2270. Robert Southey to [William Wilberforce], 19 June 1813

2270. Robert Southey to [William Wilberforce], 19 June 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. June 19. 1813.


Your letter of May 28th lay at the booksellers till it could be inclosed in a parcel, & has only this day reached me. [1] 

The fact [2]  respecting Alboquerque [3]  is related by his son Bras d’Alboquerque [4] . in his Commentaries. Part 2. Chapt. 20. P 116 of the last edition (1774). [5]  After stating that it was the custom to make a widow burn herself, or in case of her refusal, condemn her to prostitute herself for the advantage of the pagoda of which she was a parishioner, as he calls it, he adds “e como Afonso Dalboquerque tomou o Reyno de Goa, naõ consentio que dali por diante se queimasse mais nenhuma mulher; e posto que mudar costume seja parelha de morte, todavia ellas folgaram com a vida, e diziam grandes bens delle, por lhes mandar que se naõ queimassem.” – when Af. D’Alboquerque took the kingdom of Goa he would not permit that any woman from thenceforward should burn herself; and altho to change their customs is equal to death, nevertheless they rejoiced in life, & said great good of it him, because he commanded that they should not burn themselves.” This is as nearly as may be a literal translation. I may add in proof of the veneration in which this great man was held by the natives, that long after his death when a Moor or Hindoo had received xxx wrong, & could obtain no redress from the Governor the aggrieved person would go to Goa, to Alboquerques tomb & make an offering of oil for the lamp which burned before it, & call upon him for justice.

Having been for many years employed upon the history of Portugal, [6]  its conquests & colonies, the knowledge which I had thus gained of the history of Hindostan enabled <me> to see that there was as much ignorance as irreligion in the arguments of the opponents of the Missionaries. When Joam de Barros [7]  <wrote> (a man who for the extent of his researches is worthy to be ranked with Herodotus [8] ) a fourth part of the population of Malabar consisted of native Moors; & the reason which he assigns for their rapid increase, is, that they had obtained privileges from the King & put themselves upon a level with the high casts, – “for which cause many of the natives became xxxxxx <embraced their faith.>“ He says in another place that the natives esteemed it a great honour when the Moors took their daughters to wife. [9] 

Without dreaming that the British empire in Asia can be permanent I earnestly wish, for the sake of Asia, that it may be preserved as long as possible & that it may leave as much <as> possible behind it; – that our faith, & language, & social institutions may survive us, it is our duty to use every allowable means for weaning the natives from their own false-religion, because that system xxxxxx is equally injurious to their morals & their temporal happiness, – it oppresses with them with burthensome & bloody ceremonies, making one portion of the community wicked & the other miserable. Xx xxxxxxxxx xx xxxx xxxxx which xxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxx religion xxxx I express myself here in terms which no man can contradict, let his opinions concerning Christianity be what they may; – for in fact all arguments against attempting to spread the Gospel have their root in unbelief, or in indifference. It is our interest, because every native Christian has a common interest with the British Government, & xx becomes a faithful subject to it, & xxxx xx Native Churches therefore are the strongest forts which we can erect.

The foundation <work> has been laid <begun> at Serampore. Carey is our Xavier, & his work will last longer than that of this <the> great Jesuit, because it is built upon a surer foundation. [10]  But tho without Missionaries Government could do nothing, I fear that our Missionaries without Government cannot do much; for while the English in India pay no regard to their own religion, the natives will necessarily despise it. A Church Establishment is the first thing needful, – schools the second in which we should take as much pains for teaching xxxxxxx <communicating> our own language – as are (most properly) bestowed in acquiring those of the country. Lastly the converts, wherever it is possible, should be employed both by the State & by individuals, in preference to other persons. It matters little in a political view for what motives the father may be baptized; – tho it be for the grossest self-interest, your work is done if you get his children to school & to church.

Hasty as this letter is I must not conclude without saying how much it gratifies me to know that Mr Wilberforce has been pleased with any thing which I may have written. – Hitherto I have had much to learn, – much also to unlearn, & xxxx greatly xxxxx xxx deficit as a man xxxx can & at this moment my deficiencies appear far greater to me than they can possibly do to my worst enemies, – for they can only compare me with themselves, while I measure the thing I am by the standard of that which I ought to be. Should it please God to continue to me the blessings & faculties which I now enjoy, I have great plans to execute, & good hope that I shall leave behind me works which may be useful to posterity, & worthy of remembrance. But the work is xxxxxx long & the day is shortening before me. I have a deep & ever-present sense of the uncertainty <of> life, & that feeling becomes almost painful when I consider what there is yet for me to do.

It is my pride to reckon among my friends, two of the greatest benefactors of the human race, – Clarkson & Dr Bell. Henceforth I shall count it among the honours which have fallen to my lot that I may of addressing Mr Wilberforce, & subscribing myself

with the greatest esteem & respect

his faithful servant

Robert Southey.


* Endorsement: Southey Mr Pu/ Albuquerque’s popu/ larity & why
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Wilberforce d. 15. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] For Wilberforce’s letter, which had asked for information on ‘Albuquerque’s being thanked by the widows of Hindostan, for saving them from the flames’ and for ‘any other facts or suggestions’ to assist in the Christianisation of Hindus, Robert Isaac Wilberforce and Samuel Wilberforce (eds), The Correspondence of William Wilberforce, 2 vols (London, 1840), II, pp. 264–265. BACK

[2] ‘The fact’, as reported in Southey’s ‘Periodical Accounts of the Baptist Missionary Society’, ‘that Alboquerque was blest by the women because he prohibited this custom [suti]’, Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 190. BACK

[3] Alfonso d’ Alboquerque (1453–1515), Portuguese nobleman and officer. The governor of Portuguese India 1509–1515, he was responsible for the conquest of Goa and Malacca and the establishment of Portuguese imperial power in the Indian ocean. BACK

[4] Brás d’Alboquerque (1500–1580) published a collection of his father’s papers under the title Commentarios in 1576 BACK

[5] Commentarios, 4 vols (Lisbon, 1774), II, pp. 116–117. Southey’s copy was no. 3165 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[6] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[7] Joao de Barros (1496–1570), Portuguese historian and author of Decadas da Asia (1552–1615). Southey possessed an edition of 1778–1788, number 3180 in the Sale Catalogue of his Library. BACK

[8] Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC), Greek author of The Histories and honoured as the ‘first historian’. BACK

[9] An unidentified reference from Joam de Barros (1496–1570), Decadas da Asia, 24 vols (Lisbon, 1778–1788). BACK

[10] William Carey (1761–1834; DNB), orientalist and missionary. A co-founder with his fellow Baptists Joshua Marshman (1768–1837) and William Ward (1769–1823), of the mission at Serampore and later of Serampore College (1818). Southey’s comparison is with St Francis Xavier (1506–1552), the Jesuit missionary. BACK

People mentioned

Clarkson, Thomas (1760–1846) (mentioned 1 time)
Bell, Andrew (1753–1832) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)