1273. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 4 February 1807

1273. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 4 February 1807 ⁠* 

I am writing all the letters to my Barker, says Edith this morning (my Barker she always calls you, & always adds – will she come again) It is time for conscience-sake that I should follow my daughter’s example.

A great deal has happened to change my plans for the ensuing campaign. My Uncle wrote me two pressing letters two days running, to send for his papers upon Brazil, to offer the information which they contain to Government – & to lose no time in bringing forward that part of my history. I wrote accordingly to Wynn, [1]  proffering thro him to Lord Grenville, [2]  more information concerning the interior of South America than probably any other individual in Europe possesses – except one Frenchman – who has seen these very papers. [3]  Lord G.s answer was (I am writing secrets Senhora, not to go beyond yourself) that my information seemed to relate to the wrong side of S. America – which was not a very wise answer – for it related to the state of the interior, which would show him how far schemes of conquest are feasable (he may as well think of conquering the Moon & making his Majesty the Man of it) – & it would also show him the whole detail of the Brazilian mines, & teach him the necessity of putting those endless resources in security from France. But no matter – the answer suits me better than a more politic one would have done, for God knows I have no wish to draw up memorials for statesmen. The way to instruct them is thro the people, – truth gets at them in that way in about fifty years. He added advice to me to lay aside every other literary pursuit & give this information to the public as soon as I could, – because it would be so advantageous to him myself, – & said that government had no wish to keep any such things secret but rather wished them to be generally known. Of which the English is that they like to be guided by public opinion, & that Senhora is good English, & as it should be.

Well – here are the Mss. arrived from London – a most invaluable collection – which would show you that my Uncle is as indefatiguable as I am, & that the good blood in my veins comes from that side. here are my books about Brazil from London & from Bristol – this very day Feby. 1. I have begun – & here shall I stay till the first volume be fit to be taken to London – & put to press. [4]  & nothing shall I do as soon as my hands are clear of other business, which they soon will be.

I meant to have finished my little reviewing & Don Manuel [5]  yesterday. Three days influenza threw me back. D Manuel was calculated at 330 pages. that number I have finished – but there must be about 30 more. – some ten evenings works. then there is half Palmerin. [6]  All will soon be done, & the book shall be in the press by the end of autumn.

Mrs. Coleridge and her children are to join C. early in April to go into Devonshire – where the longer they stay the better. Perhaps if Wordsworth settles in the south they will not return at all – which is what I wish, as it would tempt me hugely to fix here. I believe Rickman & his wife will come here in the summer.

Your last letter was of a better complection than usual – things could not have taken a better turn. –

I am alone & have been so for six weeks. poor Tom is first Lieutenant of the Pallas – a frigate so miserably manned that he is almost worn out with duty, [7]  – his feet ulcered with chilblains. – I have been admirably industrious ever since he went – yet by a far greater exertion have seldom omitted any day to walk to Scriggins Crag: taken that opportunity if the weather permits of studying my Dutch grammar. – Espriella will be a very singular book, but there should have been a fourth volume to hold all. I have poured out much of my mind, – & a good deal of collected facts for the history of the age – yet hardly feel the emptier. That part which relates to the various divisions of the Methodists must be comprest into one chapter (indeed is done) – because I could not get two books, & could not do without them. Whitfields Journal [8]  is the one – the whole of it – a late edition of the two first parts Danvers got for me, in a state incurably beastly, – but these do not come down far enough, & the first edition is the desirable one – because he was ashamed of some things in it – The other is the life of a certain Alexander Kilham, [9]  founder of the New Methodists, who seems to have been a very thorough republican, & about whom I should much like to know more.

Should Espriella have such a sale as to make it at all worth while to add a fourth volume – or a second work written on an after visit to England, the whole history of this body might be given at length, & I would take some pains in giving a fair & philosophical history of the founders. The Wesleys [10]  were a very extraordinary family. How is it Senhora that so few people in the world look at things fairly? Is it not true that in most cases people examine both books & men not for what they can find in them, but for what they wish to find, & to confirm their own opinions not to rectify them?

I had nearly forgotten two things – the one to remember you that I was to remember you that you was to remember that I loved toasted cheese. – with which the Evangelicals may come. – the other thing is of too different a nature to be mentioned in the same paragraph.

Did I ever tell you of Henry Kirke White a lad of Nottingham, – who published some poems, which were so cruelly reviewed in the Monthly, that I wrote to him to encourage him, & offered to get him subscribers for a second volume? – Well – he is dead. & I have had all his papers – from which I am about to edit two volumes, including a account of his life by myself. [11]  Most assuredly I do think him in point of genius equal to Chatterton, [12]  & a far greater loss to the world, in as much as he seems to have been as admirable for his moral qualities, as for his power of mind. It would have half broken your heart to have seen the prodigious labour with which he had been amassing knowledge to be all cut off at the age of twenty! – His pieces of course are of different merit, & will show the whole growth of his powers – for which purpose I have selected some which were written at a very early age – but there are many among them quite of first rate excellence, & than which nothing can be better. – Had I died at his age I should have left nothing whereby to be remembered. Poor fellow it will affect you very much to see his anticipations of early death. & his aspirations after fame. He however has his wish, & a high pleasure it would have been to him is he could have foreseen that the task of preserving his remains would have been undertaken by me –

God bless you


Feby 4. 1807.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Postmark: KESWICK/ 298
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 216–221.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 408–412. BACK

[1] For this, see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [15 December 1806], Letter 1243. BACK

[2] Lord Grenville, Wynn’s maternal uncle, Prime Minister. His administration fell in March 1807. BACK

[3] The identity of this French cleric is unclear. It is likely that he was Abbé Francois Garnier (1722–1804), the long-standing chaplain to the French factory in Lisbon. A less likely possibility is Abbé Jean-Antoine Dubois (1765–1848), a French Catholic missionary in India, whose long sojourn in the southern districts brought him into contact with the legacy of Portuguese Catholic colonialism there. Dubois’s manuscript history of Indian religion was purchased by the East India Company and published in English as Description of the Character, Manners and Customs of the People of India, and of their Institutions, Religious and Civil (1816). BACK

[4] Southey’s History of Brazil appeared in three volumes from 1810 to 1819. BACK

[5] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[6] Southey’s edition of Francisco de Moraes Cabral (1500?-1572), Palmerin of England was published in 1807. BACK

[7] Thomas Southey’s ship, launched in 1804, was a 32 gun fifth rate frigate, whose first captain was Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (1775–1860; DNB), under whom she was involved in the capture of many French and Spanish warships. In 1807, command passed to Captain George Miller (dates unknown). BACK

[8] George Whitefield’s Journals were published in an unauthorised version in 1738. The authorised version, The Two First Parts of Whitefield’s Life, with his Journals Revised, Corrected and Abridged, appeared in 1756. BACK

[9] The autobiographical Life of Alexander Kilham (1762–1798), founder of the ‘methodist new connection’, was first published in 1799. BACK

[10] John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB) and his brother Charles (1707–1788; DNB). BACK

[11] Southey had favourably reviewed Henry Kirke White, Clifton Grove, a Sketch in Verse, with other Poems (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), pp. 552–554. He included the unfavourable review published in the Monthly for February 1804 in the ‘Account of the Life of H. K. White’ that prefaced his edition of White’s works: Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham, 2 vols (London, 1807). BACK

[12] Southey and Joseph Cottle edited the Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803) and gave the profits from the sale to Chatterton’s impoverished mother and sister. BACK