Printer-friendly versionSend by email
The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

1745. Robert Southey to Humphrey Senhouse, 10 February 1810 ⁠* 

Dear Senhouse

Your Note has been consigned to Mrs Coleridge as Receiver General for her husband in this District. The obscurity of the Friend appears to me to arise from a want of arrangement rather than from any other cause. [1]  Coleridge loves talking, – it is his disease, he has literally a diabetes of the tongue. He multiplies words in conversation for the mere pleasure of articulating them, & if he begins at Dan rambles on till he gets to Beersheba. [2]  This rambling manner has now extended itself to his style of writing. Let him start what subject he will he loses sight of it, & like a young dog which has not yet been broke in, runs after every thing. Instead of going straight as an arrow to the mark, he turns & winds & doubles, nosing his way, & changing the scent for whatever comes in his track. Just as it was with Burke, [3]  he is continually evolving the causes of things & involving their consequences, so that like one in a maze you neither see how you got in, nor how you are to get out. This it was which made Burke so inefficient a writer & speaker with all his mighty mind & surpassing eloquence. He never persuaded any body. Many were the persons who sheltered themselves under his name, – but it was only when they wanted an excuse for abandoning their former party. Till Burke became an Anti-Jacobine no person ever pretended to be converted to any of his opinions.

I have said something of Robertson in a note to the Brazilian History pointing out two remarkable instances of his faithlessness. [4]  I have a very bad opinion of that Scotchman. When he was once asked to communicate an Essay to some Edinburgh Society (I forget what) his answer was that he never wrote anything for which he did not get copy-right. [5]  I believe that precisely upon the same system he never read anything which would not pay him for reading it, in the gross pound shilling & pence meaning of the phrase. Of the list of books which he has prefixed to that vile history of America one half have no reference to the work itself. [6]  And with respect to the prime documents for the subjects on which he wrote, I have proved that he either did not read them thro, or that he supprest some of their most important facts. I have read most of the books which he ought to have read, all that he did read, & a great many more, & I find him as deficient in all parts of his American history as Bernal Diaz [7]  proves him to be in the affairs of Mexico.

The conquest of Mexico appears to me the most splendid event that ever was atchieved, & Cortes [8]  the greatest of all military adventurers. Did you ever see his portrait as engraved by Vertue [9]  from Titian? [10]  It is prefixed to a translation of Solis’s turgid history, & is I think the very finest countenance I ever remember to have seen. [11]  It is the countenance of a man made to govern the world, & not less beautiful than it is majestic & commanding. – American history is very little known in England, & is indeed only to be learnt from the original authors. To think as Robertson did of including all America in one work was preposterous. The different parts have not the slightest connection with each other. Mexico is less connected with Brazil, & Peru with New England, than this country is with Russia. Hayti with the other Spanish Islands, Mexico, Peru, the Nuevo Reyno [12]  & Brazil all require seperate works of considerable extent, – & then the French & English colonies still remain. Neither my life or leisure will admit of my doing more in American history, than that part which relates to the Portugueze. The first volume [13]  will appear, I trust, early in the ensuing month, a most faithful, & sufficiently laborious work. It brings it own reward in the pleasure which it has given me.

The Edinburgh Annual Register is about half-printed. [14]  – The Columbiad [15]  in its present state has not reached me – It was to have been sent here for the Quarterly, & I know not why it[MS torn] arrived. Originally it was called the Vision of Columbus, & in that form [MS torn] have it. [16]  Barlow had not corrupted his taste by the study of Darwin [17]  xx when he began his career as a poet, & the poem in its first state, tho tedious because written in couplets & upon a wretched plan, yet bore marks of a vigorous mind. In the days of Jacobinism he published a book which fell under the law here in England, – it was one of the best written that appeared. [18]  Some years ago he was employed in a diplomatic capacity to settle some disputes between the United States & Algiers, [19]  & the main arguments by which he succeeded in persuading the Dey to a treaty were these, that America was not to be considered as a Christian Government, all religions being equally tolerated there & none established, – & that there were was a natural connection between the half moon of Algiers, & the thirteen stars of the United States. Th I heard this from Smith the American Envoy at Lisbon. [20] 

Our youngest got rather severely burnt two or three weeks ago by an explosion from the fire. These explosions are so frequent in the coal which we get here, & sometimes so violent, that it would not surprize me to hear of some serious accident from them. Excepting this, we have all been tolerably well this winter. My non-descript poem [21]  is just in the press, & I have begun another in a soberer strain upon Pelayo. [22] 

Edith & her sisters [23]  beg to be remembered to Mrs Senhouse. We meditate a journey to Durham in April, & have some expectation of seeing my sea-faring brother before that time.

Yrs truly

Robert Southey

Keswick. Feby 10. 1810.


* Address: To/ Humphrey Senhouse Junr Esqre/ Maryport
Seal: Red Wax, ‘S’ with motto ‘In Labore Quies’
MS: Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Robert Southey Papers A.S727
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Coleridge’s The Friend, published in 26 weekly instalments, 1 June 1809–15 March 1810. BACK

[2] From the furthest north to the southernmost part of the Kingdom of Israel, Judges, 20: 1. BACK

[3] Edmund Burke (1729/30–1797; DNB). Originally an opposition Whig, Burke became increasingly conservative and attempted to persuade his friends to follow him, as in his Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791). BACK

[4] The historian and Church of Scotland minister William Robertson (1721–1793; DNB), author of a History of America (1777). Southey owned an edition of 1788, no. 2456 in the sale catalogue of his library. Southey’s History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), I, pp. 639, 644, attacked Robertson for not realising that many forms of metal currency were used in pre-Columban America and for his silence about the Maya civilization in Yucatan. BACK

[5] Robertson was a staunch defender of copyright and also skilled at negotiating excellent terms for his writings. He received, for example, a record £3,500 for his The History of the Reign of Charles V (1769). BACK

[6] Robertson’s History of America (1777) was accompanied by copious references. BACK

[7] Bernal Diaz del Castillo (1492–1585), conquistador and author of an eyewitness account of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva Espana (1632), no. 3370 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[8] Hernán Cortés (1485–1547), conqueror of the Aztec empire. BACK

[9] The engraver and antiquary George Vertue (1684–1756; DNB). BACK

[10] The Italian painter Tiziano Vecelli (c. 1488/1490–1576). BACK

[11] The History of the Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. Done into English from the Original Spanish of Don Antonio de Solis (London, [1724]), Frontispiece; no. 721 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. It was a translation of Antonio de Solis y Ribandeneyra (1610–1686), Historia de la Conquista de Mexico (1684). BACK

[12] Modern Colombia and parts of Venezuela. BACK

[13] Of Southey’s History of Brazil, published in 1810. BACK

[14] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810). BACK

[15] Joel Barlow (1754–1812; DNB), The Columbiad (1807); Southey owned an edition of 1809, no. 114 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[16] Barlow’s The Vision of Columbus (1787). Southey’s copy was no. 114 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[17] Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802; DNB), whose poetry Southey actively disliked. BACK

[18] Barlow’s Advice to the Privileged Orders (1792–1795). In 1792, faced with the prospect of prosecution, Barlow moved from England to France. BACK

[19] Joel Barlow was United States consul at Algiers 1795–1797 and negotiated the Treaty of Tripoli (1796). Article 11 contained the words ‘the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion’. BACK

[20] William Loughton Smith (1758–1812), United States Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal 1797–1801. BACK

[21] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[22] An early version of what became Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). Pelayo [Pelagius] (d. 737; reigned 718–737) was the founder of the Kingdom of Asturias. He is credited with beginning the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013