871. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 17 December 1803

871. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 17 December 1803 ⁠* 

Dear Tom

The news in your letter has vexed me – & after my manner set me upon discovering all the consolations that can be extracted from it. first & foremost that if you go as convoy you will not be stationed there. & therefore to sail at this season into warm weather is no such bad thing. If you go to Jamaica you will find a whole lot of letters. unless they have been burnt at the post office. As you will keep a keen look out for all describable things I need give you only one commission – which is that you do use your best endeavour to bring home a few live land crabs for me, that I may endeavour to rear a breed in England.

Do not send off Henry [1]  because it will be lost at the custom-house. keep it till you yourself come to England & can safely get it ashore. tis a good book for a long voyage – very dull but full of matter & trust-worthy as far as the authors information goes.

My review of Miss Baillie was for the Critical. [2]  that in the annual [3]  I suspect to be by Mrs Barbauld, who wrote the review of Chasteaubriands Beauties of Xtianity, [4]  & that infamous account of Lambs play, [5]  for infamous it is. Harrys only article is Soulavies Memoirs [6]  – & I have never seen the book since this was told me. You the rules you lay down will always point out Wm Taylor.

I think it possible Tom that you might collect some interesting information from the Negroes. by inquiring of any who may wait upon you, if they be at all intelligent concerning their own country, principally what their superstitions are – as whom do they worship? do they ever see apparitions? where do the dead go? what are their burial – their birth – their marriage ceremonies. – what their charms or remedies for sickness. What the power of their priests, & how the priests are chosen, whether from among the people, or if a seperate breed as the Levites & Bramins. [7]  You will easily see with what other questions these might be followed up, & by noting down the country of the negro with what information he gave, it seems to me very likely that a very valuable account of their manners & feelings might be collected. Ask also if they know any thing of Timbuctoo, the city which is sought after with so much curiosity, as being the centre of the internal commerce of Africa. This is the way to collect facts respecting the Native Africans & their country – I would engage in twelve months were I in the West Indies to get materials for a volume that should contain more real importancies than all travellers have yet brought home. Ask also what beasts are in their country. they will not know English names for them but can describe them so that you will know them – the Unicorn is believed to exist by me as well as by many others – you will not mistake [MS obscured] the Rhinoceros for one. enquire also for a land crocodile who grows to the length of six eight or ten feet – having a tongue slit like a snakes. my Portugueze speak of such animals in South Africa – they may exist in the Western Provinces.

You would have been very useful to me if you had been at the table when I was reviewing Clarkes book & Capt Burneys. [8]  Indeed I often want a sailor to help me [MS obscured] in the process of my history some curious facts respecting early navigation have come to light. I find the needle & the quadrant used in the Indian seas before any European vessel had ever reachd them. – & what surprizes me more the same knowledge of soundings in our own seas in 1400 as at present – which is very strange, for that practice implies a long series of registered experiences. The more I read the more do I find the necessity of going to old authors for information, & the sad ignorance & dishonesty of our boasted historians. If God do but give me life & health & eyesight I will show how history should be written – & exhibit such a specimen of indefatigable honesty as the world has never yet seen. I could make some historical Triads after the manner of my old Welsh friends, [9]  of which the first might run thus – the three requisites for an historian – industry, judgement, genius. the patience to investigate, the discrimination to select – the power to infer & to enliven.

Before this time you ought to have received two letters containing the rest of Edwards rascally history – which I am afraid will destroy all the pleasure you would else have derived from Ediths handy work. [10]  You gave me no new direction in your last – I shall therefore continue to direct as at present only with an elsewhere appended. Harry is at Edinburgh his address ‘to the care of Mr William Guthrie Bookseller Nicholson Street’. [11]  did I not tell you that he was sent off from Norwich having been so obstinately idle in spite of frequent advice & admonition. that Mr Martineau [12]  would keep him no longer. he seems to feel the situation into which he has plunged himself – for in consequence of this hastening head over heels into expence for which no provision had been made, & having xxxxx at Norwich had debts to the amount of 48£ he now knows not where to look for money. I must borrow to supply him – but I will say to you that it makes me very indignant to see such a want of common feeling in him as this waste of money denotes when he knows that my Uncle is straitened, & how hardly I earn what little I had can gain. He will succeed in the world, if his own extravagance do not prevent him – but I am afraid Tom that if brotherhood were to be determined by the heart & affections, you & I should have but one brother apiece. – Ediths love.

God bless you!

R Southey.

Saturday Dec. 17. 1803.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Galatea/ Cove of Cork./ or elsewhere/ Single.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 240-242 [in part]. BACK

[1] Robert Henry (1718-1790; DNB), The History of Great Britain, 6 vols (Dublin, 1789), no. 1316 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[2] Joanna Baillie (1762-1851; DNB), A Series of Plays (1802), reviewed in Critical Review, 37 (February 1803), 200-212. BACK

[3] Joanna Baillie, A Series of Plays (1802), reviewed in Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 680-685. BACK

[4] Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), Genie du Christianisme ou Beautes de la Religion Chretienne (1802) was reviewed in Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 247-255. BACK

[5] Charles Lamb’s John Woodvil: a Tragedy (1802), reviewed in Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 688-692. BACK

[6] Jean-Louis Giraud-Soulavie (1751-1813), Historical and Political Memoirs of Louis XVI (1802), Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 308-311. BACK

[7] In Judaism and Hinduism, hereditary groups with religious duties. BACK

[8] James Stanier Clarke (1766-1834; DNB), The Progress of Maritime Discovery (1803) and James Burney, A Chronological History of the Voyages and Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean (1803), both reviewed in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 3-20. BACK

[9] A rhetorical form in Welsh medieval manuscripts: it groups objects together in threes. BACK

[10] Edith Southey had copied out some of Southey’s poems to send to Tom Southey. BACK

[11] Southey’s direction was not quite correct. Henry Herbert Southey was lodging with John Guthrie of 2 Nicolson St, Edinburgh, a bookseller from Aberdeenshire. He was a founder of the firm Tait & Guthrie. BACK

[12] Henry Herbert Southey had studied medicine under the guidance of Philip Meadows Martineau (1752-1829), surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and a member of the Martineau family, prominent Unitarians in Norwich. In November 1803, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh. BACK