain have believed the report that Mr. Abbott was to take his place in the House of Commons, because, if he could have found tongue, I knew where whatever else might have been wanting was to be found. But it was not likely that he should quit a better situation for one of so much anxiety and labour. W—— and C——, I doubt not, ratted upon the Catholic question because they expected the Prince upon that ground would eject Perceval, and then they should have a better chance than the Early Friends. If they come in, as I fear they will, we may have the war carried on, but we shall have Catholic concessions, after which the Church property is not worth seven years’ purchase; they will sell
the tithes; and the next step will be to put up the Establishment to sale in the way of contracts; the minds of the people (which, God knows, need no further poison) will then be totally unsettled, and the ship will part from her last cable on a lee shore in the height of the storm. At this moment the army is the single plank between us and destruction; and I believe the only thing doubtful is whether we shall have a military despotism before we go through the horrors of a bellum servile, or after it. This I am certain of, that nothing but an immediate suspension of the liberty of debate and the liberty of the press can preserve us. Were I minister, I would instantly suspend the Habeas Corpus, and have every Jacobin journalist confined, so that it should not be possible for them to continue their treasonable vocation. There they should stay till it would be safe to let them out, which it might be in some seven years. I would clear the gallery whenever one of the agitators rose to speak, and if the speech were printed, I would teach him that his privilege of attempting to excite rebellion did not extend beyond the walls of Parliament; that he might talk treason to those walls as long as he pleased, but that if he printed treason he was then answerable to the vengeance of his country. I did not forget* the main question about reading. One

* “What shall I say of the unhappy event which has happened here? I expected Mr. Perceval to be murdered; but I had expected it from the Burdettites and others rendered infuriate by the poison they imbibe from sixteen newspapers, emulous in violence and mischief. In reading your little book about Lancaster, I do not find that you discuss the main question, whether the mob can be conveniently taught reading while the liberty of the press exists as at present. Every one who reads at all reads a Sunday newspaper, not the

Ætat. 38. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 343
mouth suffices for a dozen or a score pair of ears in the tap-rooms and pot-houses, where
Cobbett and Hunt are read as the evangelists of the populace. There is no way of securing the people against this sort of poison but by the old receipt of Mithridates,—dieting them from their childhood with antidotes, and making them as ready to die for their church and state as the Spaniards. We are beginning to attempt this when it is too late. A judicial fatuity seems to have been sent among us. Romanists, sectarians of every kind, your liberality men, and your philosophers of every kind and of every degree of folly and emptiness, are united for the blessed purpose of plucking up old principles by the roots, each for their own separate ends, but all sure of meeting with the same end if they are successful. We who see this danger have no power to prevent it, and they who have the power cannot be made to see it. . . . .

“This is a melancholy strain. We must, however, work the ship till it sinks; and a vigorous minister might take advantage of the feelings of the sound part of the country at the moment, and the avowal which the Burdettites have made for strong measures of prevention. . . . . I would give the poor gratuitous education in parochial schools,—a boon which all among them who care for their children would rightly estimate; and if the work of coercion kept pace with that of conciliation, we

Bible; and if any man before doubted the efficacy of that prescription, the behaviour of the mob upon Mr. P.’s death may teach them better knowledge.”—J. R. to R. S., May 16. 1812.

might hold on till our battle in Spain ended in the overthrow of the enemy. But where is the dictator who is to save the commonwealth?
Perceval had a character which was worth as much as his talents. The only statesman who has these advantages in any approaching degree is Lord Sidmouth, but he wants those abilities which in Perceval seemed always to grow according to the measure of the occasion. Yet he would be the best head of a ministry, for the weight which his good intentions would give him. Vansittart would do for Chancellor of Exchequer, if there were any other efficient minister in the Commons.

“I am going to write upon the French Revolution for the Quarterly Review,—a well-timed subject: the evil is, that it is writing to those readers who are in the main of the same way of thinking. Our contemporaries read, not in the hope of being instructed, but to have their own opinions flattered.

Yours truly,
R. S.”