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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

918. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 30 March 1804 ⁠* 

I have found an anecdote of Magalhaen [1]  – which I wish had been found soon enough for the Captains book or for my review, or for yours. [2]  Ca. 1510. Two spice ships, homeward bound, were wrecked on the shoals of Padua. the Captains took to the boats & in eight days reachd Cananor, or the Malabar coast. [3]  Magalhaens was on board, & would not go in the boats because his friend could not be taken in also. he therefore voluntarily remained with the wreck, & took the command & kept the men in good order till help came from Cananor. by which he gained great honour at the time. This is in Barros. Decada 2. Liv. 4. Cap. 1 at the end of the Chapter. [4]  Unluckily I have not the second & third books of Castanheda [5]  in any shape, – perhaps more particulars may exist there. The fact is of some value because what else the Portugueze record of his early life is little to his honour.

Your review is better than mine upon the whole. I have not sufficiently noticed the latter part of the volume, & have given xxx undue attention to the more prominent voyage of Magalhaens. Some particulars I found in Barros – & some in Harris’s Collection [6]  (written from Hakluyt [7] ) which the Captain had not noticed – & by the help of these – of an epigram by old Owen, [8]  & another by myself & a happy quotation the praise from of which nobody will ever give the author (one Car. Robotham, in some commendatory verses to Barrows Euclid [9]  –) I have made rather a mingle-mangle business – but it goes to a good tune.

Turner wrote to me – & complained heavily of Scotch criticism which he seems to feel too much. [10]  such things only provoke me to interject fool & booby, seasoned with the participle damnatory – but as for being vexd at a review! I should as soon be fevered by a flea bite. I sent him back a letter of encouragement & stimulant praise, for these rascals had so affected him as to slacken his industry. I look upon the invention of reviews to be the worst injury which literature has received since its revival. People formerly took up a book to learn from it, & with a feeling of respectful thankfulness to the man who had spent years in acquiring that knowledge which he communicates to them in a few hours. now they only look for faults – every body is a critic – that is every body reader imagines himself superior to the author, & reads his book that he may censure it, not that he may learn from improve by it.

Aitkin has made some blunders about Mr Malthus – so that William Taylor & I have both reviewed it [11]  – & one of us must lose our labour. I hope it may be my lot to be excluded – & in that case there will be a good skeleton for a pamphlet, or for one division of a little volume & if you will in good earnest lend a hand, we may in a few mornings effectually extinguish him.

You are in great account right about Coleridge. he is worse in body than you seem to believe, but the main cause lies in his own management of himself or rather want of management. his mind is in a perpetual St Vitus’s dance – eternal activity without action. at times he feels mortified that he should have done so little but this feeling never produces any exertion – I will begin tomorrow – he says – & then has he all his life long been letting today slip. He has had no calamities in life – & so contrives to be miserable about trifles, picking every pimple into a wound. poor fellow there is no one thing which gives me so much pain as the witnessing such a waste of unequalled powers. I knew one man resembling him [12]  – save only that with equal genius he was actually a vicious man – that is he was abandoned to vile appetites & to gambling. If that man had had common prudence he must have been the first man in the country from his natural & social advantages – (he would have been Sir C. Bunbury’s [13]  heir.) & as such we who knew him & loved him at school used to anticipate him. I learnt more from his conversation than any other man ever taught me – because the rain fell when the young plants were just germinating & wanted it most – & I learnt more morality by his example – than any thing else could have taught me, for I saw him wither away. he is dead & buried at the Cape of Good Hope, & has {left} behind him nothing to keep his memory alive. A few individuals only remember him with a sort of horror & affection, which just serve to make them melancholy whenever they think of him or mention his name. This will not be the case with Coleridge – the disjecta membra  [14]  would be found, were he now to die – but having so much to do, so many errors to weed out of the world which he is capable of eradicating– if he does xx die without doing his work! – it will half break my heart, & he will deserve a damnation by the parable to a heavy amount! for no human being has had x xxx more talents allotted. – Wordsworth will do better, & leave behind him a name unique in his way. he will rank among the very first poets, & probably possess a mass of merits superior to all except Shakespere. This is doing much – yet would he be a happier man if he did more, for he allows himself plenty of leisure to be a miserable hypochandriac. that love of the country which you talk bears to a rational enjoyment of natural beauties the same proportion that the love of Amadis [15]  does the good manly affection.

I am made very happy by a reinforcement of folios from Lisbon – & shall feel some reluctance in leaving them & breaking off work to go for London, to a more trifling employment. however if my history [16]  is to be considered as the capital laid by, the savings of industry; you would think me intitled to all the praise industry can merit were you to see the pile of papers. So soon as Madoc [17]  be off my hands I shall begin to reorganize them & make the first volume ready for the press. not that a line can be printed till the whole be completed, for I must go once more to Portugal to collect the last information; & my book would preclude all access to the archives by its anti-catholicism – & indeed by the whole principle that will pervade it. This is a pity for I love Portugal, & would willingly be naturalized there, if they would but mend their government, & make the country such as a lover of liberty civil & religious could adopt. All here as usual.

Vale!

RS.

Friday March 30. 1804.


Notes

* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS./ Mar. 30:/ 1804
MS: Huntington Library, RS 54
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 276–278 [in part]. BACK

[1] Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães/Fernando de Magallanes; c. 1480–1521): a Portuguese explorer, whose 1519–1522 expedition was the first to sail from the Atlantic into the Pacific Ocean and to cross the Pacific. BACK

[2] Southey reviewed Burney’s 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. A review of this work by John Rickman has not been traced. BACK

[3] On the south-western shore of India. BACK

[4] Joao de Barros (1496–1570) and Diogo de Couto (c. 1542–1616), Decadas da Asia dos Feitos, que os Portuguezes Fizeram na Conquista, e Descubrimento das Terras, e Mares do Oriente (1778–1788). Southey cites this work in his review of Burney’s Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean, in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 3–12 (8). BACK

[5] Fernao Lopes de Castanheda (c. 1500–1559), Historia do Discobrimento, e Conquista da India Pelos Portuguezes (1797). BACK

[6] Navigantium Atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca, Or, A Compleat Collection of Voyages and Travels (1705), collected by John Harris (c.1666–1719; DNB). Southey cites this work in his review of Burney’s Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean, in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 3–12 (7). BACK

[7] Richard Hakluyt (1552?–1616; DNB), The Principal Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoueries of the English Nation (1598–1600). BACK

[8] The Welsh writer, John Owen (c. 1563/4–1622?; DNB), is best known for his Latin epigrams, collected in his Epigrammata (1606–1613). His epigram on Sir Francis Drake (1540–1596; DNB): ‘Ambitio Draki nullo reticebitur aevo, / Ambivit Terras per mare Drakus Anas’, which translates as ‘the ambition of Drake will not be neglected in any age / Drake the duck orbited the world by sea’, is cited in Southey’s review of Burney’s Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean, in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 3–12 (11). The epigram puns on ‘ambivit’ (‘went round’) and ‘ambitio’ (‘ambition’; which literally means, ‘going around’). BACK

[9] Charles Robotham (1625/6–1700), a friend and fellow Cambridge student of Isaac Barrow (1630–1677; DNB). His laudatory verses ‘Ad amicissimum virum, I. B. De Euclidum contracto’ were prefaced to Barrow’s Euclidis Elementorum Libri xv Breviter Demonstrati (1659). Southey quoted these verses in his review of Burney’s Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean (see note 2). BACK

[10] The second part of Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799–1805) was reviewed by Francis Jeffrey as evincing ‘proof of a feeble mind, and a vitiated taste’ in the Edinburgh Review, 3 (1804), 360–374 (372). BACK

[11] Southey’s review of 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) appeared in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 292–301. BACK

[12] Charles John Bunbury, who was a friend of Southey’s at Westminster School, but their friendship did not last. In 1793, Bunbury tried to avoid Southey when the latter was visiting Cambridge. Southey, in turn, claimed that Bunbury’s ‘debauchery’ was the direct result of his public school education. Bunbury joined the army and died at the Cape of Good Hope. BACK

[13] Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury, 6th Baronet (1740–1821), MP for Suffolk (1761–1784 and 1790–1812) and friend of the Prince of Wales. BACK

[14] The Latin translates as ‘scattered fragments’. BACK

[15] Amadis, in the medieval romance translated by Southey in 1803 as Amadis of Gaul, is a paragon of faithful love of his childhood sweetheart Oriana and a great warrior. BACK

[16] Southey’s projected ‘History of Portugal’, which was never published. BACK

[17] The poem Madoc, which Southey had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication. It was published in 1805. BACK

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August 2013