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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1588. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 23 February 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Wm Taylor

Can you let me see that book of Raymond Breton’s [1]  which is mentioned in Bolingbrokes Voyage P. 146.? [2]  – It will enable me to ascertain whether the Caribs are of the great Tupi [3]  family, as I am inclined to suppose they are, from their word for Priest, & from the maraca which their jugglers use fro thro the whole country from the Plata to the Orinoco, – whether farther north I know not. You are certainly wrong about the word Caraiba, – both Marcgraff [4]  in old times & Dobrizhoffer [5]  in our own explain it to mean the power of sorcery or of priesthood, – the inspiration which the Payes [6]  affected to possession. De Lery [7]  & Thevet [8]  use it as synonymous with Paye by mistake, the one knowing little of the language, the other nothing. You (for doubtless it is aut Diabolus aut [9]  William Taylor) have thrown more new & interesting speculation into Mr Bolingbrokes book than is to be found in any other book of travels. But in your defence of slavery, as in your defence of popery you weaken your own cause by xxxxinjudiciously slurring over its weak side. You had Stedman [10]  on your table, & yet scarcely hint at the horrors of slavery under a Dutch or a Jew master! You speak excellently of the end which their traffic has been destined to fulfill; – I thank you for what you have said, it is a more far seeing, a more philosophical view of the subject than any other person has ever taken, – perhaps than any other person is capable of taking. But when you call it vassallage you have kept out of sight the all the difference between the feudal & the commercial systems of society, between the love of glory & the love of gain, a country house, & a Barons hall. I could have written a good rev reviewal of this book, & would have written a very ample one; – & am sorry King Thomas did not send it me for that purpose.

Claim for me in your next articles for Sir Richards Portfolio that Ode to Indolence printed in Mr John Proctors [11]  name two or three months ago in his Magazine, [12]  – with alterations but not improvements. If the said Mr Proctor be dead, the case probably is that he had copied out the poem & altered it to his own fancy, & some of his friends finding it among his papers have supposed it to be his own. If he be alive I can only call him as the school boy did Guy Faux [13]  in his epigram xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx calidus, frigidus: – calidus a warm admirer of my verses, frigidus, a cool fellow for stealing them. You will see in the Annual that Sir Richard has inserted without leave, license or acknowledgement an old paper of mine from the Magazine, in Mr Whittinghams Travels in Spain. [14]  I am really sorry that this Sherriff in the past {tense} [15]  & Lord Mayor in the future-in-urbe xxxx should be for ever committing some little dirty two penny-half penny piece of roguery, when he is really so able & so useful a man, – & might have been so truly a respectable one.

Twenty sheets of my first volume are printed, & it will probably be published in June; [16]  – for I my second I am in want of the Jesuits Annual Letters from Paraguay. [17]  It is scarcely more difficult to get heretical books at Lisbon than it is to get Catholick ones in England except that sort of desperate trash which is of our own home manufacture. Hating Popery as I do ex intimo corde, [18]  I am yet a great admirer of the Jesuits, & there is no body of men to whom literature has been so much beholden. In fact all the monastic orders have in this respect done their duty. The most base & beggarly of them have done more as a body, than any or all our Universities. It should have been Buonapartes policy to have restored the Jesuits, – he should have done it for his immediate interest & for his future character. Thorough villain as he is he is not much worse than Constantine, [19]  & the praise of a grateful sect can yet do wonders in white washing a negro reputation.

Two things amused me in the last Monthly Review, – the sagacity with which the William-Taylorism of the book Demarary book are accounted for by Mr Bolingbrokes official situation, [20]  – & Mr Evans’s verses upon Madoc, [21]  – (not my Madoc but the Prince himself) – which are certainly made upon the most approved receipt for verse-making. I have seldom seen a worse reviewal than that of Bolingbroke: the writer must have wretchedly ignorant to extract the account of the Feast of Dead, – which is to be found in so very many books, (you are wrong in supposing it to be Mexican) – & he must have been perversely stupid to pass over without any notice the great & striking novelties which the book really contains. I do not mean in matter of fact, of which there is little enough, but in the its deductions & views.

Whether any thing concerning the affair of the D of York & Mrs Clarke [22]  is to be found in the Revelation I have not yet heard, but it is certainly one of the most important Signs of the Times. [23]  The people here are very ignorant, & revolution is prophecied by those who certainly have no wish to see their predictions verified. Wm Smith has done himself no credit in this investigation, & the House of Commons never appeared to less advantage than by the gross leaning towards the Duke which they have manifested throughout. [24] 

We have had a good deal of sickness in the house, but it is well over –

I hope to have Kehama finished early in the spring, & much to my satisfaction. [25]  The metre of my next poem is yet undecided: & this is the only point about it which requires farther consideration. I am full of great plans & God be thanked never was better disposed nor better able to go thro with them. – The Cid fell to W Scotts care in the Quarterly, [26]  to Turners in the Annual. [27] 

God bless you


R Southey.

Feby 23. 1809.



* Address: To/ Wm Taylor Junr Esqr/ Surry Street/ Norwich
Endorsement: Ansd 10 March
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4862
Previously published: John Warden Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, pp. 266–270. BACK

[1] Raymond Breton (b. 1609–1679), a French Dominican missionary to the Lesser Antilles islands, compiled a French-Carib and Carib-French dictionary (1665) and authored a manuscript narrative of the mission, Relatio Gestorum a primis Praedicatorum Missionariis in Insulis Americanis Ditionis Gallicae Praesertim apud Indos Indigenas quos Caribes Vulgo Dicunt ab Anno 1634 ad Annum 1643. Breton is cited by Bolingbrooke/Taylor as an authority on the Carib language (see note 2). BACK

[2] Henry Bolingbroke (1785–1855; DNB), A Voyage to the Demarary (1807). This work was revised by William Taylor and published as A Voyage to the Demarary, Containing a Statistical Account of the Settlements there and of those on the Essequebo, the Berbice and other Contiguous Rivers of Guyana, in 1809. BACK

[3] An Indian tribe of the Amazon. BACK

[4] Georg Marcgrave/Georg Marggraf (1610–1648), born in Saxony, went to Brazil in 1638 in the expedition of the Dutch led by John Maurice/Johan Maurits of Nassau (1604–1679). Marggraf’s papers on natural history were published, after his death, with editorial input from Joannes de Laet (1581–1649) as part of the work of the expedition’s physician Willem Piso/Willem Pies (1611–1678) in the Historia Naturalium Brasiliae (1648). BACK

[5] Martin Dobrizhoffer (1717–1791), Historia de Abiponibus, Equestri, Bellicosaque Paraquariæ (1784). Southey eventually owned a copy of this work, no. 843 in the sale catalogue of his library. It was translated by Sara Coleridge (with Southey’s encouragement), as An Account of the Abipones, an Equestrian People of Paraguay (1822). BACK

[6] The Payes, discussed by Southey in his History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), I, 188–256, were, he says, ‘at once quacks, jugglers and priests’ of the Indian nations (p. 227). BACK

[7] Jean de Léry (1536–1613), Histoire d’un Voyage fait en la Terre du Bresil (1578), was no. 1709 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[8] André Thevet (1502–1590), whose Les Singularitez de la France Antarctique (1557) purported to be a first-hand account of a French expedition to Brazil. BACK

[9] Meaning ‘either the Devil or’. BACK

[10] John Gabriel Stedman (1744–1797; DNB), Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1796). This work, illustrated by William Blake (1757–1827; DNB), depicted the cruelties inflicted on slaves by planters. BACK

[11] A person of this name was admitted to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1783. BACK

[12] Southey’s ‘To Indolence’ appeared in the Morning Post, 27 June 1799 and the Annual Anthology¸1 (Bristol, 1799), pp. 126–128; it was then reprinted as ‘An Ode, upon Indolence’, as the work of the ‘Rev. John Proctor, late of Trinity Hall, College, Cambridge’ in the Monthly Magazine, 26 (1808), 456–457. ‘Extracts from the Port-folio of a Man of Letters’, was a regular feature of the Monthly Magazine, compiled by Taylor for its publisher Richard Phillips. The following notice was inserted in the ‘Port-folio’ section of the Monthly, 28 (1809), 397: ‘The ode ascribed in your twentysixth volume, to the Rev. John Proctor, (p. 450,) is slightly varied from an ode of Mr. Robert Southey: it is a beautiful poem; was probably on that account transcribed by Mr. Proctor, and has been found among his papers by a friend, who mistook it for an original effusion’. BACK

[13] Guy/Guido Fawkes (1570–1606; DNB), gunpowder plotter who attempted to destroy king and parliament by fire. BACK

[14] In the Annual Review for 1808, 7 (1809), 56–57 appeared a review of a narrative republished by Phillips to take advantage of the new interest in Spain and Portugal caused by the war. The narrative was originally part of the third volume, 1803, of Phillips’s series A Collection of Modern and Contemporary Voyages and Travels, the Tour through Spain, and Part of Portugal; with Commercial, Statistical, and Geographical Details. It was repackaged as a stand-alone work in 1808, padded with matter from elsewhere, including, on pp. 230–235, an old contribution of Southey’s on Iberian literature in English from the Monthly Magazine, 1 (1796), 451–453 (see Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 3 July 1796, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 164). The review in the Annual points out the ‘dirty business’ of the plagiarism, although it does not identify ‘Whittingham’, George Downing Whittington (c. 1781–1807), whose name was used to advertise the book (although it does not appear on the title-page and it was a common practice of Phillips to tag a hack writer’s name to material derived from various sources). BACK

[15] Phillips served as a sheriff of London in 1807. He did not become Lord Mayor. BACK

[16] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[17] The Cartas Ánuas de la Provincia del Paraguay (or Annual Letters from the Province of Paraguay) were reports of the Jesuit missions in Paraguay (1607–1767). BACK

[18] ‘From the bottom of my heart’. BACK

[19] Constantine the Great (272–337), the emperor whose conquests founded a new Roman empire in the east. BACK

[20] See the review of the Voyage to Demerary in the Monthly Review, 57 (1809), 1–10. BACK

[21] The same number of the Monthly included, on pp. 20–29, a review of a poem by John Evans (1756–1846), The Bees, quoting some of Evans’s verse on Madoc the supposed colonist of America. BACK

[22] Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), Commander in Chief of the army. He held the post from 1798–1809, but was forced to resign in the wake of allegations that he had profited by allowing his mistress, Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB), to accept money from army officers, in return for which promotion was arranged. BACK

[23] A hit at the many millenarian interpreters of the Bible who, on the basis of the prophecies of Daniel and in Revelation, predicted the imminent end of the world. Southey discussed Richard Brothers (1757–1824; DNB) and Joanna Southcott (1750–1814; DNB) in letters 69 and 70 of Letters from England: by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella; Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[24] William Smith (1756–1835; DNB), dissenter and radical MP, was involved in the inquiry into the Duke’s conduct and argued he should not be retained as Commander in Chief. BACK

[25] The Curse of Kehama was published in 1810. BACK

[26] Southey’s The Chronicle of the Cid (1808) was reviewed by Scott in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 117–134. BACK

[27] Sharon Turner reviewed Southey’s Chronicle of the Cid (1808) in the Annual Review for 1808, 7 (1809), 91–99. BACK

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August 2013