1981. Robert Southey to Hugh Chudleigh Standert, 10 November 1811

1981. Robert Southey to Hugh Chudleigh Standert, 10 November 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. Nov. 10. 1811.

Dear Standert

I have delayed sending you the volume of Brazil, [1]  till some books which are designed for my Aunt were ready to accompany it. They are now on their passage from Edinburgh to London, & as soon as Longman receives them, he will forward your parcel. You will find my historical volume full of curious facts related to the history of savage man.

Here is the passage of which I spoke relating to the practice <art> of making feathers grow of a particular colour.

Indi colorem nativum psittaci sui mutare norunt in alium, quem ipsi optaverint. Operæ pretium est singulare artificium explanare. Plumas naturales radicitus evellunt. Locum unde avulsæ fuerunt plumæ, manu perfricant, donee rubescat, sanguisque inde scaturiat. Plumarum veterum poris, seu alveolis, succum ejus coloris quem volunt, instillant, imprimuntque. Si alis, si caudæ, flavum, si cæruleum, si purpureum colorem infuderint, pennæ flavæ, cæruleæ, purpureie sensim subnascentur. Id apud Brasilios, Quaranios, et (teste P. J. Sanchez Labrador) apud Mbayas barbaros usu receptum. Sed, ut idem observavit, vere, vel autumno ineunte id præsturi ab Indes. Colorem viridem in flavum facillime mutari: plumis flavis si evellantur, non nisi flavas succrescere. Hæc illius sunt et monita, et experimenta.

Dobrizhoffer de xxxxx Abiponibus. T1. 357. [2] 

The tendency to the yellow is perhaps the most curious part of this statement. I am always slow to disbelieve a story, in cases where the relator has no apparent motive either for deceiving himself or the reader, & where his general good sense exempts him from the suspicion of over credulity. To more many objections which may be made to this asserted fact occur to me, & probably many others will occur to you; – all I shall say is that the authority is trust worthy in the highest degree, – & whether the thing be true or false, & if true whether of any value, you will judge for yourself.

You have, I hope, written to Montgomery. I am reviewing his last publication, [3]  & the more I read him the higher is m more do I feel & admire his powers. What faults he has are those of the age, his merits are altogether his own. There is but one poet whom he resembles, & that poet is Klopstock. [4]  I am no German scholar, but xxxx am yet well acquainted with this writers odes – there is the same reach of mind as in Montgomery, the same stretch & the same direction, but not the same pith.

Did I tell you that Landor had written a tragedy upon Count Julian? [5]  it is in the press; – you will be one of the few to relish it, & may thank me for this intimation. The finest image of human strength which was ever yet presented by poet or painter occurs in this play. It is in a speech of Julians to Rodrigo, after he had defected & taken him prisoner. I will give you the whole speech.

Torn hast thou from me all my heart held dear
Her form – her voice, – all – thou hast banish’d from me!
I stand abased before insulting crime
And faulter like a criminal myself.
The hand that hurld thy chariot oer its wheels,
That held they steeds erect & motionless
As moulten statues on some palace gates,
Shakes, as with palsied age, before thee now.
Gone is the treasure of my heart – for ever!
Without a father, mother, friend, or name –
Daughter of Julian, – such was her delight!
Such was mine too! What pride more innocent
What surely less deserving pangs like these,
Than springs from filial & parental love.
Shut out from every hope that issues forth
To meet the balmy breath of early life,
Her sadden’d days all colourless & cold,
Will stretch before her their whole weary length
Amidst the sameness of obscurity.
She wanted not seclusion to unveil
Her thoughts to Heaven, – cloister, nor midnight cell, –
She found it in all places, in all hours.
While to assuage my labours, she indulged
A playfulness that shunnd a mothers eye,
Still to avert my perils there arose
A piety, that even from me, retired. [6] 

If this do not make you rank Landor in the first xx rank of living poets I am much deceived.

Remember me & my household to all friends at Mrs Danceys. [7]  Col. Peachy leaves this place on Wednesday next.

Yrs very truly

R Southey.


* Address: To/ H. C. Standert Esqr/ Taunton
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Southey
MS: Pennsylvania State University Library. ALS; 4p. (c).
Previously published: Nicholas A. Joukovsky, ‘Southey on Landor: An Unpublished Letter’, The Wordsworth Circle, 7.1 (1976), 13–16. BACK

[1] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil, published in 1810. BACK

[2] Martin Dobrizhoffer (1717–1791), Historia de Abiponibus, Equestri, Bellicosaque Paraquariæ, 3 vols (Vienna, 1784), I, p. 357. Translated by Sara Coleridge (with Southey’s encouragement) as: ‘The Indians know how to change the natural colour of the parrot into any other they choose. They pull the feathers up by the roots, and rub the place from which they have been plucked, till it grows red, and blood flows from it; they then instil and press into the pores or sockets of the old feathers, juice of any colour they like. If the wings or tail be imbued with a yellow, red, or blue colour, yellow, red, or blue feathers will grow there. This was practised amonst the Brazilians, Guaranies, and, according to P. Joseph Labrador, amongst the Mbaya savages. The same Father observed that the Indians performed the operation in the beginning of spring or autumn, that green is very easily turned into yellow, and that yellow feathers, if plucked up, will be succeeded by none but yellow ones’, An Account of the Abipones, An Equestrian People of Paraguay, 3 vols (London, 1822), I, p. 327. BACK

[3] James Montgomery, The West Indies, and other Poems (1810) and The Wanderer in Switzerland, and other Poems (1811), Quarterly Review, 6 (December 1811), 405–419. BACK

[4] Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803), whose poems included odes and the epic Der Messias (1748–1773). BACK

[5] Landor’s Count Julian: A Tragedy (1812), which dealt with similar subject matter to Southey’s Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[6] Count Julian: A Tragedy (1812), pp. 81–82. BACK

[7] Mrs Dansey (d. 1826), a Taunton resident and widow of Lieutenant-Colonel William Dansey (d. 1793). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)