3275. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 24 March 1819

3275. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 24 March 1819 ⁠* 

Here is a story for you from the Acta Sanctorum (10 Jany.) Vol 1. p. 649. [1]  It is curious as showing the strange method of keeping an issue open in Portugal at that time, – or rather of promoting a discharge. The time must have been in the first part of the 16th century – for the fact was sworn to, among other miracles when, between the years 1550 & 1555 depositions were taken preparatory to the canonization of S Gonsalo De Amarante. [2] 


24 March. 1819

My dear Harry

Finding this extract in my desk, I fill up the sheet to tell you that we are going on tolerably well. Edith is much better & can walk about without difficulty, – but the leg swells at night, & there is still great debility in both limbs. Og was kept in order for about a week after I wrote to you, by the application of a roll of blotting paper, dipt in honey & soap, once in 24 hours: how much better was this than physicking him would have been! He is now natural in his non-naturals, & thrives prodigiously.

I have begun the fourth book of Oliver Newman, [3]  & am getting very much in earnest with it. – It was tried on a New Englander last week, with great success. – For the first time in my life I have taken up a subject which has a local interest & national interest for a people who can read the poem, – xx that advantage will not be worth one penny to me, in clean lucre [4]  – (why should I call it filthy?) – but it will ensure me an inheritance of popularity among the best of the Americans. I like what is done, well, – & what I have in prospect. the interest will be worthy, – the action diversified, – the circumstances picturesque, – the situations dramatic, & the characters distinctly conceived. More meo, [5]  while my mind has been led into this train of invention by one poem, I have x made no small progress in planning another of which Portugal will be the scene & the title Aljubarrota. [6] 

Here is a fact for Gooch. No doubt he knows the fact of the man in the Caraccas who suckled a child at his breast. [7]  I have found an instance of a withered old woman doing the same in France, – & Edmondson knew a case here at Keswick, – in which a girl did so, it being perfectly certain that the girl was not, & never had been a mother xxxxx herself. But what I have to tell Gooch as singularly important upon this subject is, – that Guaycurus who keep up their number by making war for the purpose of carrying away children, are so well acquainted with the fact in physiology that the action of the infants mouth will occasion a secretion of milk, that they rely upon it; & it is common among them for women of more than fifty years <of age> who have ceased from child bearing or never borne a child, to suckle these captives, when they are so young as to require the breast. – The chapter & verse for this you will see in my third volume. [8] 

God bless you. Love to Louisa & her mother


Quædam nobilis matrona, Domina Isabella de Sousa dicta, edito masculino fætu ex primâ partus conceptione, tam gravem in alterâ mamillâ contraxit infirmitatem, humore superfluo ibidem coagulato, ut medicis omnia exquisita sanitatis remedia tentantibus, omnino cassus fuerat illorum sollicitus labor. Anni jam unius integri spatium decucurrerat in illo medicando ulcere. Atque resolvendæ sanici gratiâ fistula quædam plumbea, a medicis et chirurgis fuerat excogitata, longitudinis digitalis, quâ in putridæ carnis hiatum immissâ, interius sanguinis putor foras ut efflueret conabantur. Post aliquot verò dies ulcere interius serpente, fistula taliter se intrinsecus recondidit, ut medici varia remedia adhibentes non solum non extrahere, sed nec etiam ut appareret efficere poterant ullo modo. Itaque plumbeum illud organum spatio quinque mensium intra pectus ejus latuit. Demum mortali jam periculo occurrere tantum cupientes chirurgi, communi consensu incisionem faciendam esse in mulieris pectore decreverunt. Post illam finalem ab illis jam latam sententiam, gratiâ visitandi infirmam, vir illustris Joannes de Sousa, socer illius, supervenit, et cognita medicorum deliberatione, ægrotantis nurus compatiens, illam verbis fide plenis admonere incepit, ut Beato Gondisalvo Amarantho volo emisso, tamquam cœlesti et probatissimo medico curandam se commendaret. Paruit confestim dictis soceri sui afflicta matrona, ejusque consilio acquiescens, votum vovit D. Gondesalvo, totâm illam comitante familiâ. Et lacrymis deinde obortis, humiles preces pro mortis periculo evadendo, atque sanitate pristinâ recuperandâ effundere coepit. Quid plura? Eademmet die, cum medici et chirurgi vespertine tempore venientes, emplastrum pectore femineo appositum purificandi humoris causâ extraxissent, fistulam a tanto tempore reconditam, fasciis et linamentis medicinalibus sponte suâ adhærentem invenerunt. Denique ne dubium aliquod suboriretur D Gondisalve meritis hoc factum esse, intra spatium octo tantum dierum perfectissime se sanatam vidit. [9] 


* Address: To/ Dr Southey/ Queen Anne Street/ Cavendish Square/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 27 MR 27/ 1819
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Don. d. 4. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Acta Sanctorum, 53 vols (Antwerp and Brussels, 1643–1794), January I (1643), p. 649, no. 207 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[2] St Goncalo de Amarante (1187–1259), Portuguese hermit and Dominican friar. He was canonised in 1560. BACK

[3] Southey’s unfinished epic, set in New England. The completed sections were published after Southey’s death in Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 1–90. BACK

[4] If the poem sold well in America, Southey would not receive any royalties, as there were no international copyright agreements at this time. BACK

[5] ‘Moreover’. BACK

[6] The Battle of Aljubarrota (14 August 1385), which secured Portuguese independence from Castile. See Southey’s note of 23 March 1819, developing an idea he first jotted down on 11 June 1808, Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 273. BACK

[7] Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent During the Years 1799–1804, 6 vols (London, 1814–1826), I, pp. 220–221, relating the story of Francisco Lozano of Arenas. The book was no. 1463 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[8] Southey’s History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, p. 668. BACK

[9] The passage translates as: ‘A certain noble matron, called Donna Isabella de Sousa, having produced a male baby from her first pregnancy, contracted such a serious indisposition in one breast, superfluous humour having coagulated in that place, that, although all the doctors had tried every obscure remedy to restore her health, their solicitous labour had been completely fruitless. A period of one whole year had now gone by while that sore was being treated. And, in order to restore her health, a lead pipe had been devised by the doctors and surgeons, of a finger’s length; after inserting this into an opening in the putrid flesh, they were trying to make the putridity of the blood inside flow out. However, after a few days, since the sore was creeping further inside, the pipe buried itself so far in that the doctors, employing various remedies, were unable not only to extract it, but even, as it seemed, to achieve anything by any means. So that lead instrument lay hidden within her breast for a period of five months. At length, the surgeons, who now desired only to relieve the mortal danger, by common agreement decreed that an incision must be made in the woman’s breast. After that final judgement had already been passed by them, the illustrious man Joannes de Souza, her father-in-law, arrived in order to visit the sick woman, and on learning of the doctors’ deliberation, suffering along with his sick daughter-in-law, he began to advise her, with words full of faith, that she should voluntarily entrust herself to Blessed Gondisalvus Amaranthus, as though to a celestial and most esteemed doctor, to be looked after. At once the afflicted matron obeyed the words of her father-in-law, and acquiescing with his advice, made a vow to D. Gondesalvus, accompanied by her whole family. And then, when tears had sprung up, she began to pour out humble prayers that she might escape the danger of death and recover her former health. Why say more? On that selfsame day, when the doctors and surgeons had come at Vespers time and taken off the plaster that had been placed on the woman’s breast to cleanse the humour, they found that the pipe, which had been concealed for such a long time, was clinging of its own accord to the bandages and medical linens. Finally, lest there should arise any doubt that D Gondisalvus did this by his merits, within the space of just eight days she saw herself most completely healed.’ BACK

People mentioned

Gooch, Robert (1784–1830) (mentioned 2 times)
Ticknor, George (1791–1871) (mentioned 1 time)
Edmondson, John (d. 1823) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Gonne, Mary (1768-1825) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)