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

2079. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 16 April 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 16. 1812.

Heaved forbid that you should draw upon yourself the vexations of a printing establishment, which would involve you in more troubles without end, & for no adequate purpose, – scarcely indeed for any purpose! – It will be perfectly easy for you to tell the public all which you wish to tell them, in with perfect security for yourself, your printer & publisher, provided only that you bear in mind what the laws of libel are. [1]  With regard to individuals they give sufficient scope; all may be said of them that ought to be said. With regard to the state any thing may be said which does not bear evident intention of a wish to over throw it. – Above all that you have to beware of is that the vehemence of your manner do not belie your intentions.

There is no difference in the end at which you & I are aiming, but a good deal in the means. Earl Wellington is in his place, he is what Nature meant him to be, a soldier, – likely to do greater things than Marlborough; [2]  if he be not prevented by a cowardly faction in this country, he will beat down the power of France, & England & Spain will give the law to Europe. But as for establishing him on the throne of Portugal – Heaven forefend not that the thing should be done, – which is impossible, – but that you should wish it to be done. In the first place the Portugueze would not submit to a heretic, – & in the second there are better things in store for Portugal. By one of two possible events Portugal is in has at this time the prospect of being united with Spain, by the death of Ferdinand & his brother, [3]  or their contracting any alliance with France, (both sufficiently probable) – in which case the succession devolves upon the Princess of Brazil; [4]  – or if the tide of opinion should take a republican direction, & the whole peninsula form itself into a great federal commonwealth, – the form of polity which seems to be the best attainable in our present state. xxx This is far less likely than the former means; either of them would effect the union without any sacrifice of pride or privilege on the part of the weaker state.

For the mother country I feel nothing but hope, – for the colonies I see nothing but a long series of evils. My notions of colonial policy may very summarily be stated. It is as necessary for a flourishing country to send out colonies, as it is for a hive to send out swarms, but no modern Government has ever proceeded wisely in the business. With the Cape, & New Holland [5]  for instance I would proceed thus, – Govern yourselves & we will protect you as long as you need protection – when that is no longer necessary, we are remember that tho we are different countries, each independent, we are one people. Every Briton who sets foot among you shall instantly be entitled to all the privileges of a native, – every person born among you becomes as an Englishman when he lands in G Britain. Every country in which English was {is} the mother tongue shall be open to the every member of the Great English xxx xx race. – In fifty years America would petition to be received back into the family.

You rate the American Spaniards too highly. I have just gone thro Humboldts Mexico, [6]  – & I had before perused the Mercurio Peruano; [7]  – they have all the superstition, all the immorality of the European Spaniards, & some vices of their own to boot, which necessarily arise wherever there is a distinction of casts. In all the of most flourishing of the Spanish colonies there are three hostile parties, the Europeans & the Creoles who hate each other; – the Indians who hate both & outnumber both. In B Ayres the Europeans & the Indians are both so weak xxx xxx x little can it be apprehended from this to what they are in all other kingdoms & yet we see what barbarous bloodshed has taken place. [8]  Peru may be rebarbarized [9]  – made worse than it was under the Incas by the xx victory of the Indians, – Mexico may become the theatre of long and obstinate wars, [10]  – Miranda [11]  may introduce the French into Venezuela, each of these things is but too likely to take place. My language to the Amer Colonies would be – ask little from Spain in the mother Country at such a season as this, – to the mother country, grant every thing to the Colonies. In fact a reform at home insures reform abroad, & it is as cruel as it is unjust to in the Ame[MS torn] to x visit upon regenerate Spain the sins committed by the old Adam of her Government.

Did you ever see Cotton Mathers Hist: of New England? [12]  One of the oddest books I ever perused, but deeply interesting. A history of a country given in the succession of x Preachers instead of Princes. It was indeed a genuine Priest-archy – a word which for the very uncouthness of its mongrel shape fits the xxx subject the better. Half the Anglo Americans went {over} red hot from the meeting hou conventicle, – the other half flagrant from Bridewell, the Tertium quid [13]  has the roguery of the one side superinduced upon the hard vulgarity of the other.

– Once more – do not involve yourself with a press. Its cold-lead is more perilous than cold-iron. – I have am slow in my progress with Pelayo [14]  – only 200 lines since you the last portion. However I look on to the end of another book ere long. – Remember me to Mrs Landor

God bless you



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Bath.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 25
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 262–264. BACK

[1] Landor was presumably thinking of self-publishing his Commentary on Memoirs of Mr Fox, which was ostensibly a response to John Bernard Trotter’s (1775–1818; DNB) laudatory account of his erstwhile employer Charles James Fox (1749–1806; DNB). Although the Commentary had been printed by Murray, he eventually suppressed its publication, refusing to issue a book that attacked the Tory government and was dedicated to James Madison (1751–1836), President of the United States 1809–1817, with whom Britain was about to go to war. BACK

[2] The comparison is between Wellington and the British hero of the War of the Spanish Succcession (1701–1713), John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722; DNB). BACK

[3] Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808, 1813–1833). He had two brothers: Charles, Count of Molina (1788–1855) and Francisco, Duke of Cadiz (1794–1865). The three men were childless and prisoners in France. BACK

[4] Ferdinand VII’s eldest sister, Princess Charlotte (1775–1830), wife of John VI (1767–1826), Prince Regent of Portugal 1799–1816, King of Portugal 1816–1826. In Southey’s scenario their eldest son would become King of both Spain and Portugal, so uniting the two countries. BACK

[5] The Cape of Good Hope and Australia, both of which had substantial numbers of British settlers. BACK

[6] Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), Essai Politique sur le Royaume de la Nouvelle Espagne (1811), translated as Political History of New Spain (1811–1812), no. 1463 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] Mercurio Peruano (1790–1795), the first newspaper published in Peru. BACK

[8] Since the May Revolution of 1810, Argentina had been riven by internal conflicts between different regions; and between those who wished to maintain the link with Spain and those who wanted an independent state. BACK

[9] There had been fourteen uprisings by the native peoples of Peru in the eighteenth century, culminating in that of 1780–1782. BACK

[10] The Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821). BACK

[11] Sebastian Francisco de Miranda Ravelo y Rodriguez de Espinoza (1750–1816), Venezuelan revolutionary. He had served in the French revolutionary army in 1791–1792 and was a friend of the leading Girondins. In 1810–1812 he played a leading role in the struggle for Venezuelan independence before being captured by the Spanish. BACK

[12] Probably Cotton Mather (1663–1728), Magnalia Christi Americana, or the Ecclesiastical History of New England from 1620 to 1698 (1702); no. 1904 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[13] The ‘third thing’; a phrase associated with alchemy, referring to an unidentified element that combines with two known ones. BACK

[14] The early incarnation of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013