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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

886. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 20 January 1804 ⁠* 

Friday. Jany 20. 1804.

It is curious enough that I should form a juster opinion of the Polynesians than Capt Burney who has been among them [1]  – but so it is – the Friendly Islanders are no friends of mine & if he will look at the Missionary Transactions [2]  they will lose his good word, for he will see that at Tongataboo [3]  they are not only cannibals but have an ugly trick of cutting up people alive to eat them. I well remember his mention of the sacred language & of the words which he took down from Omai’s mouth. [4]  he should by all means show them to Wilkins [5]  – whom I take to be a man of more true worth than Sir W Jones. [6]  it is also the case in the Friendly Islands as Sir Harry Englefield [7]  told me on Vancouvers [8]  authority, for Vancouver designed a second work upon the manners &c of their people. [9]  – I have met Haslam. [10]  he is too material a moralist & metaphysician like all surgeons for that practise does harden the heart & deaden the feelings. but he has a strong head. he told me that most Bedlamites were Methodists, & made mad by Methodism, a fact on which I have laid some stress in an article for the next Annual – the best by far that I have ever written – upon the History of Methodism. [11] 

Last week I was two days at Sir Wilfred Lawsons, [12]  & there laying hold of Astleys Collection of Voyages [13]  detected Alcaforado & found all my suspicions confirmed. [14]  Green (the compiler) [15]  suspected the authenticity, but was not enough versed in Portugueze literature to ascertain it – but luckily the original is in your keeping, & I will beg you to send it in the parcel. It is one of the small quartos, in parchment & in bad condition, lettered in the venerable way of the country at length – its title Epanaphoras Tragicas by Dom Francisco Manoel. [16]  It will turn out to be neither more nor less than a novel. [17]  I must have blundered in describing Camoens, well remembering that I brought it from Bedfords keeping to your house, when last in town. five volumes the common duodecimo size. light spotted binding, lettered but not gilt on the back. [18]  If you can find this I will still trouble you to send it with Mickles translation [19]  by coach, for as Lord Strangford (who has got an appointment which I should have liked) [20]  has been like Mickle, passing off his own verses for Camoens’s, [21]  it will give me a fair opportunity of lengthening my account with Longman on the Creditor side by giving each his due. If you cannot find this edition, there is one in three small volumes, [22]  in marble paper covers, (Dutch marble) but in that case it will be useless to send Mickle, as the critical Portugueze preface is not contained there, which will abridge all labour of hunting for interpolations thro a long poem – I have some remorse of conscience at troubling you.

Arthur Aikin writes me that 1200 of the Annual Review have sold, of 2000 which were printed, & that the demand continues unabated. he is in high spirits at its success, & wishes me to come near London – looking upon me I suppose as one of his staff officers – as in fact William Taylor & I constitute his main strength. it is clear enough that if, like him, I regarded pen-&-ink-manship solely as a trade I might soon give in an income of double the {present} amount, but I am looking forward to something better & will not be tempted from the pursuit in which I have so long so steadily persevered. You are right about xxxxx subscriptions [23]  – & I was right also – the bare shadow of an attempt will convince Danvers & the few others who advised & prest the mode, that it must be according to my constant opinion, ineffectual. I shall therefore content myself with sharing Longmans profit letting him incur all risque.

This vile reviewing still bird limes me. I do it slower than any thing else yawning over tiresome work, & parcel comes down after parcel, so that I have already twice whoopd – before I was out of the wood. yesterday Malthus received – I trust in Gods mercy – a mortal wound from my hand. [24]  today I am at the Asiatic Researches. [25]  Godwins Life of Chaucer is on the road to me. [26]  – by the by the Philosopher came in for a hard rap over xx the knuckles with Mr Malthus. These things keep me from better employment, but they whet the desire for it, & I shall return to my Portugueze society with doubled zest. [27] 

In the dark ages medicine was in the hand of the Jews. why was this? am I right in supposing it was because they travelled & brought with them the wisdom & experience – as well as folly – of the East? Xtians could not travel safely. but Hebrew like Arabic was a passport, for synagogue & mosque were everywhere. A decree of the Lateran Council [28]  that the sacrament should be first presented to the sick seems levelled against Jew physicians. another which forbade all unchristian remedies I interpret not against fornication, but against such remedies as human blood &c., a list of which will elucidate not the history of medical science, but the growth of superstition & the inevitable effects of ignorance.

Of what could the Malabar [29]  cannon be made – of 13 taken by the Portugueze four were of metal – were the rest leather – stone – or wood?

Have you read the Institutes of Menu translated by Sir W Jones? [30]  I should be very glad to see your corollaries from that book. Hindostan – indeed the whole of civilized Asia puzzles me, & provokes me that we should have so few documents to reason from. As far as their history can be unravelled from fable, nothing is discoverable but the war of sects, not of religions, & how so ridiculous a religion should have been so blended with astronomy, how allegory should put on so cursedly ugly a mask is a puzzle.

Coleridge is on his way to London, if indeed he be not there. Of Edward no news since my introductory letter. he is I suppose with his precious Aunt – & as I cannot check the chariot wheels of destiny, all I can do is to keep out of their way. Poor Tom is on his way to the West-Indies [31]  – damn the West-Indies. I have set him to make queries about the interior of Africa from the negroes – & to bring me home live land-crabs that I may have a breed of beauties here – & a live alligator for Carlisle remember me to him – to Lamb & Mary Lamb. I am well – but have an ominous dimness of sight at times which makes me think of Tobin. [32]  that would indeed be a sore visitation! but I will feed while the summer lasts – that my paws may be fat enough to last licking thro the dark winter – if it must come.




* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS/ Jan. 20./ 1804
MS: Huntington Library, RS 49
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 250–252 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey reviewed James Burney’s A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean ... Illustrated with Charts (1803), in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 3–12. BACK

[2] Southey had read about the first mission to the Pacific islands in the course of reviewing Transactions of the Missionary Society (1803) for the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 189–201. BACK

[3] Tonga, chief island of the archipelago, named, after the welcome accorded to Captain James Cook (1728–1779; DNB) in 1773, the Friendly Isles. BACK

[4] Burney had made a glossary of Polynesian words that he had collected from the Pacific Island traveller Mai (Omai) (c.1751–1780). Burney was a lieutenant on the ship that brought Mai to Britain in 1774, and in 1776 he accompanied Mai on his return journey. BACK

[5] Sir Charles Wilkins (bap. 1749–1836; DNB): linguist whose grammar and translations of Sanskrit pioneered study of the language in Europe. BACK

[6] Sir William Jones (1746–1794; DNB): orientalist and friend of Wilkins, whose studies of Persian and Sanskrit led him to suggest that European languages descended from India. BACK

[7] Henry Charles Englefield, 7th Baronet (c.1752–1822; DNB): antiquary and man of science. BACK

[8] George Vancouver (1757–1798; DNB): a midshipman on Captain Cook’s third voyage of discovery that returned Mai to Tahiti. In 1791–1795, Vancouver commanded an expedition to survey America’s northwest coast, wintering at Hawaii. BACK

[9] This work never appeared. Vancouver’s untimely death prevented his finishing even his first narrative, A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World, 1791–1795 (1798), which was completed by his brother, John Vancouver (bap. 1756–1829). BACK

[10] John Haslam (bap. 1764–1844; DNB): resident apothecary at Bethlem Hospital (‘Bedlam madhouse’), London, who published Illustrations of Madness: Exhibiting a Singular Case of Insanity, and a No Less Remarkable Difference in Medical Opinions (1810). BACK

[11] Southey reviewed William Myles (1756–1828), A Chronological History of the People called Methodists ... With an Appendix, Containing Two Lists of the Itinerant Preachers ... With the Last Will and Testament of the Rev. J. Wesley (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 201–213. BACK

[12] Wilfrid Lawson, 10th Baronet of Isell, Cumberland (c. 1764–1806). BACK

[13] A New General Collection of Voyages and Travels (1745–1747) was published by Thomas Astley (fl. 1728–1737). BACK

[14] Francisco Alcoforado, An Historical Relation of the First Discovery of the Isle of Madeira. Written Originally in Portugueze. Translated into French, and Now Made English (1675). BACK

[15] John Green (d. 1757) compiled the voyage narratives for Astley’s work. BACK

[16] A part of Dom Francisco Manuel de Mello (1608–1666), Epanaphoras de Varia Historia Portugueza... em Cinco Relaçoens de Sucessos Pertencentes a Este Reyno. Southey’s copy of this work, published in Lisbon, 1675, was included in the sale catalogue of his library as no. 3515. BACK

[17] Epanaphoras de Varia Historia Portugueza contains fictionalised history, relating legends of runaway English lovers found in Madeira, as well as naval disasters and the history of the restoration of Portuguese sovereignty in the state of Pernambuco. BACK

[18] Luis Vaz de Camoes (1524–1580), Obras, 5 vols (Lisbon, 1782), was no. 3185 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[19] Luis Vaz de Camoes, The Lusiad, or the Discovery of India, a Poem (1778), trans. William Julius Mickle (1734/5–1788) This work was no. 440 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[20] Percy Clinton Sydney Smythe, 6th Viscount Strangford (1780–1855; DNB), was appointed secretary of the British legation at Lisbon in 1802. BACK

[21] Southey reviewed Strangford’s Poems from the Portuguese of Luis de Camoens (1803), in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 569–577. BACK

[22] Possibly the three-volume Obras de Luiz de Camoens Principe dos Poetas Portuguezes, published in Lisbon, in 1772. BACK

[23] Here Southey is abandoning an earlier plan to publish Madoc (1805) by subscription. BACK

[24] Southey reviewed Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the future improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 292–301. BACK

[25] Southey reviewed Asiatic Researches; or Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal for Enquiring into the History and Antiquities, the Arts, Science and Literature of Asia, vol. III, in the Annual Review, 2 (1803), 898–908. BACK

[26] Southey reviewed William Godwin’s Chaucer ... Including Memoirs of ... John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; with Sketches of the Manners, Opinions, Arts and Literature of England in the Fourteenth Century (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 462–473. BACK

[27] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’, which he was working on but never completed. BACK

[28] One of the five ecumenical councils of the Roman Catholic Church held in the Lateran Palace in Rome. BACK

[29] A region of Southern India, which at this time was owned by the British East India Company. BACK

[30] William Jones , Institutes of Hindu Law, or, The Ordinances of Menu, according to the Gloss of Culluca (1796). BACK

[31] Southey’s brother Thomas served as a lieutenant in the fleet sent to transport troops to defend the Windward and Leeward islands against the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte. They were decimated by yellow fever. BACK

[32] James Tobin began to lose his eyesight in 1793–1794. BACK

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August 2013