Sullen Fires Across the Atlantic
The Allure of the Same: Robert
Southey's Welsh Indians
1 I am
indebted to Sara Suleri's The Rhetoric of English
India for drawing my attention to this document.
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"
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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).
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).
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
further references to Madoc will be to this edition
unless otherwise stated.
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
18 See also
Gwyn Williams's In Search of Beulah Land for an
extensive treatment of the Welsh renaissance.
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).
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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).
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
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.