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Sullen Fires Across the Atlantic:
Essays in Transatlantic Romanticism

The Allure of the Same: Robert Southey's Welsh Indians
and the Rhetoric of Good Colonialism

Rebecca Cole Heinowitz, Bard College

  1. "[S]ince the period of the conquest. . . Western Europe has tried to assimilate the other, to do away with an exterior alterity." (Todorov 247)
  2. Much has been made over the last two decades of the power relationships that inhere in the opposition between selfhood and otherness, particularly within the context of British colonial expansion. Often overlooked, however, is the complex rhetoric of sameness that attended British imperialism in India, and more importantly, in Spanish America, during the early decades of the nineteenth century. The rhetoric of otherness was useful in justifying colonialism by the emphasis it placed on the necessity of improving allegedly benighted and savage peoples. The rhetoric of sameness, on the other hand, functioned to allay the anxieties of an era beset by the horrors of colonial mismanagement by stressing the naturalness and moral uprightness of imperialism. The most famous instance of such colonial mismanagement was that of Warren Hastings, Governor General of India, whom Edmund Burke condemned in no uncertain terms:

    He is never corrupt without he is cruel. He never dines without creating a famine. He feeds on the indigent, the decaying, the ruined. . . not like the generous eagle, who feeds upon a living, reluctant, equal prey: No, he is like the ravenous vulture, who feeds upon the dead. . . Mr. Hastings feasts in the dark alone; like a wild beast he groans in a corner over the dead and dying.(Trial of Warren Hastings 64)[1]
  3. In the most widely attended public trial of the period, Burke brought to light a staggering exegesis of Britain's colonial guilt. With deliberate awareness, Burke attempted to do for late eighteenth-century Britain what Bartolomé de Las Casas had done for Spain over two hundred years earlier: to exonerate his nation by exposing its violence and greed before the very leaders responsible for its colonial policy. Pleading his case before the court of Ferdinand and Isabella, Las Casas declaimed:

    Those who have gone over there . . . have had two principal methods for extirpating and razing from the face of the earth those miserable nations. The first was by way of unjust, cruel, bloody and tyrannical wars. The other . . . oppressing them with the hardest, harshest, and most horrible servitude under which men or beasts have ever been placed . . . The reason why so many have been destroyed and killed . . . is simply their ultimate end of obtaining gold and to glut themselves with riches in the fewest possible days, and to rise to very high states out of all proportion to their persons.(Las Casas 78-9)[2]
  4. In the impeachment proceedings against Hastings, Burke drew upon Las Casas's vocabulary in order to stress the dangerous parity he perceived between British India and Spanish America:

    Were we to be driven out of India this day, nothing would remain, to tell that it had been possessed, during the inglorious period of our dominion, by anything better than the ouran-outang or the tiger . . . My lords, the business of this day . . . is . . . whether millions of mankind shall be made miserable, or happy . . . We are to decide by this judgment . . . whether this Nation will convert the very offenses, which have thrown a transient shade upon its Government, into something that will reflect a permanent luster upon the honour, justice, and humanity of this Kingdom. (Burke 310, 383)
  5. Yet as was the case with the pious missionary, Las Casas, Burke, the conservative M.P. did not set himself against colonialism per se, but rather, against its corruption by unscrupulous fortune seekers. Burke defends colonialism—as he defends all of his beliefs—by reference to tradition. Because colonialism boasts an exalted pedigree tracing back to the empires of the classical world, it is therefore good.[3] But Burke's reference to the Spanish empire is complicated: Though he converts Warren Hastings into a unique aberration in the long line of good colonialists, a solitary straw man, the pervasiveness of Spanish colonial corruption suggests an intrinsic flaw in the moral structure of expansionism. The very language he uses to banish Hastings from the line of good colonialists, in short, exposes the atrocities of the traditional colonialism Burke would defend as the proper expression of the English constitution.[4]

  6. The shocking idea that enlightened Britain might present the mirror image of the Spain of the Inquisition flew in the face of two centuries of the Black Legend, that nearly ubiquitous notion that defined British expansionism as the antithesis of everything its Spanish precursor had been: gold-thirsty, inhuman, and hypocritical. Since the publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, British liberals had come to regard traditional colonialism, of the sort practiced by Spain, as counterproductive and unprofitable. Was not Spain's mercantile reliance on the extraction of bullion from its colonies directly responsible for its languishing industry, agriculture, trade, and wealth?  By contrast, Britain's policy of indirect rule in South America cost nothing to maintain or defend, and amply compensated the kingdom for the loss of trade privileges with North America. Indeed, as early as 1707, that forerunner of modern capitalism, Daniel Defoe, had plainly stated:

    We want not the domination of more countries than we have; we sufficiently possess a nation when we have an open and free trade to it . . . our trading to Old Spain has been a full trade to New Spain, a trade by which England has always drawn as much money from America as Old Spain itself. (Quoted in Liss 4-5)
  7. By the end of the eighteenth century, Britain had come to believe that "large-scale overseas settlement . . . could ultimately be only destructive to the metropolis." By contrast, British India "was to be a place not of settlement, but of exploitation." Because the Indian people were alleged to live "under the 'tutelage', rather than the rule" of Great Britain, they were  "likely to prove more cooperative and more productive" (Pagden 6-7).

  8. When Warren Hastings went on trial, the legitimacy of indirect rule as a benevolent commercial contract went on trial as well. Under the aegis of establishing a program of "harmonious exchange" with India and Bengal, Hastings had created a despotic and corrupt reign that undercut and destabilized native power structures and required the erection of a militaristic British colony to safeguard his rule (Pagden 10). Better would it have been, argued Burke, to have established a traditional colony in India, one pledged to improve the country in which it was founded, rather than to tacitly maintain a military-commercial colony with no civic responsibility beyond the aggrandizement of its rulers. Whereas it had been possible before the Hastings trial to imagine liberal commerce as the salvation from Spanish-style colonialism, now the old, protectionist imperialism emerged as a haven from the ravages of irresponsible British-style exploitation.

  9. While Spain still nominally held the reins of power in Spanish America, however, it was all too easy to frame incursions into the area by British capitalists as missions of political liberation. Black Legend rhetoric condemning the tyrannical Spanish incumbency counterbalanced the fact that Britain's economic rapacity was beginning to effect uncomfortable parallels with Spain. But so powerful was British commercial domination of Spanish America, both legal and illegal, that when Spain declared war against Britain in 1796, the British navy was able to sever communications between Spain and the New World (Williams 45). As with India, Britain's proudly vaunted "harmonious exchange," or free trade, with America ended neither with trade nor with freedom. British merchants financed, and British soldiers and seamen facilitated, the establishment of new Spanish American governments sympathetic to British interests. Intrigues involving the outright seizure of Spanish America were the order of the day. In the year before his death, Prime Minister Pitt schemed to take Spanish America, while Sir Popham, followed by General Auchmuty, Brigadier-General Craufurd, and General Whitelocke attempted to commandeer Buenos Aires and administer it as a British colony.[5]

  10. For Burke, the quintessential error of both Spanish colonialism in America and British colonialism in India was in observing too great a difference between the Euroimperial subject and the colonized native. This position was at once radically universalist and radically chauvinistic. In his writings on America and India, Burke's logic was that subjection to the British constitution—that repository of all human freedom and justice—was the highest form of independence a struggling nation could expect. Good British colonialism, then, offered the only meaningful freedom to a colony, a freedom guaranteed by the essential similitude of conqueror of and conquered. Thus, for Burke, the dominant feature of the North American colonists was their "fierce spirit of liberty," which, it happened, was their natural inheritance from the English character and constitution: "the people of the colonies are descendents of Englishmen. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles" (Burke 81). America was in revolt because the Americans were being denied their fundamental bond with the British, their rights as subjects under the British constitution. Burke rhetorically transformed the Americans into Britons in order to argue, not for their independence, but instead that their liberation was synonymous with their continued peaceful colonization. To wit, "the more ardently they love liberty, the more perfect will be their obedience" (Burke 129). Burke's arguments for humane government in India admitted of greater differences between colonizer and colonizer, yet the same principle of intimate mutual interest inhered.[6] In his defense of Fox's East India Bill, Burke asserted that good management in India was tantamount to the protection of British rights: "I am certain than every means effectual to preserve India from oppression is a guard to preserve the British constitution from its worst corruption" (Burke 289). For America and India alike, the principle maintained that the generous exercise of British empire guaranteed the rights and interests of both Britain and its colonies.

  11. In 1795, despite Burke's eloquence, Warren Hastings was acquitted. Burke's failure to expiate Britain's colonial guilt left an indelible mark on Romantic-era ideology. Poets such as Coleridge, Southey, Anna Letitia Barbauld, P. B. Shelley, and others would continue to challenge and develop Burke's fear of the new imperialism and his assertion that the recognition of the sameness of colonized and colonizer could bring about a form of good colonialism. Indeed, the ideological excess of Burke's colonial rhetoric laid the foundation for the curious blending of utopianism and guilty paralysis that has become synonymous with the Romantic character. It was under the influence of this Burkean amalgam of good colonial rhetoric and uncontainable colonial guilt that Robert Southey first imagined his American epic, Madoc, in 1789.[7]

  12. Madoc was born with Southey's drive to abandon what he perceived as a corrupted Europe. In 1793, Southey wrote, "the visions of futurity are dark and gloomy—and the only ray enlivening the scene beams on America" (Carnall 23). In a letter of 1794 to Horace Walpole Bedford, Southey elaborated his plan of escape:

    Calmly and firmly—after long deliberation I pronounce—I am going to America . . . Should the resolution of others fail, Coleridge and I will go together, and either find repose in an Indian wig-wam—or from an Indian tomohawk, but this is the last resource of disappointment and despair . . . .Horace would the state of society be happy where [labor] two hours a day at some useful employment, where all were equally [ . . . .] where the common ground was cultivated by common toil, and its produce laid in common granaries, where none were rich because none should be poor, where every motive for vice should be annihilated and every motive for virtue strengthened? . . . far removed from treachery corruption and slaughter [of the present European wars], I go with my brethren and friends to establish that system which can alone prevent such convulsions in the future. (Southey, New Letters v. I 70, 73).

    The Pantisocratic movement envisioned by Southey, Coleridge, and their circle held that the present unequal distribution of property was the principle cause of immorality in the world. By removing the cause of this evil in a society, based variously on the abolition of private property and on the equal division of shared property, immorality could be eradicated.[8]

  13. Southey never reached America. In his original plan for Madoc, however, Southey transposed his utopian vision of Pantisocracy onto the Inca society of Peru.[9] Southey conflated Prince Madoc of twelfth-century Wales with Manco Capac, the reigning Inca King during the invasion of Pizarro, thereby suggesting, somewhat anachronistically, that the Incas were originally Welsh. Southey explains:

    it is my intention ‹on› the basis of the isocratic  system to erect my Madoc— when Peru was discovered by Pizarro the whole country was divided into three parts. the King & the Priests had one each. the remaining part was the property of the nation—they cultivated it by their common toil—the produce was laid up in common storehouses—& enjoyed by all according to their respective wants. individual property thus annihilated—all motives for vice necessarily ceased. this system was established by Mango Capac. suppose the King & the Priests two wens of the state that sprung forth in after ages—make Mango Capac—Madoc & you see the main design of the poem. (Quoted in Pratt, "Pantisocratic" 34-9)[10]

    Despite this plan, the final published version of Madoc was set, not in Peru, but in Florida, and in a Florida identified as Mexican Aztlan, mythical homeland of the Aztecs, explicitly described in language borrowed from the Spanish chronicles of the discovery of Mexico.[11]

  14. In the 1805 version of Madoc, Southey drew upon the legend, then experiencing renewed popularity, that Prince Madoc discovered America in the year 1170, there to found a harmoniously integrated colony of Welsh Indians. Madoc and his followers were believed to have assimilated into Mexican life while preserving the Welsh language and religion. Hosts of European travelers from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, as well as the wave of Welsh settlers that arrived in America around 1666, bore this story out, attesting to encounters with Welsh-speaking Indians in the southern parts of North America and areas of the West Indies. These accounts were in turn used to argue that Britain's peacefully established claim to America predated Spain's by over 300 years. By contrast with the Black Legend, in Southey's retelling, Madoc and his people are not motivated by the desire for gain. Madoc and his followers, rather, are political exiles, fleeing the tyrannical reign of Madoc's brother, King David, who has been duped into marriage with an English princess as part of the Plantagenet strategy of Celtic conquest. Madoc arrives in America as anything but a conquering hero. On touching land, he is beseeched by the oppressed native Hoamen to free them from the Aztec warlords who demand human sacrifice from them. Madoc is drawn into war, but only, Southey insists, to protect the innocent Hoamen. After the expulsion of the Aztecs, the Hoamen found a new society with their Welsh protectors.

  15. The necessity of rewriting the Spanish conquest of America as a peaceful and benevolent British conquest could not have been more palpable.[12] Even while the lessons of the Hastings trial weighed heavily on the British conscience, Britain was accelerating its aggressive policy of indirect rule in Spanish America. Despite the power of the Burkean rhetoric of good colonialism, a sense of guilty implication lurked behind Britain's keen interest in the death throes of the Spanish empire.[13] Cautioning against the dangers of Britain's Spanish American speculation, one early nineteenth-century commentator had this to say about Spain:

    No sooner did they obtain wealth without labor, than unbridled passions began to predominate, and a love of immoderate enjoyments stamped the Nation with the horrible character of treachery and licentiousness. Woe to the people who obtain wealth without labor! (Quoted in Carnall 109-10) [14]

    Spain was the dominant European colonial power of the immediate past, Britain of the present and future. As such, Spain presented an object lesson about the pitfalls of imperialism. Other commentators recalled Volney's accounts of the ruins of Palmyra, and prophesied that Britain was  "doomed, a second Rome, to fall under the attack of the modern Franks" (Monthly Magazine 3-4). During this same period, Anna Barbauld's poem, Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, appeared, foretelling the decline of London into a primitive state as a result of imperialism and the insatiable expansion of trade.[15]

  16. By asserting that the natives of Aztlan had been British from 1170 onwards, Southey could legitimate modern British intervention in the area as having a reference point historically anterior to (and morally superior to) Spain's. To support this claim, Southey noted in the preface to Madoc: "Strong evidence has been adduced that [Madoc] reached America, and that his posterity exist there to this day, on the southern branches of the Missouri, retaining their complexion, their language, and, in some degree, their arts" (Southey, Madoc 8-9).[16] But Southey's portrayal of good colonialism exceeds its own rhetoric even more terrifically than Burke's. In the first place, the very existence of the Madoc legend depends upon violent colonial encounter. England's brutal and unjust invasion of Wales is the exact condition of possibility for Madoc's guiltless colonization of America. If Burke's "myth of imperial venerability" relied on the scapegoating of Warren Hastings as the repository of all colonial evils, then Southey outdid his predecessor in casting England itself as the villain whose abjection would ensure the goodness of Madoc's colonial mission (Suleri 45). And if Hastings's acquittal was preordained by a nation seduced by the nascent ideology of free trade, one could hardly expect the indictment of ancient England in the era that witnessed the birth of English nationalism. The contemporary reader of Madoc was thus caught between his or her allegiance to England as a colonial power and the growing awareness of the Celtic victims of English colonialism, thus forwarding the Romantic-era identification of the British subject with both colonizer and colonized.

  17. This contradictory double allegiance was at the center of Southey's depiction of the exploits of the Welsh Prince Madoc. The growth of Welsh nationalism, in which Madoc and other Welsh heroes were called upon to support the growth of a Welsh identity as separate from, and even opposed to a British identity, was concomitant with that of English nationalism in the late eighteenth century.[17] According to Gwyn Williams, "Madoc fever was part of a crisis of modernization of much of Welsh society in this period, and the dream of rediscovering the lost Welsh Indians had much in common with the desire to recreate Druidism or the patriarchal language" (G. Williams 569).[18] Welsh nationalism reached men such as Southey and Dr. Johnson via a strong cadre of Welsh intellectuals living in London, one of their most prominent members, the mythologist and cultural activist, Iolo Morganwyg, being the man who persuaded Southey to tackle the theme of Madoc. Welsh patriot-scholars now held themselves—and not the English—to be the continuators of the originary Britons; it was the Welsh Druids and Celts who had staved off Saxon, Norman, and Roman invasions until their defeat by the English. While, on the one hand, shared imperial endeavor abroad aided the formation of an authentically British governing elite, on the other, Britain was being riven apart by budding Celtic patriotism.[19] As such, the internecine warfare racking the house of Owen evoked for Madoc's British readers the conflicts erupting as the Celtic periphery struggled for greater independence from its English overlords. Southey's treatment of Madoc, thus, did not convey a neutral presumption of Welsh history as British history but rather, thanks to the success of the Romantic Celtic revival, the celebration of a radical Britishness that might indeed exclude England.[20]

  18. Even as Southey necessarily foregrounded the violence of conquest, he awkwardly strove to banish it from his poem by rejecting the trappings of epic in favor of those of sentimental literature (Southey, Madoc 9).[21] The 1794 version of Madoc openly rejects Aeneas as a heroic role model:

    Daring was he who on the wild waves first
    Launched his bold bark and to the inconstant wind
    Unfurld the sail—an iron-hearted man!
    So sang the Roman lyrist. But more firm
    Deem I that man who the unfrequented path
    Of Justice, firmly treads, unheeding he
    The contumelies of that misguided crowd
    That thronging in the beaten road of Error
    Scoff at the traveller of the unknown way. (Southey, Madoc 1794)

    After attributing such "justice" to their cause, Southey proceeded to cleanse his conquerors of their obligatory violence by portraying them as the victims of a cruelty that outstripped that which they would exert. By repeatedly identifying the Welsh-English conflict with the Hoaman-Aztec conflict, and then by melding the Welsh and the Hoamen into one race, Southey could ultimately present the conquest of the Aztecs as direct and natural retribution for the incursions of England upon Wales.

  19. This transposition from the Welsh stage to Aztlan depended first on the a priori sameness of the Hoamen and the Welsh. Upon encountering the Hoamen, Madoc aptly notes:

    . . . Fearless sure they were,
    And while they eyed us, grasped their spears, as if,
    Like Britain's injured but unconquered sons,
    They, too, had known how perilous it was
    To let a stranger, if he came in arms,
    Set foot upon their land. (Southey, Madoc 45-6)

    Then, as the Hoamen, discerning the good intentions of Madoc's men, proceed to kill a deer with which to feast their guests, they bring more honor upon themselves, even outdoing the Welsh with whom they are compared, and, like Burke's Indians, inverting the standard trope by which natives are to civilized Europeans what children are to adults:

    . . . the true shaft
    Scarce with the distant victim's blood had stained
    Its point, when instantly he dropped and died,
    Such deadly juice imbued it. Yet on this
    We made our meal unharmed; and I perceived
    The wisest leech, that ever in our world
    Culled herbs of hidden virtue, was to these
    A child in knowledge. (Southey, Madoc 46)

    Southey not only admits the Hoamen's similarity to the Welsh—and indeed, their superiority in certain arts, he also emplots an extensive set of parallels between his Hoaman and Welsh protagonists. The most significant of these parallels is that between Madoc and the Aztec leader, Malinal, who renounces his morally corrupt people to live among the Hoamen. Both Malinal and Madoc are conscientious exiles from their brothers' courts.[22] Both heroes, on quitting their native kingdoms, have taken up the righteous cause of the Hoamen. Madoc's proposal of marriage to Queen Erillyab:

    'Sister and Queen . . . here let us hold united reign
    O'er our united people; by one faith,
    One interest, bound, and closer to be linked
    By laws and language, and domestic ties,
    Till both become one race, for evermore
    Indissolubly knit' (Southey, Madoc 357)

    complements Malinal's betrothal to Madoc's sister, Goervyl. Madoc declares to Malinal:

    'True friend . . . And brother mine . . .
    . . . Goervyl hath my charge
    To quite thee for thy service with herself;
    That so thou mayest raise up seed to me
    Of mine own blood, who may inherit here
    The obedience of thy people and of mine.' (Southey, Madoc 323-4)

    In war as in love, Malinal functions as Madoc's double. While Madoc fights the Aztecs, Malinal drives the invaders from the Welsh-Hoaman village. As one assailant pursues Goervyl, Malinal valiantly "thrust[s] into his groin / The mortal sword of Madoc" (Southey, Madoc 314). And following their final defeat by Malinal, Southey notes significantly that the repulsed Aztecs retreat "as midnight thieves / Who find the master waking" (Southey, Madoc 308).

  20. The relationship between Malinal and Madoc not only argues for the sameness of colonizer and colonized, it helps articulate the necessary hybridity of both. Though hybridity theory is rarely brought to bear on Americanist texts by British authors of the Romantic era, the relationship between Malinal and Madoc, like that between the English colonist and Indian native in Rudyard Kipling's "Naboth," exemplifies "the hybridity of imagined communities" through the "emergence of the interstices—the overlap and displacement of difference" where cultures are restructured (Bhabha, Location 5, 2).[23] Indeed, Southey's choice of the name, Malinal, was no accident. In her treatment of the figure of La Malinche, Cortés's Aztec mistress and the translator who made possible the Spanish defeat of Aztlan, Sandra Cypess explains that the name, La Malinche, was formed by combining the Nahuatl birth name, Malinal, and its variant Malintzin, with Marina, the name given to La Malinche at her Christian baptism. As such, according to Cypess, the name La Malinche must be understood as a quintessential "syncretic, mestizo form" (Cypess 2). Being widely read in the Spanish chronicles of discovery, Southey was undoubtedly aware of both the debt the Spaniards owed to La Malinche/Malinal for their victory over the Aztecs, and of the fact that La Malinche's/Malinal's child by Cortés, Don Martín, "was considered the first mestizo, origin of the Mexican nation, the union of Amerindian and European" (Cypess 9).

  21. Southey's rewriting of La Malinche as the Aztec warrior and future husband of the Welsh Princess Goervyl restores honor to the much maligned, "traitorous" Malinche, just as the substitution of Prince Madoc for the barbarous Cortés resuscitates a righteous vision of colonialism. Together, these rewritings serve to replace the scene of desperate native betrayal by the Spanish with one of enlightened native collaboration with the British. By his identification with Malinal, Madoc too becomes a figure of hybridity, redeeming the ideal of cultural blending from the degraded regimes of Aztec and English oppression. Though in 1805, America may not yet have been completely deprived of its alterity, the process of creolization was well under way, and the white creole populations of Spanish America, with the help of British patronage, were on the eve of declaring independence. In Madoc, the rhetoric of which "shows an 'Indianisation' of Europe as the inevitable corollary of the 'Europeanisation' of America," one feels the adumbration of Spanish American independence, and of Southey's hope that Britain's continuing involvement be beneficent rather than mercenary (Mason 8).[24]

  22. Hartley and Godwin had provided Southey with the rationale for connecting self-interested affection with more capacious benevolence. According to Godwin, family affection represented personal love that, in a just and rational social order, blossomed into the love of one's nation, and from there, into the love of all peoples. Southey's envisioned bicultural merging between Welsh and Hoamen substitutes the consolidating turning-inward of familial affinity for the acquisitive turning-outward of imperial expansion. But when Madoc is drawn into tribal warfare on behalf of his new Hoamen relations, Southey's elaborate machinery for replacing conquest with reciprocal love reveals its fatal flaw. It is paradoxically by yielding himself too fully to his sympathy and identification with the Hoamen that Madoc ends by recapitulating the deeds of Cortés and annihilating the Aztec race. When a Hoaman boy "place[s] / The falchion in [Madoc's] hand, and g[ives] the shield, / And point[s] south and west, that [he] should go / To conquer and protect," Madoc works himself into a frenzy of sympathy that results in unreflecting violent retribution: "I shuddered, and my hand / Instinctively unsheathed the avenging sword" (Southey, Madoc 50, 54). Rather than providing a retreat from colonial violence, family love is marshaled to inspire and justify imperial punishment. Here, as elsewhere, Southey refused to differentiate between colonizer and colonized, designing instead "to elicit a sense of moral kinship with peoples of different customs and faiths" according to the belief that "self-transcendence, was the starting point for . . . human reformation" (Meachen 592). But while a belief in self-transcendence for the good of the group was seminal in Southey's disposition against violent conquest, it was precisely that impulse which involuntarily recapitulated the actions of the conqueror. Because "the justification of violence is developed in reaction to the dangers which threaten it," Madoc inadvertently foregrounds the violence it meant to suppress by its exaltation of the family (Meachen 605).

  23. The convenient identification with nature itself prevents this supplemental violence from destabilizing the precarious balance between aggressor and victim. Through a series of metonyms, Queen Erillyab is represented as the direct extension of Aztlan.[25] Madoc, as Erillyab's husband/brother, commands this relationship as well. As such, the final confrontation that determines the Aztecs' expulsion is resolved, not in a contest of arms, but in the combined natural disasters of a spontaneous volcanic eruption and flood which cause the retreating Aztecs to cry in dismay: "The Gods are leagued with them! . . . the Elements / Banded against us! For our overthrow / Were yonder mountain-springs of fire ordained; / For our destruction the earth-thunders loosed" (Southey, Madoc 383).[26]

  24. The naturalized Welsh-Hoaman defeat of the Aztecs redeems the Welsh defeat by their Catholic English conquerors and represents the symbolic triumph of good British colonialism over Catholic Spanish conquest. Medieval England's identification with Spain by way of their shared faith eases the strain of Southey's anti-English rhetoric. Madoc's verbal assault on the English troops occupying his homeland is indeed conspicuous more for its anti-Catholic stance than for any anti-English sentiment:

    . . . we received the law of Christ
    Many a long age before your pirate sires
    Had left their forest dens . . .
    . . . Ye think, perchance,
    That, like your own poor, woman-hearted King,
    We, too, in Gwyneth are to take the yoke
    Of Rome upon our necks; but you may tell
    Your Pope, that, when I sail upon the seas,
    I shall not strike so much as a topsail for the breath
    Of all his maledictions! (Southey, Madoc 126-7)

    The parallel between Catholicism and the Aztec religion that facilitates Madoc's defeat of the Aztecs is unmistakable in the following juxtaposition of scenes. In the first scene, Madoc discovers an English plot to exhume his father's bones and discard them "In some unhallowed pit, with foul disgrace / And contumelious wrong" (Southey, Madoc 128). Madoc succeeds in interrupting the "irreverent work" of their "polluted hands" and, turning the situation to advantage, forces the Catholic ministers to repackage King Owen's bones for transport to America (Southey, Madoc 130, 131). On American soil, Madoc performs a strikingly similar restitution of the defiled Hoaman patriarch. Coanocotzin, the Aztec King, has desecrated the Hoaman King Tepollomi's mummified corpse: "the dead Tepollomi / Stood up against the wall, by devilish art / Preserved; and from his black and shrivelled hand / The steady lamp hung down." Madoc exclaims, in an echo of his injunction to the Catholic gravediggers: " . . . till that body in the grave be laid, / Till thy polluted altars be made pure, / There is no peace between us," and proceeds to destroy the Aztec temple (Southey, Madoc 61).[27]

  25. According to the Black Legend, the dissipation of Catholic Spain derived from its acquisitiveness, greed, and taste for ostentation. It was the dread lest Britain exhibit such traits in its actions abroad that had lent such force to Burke's attack on Hastings. As Britain began to emerge as "a state in the disguise of a merchant," Southey, like Burke, vilified all that was economically speculative in order to purge the colonial project of its perceived inhumanity (Burke, quoted in Browne 95). Southey warmly agreed with Charles Hall's polemic, The Effects of Civilization, which appeared in the same year as Madoc, when it claimed that "Trade knows no friends or kindred . . . —avarice no compassion—gain no bounds" (Hall, quoted in Carnall 4). From its opening stanzas, Madoc takes a firm stand against the celebration of commercial values:

    Blow fairly winds of Heaven! ye ocean waves
    Swell not in anger to that fated fleet,
    For not of conquest greedy, not the sons
    Of Commerce, merchandizing blood, they seek
    The distant land. —blow fairly winds of Heaven!
    Ye ocean waves bear safe your blameless load! (Southey, quoted in Pratt, 'Revising" 155)

    From the debates on free trade to those on the dangers of nurturing too fine a sensibility engaged by sentimental novelists from Radcliffe to Austen, the fear that Britain might be hastening toward its decadence weighed on the public mind at the turn of the century. The conservative opposition to free trade that Southey shared with Burke is manifest in the former's attempt to free his Welsh protagonists from the stain of showiness by emphasizing instead the superstitious vanity of the Aztecs. According to Southey's sources, the Aztecs kept "the gods of the conquered nations . . . fastened and caged in the Mexican temples" (Southey, Madoc 419). Like the burgeoning British market for oriental commodities, the Aztecs' collection of specimens from their conquered subjects pretended to the classical glory of empire while nurturing avarice.[28] But even as Madoc's destruction of the Aztec temples marks an end to acquisitive empire, Southey's aim of rationality and sobriety is compromised by the poem's own explicitly exoticist allure.[29] Although Southey ostensibly privileges Welsh simplicity over Aztec gaudiness, this program is compromised by the dazzling visual effects of such lines as:

    Little did then his pomp of plumes bestead
    The Azteca, or glittering pride of gold,
    Against the tempered sword; little his casque,
    Gay with its feathery coronal, or dressed
    In graven terrors, when the Briton's hand
    Drove in through the helm and head the short-piked mace. (Southey, Madoc 301)

    Such is the contradiction of an exoticist poem conceived as the embodiment of the rational humanist ideals of Hartley and Godwin.

  26. Again, the reader of Madoc is confronted with a seemingly unassimilable composite identification with both the colonial aggressor and his victim. Yet whereas before, this double identification was sanctioned by nature itself, now the narration of Madoc's triumph implicates the hero and his partisans/audience in an enjoyment of the "pomp of plumes" that has come to define the Catholic/Aztec adversary. Madoc's uncomfortable flirtation with the luxuriousness of the enemy was left to stand until 1815, when Southey prepared a new edition of the poem. The revised preface reversed the passage indicating the survival of Madoc's legacy in America. The new version read: "That country has now been fully explored; and, wherever Madoc may have settled, it is now certain that no Welsh Indians are to be found upon any branches of the Missouri" (Southey, Madoc 1815). This erasure of the Welsh Indians effectively neutralized Madoc's violent conquest, insofar as Madoc's progeny became the victims of a greater, but unnamed, expansionist violence that had wiped away Britain's claim to America, leaving nothing but a legend of legitimacy to counter the looming specter of culpability. Madoc's success as a colonist who achieves complete sameness with those he colonizes, and who therefore expiates the violence of his conquest, is thus ultimately contingent on his destruction by a later and less scrupulous European expansionism.

  27. Burke's failure to change the course of the British empire in India and America, and Madoc's failure to sustain a viable British title to New Spain are essential to the Romantic ideology of good colonialism. Burke himself was keenly aware of the emotional force of such grandiose failures:

    I am convinced we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others . . . The prosperity of no empire, nor the grandeur of no king, can so agreeably affect in the reading, as the ruin of the state of Macedon, and the distress of its unhappy prince. (Burke, Philosophical Enquiry v. I 80)

    In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith had maintained that the harmonious natural order of the universe favored economic freedom—what would become free trade in The Wealth of Nations—as beneficial to the greatest number of people. According to Smith, a natural link inhered between moral virtue and free trade, insofar as "the road to virtue and that to fortune . . . are, happily in most cases, very nearly the same" (Smith 63). If a conservative vision of good colonialism were to compete with such powerful liberal rhetoric, it would need to insist on the cruel and unnatural efficiency of free trade imperialism.

  28. The contrasting naturalness and inefficiency, and the resulting failure, of good colonialism, by its identification with the colonial victim, guaranteed its innocence and obscured its operations of power behind a veil of pathos. Burke and Southey saw good colonialism as the only principled reaction against self-interested commerce. But the rhetoric of colonial unassailability that they developed was short lived. By 1858, the British crown had assumed direct control over India, and Victoria had been crowned Empress of India. In place of indirect rule, "there had emerged a belligerent militarism which borrowed is rhetorical style, and its political culture if not its colonial policies, from the same Roman imperial imagery which had driven earlier European empires" (Pagden 8). It is a bitter irony that, in attempting to stem the tide of capitalist exploitation overseas, Burke and Southey unwittingly helped create the rhetorical resources upon which the distinctly illiberal imperialist resurgence of the Victorian Era would draw.


1 I am indebted to Sara Suleri's The Rhetoric of English India for drawing my attention to this document.

2 My translation. The original text reads: "Dos maneras generales y principales han tenido los que allá han pasado . . . en estirpar y raer de la haz de la tierra a aquellas miserandas naciones. La una por injusticias, crueles, sangrientas y tiránicas guerras. La otra . . . opimiéndolos con la más dura, horrible, y áspera servidumbre en que jamás hombres ni bestias pudieron ser puestas . . . . La causa porque han muerto y destruido tantas y tales . . . ha sido solamente por tener por su fin último el oro y henchirse de riquezas en muy breves días, y a subir a estados muy altos y sin proporción de sus personas."

3 In his Speech on Conciliation with America, Burke exemplifies this nostalgia for the colonial era before the Peace of Paris when he urges that Britain "return to that mode which a uniform experience has marked out to you as best, and in which you walked with security, advantage, and honor, until the year 1763" (Burke 108). Before the rise to power of Lord North and the application of George III's coercive bills, Burke continues, "everything was sweetly and harmoniously disposed" and the empire was "more united than it is now" (Burke 122). Burke's proposed conciliation with America, as opposed to economically "sophistical" imperialism, "is what becomes the dignity of a ruling people—gratuitous, unconditional, and not held out as a matter of bargain and sale" (Burke 76, 126).

4 Sara Suleri insightfully notes: "Burke supplies imperial England with an idiom in which to articulate its emergent suspicion that the health of the colonizing project was dependent on a recognition of the potentially crippling structure of imperial culpability" (Suleri 26).

5 Popham et. al. were far from the only British officers to make an attempt on Argentina. Among the more well-known British colonialists, John Constanse Davie, who wrote Letters from Paraguay (1805), one of the earliest British travel accounts about Spanish America, also conspired to wrest the Plata region of Argentina from Spain.

6 In his Speech on Mr. Fox's East-India Bill, Burke explains that although the people of India are not descended of the English, they match—and even precede—the English in civilization and dignity: "This multitude of men does not consist of an abject and barbarous populace . . . but a people for ages civilized and cultivated; cultivated by all the arts of polished life, whilst we were yet in the woods. There, have been . . . princes once of great dignity, authority, and opulence . . . . There, is to be found an ancient and venerable priesthood, the depository of their laws, learning, and history . . . a nobility of great antiquity and renown; a multitude of cities, not exceeded in population and trade by those of the first class in Europe; merchants and bankers, individual houses of whom have once vied in capital with the bank of England . . . millions of ingenious manufacturers and mechanicks" (Burke 295-96).

7 Originally envisioned in 1789, the first version of Madoc appeared in print in 1794. It was followed by a revised version in 1797 and a final, expanded version in 1805. Madoc was reprinted with minor alterations several times throughout the nineteenth century, and was particularly appreciated by the young Shelley and Byron.

8 George Burnett, who planned to emigrate to America with Southey and Coleridge, described the "grand object" of the Pantisocratic movement as "the Abolition of Property; at least of individual property. Conceiving the present unequal distribution of property, to be the source of by far the greater part of the moral evil that prevails in the world; by removal of the cause, we thought, and as it appears to me justly thought, that the effect must also cease" (Quoted in Roe 157).

9 It should be remembered that Southey's foisting of Pantisocracy onto Inca law is a two-way street, as many of his Pantisocratic ideals came initially from the study of Inca and other Native American civilizations.

10 Quotations from the Bedford letter follow Pratt's editorial decisions: "‹ . . . › indicates an ellipsis; [ . . . ] a deletion or an insertion written above the line. Southey's spelling, capitalization, and punctuation have all been retained" (Pratt, "Pantisocratic" 35). Southey habitually spelled Manco Capac as "Mango Capac."

11 The sources Madoc draws on include Peter Martyr, Bernal Díaz's Historia verdadera, Gomara's Conquest of the West India, Cortés's Cartas de Relación, Clavigero, Torquemada, Garcilaso de la Vega, Ercilla y Zuñiga's La Araucana, Oviedo's Relación sumaria de la Historia Natural de las Indias, de Bry, La Crónica de Pero Nino, Herrera, Gregorio García's Origen de los Indios, Padilla's Historia de la Fundación y Discurso de la Provincia de Santiago de Mexico de la orden de los Predicadores, and del Techo's History of Paraguay. Southey also derives information from French, English and Anglo-American sources, such as Lafitau's Sur les Moeurs de Sauvages Amériquains, Charlevoix, Roger Williams, Heriot, Timberlake, Mackenzie, Brainerd, and Carver's Travels, intermingling details of various tribes and topographies of North and South America, and including the very occasional reference to Asia.

12 William Robertson's History of America (1777) presents another excellent instance of Britain's rescripting of the Spanish conquest of America. In North America, Joel Barlow's epics, The Vision of Columbus and the Columbiad, represent a project similar both in historical scope and nationalist aims.

13 Interestingly, Thomas de Quincey identifies the Iberia from which the good colonist of Egypt, Prince Gebir, hails in Walter Savage Landor's eponymous poem as "spiritual England" (Quoted in Leask, 26).

14 An Exposé, 1810, 11. This warning came as a response to the increasingly prevalent  wish that Britain, and not Spain, possessed the wealth of Spanish America. One English columnist expressed this desire as follows: "The more I contemplate on the filth and laziness of these people, the more I regret the miserly Henry, when applied to by Columbus, was not inspired by the demon of avarice, if no more laudable motive could have actuated him, to have fitted out that noble adventurer, and by that means to have secured this country, this rich delightful country, to the Crown of Britain. The Spaniards possess blessings they never did, nor ever will know how to appreciate; for, slaves to gold, they neglect every other advantage. Had the English possessed this southern world, thousands and tens of thousands, nay millions, would have blest the hour when they became their conquerors" (Quoted in Jones 65-6).

15 Significantly, Barbauld's poem was met by an anxious rebuttal from Southey the reviewer, and the aging Barbauld suffered vicious attacks, both on her poem and her person, by a host of intellectuals who had previously supported her work.

16 All further references to Madoc will be to this edition unless otherwise stated.

17 In addition to Madoc, the example of Owain Glyndwr is particularly characteristic. After being considered throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a "usurper or misguided rebel . . . . Glendwr seems to burst forth in splendor in the 1770s as a national hero" (Morgan 81). During the same period, a new and widely-read version of Madoc's history appeared in 1790, by Dr. John Williams.

18 See also Gwyn Williams's In Search of Beulah Land for an extensive treatment of the Welsh renaissance.

19 Linda Colley notes, "Rich, landed, and talented males from Wales, Scotland, England, and to a lesser extent Ireland became welded later in the 1770s into a single ruling class that intermarried, shared the same outlook, and took to itself the business of governing, fighting for, and profiting from greater Britain" (Colley, 325-6).

20 Significantly, when John Evans was sent in 1790 to investigate the Welsh Indians, he was financed, not by the British government, but by the Welsh. Kindled by the American Revolution, Welsh interest in America focused on the movement to immigrate to America in order to found a Welsh-speaking colony in the new republic.

21 Southey believed that the "general fault of Epic Poems is, that we feel little interest for the Heroes they celebrate [ . . . ] to engage the unprejudiced, there must be more of human feelings than is generally to be found in the character of Warriors." (Southey, Joan of Arc, quoted in Pratt, "Revising" 153). However, as Pratt says, "This did not mean that Southey was to follow the example of some of his contemporaries and attempt to produce a pacifist epic" (Pratt, "Revising" 153). The example of a pacifist epic cited by Pratt is Joseph Cottle's rather limp Alfred, An Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Books (1800). Southey's generic revisionism did not sit well with reviewers, one of whom sardonically quipped: "We behold the author mounted on a strange animal, something between a rough Welsh pony and a Peruvian sheep, whose utmost capriole only tends to land him in the mud," and more sarcastically: "there is nothing in Homer, Virgil, or Milton, in any degree resembling the beauties of Madoc" (Ferriar 104).

22 The link between Madoc and Malinal is naturalized via ritual engagement with American soil. Malinal approaches Madoc just as the latter has finished interring his father's bones. As Malinal speaks, "In sorrow come I here, a banished man . . . Cut off from all my kin, from all old ties / Divorced," one recalls Madoc's flight from his brother's corrupt reign. Poignantly, Malinal's brother, the Aztec leader, Yuhudthiton, is there to hear this speech, and like the Welsh King David, haunted by his brother's righteous words, "hearkened he as one whose heart perforce / Suppressed its instinct" (Southey, Madoc 227-8).

23 Work by Sara Suleri, Homi Bhabha, and Gayatri Spivak has opened the subject of colonial complicity in the representation of British India, revealing "the dynamic of powerlessness underlying the telling of colonial stories" (Suleri, 1). See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics and Homi K. Bhabha, "The Other Question: The Stereotype and Colonial Discourse."

24 In this context, it is worth exploring the extent to which Southey's Madoc was influenced by Alfonso de Ercilla y Zuñiga's sixteenth-century creole epic La Araucana, which he knew of through William Hayley's An Essay on Epic Poetry (1782).

In 1807, Southey wrote, without much hope, "We are going upon a wrong plan with respect to South America, and a ruinous one . . . . What should be done is to throw the Spanish colonies open, and leave them alone" (Quoted in Humphreys 8).

25 Madoc's encomium on Aztlan reveals an inability to separate the land from the woman he conquers: "Queen of the Valley! thou art beautiful!" (Southey, Madoc 356). This aspect of Southey's strategy for naturalizing conquest is very much in line with the tradition of Spanish conquest narratives against and over which he wrote. Annette Kolodny points out that standard colonial discourse encodes a gendered ur-narrative by which the American land is conflated with the native woman. See Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American life and letters.

26 Southey's implicit reference to the natural devastation of imperial Rome is clearly no accident, and participates in a larger discourse that defined Spanish American volcanic activity, like its Italian correlative, as a warning against the arrogance of empire.

27 Conflations of Catholics and Aztecs abound in Madoc. In another scene, the Aztecs "piled a heap of sedge before our host, / And warned us: 'Sons of Ocean! from the land / Of Aztlan, while ye may, depart in peace!  / Before the fire hence shall be extinguished, hence!  / Or, even as yon dry sedge amid the flame, / So shall ye be consumed.' The arid heap  / They kindled, and the rapid flame ran up, / And blazed, and died away (Southey, Madoc 65). Southey furnishes this action with a footnote that leaves no room for misunderstanding his design of dissolving Aztec crimes into Catholic ones: "As the sacring of the new-elected pope passeth (as the manner is) before St. Gregory's Chapel, the master of the ceremonies goeth before him, bearing two dry reeds, at the end of the one a burning candle tied, and at the other a handfull of flax, the which he setteth on fire, saying, with a loud voice, 'Pater Sancte, sic trasit gloria mundi" (Southey, Madoc 171n).

28 Nigel Leask explains that British demand for Chinoiserie in the Romantic Era is "rationalized in terms of an (always risky) analogy with the imperial triumphs of the classical world. For the orientalist poet Tom Medwin, English Romantic literature found a precedent and alibi in the Athenian practice of incorporating the imagery of its subjugated enemies into its own culture, caryatids from the Peloponnese, flowery eastern capitals from Persia" (Leask 8).

29 For an shrewd analysis of how eighteenth-century British painting also worked to soften the violent seizure of American lands by portraying Native Americans, rather than their conquerors, as seduced by commodities, see B. Fowkes Tobin, Picturing Imperial Power: Colonial Subjects in Eighteenth-Century British Painting, 56-80.

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