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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1483. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [July 1808] ⁠* 

My dear Rickman

I very much wish you were here. You may have heard that there is an island which sometimes comes up in this Lake, [1]  & after which goes down again. Five years have I been expecting this appearance, & now, sure enough, it is above water. It may stay there for some weeks, & some times six or eight, – it may already have sunk. But Davy ought to put himself in the first mail coach, – & perhaps curiosity may induce you to expedite your journey for the sake of seeing the oddest thing you are ever likely to see.

How it is effected is for Davy to discover, but as much of the bottom of the Lake as is equal to the area of your house, has been forced up to the surface, in about several pieces; – & in other parts you can plainly see that there are rents in the bottom where parts have sunk in, for it is not in a deep part of the Lake. The gas which follows the immersion of a pole stinks. & over one part of the water a thin steam was plainly discernable when I was there. As no person xxx was present when it rose we cannot tell whether it was accompanied with any great agitation of the water, or any noise, – but the noise if any, cannot have been very great, or it would have been heard xxxx here. It is possible that the cause xx may have some connection with the sulphureous springs in the neighbourhood, – almost certain that it is the same which occasions our bottom winds.

Thank you for your explanation of fuste, which I believe to be the true one. – Azagay which you point out in Bizobequius [2]  &c is an African word, & means the true javelin, – those which were used in sport had a different name. My notes are drawing to a close, – I could have lengthened them to almost any extent, & am always tempted to make as many again as can be used, – this is the idlest of all kinds of industry, & the most amusing. You see I have traced our title of Commodore to its origin, [3]  if not to its meaning, & given a good guess at the uncouth word Pentes Laares which has puzzled the glossarists. [4]  The fact is that many Pagan superstitions prevailed till a very late age in Portugal, – some were prohibited so late as 1383, & I dare say some are to be found still in existence.

A Portugueze sermon has just helped me to a discovery which will amuse you. Who was the first man that doubled the Cape of Good Hope! – The prophet Jonah, – examine his track in the Whale & this proves to be the case: & you will observe that this magnifies the miracle prodigiously, for what a passage he had from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulph!

It appears from my books about Brazil that from 1620 or thereabout for many years the English made pertinacious & resolute attempts to establish themselves upon the River Amazon. – or more properly the River Orellana, as I mean to call it. These were just after the time of Purchas, [5]  & he poor fellow was too ill rewarded for his labours to find a successor. From the Portugueze account little more than this general fact be collected, they tell you of their own success, & now & then give you the name of an Englishman, which sometimes can be guessed at thro their orthography & sometimes not.

My friends the Spaniards & Port. are justifying the character which I have long given them, to the astonishment of those who heard me. Bonaparte will I suppose pour in upon them with his whole force, – so let him. You know how little respect I have for what is called the spirit of history, or the philosophy of history, by those people who want to have every thing given them in extracts & essences. – but the truth of the present history is that a great military despotism in its youth & full vigour like that of France will & must beat down corrupt establishments & worn-out governments, – but that it cannot beat down a true love of liberty & a true spirit of patriotism, – unless there be an overwhelming superiority of physical force, which is not the case here. Bonaparte has one benefit more to confer upon the Spaniards – to put both their King & their Prince out of the way, – which I doubt not he will do. His work of destruction is not quite completed, I hoped & expected to have seen him destroy the House of Austria & the Turkish Empire. two great evils which cumber the earth. He may perhaps turn upon these as an excuse for leaving Spain alone, – but in Spain the fire has broken burst out which will consume. – Well done my friend William Bryan the Prophet, you certainly did prophecy to me in St Stephen Court concerning Spain, [6]  as truly as Moore Francis Moore did in his Almanach last year concerning the Grand Turk. [7] 

Remember me to Mrs R. & come if it be possible before the Island goes home again.

God bless you



* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr./ St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Endorsements: July 1808; RS./ July 1808; Viaje del Mundo Magellainea Was the Man himself in the Strait —
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ JUL 27/ 1808
MS: Huntington Library, RS 131
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 154–156 [in part]. BACK

[1] Derwentwater. BACK

[2] A. C. Busbequius (1522–1592), Travels into Turkey Containing the Most Accurate Account of the Turks and Neighbouring Nations (London, 1744). BACK

[3] On p. 403 of his edition of the Chroncile of the Cid (London, 1808), Southey cites a passage giving an early derivation from medieval Catalan law, from Pere Tomich, Historias e conquestas dels excellentissims e Catholics Reys de Arago: e de lurs antecessors los Comtes de Barçelona (Barcelona, 1534), c. 32, ff. 24. BACK

[4] On p. 415 of his edition of the Cid, Southey notes the use of this term in fourteenth century Portugal and writes ‘Pentes Laares is probably a barbarous compound of the two words Penates and Lares. If it be remembered how many Roman superstitions were still in full use, it will not appear improbable that some family idols were preserved as amulets; .. or perhaps the corrupted Pagan names applied to some of those objects of Catholic idolatry which have supplied their place’. BACK

[5] Samuel Purchas (1575?-1626; DNB), compiler of voyage and travel narratives, published Purchas, his Pilgrimage; or, Relations of the World and the Religions observed in all Ages (1613) and Purchas, his Pilgrim. Microcosmus, or the histories of Man. Relating the wonders of his Generation, vanities in his Degeneration, Necessity of his Regeneration (1619). He is thought to have died in a debtor’s prison. BACK

[6] Southey had clearly met his old acquaintance the copperplate engraver and religious visionary William Bryan (dates unknown) at Rickman’s home in St Stephen’s Court, Westminster, perhaps when visiting in March 1808; Bryan was to send him an annotated copy of Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807), which included sections on Bryan’s visit to the Société des Illuminés d’Avignon, and on his subsequent relationship with the self-proclaimed prophet Richard Brothers (1757–1824; DNB). On Bryan and Southey see Robert Southey and Millenarianism: Documents Concerning the Prophetic Movements of the Romantic Era, ed. Tim Fulford. BACK

[7] Francis Moore (1657–1715; DNB), founder of Moore’s Almanac, in which the downfall of the Sultan Selim III was forecast. Selim (1761–July 1808) was assassinated. BACK

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August 2013