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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

1849. Robert Southey to William Gifford, 4 January 1811 ⁠* 

My dear Sir

If you are not provided with a reviewal of Capt Pasleys book upon our Military Policy, will you entrust it to my hands for your next number, – & I will promise you an article in a right English spirit, [1]  – I should like also in the compass of about two pages to counteract the mischief which such a rascally x work as Lewis Goldsmiths is calculated, & as I believe designed to do, by its absurd & palpable falshoods. – [2] 

My history of Brazil is very favourably, very kindly, & very well reviewed. [3]  – With regard to the want of generalization, & of retrospective views this is a charge to which I have rendered myself liable by publishing the work in portions. The fit time for a retrospect is at the close of the Dutch war, [4]  – the fit place for generalization at the conclusion of the history. With regard to the words which are specified as unusual, in every instance except one I think they can be justified. coronet is a word appropriate to xxxxxx rank heraldry & rank, – a savage head-dress of feathers is not a coronet, nor am I do I know any word except coronal by which it can appro properly be called. I use tambour instead of drum, because drum represents to us a specific musical instrument in daily use, – altogether different from any among the savages. I use napery instead of napkins & table-cloths because it is a comprehensive word expressing both. Poitrals because exclusively appropriated to horse armour, – a breast-plate belonging to a man. The word Broad in the sense which I have used it, is in common use in Norfolk, & will I have no doubt be found in the maps of that country: it is that species of lake which is formed by a great river xxxxxx on its course, – differing from lake & from lagoon. & required for We must go to provincialisms when we want to designate natural objects with precision, – for upon in such things the dialect of the metropolis is necessarily deficient. Plumery I allow has no advantage over feathers except that I like it better in its place. – The cause of my misuse of the word Lutheranism is rightly guessed at – I fell into the obvious error from having the word Luteranos constantly before my eyes. – Araboutan is not as the reviewer thinks the native name of the country, which was too extensive & in too wild a state to have a general name, – but of the Brazil-tree.

If I understand my own manner of writing, the style always grows out of the subject. I have no other rule or system than that of always expressing myself 1. as perspicuously as possible. 2 as impressively as possible. 3 – as concisely as possible. Excuse me for having intruded upon you with this subject. & receive it as a proof of the attention with which I am at all willing to listen xx to criticism when it comes in a friendly tone.

Believe me my dear Sir

Yrs with true respect

Robert Southey

Keswick. Jany. 4. 1811.


* Address: To/ William Gifford Esqr/ James Street/ Buckingham Gate/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [illegible]
Seal [partial]: black wax, lower part of shield and motto
Watermark: Obscured by MS binding
MS: Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Eng. Lett. d. 215
Previously published: R. H. Cholmondeley, The Heber Letters, 1783–1832 (London, 1950), p. 238 [in part and misdated 14 Jan 1811]. BACK

[1] Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810). It was sent to Southey for review. His article was deemed by Gifford to be ‘perfectly incorrect and dangerous’ with the result that the version published in the Quarterly Review, 5 (May 1811), 403–457, was much altered by Croker, in consultation with Gifford and Murray; see Jonathan Cutmore, The Quarterly Review Archive. BACK

[2] Lewis Goldsmith (c. 1763/4–1846; DNB). His The Secret History of the Cabinet of Bonaparte (1810) argued that Britain could never make a secure peace with Napoleon. Goldsmith’s narrative combined accurate information with wild allegations, including atrocity stories and tales of sexual misconduct. It was a bestseller, going into 6 editions by 1811. BACK

[3] The first volume of the History of Brazil had been published by Longman in 1810. The remainder of this paragraph is a response to the appraisal (by Reginald Heber) published in the Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 454–474 (esp. 472; 474). Southey’s unusual words appeared at the following points in the History: ‘coronal’, p. 187; ‘tambour’, pp. 89, 121; ‘napery’, p. 381; ‘poitrals’, p. 122; ‘broads’, p. 133; ‘plumery’, pp. 116, 120, 140; Southey inadvertently referred to Dutch missionaries in Brazil as Lutherans rather than Calvinists on p. 567; the note on Araboutan as the Tupi word for the Brazil-nut tree is p. 626. BACK

[4] The end of the Dutch-Portuguese war in 1654. This was dealt with in volume 2 of the History of Brazil, published in 1817. BACK

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August 2013