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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to John Rickman, 22 March 1805

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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“Keswick, March 22. 1805.

“I never learnt the Memoria Technica, but if ever I have a son he shall. Where is the earliest mention of the mariner’s compass? I have no better reference than a chronological table at the end of a worn-out dictionary, which says, invented or improved by Gioia of Naples, A.D. 1302. Now, I have just found it mentioned in the Laws of Alonso the Wise, which Laws were begun a.d. 1251, and finished in seven years; and it is not mentioned as anything new, but made use of as an illustration. You can understand the Spanish:

“‘Assi como les marineros sequian en le nocte, escura por el aguja que les es mediamera entre la piedra e la estrella, e les muestra por lo vayar.’

* My father used to pride himself upon his title-pages, and upon his knowledge of typography in general; being, as one of his printers said, the only person he ever knew who could tell how a page would look before it was set up.


“I suspect that this implies a belief in some specific virtue in the north star, as if the magnetic influence flowed from it. This, however, is matter for more inquiry, and I will one day look into it in Raymond Lully and Albertus Magnus,—likely authors. The passage certainly carries the use of the needle half a century further back than the poor chronology; but whether I have made what antiquarians call a discovery, is more than I can tell. Robertson ought to have found it; for to write his Introduction to Charles V., without reading these Laws, is one of the thousand and one omissions for which he ought to be called rogue, as long as his volumes last.

“These Partidas, as they are called, are very amusing; I am about a quarter through them some way, as they fill three folios by help of a commentary. They are divided into seven parts, for about seven times seven such reasons as would have delighted Dr. Slop; and King Alfonzo has ingeniously settled the orthography of his name, by beginning each of the seven parts with one of the seven letters which compose it, in succession. His Majesty gives directions that no young princes should dip their fingers into the dish in an unmannerly way, so as to grease themselves; and expatiates on the advantages to be derived from reading and writing,—if they are able to learn those arts. He was himself an extraordinary man; too fond of study to be a good king in a barbarous age,—but therefore not only a more interesting character to posterity, but a more useful one in the long run.

“You will see in the Madociana a story, how
Ætat. 30. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 319
Alexander went down in a diving-bell to see what was going on among the fishes;—remarkable, because it is found in Spanish, German, and Welsh romances of the middle ages. I have since found a similar story of somebody else among the Malays, who certainly did not get it from Europe, or Alexander (Iscander) would have been their hero also. The number of good stories of all kinds which are common to the Orientals and Europeans, are more likely to have been brought home by peaceable travellers, than by the Crusaders. I suspect the Jew pedlars were the great go-betweens. They always went everywhere. All the world over you found Jew merchants and Jew physicians; wherever there is anything to be got, no danger deters a Jew from venturing. I myself saw two fellows at Evora, under the very nose of the Inquisition, who, if they had any noses, could not have mistaken their game. I knew the cut of their jibs at once; and, upon inquiring what they had for sale, was told—green spectacles. A History of the Jews since their dispersion, in the shape of a Chronological Bibliotheca, would be a very valuable work. I want an Academy established to bespeak such works, and reward them well, according to the diligence with which they shall be executed.

“The abuses, or main abuses, of printing, spring from one evil,—it almost immediately makes authorship a trade. Per-sheeting was in use as early as Martin Luther’s time, who mentions the price—a curious fact. The Reformation did one great mischief; in destroying the monastic orders, it deprived us of the only bodies of men who could not possibly
be injured by the change which literature had undergone. They could have no peculium; they laboured hard for amusement; the society had funds to spare for printing, and felt a pride in thus disposing of them for the reputation of their orders. We laugh at the ignorance of these orders, but the most worthless and most ignorant of them produced more work& of erudition than all the English and all the Scotch universities since the Reformation; and it is my firm belief, that a man will at this day find better society in a Benedictine monastery than be could at Cambridge; certainly better than he could at Oxford.

“You know I am no friend to Popery or to Monochism; but if the Irish Catholics are to be emancipated, I would let them found convents, only restricting them from taking the vows till after a certain age, as Catherine did in Russia; though perhaps it may be as well to encourage anything to diminish the true Patric-ian breed. The good would be, that they would get the country cultivated, and serve as good inns, and gradually civilise it. As the island unluckily is theirs, and there is no getting the Devil to remove it anywhere else, we had better employ the Pope to set it to rights.

“. . . . . William Taylor has forsaken the Critical, because it has fallen into the hands of ——, an orthodox, conceited, preferment-hunting, Cambridge fellow; such is the character he gives of him. My book will suffer by the change. The Annual is probably delayed by the insurrection among the printers. Authors
Ætat. 30. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 321
are the only journeymen who cannot combine,—too poor to hold out, and too useless to be bought in.

R. S.”