1267. Robert Southey to John May, 27 January 1807

1267. Robert Southey to John May, 27 January 1807 ⁠* 

Keswick. Jany. 27. 1807.

My dear friend

I omitted to notice the heavy loss you sustained in Mr Wakefield [1]  from haste, letters & a proof-sheet (which requires immediate attention) coming in while I was writing to you, which put it out of my head. What your loss must have been struck me when I read his death in the newspaper, & I sincerely condole with you upon the occasion. The character which you sent me I like well, & what you have (in your last) added to it better, because it is more xxxxx discriminating. – You ask me for an inscription, – the successful one I conjecture will come from Dr Aikin ; a likely man – from family & friendly feelings to attempt one, & a likely one to succeed in it. The lapidary style is of all others the most difficult, – I have a volume written upon it by a German – but it is not here, & I have never yet read it. In my own judgement the shorter such things are the better, – all cannot be said upon stone, some gain comprehension therefore should be aimed at, – not discrimination. I would enter his character at length in the register ‘by special desire of his Parishioners’ – & inscribe the stone with something to this purport

This Monument is erected


The Inhabitants



in grateful & honourable remembrance


Thomas Wakefield

Their Excellent Pastor.

The full character would be equally copied from the register as from a monument into Magazines & County Histories, x from its unusuality it would have a better chance of being read, & the circumstance of its being so placed would ensure belief for it, which marble, having so long been taught to tell lies, could hardly expect. – Your loss in such a man must indeed be serious, & there is little hope that it can be replaced.

I thank you for your fears least I should alter a plan deliberately formed, for the sake of temporary advantage, & so injure it. Such however will not be the case, – nor indeed is there any temporal advantage which could ever induce me in any of my own literary plans to depart, in the slightest degree, from what I believed to be the best possible way. Portugueze History naturally & necessarily falls into three great divisions – that of the Mother Country & of the East Indies Asiatic Conquests, & of Brazil. Barros [2]  & Favia e Sousa [3]  would be authorities sufficient – if I even needed authority for my sanction. But their to divide the subject was the first advice my uncle gave me, & as soon as I got acquainted with my materials I perceived that they could not be disposed of otherwise without an endless confusion, – of which – if you have read La Clede [4]  you must have been sensible. I differ from Barros & old Manoel [5]  in not seperating Africa from the Mother-Country, – in that they are wrong, before because those events are inseperably connected with home politics, on which the colonies & other conquests had no other effect whatever than what the revenues which they sent home produced.

The Brazilian history therefore is as distinct from that of the Mother Country as if it had no connection with it, & the only circumstance in which it will not be quite so compleat as if the other parts had been published is, that it is my intention in each part to give an account of the authors referred to, their lives biographical & critical; & there will be a few quoted here of whom the accounts must be in the other parts, Joan de Barros for instance, & Antonio Galvano, [6]  – who treat only incidentally of Brazil.

You will perceive from this explanation that your friendly fears are causeless.

We are going upon a wrong plan with respect to South America, & a ruinous one, –which must occasion a tremendous effusion of blood sooner or later, & inevitably to our ultimate defeature. [7]  What should be done is to throw the Spanish Colonies open, & leave them alone, by which means we should have the full benefit of commercial intercourse – which is all the good the nation ever can derive from them, without expence or hazard; cut off their trade with the Mother Country, and make a free trade with them the main article of peace. We should thus materially forward the improvement of that wonderful country. But ministers want places to dispose of, – & in this all ministers are alike. It seems as if there were some law of nature by which Governments never were th always to be behind hand with the people in wisdom, & never to adopt sound principles of conduct till long after all thinking men had considered them as axiomatic.

I am hurrying my printer with Don Manuel, [8]  in whose letters, with much matter of a lighter cast, you will see some a good deal of my mind poured out on subjects of some importance. But my limits have been too constrained, & the book would ha[MS torn] been better if it had suited me to have extended it to a fourth volume. The most compleat part will be the view of the different religious sects in the country – in which I think no former historian of heresies has equalled me, St Epiphanius [9]  himself not excepted.

Herbert grows finely, & if it were for the Tartar-shaped eyes which all my children have – I cannot divine by what right of inheritance – he would be a beauty. I tell my daughter that she is like my old books, – ugly, but good; – tho sometimes sad to say the latter part of the simily is not so accurate as the former. All her perceptions & feelings are so fearfully quick, that I am never without a dread of their that some tendency to organic disease occasions this exquisite acuteness. Thank God she is well as yet, & as strong as if she were own child to Hercules or Samson, before he had his hair cut.

In my last, I recommended to you the Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson [10]  – let me now recommend Dr Jarrolds Dissertations on Man in reply to the abominable book of Malthus [11] Coleridge is with Wordsworth in Leicestershire. [12]  Mrs C & the children are to join him somewhere on the way to Ottery, [13]  early in the spring.

Edith joins me in remembrances to Mrs May. You have perhaps seen his Doctorship by this time – as he knows where & when you are visible.

God bless you

yrs affectionately



* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ Richmond/ Surry/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ JAN31/ 1807; 10 o’Clock/ JA.31/ 1807
Endorsement: N.o 125 1807/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 27th Jany/ rec.d 31st do/ ans.d 7th April
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 404–408. BACK

[1] The Revd. Thomas Wakefield (d.1806) held the living of May’s parish, Richmond, Surrey, for thirty years. He was the brother of Gilbert Wakefield (1756–1801; DNB), the Unitarian classical scholar and radical pamphleteer, whom Coleridge and Southey admired and whose death after a period of imprisonment was mourned by the Aikin family and other Unitarian dissenters. BACK

[2] Southey owned Joao de Barros (1496–1570) and Diogo de Couto, Decadas da Asia dos Feitos, que os Portuguezes Fizeram na conquista, e Descubrimento das Terras, e Mares do Oriente (1778–1788). BACK

[3] Southey owned Manuel de Faria y Sousa (1590–1649), Asia Portuguesa (1666–1675). BACK

[4] Nicolas de La Clede (1700–1736), Histoire Generale de Portugal (1735). BACK

[5] Manuel de Faria e Sousa (1590–1649), the Portuguese historian whose works appeared posthumously as Europa Portugueza (1667); Ásia Portugueza (1666–1675); África Portugueza (1681). BACK

[6] Antonio Galvaō (c. 1490–1557), Tratado dos Descobrimentos Antigos, e Modernos Feitos ate a Era de 1550 (1731). BACK

[7] In June 1806, with Spain, the colonial master of South America, under French sway and Britain’s enemy, a force under Admiral Sir Home Riggs Popham (1762–1820; DNB) and William Carr Beresford (1768–1856; DNB), occupied Buenos Aires and held it until 14 August. On 3 February 1807 the attack was renewed when the British took Montevideo from the sea. In July a British attempt to retake Buenos Aires was repulsed with great loss of life. BACK

[8] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807) was being printed by Richard Taylor (1781–1858; DNB), printer and naturalist, who would go on to establish the publishing firm of Taylor and Francis with his son William Francis (1817–1904; DNB) in 1852. BACK

[9] Saint Epiphanius (ca. 310–403), Bishop of Salamis, compiled a huge compendium of heresies. BACK

[10] Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681; DNB), Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (1806), a posthumously published memoir by the widow of Colonel John Hutchinson (1615–1664; DNB), a Puritan commander in the English civil war and a signatory of the death warrant of King Charles I. For Southey’s letter to May, see Southey to John May, 29 December 1806, Letter 1252. BACK

[11] Thomas Jarrold (1770–1853; DNB), Dissertations on Man, Philosophical, Physiological, and Political; In Answer to Mr. Malthus’s ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’ (1806). BACK

[12] At Coleorton, seat of Sir George and Lady Beaumont. BACK

[13] Ottery St Mary, Devon, the birthplace of Coleridge and the home of his mother and brothers. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)