1835. Robert Southey to John May, 5 December 1810

1835. Robert Southey to John May, 5 December 1810 ⁠* 

Keswick, Dec. 5. 1810.

My Dear Friend,

There is an “Arte da Grammatica da Lingua da Brazil,” composta pelo P. Luig Figueira, the fourth edition of which was printed at Lisbon, in 1795. [1]  The whole impression was most probably shipped off for Brazil; for it was printed at the Officina Patriarcal, probably at the expense of the Church, as a missionary concern. I never saw it mentioned in any bookseller’s list; and had it been on sale in Portugal, my uncle must have met with it while inquiring for Anchietas’ “Grammar.” [2]  I have borrowed a copy of this book, which came from B. Ayres, and I am working at it; but I wish to possess one as a fit part of my collection, and to have at hand for the purpose of correcting the press, when my summary of it shall be printed. Your brother William [3]  I have no doubt can obtain one for me at the Rio; perhaps also he could meet with a Guarani grammar, and with it the “Vida de Padre Joam de Almeida,” by P. Siman de Vasconcellos; [4]  a book for which I have long been particularly anxious. Almeida earned his beatitude in that part of the country, and therefore it is very likely that his history may be found there.

There are some questions which your brother can answer for me. Are there any of the native race near the Rio? If any, in what state of freedom, servitude, or slavery, and of what tribes? What does he conceive the proportions to be in the city of the mixed race and of the negroes to those of European blood? Is the Portuguese language in any degree mingled there with the Brazilians? for in many parts of Spanish America a mixed language has been found, and in some the native tongue predominates. At Asçuncion, for instance, many of the Creole women speak nothing but Guarani. This is a curious process going on in the world. Just as the Latin grew out of the Greek, and our southern tongues out of the wreck of the Latin, just so are there new languages rapidly forming from the amalgamation of European, negro, and American dialects. The talkee talkee of the slaves in the sugar islands, as it is called, will prevail at Surinam, and become the language of Guiana. They have a printed Bible in it already. [5]  From Sierra Leone an African Lingua Inglesa will spread, of which English will be one part, Susoo [6]  the other, and a sprinkling of Arabic. In Polynesia, again, the different Malay dialects will make new mixtures, and in New Zealand there will be another speech. The old dough of the world has never had so much leaven put into it at any one time, as at the present, within the reach of history. Look where you will, you perceive the principle of change is at work.

The “Register” [7]  for 1809 occupies me very closely. I have made every possible exertion to obtain documents for the affair of the Peninsula – compared with which everything else in Europe is insignificant – and my efforts have not been unsuccessful. A way has been opened for me to convey some questions to Colonel Carol, [8]  and Don Manuel Abella, the Duke de Albuquerque’s [9]  secretary, will lend me all the documents in his possession, and has written to some of his friends in the Cortes for more. He is a Zaragozan by birth, a member of the Royal Academy of History, and edited, either in whole or in part, the “Partidas.” [10]  Do not omit to send me, from time to time, any information which you receive from Lisbon or Brazil; a little circumstance, in itself altogether unimportant, may become of consequence, from it bearing upon some other facts of which I may be in possession. I have not taken up the business of writing the annals of our own times as a mere matter of money work, though it supplies two thirds of my income, and is the first occupation that ever paid me well, and made me at ease in my circumstances. I like the employment, and am very anxious to obtain the fullest possible information, that it may be as little imperfect as the nature of contemporary history admits.

I look daily to see “Kehama” [11]  advertised; it may not improbably find its way to you as soon as this letter. You will have seen what use I made of the “Observador Portuguez.” [12]  It was a well-timed article, but before it was written I had said something of our friends the Portuguese in this second “Register,” which, for personal appropriateness, I could wish had been in the “Quarterly Review.” An article upon Methodism is gone up to the “Review,” and I suppose will appear in it. [13]  My hands are very full, yet I expect to get the concluding volume of the “Brazilian History” to press in the course of next winter; [14]  for after clearing off all that lies immediately before me, and allowing for a two months’ progress in the south, I shall have three whole months to devote to it exclusively before the “Register” for this current year is taken in hand. [15]  However the bookseller may ask to hurry the publication, I will never begin the annals of one year till the autumn of the next, in order to allow time for the publication of better documents than gazettes and newspapers.

We are going on well. Your god-daughter, Edith May, is grown a great girl, and even Herbert is almost too big for a play-fellow. Bertha is the live doll of the family at present; the infant is as yet only a woman’s plaything, not old enough to be kissed, and too tender to be handled by any but female hands. I hope to see you very early in the spring, and it is our present intention that Edith should accompany me. Remember us to Mrs. May, and believe me

Yours very affectionately,

R. Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 205–208. BACK

[1] Luis Figueira (1573–1643), Arte da Grammatice do Lingua Brasilica (1621). Southey later acquired an edition of 1687, no. 3396 in the sale catalogue of his library. The edition of 1795 was edited by Jose Mariano da Conceicao Velloso (1742–1811). Southey had been lent a copy of this edition by the merchant Thomas Kinder (c. 1781-1846), who had lived in South America 1808-1810. BACK

[2] José de Anchieta (1534–1597), Arte de Grammatica da Lingoa mais Usada na Costa do Brasil (1595). This was no. 1530 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, inscribed by him: ‘This singularly rare and curious book was sent to me from the Public Library of Bahia, de Todos, or Santos, by desire of the Conde des Arcos, then Governor of that Captaincy.’ The Marcos de Noronha e Brito, Conde dos Arcos (1771–1828) was Governor General of Bahia 30 September 1810–26 January 1818. BACK

[3] William Henry May (1785–1849), John May’s youngest brother and business partner in Brazil. BACK

[4] Simon de Vasconcellos (1599–1670), Vida do Joam d’Almeida (1658). This was a life of the English-born Jesuit missionary, John Almeida (1571–1653). BACK

[5] The Moravians’ translation of the Bible into the creole language now known as Sranan Tongo had been recently mentioned in the Monthly Review, 58 (January 1809), 5, in their account of Henry Bolingbroke (1785–1855; DNB), A Voyage to the Demerary (1807), p. 224. The latter had been revised and edited by William Taylor. BACK

[6] Susu is a trade language in the coastal region of Guinea. It was known in Britain through Henry Brunton (d. 1812), A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Susoo Language (1802). Southey possessed a copy, no. 1231 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[7] The Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809 (1811). BACK

[8] William Parker Carrol (1776–1842), liaison officer between the British and Spanish forces. Later promoted to Major-General and Field Marshal in the Spanish Army. BACK

[9] The Spanish military commander, Jose Miguel de la Cueva, 13th Duke of Alburquerque (1774–1811). BACK

[10] Las Siete Partidas, a code of laws compiled in the Castilian vernacular in c. 1265. A new edition was published by the Spanish Royal Academy of History in 1807. Southey owned two editions, nos 3610–3611 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[11] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[12] Observador Portuguez, Historico e Politico de Lisboa (1809), no. 3556 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, reviewed by Southey in Quarterly Review 4 (August 1810), 1–24. BACK

[13] Southey’s review of Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching. By a Barrister (1809), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 480–514. BACK

[14] The second and third volumes of the History of Brazil appeared in 1817 and 1819, respectively. BACK

[15] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)