2019. Robert Southey to [James Burney], 19 January 1812

2019. Robert Southey to [James Burney], 19 January 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Jany. 19. 1812.

My dear Sir

I shall be very glad to act as gentleman-usher to your remarks on Humboldt, [1]  − that branch of the subject being one upon which I am wholly incompetent to form a judgement. That Humboldt is a good deal of a Quack is pretty evident. The two newly translated volumes I have not yet seen, − they are probably now upon the road to Keswick: − the two former did not altogether answer the opinion which had been raised of them. [2] 

My reviewal of his work is designed for No 14 of the Quarterly, [3]  No 12 being that which is on the eve of publication. – so that it will be full three mot months before your papers will be needed. It is only a feeling of what the Spaniards call pundonor  [4]  which has made me undertake it. But having been very well used by all persons concerned in the Q. it did not sit easy upon my conscience to let the Edinburgh gain credit for its knowledge of South <Spanish> America, [5]  when I know more about it, in all likelihood, than any, or perhaps than all, other persons in England.

In Pinkertons new edition of that worst of all books his Geography is a good blunder, which rests between him & M. Barbie du Bocage [6]  probably it is the Frenchmans originally, & Pinkerton has only the merit of adopting. – Vol. 2. p. 786 [7]  he speaks of “Don Michel de Sylva, Bishop of Viseo, Secretary of La Purete’, [8]  favourite of the King of Portugal – the fact is that this Bishop was Escrivaō da puridade, − private secretary, − as the Secretary of State was then called. – If any body but my good friends in the Row [9]  had published this book, I would put it to death by simply drawing up a list of its blunders.

My Dutch purchases have turned to good account, without troubling myself about the pronunciation of the Klinkers or twee Klinkers, or the conjugation of the werk woords. I can now read Pieter Kolbe [10]  with tolerable facility, & am not very often sent to the Woorden boek [11]  for assistance.

I do not wonder that you are in the horrors [12]  in London. The panic has reached us. Half the people in Keswick sate up on Thursday night last because two “ugly fellows” had been seen in the town. I have been obliged to load an old Spanish fowling piece to keep up the courage of the family, & to write to London for a brace of pistols, & a watchmans rattle. [13]  Christian Curwen [14]  imports Irishmen to Workington x in such xx numbers xx as really to render some precautions necessary.

I hope your third volume is under weigh. [15]  Early By the beginning of May I hope to be at leisure to set to work once more upon Brazil [16]  & finish off the work

believe me

yrs very truly

Robert Southey


* MS: Morgan Library, MA 63. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 22–23. BACK

[1] Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), naturalist and explorer. Possibly Burney was seeking to write a review or an article on Humboldt’s works. As Southey disclaimed any knowledge of the subject, Burney might have been proposing to write on one of Humboldt’s works of natural history, for instance Recueil d’observations de zoologie et d’anatomie comparee (1811–1813). BACK

[2] Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain (1811–1812), translated by John Black (1783–1855; DNB). Two volumes (‘the two former’) of this work appeared in 1811 and the final two (the ‘two newly translated volumes’) in 1812. BACK

[3] In the end, Southey did not review Humboldt for the Quarterly. BACK

[4] ‘Self-respect’. BACK

[5] For example, in reviews of Humboldt’s works, Edinburgh Review, 16 (April 1810), 62–102; 223–253. BACK

[6] The French geographer Jean Denis Barbié du Bocage (1760–1825). BACK

[7] John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB), Modern Geography, 2 vols (London, 1811), II, p. 786. Southey’s copy was no. 2334 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[8] Miguel da Silva (1480–1556), Bishop of Viseu 1526–1547. He was a favourite of the Portuguese king John III, ‘the pious’ (1521–1557). BACK

[9] Southey’s own publisher, Longman and his associates. BACK

[10] The traveller Peter Kolbe (1675–1726), whose Naaukeurige en Uitvoerige Beschryving van de Kaap de Goede Hoop (1727) was no. 1669 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[11] i.e. he was no longer reliant on a dictionary to read Dutch. BACK

[12] i.e. recent public disturbances. The recent ‘horrors’ in the capital included the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 7 and 19 December 1811. BACK

[13] Southey had ordered the pistol and rattle from Bedford; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 17 January 1812, Letter 2018. BACK

[14] The wealthy colliery owner and MP for Carlisle, 1786–1790, 1791–1812, 1816–1820, John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB). BACK

[15] The third volume of Burney’s five-volume magnum opus, A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean (1803–1817). BACK

[16] The second volume of the History of Brazil, published in 1817. The third and final volume appeared in 1819. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 3 times)