1578. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 7 February 1809

1578. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 7 February 1809 ⁠* 

Walter Scott has very kindly broken the laws of the Advocates Library at his peril, & sent Dobrizhoffer over the border, [1]  – the bourne which it ought not to pass. In like manner I am promised Ramusio, [2]  & a French translation of Gumilla, [3]  – the former I want particularly for an account of the Orellana [4]  by my old friend Oviedo, which is certainly not to be found in his Spanish works. [5]  Of all the works of the latter Jesuits which have come into my hands Dobrizhoffers is beyond comparison the most interesting & to me the most important. I have been at him four days, & if I can get thro his three xxxx octavos of Vienna printing in a fortnight it will be hard work. Gutting is frequently xxx xxx <soon done>, – but this fellow is like a woodcock, – all trail, of which nothing is left to be lost. I almost tremble to think how imperfect my history must have been in many parts, if I had not been able to procure this author. – who is not only brimfull of the most curious information, but delivers that information in the pleasantest manner imaginable, telling stories of himself in lively Latin, & writing so honestly & cheerfully that one marvels how he came to be a Jesuit. – Here is the best account of the Yerva de Paraguay, [6]  & a very curious one it is, – & connected with it is a beautiful story, which as soon as my prose duty is discharged, I shall set about relating in verse, & send to Mrs Hill. [7]  Ballantyne who is about to start an Edinburgh Annual Register, has applied to his friend Walter Scott & to me for verses for it, & I design out of this said poem to buy myself an easy chair, – so it will put me to sleep, tho I hope nobody else will find it soporifxxxx<erous>.

You will see in the Memorias de S Vincente p.39. [8]  why I wish for the Santuario Marianno [9]  – which is doubtless in the main a grand collection of Catholick lies, but it seems that it contains more early documents respecting Brazil than are to be found elsewhere.

I detected De Bry [10]  the other day in a right Catholick piece of roguery. Two or three weeks ago William Taylor sent me the original French edition of De Lery. [11]  I was just then transcribing a chapter in which the author is frequently quoted, & knowing that when a man translates his own work he often alters & amplifies, – verified my references from the Latin by the French as I went on. Three or four times I found I had misnumbered the chapters; – now I am so remarkably exact in these things that this soon excited suspicion, & upon collating the two copies it proved that De Bry had left out the whole chapter in which Villegagnons treachery to the Hugenots is related, [12]  a long preface, & most of the scattered passages in which the ignorance & falsehood of Thevet are exposed. [13] 

I learn that the Annual Letters from Paraguay were published separately about the middle of the 17th century, – when the Jesuits were beginning to form their establishments there. [14]  Luckily I can leave this for the second volume, & by that time may possibly be able to hunt xxx them out in some of our public libraries, – for in these it is that the history of the Paulistas & their slave-wars is to be found. [15]  The Germans send books from their public libraries free by the post to any man of letters who wants them, in any part of Germany.


Gumilla & Ramusio are arrived. The whole of Oviedo is in the latter & in addition to his printed Spanish works, a letter to Card. Bembo [16]  containing a summary of Orellanas Voyage, [17]  from which nothing is to be learned, except that we have additional reason to regret the non-publication of the remainder of his history, – in which when he had given this voyage at length in four & twenty folios, as he received the account from Orellana himself. Ramusio contains nothing whatever about Brazil, except two pages by a Frenchman, who urges the K of France to take possession of it. Gumilla seems to have a much larger proportion of chaff than of wheat – but I hope to learn from him how far the Tupi tribes [18]  may be traced towards the North. – This smuggled importation from Scotland has stopt my transcribing, I should else <ere this> have sent off the second portion xx xxxx which has taken me a great deal of time. These chapters of manners, & state of the country are to xx straight forward narration what patch-work is to plain hemming.

Dobrizhoffer tells a story of Falkner which perhaps he has not told of himself. [19]  He used his hat for a plate, till it became so greasy that the dogs fairly eat it up one night.

The new Review is named the Quarterly. Scott I believe has reviewed the Cid there, Sharon Turner in the Annual. [20] 

About this business of the D of York I have heard something very odd, from a man who is better acquainted with all the secret history & mystery of political rascality than any other of my acquaintances person I have ever met with, & certainly as well as any one in England. [21]  From a number of circumstances he is led to xxx believe that the D of Kent & the P. of Wales are the secret instigators of this accusation. [22]  Quem Jupiter vult &c – [23] 

I have just bought the English Ulloa, [24]  & shall get Acosta [25]  from a library belonging to the Dissenters, in Red cross Street, which permits books to be taken out by the Trustees. [26]  The Paraguay letters [27]  will then be the only desiderata of any consequence.


Feby. 7. 1809.

Both copies of Bapt Porta [28]  are here: – they came from Bristol, from whence all the books were sent without selection. I do not think there is a box lost: but several volumes have been pilfered. Have you that Trigantiuuis [29]  which you bought in London? [30] 


* Address: To/ The Reverend Herbert Hill/ Staunton upon Wye/ Hereford
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey had Scott borrow a copy for him from the Advocates Library in Edinburgh, Martin Dobrizhoffer (1717–1791), Historia de Abiponibus, Equestri, Bellicosaque Paraquariæ (1784). Southey eventually owned a copy of this work, no. 843 in the sale catalogue of his library. It was translated by Sara Coleridge (with Southey’s encouragement), as An Account of the Abipones, An Equestrian People of Paraguay (1822). BACK

[2] Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485–1557), Navigatione e Viaggi (1565–1588). Southey eventually owned an early edition (3 vols, 1588, 1583 and 1556), no. 2382 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[3] José Gumilla (1686–1750), Histoire Naturelle, Civile et Geographique de L’Orenoque (1758), a French version of the original Historia Natural, Civil, & Geografica de las Naciones situadas en las Riveras del Rio Orinoco (1731). BACK

[4] The Amazon river was initially named the Orellana after the Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana (1511–1546). BACK

[5] Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (1478–1557), Historia General y Natural de las Indias (1542). BACK

[6] The herbal infusion, or tea, known as Yerba mate (also spelled Yerva mate) or Erva mate, made from Ilex paraguariensis, a species of holly. BACK

[7] This poem, sixteen years in the planning and drafting, was published as A Tale of Paraguay in 1825. BACK

[8] Gaspar da Madre de Deos (1715–1800), Memorias para a Historia da Capitania de S. Vicente, hoje Chamada de S. Paulo, do Estado do Brazil, Publicadas de Ordem da Academia R. das Sciencias (1797). BACK

[9] [Manoel Pereyra] Agostinho de Santa Maria (1642–1728), Santuario Mariano e Historia das Imagens Milagrosas de Nossa Senhora e das Milagrosamente Apparecidas (1707–1723), no. 3222 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[10] The collection of travel narratives published by Theodor and Johann Israel De Bry (1528–1598), Peregrinationes (1598–1613). BACK

[11] Jean de Léry (1536–1613), Histoire d’un Voyage fait en la Terre du Bresil (1578), was no. 1709 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[12] Nicolas Durand, de Villegaignon (or Villegagnon) (1510–1571), who invaded Brazil in 1555 to claim it as a French colony, with a group of with a group of Huguenots who were escaping Catholic persecution and some Catholics. Disgusted by disputes between the Protestant and Catholic colonists, Villegagnon condemned some of the Calvinists to death, withdrew his support, and returned to France. In 1558 the colonists were defeated by the Portuguese. BACK

[13] André Thevet (1502–1590), whose Les Singularitez de la France Antarctique (1557) purported to be a first-hand account of a French expedition to Brazil. BACK

[14] The Cartas Ánuas de la Provincia del Paraguay (or Annual Letters from the Province of Paraguay) were published reports of the Jesuit missions in Paraguay (1607–1767). BACK

[15] Although opposed to the slave-raids or bandeiras conducted by the seveneteenth century colonists of São Paulo, ‘Paulistas’, the Jesuits often accompanied them so as to minister to the raiders’ spiritual welfare. Despite this, the raids frequently targeted the Indians whom the Jesuits had brought into village settlements, ‘Reductions’, under their supervision. BACK

[16] Cardinal Pietro Bembo (1470–1547). BACK

[17] Francisco de Orellana (1511–1546) died during a disastrous expedition, on which only 44 of 300 men survived, navigating the Amazon. His exploits were described in Oviedo’s Historia General y Natural de las Indias (1542). BACK

[18] An Indian tribe of the Amazon. BACK

[19] Thomas Falkner (1707–1784), an English Jesuit whose papers were published as A Description of Patagonia and the Adjoining Parts of South America (1774). BACK

[20] Southey’s The Chronicle of the Cid (1808) was reviewed by Scott in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 117–134. Sharon Turner reviewed Southey’s Chronicle of the Cid (1808) in the Annual Review for 1808, 7 (1809), 91–99. BACK

[21] Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), Commander in Chief of the army. He held the post from 1798–1809, but was forced to resign in the wake of allegations that he had profited by allowing his mistress, Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB), to accept money from army officers, in return for which promotion was arranged. According to Southey’s letter to Thomas Southey, 3 February 1809, Letter 1574, his informant was Daniel Stuart. BACK

[22] Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (1767–1820; DNB), the fourth son of King George III (1738–1820, DNB). BACK

[23] From an anonymous ancient proverb: ‘Quem Jupiter vult perdere, dementat prius’. The Latin translates as ‘Whom the Gods (Jupiter) would destroy, they first make mad’. BACK

[24] Antonio de Ulloa y de la Torre-Giralt (1716–1795) travelled to South America in order to compile a confidential report for the Spanish government on the state of its colonies. After the voyage he pubished Relación Histórica del Viaje á la América Meridional (1784). Southey owned the English version, Voyage to South America (1806), no. 2927 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[25] José de Acosta (1539–1600), Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias (1590). Southey came to own a copy of this work, no. 3220 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[26] Dr Williams’s Library, established in Red Cross Street, Cripplegate, in 1729, through the bequest of the Presbyterian minister and benefactor, Daniel Williams (c. 1643–1716; DNB). BACK

[27] The Cartas Ánuas de la Provincia del Paraguay (or Annual Letters from the Province of Paraguay) were published reports of the Jesuit missions in Paraguay (1607–1767). BACK

[28] No. 2286 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library was Giambattista della (John Baptist) Porta (1537?-1615), De Humana Physiognomonia (1601). BACK

[29] Trigantius (Nicolas Trigault) (1577–1628), a Flemish Jesuit compiler of a narrative of the Jesuit mission to China, De Christiana Expeditione apud Sinas suscepta ab Soc. lesu ex P. Matth. Ricci (1615). BACK

[30] Post-script written upside-down across the top of the first page of the letter. BACK

People mentioned

Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 4 times)
Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 2 times)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 1 time)
Stuart, Daniel (1766–1846) (mentioned 1 time)
George IV (1762–1830) (mentioned 1 time)
Ballantyne, James (1772–1833) (mentioned 1 time)