3398. Robert Southey to William Wilberforce, [started before and continued on] 5 December [1819]

3398. Robert Southey to William Wilberforce, [started before and continued on] 5 December [1819] ⁠* 

My dear Sir

I did not chuse to be too positive concerning the law against flogging school-boys, as four or five years had elapsed since I had met with it. But upon referring to xxxxxxxxxxxxx <a> collection of Buenos Ayres xxxxx x newspapers & political journals, which I possess, I have found this curious edict, & now send you the ipsissima verba, [1]  faithfully transcribed from the Gazeta Ministerial del Gobierne de Buenos Ayres, Miercoles 13 de Octubre de 1813. [2] 

Buenos Ayres. 9 de Octobre de 1813.

Haviendo llegado a entender este Gobierno que aun continua en las escuelas de educacion la practica barbara de imponer a los Niños la pena de azotes, cuyo castigo es excesivo y arbitrario por parte de los Preceptores, que no estan autorizados para ello en manera alguna, y perjudicialisimo a lost objetos mismos de las instituciones juveniles; siendo adeinas absurdo a impropio que los Niños que se educan para ser Ciudadanos libres, sean en sus primeros años abatidos, vexados, y oprimidos por la imposicion de una pena corporal tan odiosa y humillante como la expresada de azotes: queda desdo hoy en adelante abolida y proscripta semajante costumbre, y pasese oficio al Cabildo de este Capital para quo lo haga executas en sus Escuelas. y al Intendente de Policia en los establecimintos particulares de esta clase, baxo la inteligencia de que los Maistros que la continuen aun despues del presonte Decreto seran privados de su oficio y castigados como infractores, pudiendo en su lugar usar de los estimulos decentes del honor y la emulacion en sus discipulos, con otras correcciones que no sean penas corporales aflictivas: y circulase a las Provincias.

Perez. [3]  Posadas. [4]  Peña. [5]  Manuel Moreno [6] 

Secretario interino.

“This Government having understood that the barbarous practise of inflicting upon boys the punishment of flogging still continues in Schools of Education, which punishment is excessive & arbitrary on the part of the Preceptors, who are not in any manner authorized to inflict it, & most injurious to the very objects of juvenile institutions, – it being moreover absurd & unfit that boys who are educated to be free Citizens, should in their first years be humiliated <dispirited>, vexed & oppressed by the imposition of a corporal punishment so odious & humiliating as the said flogging; – the said custom is from this day forth abolished & proscribed: & the decree it is transmitted to the Corporation of this City that it may be carried into effect in their schools, & to the Intendant of Police for the private establishments of this kind; it being understood that the Masters who shall persist in it after the present decree shall be deprived of their situations, & punished as breakers of the law, they being able to use in its place the decent natures <impulses> of honour & emulation in their scholars, with other mode of correction which may not be afflictive bodily pain. This decree shall circulate in the Provinces.

Would that the Revolutionists of the Plata had done nothing worse than this! – I believe the only faithful account of this proceedings is that in the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1811. (Chapter 17.) [7]  The preceding chapter relates to Venezuela, & contains the account of Mirandas bloody but short lived reign. [8]  Those chapters I wrote with great care & scrupulous fidelity, from public & private documents, sparing no pains in collecting materials, nor in arranging them. Perhaps you may not know that I wrote the historical part of that Register for the years 1808–9-10–11. [9]  four bulkier volumes than ever were produced before for such a work. It was recommended for prosecution in the Edinburgh Review, & I believe Brougham was the person to whom I am obliged for this recommendation. [10]  That it was taken into consideration by his party I know, – for I received intimation of their purpose; but they did not persist in it, – unluckily for me – I should indeed have stood upon high ground had I been brought to the bar of the House of Commons upon that score.

Dec. 5.

A letter from Koster has just reached me. He intended to have written to you by the same vessel, but want of time prevented him, & he has therefore desired me to communicate to you the following fact. “A French brig, called the Aurora, arrived here sometime ago from Cayenne (now in possession of the French) [11]  herx Captain [12]  has been buying slaves here, & sailed this day (Oct 10th) with a considerable number of these miserables for Cayenne, where it is generally understood he means to land them. Now this is against English, Portugueze & French laws. [13]  If he gets safe in he will have made an excellent speculation. It seems that the French Government (of Cayenne) prohibited the circulation of Portugueze copper money. [14]  The Captain or Supercargo of this brig bought it up very much below its value current value in the Portugueze Dominions, & came here with it. He has purchased slaves, & some British manufactures, but principally the former, with the copper, & if he gets these people safe into Cayenne he will obtain an enormous price for them. This copper will do us some harm in our trade, as it is disadvantageous to receive part of our payments in such money. – I hear there are no British cruisers off Demerara [15]  & that neighbourhood. If so, there will be a good deal of slave smuggling going on between Maranham, Para & Cayenne, & probably Surinam.”

I have now received from Koster the whole of his abridgement of the History of the Abolition into Portugueze, which would make about 200 pages in octavo, – such pages as the original. [16]  I am strongly persuaded that if these were printed it would do much good in many ways among the Brazilians. It would convince them of the wickedness of the trade, – it would possess the young with humane & generous feelings, & it would dispossess the old of those prejudices against England – especially with regard to her conduct upon this very point, which are excited by the Anglo-Portugueze press. Three Portugueze journals are at this time printed in London – (there were four) all three inculcate an envy hatred & malice towards England, – two of them are revolutionary, the one with little, – the other with no disguise; – the third, tho set up by the late Minister <Portugueze> P. Embassador as an antidote betrays its revolutionary wishes upon every occasion. [17]  The influence of these journals & more especially of the one entitled O Portuguez, Koster believes to have been one cause of the rebellion in Pernambuco. [18]  – I ought to add a very honourable anecdote of the King of Portugal. [19]  A brother of the Editor of the Correio Braziliense [20]  is in the army, & has long been in favour with the King, who assured him many years ago that his prospects should not be injured by his brothers conduct. Not long since the King asked him if he ever had any communication with his brother. The officer replied that he had not, nor ever would have, because of his mischievous conduct. “Write to him, said the King, & tell him to speak the truth, for I like to hear it, but tell him to speak nothing but the truth.” The King used to read the Correio, but till he was disgusted with the violence & falsehood which it not unfrequently contains.

I have left myself no room for other things which I had thought of saying, neither indeed would it be fitting to trespass longer upon your time, for which there are so many calls. – Early in the spring I hope to find my way to your door.

Present my remembrances to Mrs Wilberforce [21]  & the rest of your Lake-party,

& believe me my dear Sir

most truly & respectfully yours

Robert Southey.

I hope you have received the little book on Dr Bells system, which I desired Murray to send you. [22] 


* Endorsements: Pie Southey xxxx Law agt flogging School Boys in Buenos Ayres; 1819
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] ‘the very words’. BACK

[2] The Gazeta de Buenos Ayres (7 June 1810–12 September 1821), a weekly newspaper based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Southey’s copies were probably part of the 24 volumes of various official Gazetas, no. 3472 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[3] Jose Julian Perez (1770–1840), lawyer and member of the Second Triumvirate in Buenos Aires 1813–1814. BACK

[4] Gervasio Antonio Posadas (1757–1833), lawyer and member of the Second Triumvirate in Buenos Aires, 1813–1814; Supreme Director 1814–1815. BACK

[5] Nicolas Rodriguez Peña (1775–1853), businessman and member of the Second Triumvirate in Buenos Aires, 1812–1814. BACK

[6] Manuel Moreno (1782–1857), Argentine doctor and politician; state secretary to the Second Triumvirate 1813–1814. BACK

[7] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 395–422. BACK

[8] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 367–394, dealing with Francisco de Miranda (1750–1816), leading figure in the first Venezuelan Republic of 1811–1812. BACK

[9] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 to 1811 (1810–1813). BACK

[10] A long aside (attributed by Southey to Brougham) in the Edinburgh Review, 18 (August 1811), 420–423n, had questioned whether the ‘virulent personal abuse … levelled at the most respectable members of the Legislature’ in the Edinburgh Annual Register was in breach of parliamentary privilege. BACK

[11] Cayenne is the capital of French Guiana; it was occupied by British and Portuguese forces in 1809 and only returned to France in 1817. BACK

[12] Unidentified. BACK

[13] Britain had abolished the slave trade in 1807 and France had done so in 1815. It was not legal (after 1815) for Portugal to engage in slave trading north of the Equator. BACK

[14] The currency in use in Brazil was the Portuguese real. Copper coins for denominations smaller than one real had circulated since the 1750s. In 1809 all existing copper coins were overstamped and their value doubled. BACK

[15] A Dutch colony (now Guyana), next to French Guiana; it was captured by Britain in 1803 and formally ceded to Britain in 1815. BACK

[16] Koster had argued the ‘Impolicy of the Slave Trade’ in his Travels in Brazil (London, 1816), pp. 445–456; and Southey had suggested that Koster should translate into Portuguese an abridgement of Clarkson’s History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave–Trade by the British Parliament (1808). BACK

[17] Correio Braziliense (1808–1822), a liberal Portuguese journal published in London, no. 3203 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. O Investigador Portuguez em Inglaterra (1811–1819), no. 3409 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, was set up as a rival publication, subsidised by Domingo Antonio de Sousa Coutinho, 1st Count and Marquis of Funchal (1760–1833), Portuguese Ambassador in London 1803–1814. The third (openly ‘revolutionary’) journal was O Portuguez (1814–1822). The fourth, defunct, journal might be a reference to Microscopio de Verdades (1814–1815) or O Espelho Politico e Moral (1813–1814). BACK

[18] The unsuccessful revolution in Pernambuco March–May 1817, which attempted to make Brazil an independent Republic. BACK

[19] John VI (1767–1826; King of Portugal 1816–1826). BACK

[20] Hippolito José da Costa (1774–1823), editor of Correio Braziliense (1808–1822). His brother was José Saturnino da Costa Pereira (1771–1852), a military engineer and later a Senator in Brazil 1828–1852. BACK

[21] Barbara Wilberforce, née Spooner (1777–1847). The Wilberforces had visited the Lake District in the autumn of 1818 with their children and various friends. BACK

[22] Southey’s The Origin, Nature, and Object, of the New System of Education (1812). BACK