1984. Robert Southey to Neville White, 16 November 1811

1984. Robert Southey to Neville White, 16 November 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick, Nov. 16. 1811.

My Dear Neville,

Thank you for the Buenos Ayres papers. [1]  You ask my opinion respecting the affairs of that part of the world. I shall be better acquainted with the immediate occasion of the civil war there, and the characters of the leading individuals, when I receive a journal which Mr. Kinder has promised to lend me, – kept by himself in that country. [2]  But upon the general question no additional knowledge is required to make me form my judgment. All parties are greatly to be blamed, and, from the conduct which both have pursued, nothing but immediate evil can result. The colonies had long been most grievously misgoverned. In that misgovernment, however, they only shared the misfortune of the mother country; and if they did not receive the immediate concessions which they justly expected and required when the revolution took place, they ought to have remembered that this was entirely owing to the undue influence which the city of Cadiz had obtained, – an influence arising wholly out of the circumstances of the war, which could not be permanent by any possible contingency; for whether Spain were won or lost, Cadiz would not remain the seat of government, and when it ceased to be so the influence of her commercial junta would be at an end. The duty of the colonies, therefore, should have been to have stated to the mother country what the grievances were from which they expected to be relieved; then they should have said, “We require claiming our part in your deliverance; but we will not discuss this at present, – we will not appear to bargain with you in your hour of need, as if we were endeavouring to force that from your distress which it ought to be your pride and truest policy to grant us in your prosperity. If you succeed in this dreadful struggle, you will grant it. If you fail, the Spaniards will have no other country than these colonies. We will, therefore, stand by you to the last, and assist you to the utmost of our resources.”

The fact is, Neville, that there is a French party in these colonies. To my knowledge, the deputies from the Caraccas have expressed their sorrow that England does not recall her troops from Portugal, because they say, then the contest would be over; the mother country must fall, and there would no longer be any obstacle to a free trade between this country and Venezuela. [3]  Thus would these men barter away the birthright of a whole nation, and the independence of the country of their fathers, for a mess of pottage. I have no patience for such sordid selfishness. It is better (supposing the two things incompatible) that Spain should be free, than that the Caraccans should have a free trade; for this is the alternation upon which these men, who call themselves patriots, and talk of liberty and of rights, have thus decided.

It is evident to me that the Anglo-Americans separated from the parent state at least a century too soon. They became independent before they had a race of scholars or of gentlemen among them. Their independence is not yet thirty years old, and see what a national character they have obtained and deserved. But the Spanish Americans are even less fitted to form a new state, for they are far more ignorant; and the morals of the worst part of the United States (Virginia and the other southern states) are less depraved than those of the best parts of Spanish America; but the one main cause of inevitable depravity exists in both – the practice of slavery. The idleness of the Spaniards leads them still more to sensuality, and the Roman Catholic religion demoralises every people among whom it takes root.

This is a subject which would lead me on to a great length were I to pursue it; you will, however see it treated (if I live) in the third year’s “Register.” [4]  Have you read my second year’s volume? [5] 

I was sorry to learn how ill that unpleasant affair, in which you took so manly and honourable a part, has terminated. Yet, if the man be thus utterly unprincipled, it is better for the poor girl to be thus rid of him than yoked for life to a villain. [6] 

When the new edition of “Kehama” is ready, [7]  Longman will send you a copy for James. I wrote him a letter of good advice, some time ago, and look daily to hear from him. [8]  Remember me at Nottingham when you write. Remember me also to Josiah Condor; thank him for his letter, and tell him that in consequence of it I am reviewing Montgomery’s volume. [9]  Do you attend Coleridge’s lectures? [10]  God bless you. Yours affectionately,

Robert 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. 239–242. BACK

[1] Copies of the Gazeta de Buenos Ayres, which ran from 7 June 1810 to 12 September 1821. BACK

[2] Thomas Kinder (c.1781–1846), a merchant, had spent some time in South America. Southey borrowed Kinder’s unpublished journal of events in Buenos Ayres in 1808–1810 that led to the independence of the states of the Rio de la Plata. In 1813 Southey had a copy made of the journal, no. 3162 in the sale catalogue of his library. The copy was published as, Malyn Newitt (ed.), War, Revolution and Society in the Rio de la Plata 1808–1810. Thomas Kinder’s Narrative of a Journey to Madeira, Montevideo and Buenos Ayres (2010). For Southey’s account of the revolution in Buenos Ayres, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 395–421. BACK

[3] A Congress at Caraccas had declared the independence of Venezuela on 5 July 1811. Southey was deeply hostile to the Venezuelan Revolution, seeing it as a tool of French and American interests, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 367–394. BACK

[4] Southey did not have room for this material in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812). BACK

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

[6] See Southey to Neville White, 27 September 1811, Letter 1958. BACK

[7] A second edition of The Curse of Kehama, published in 1812. BACK

[8] Southey to James White, 25 October 1811, Letter 1973. BACK

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

[10] Coleridge’s lecture series on Shakespeare, Milton and the English poets, begun at Scot’s Corporation Hall, Fleet St, London, on 18 November 1811 and finished on 27 January 1812. BACK

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