1589. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 27 February 1809

1589. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 27 February 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Rickman

First while I remember it about the honey in the trees. I have qualified the passage by saying scarcely a tree &c, so that your note has not been thrown away, but honey it is; the immediate mention of the bee proves this, – & other authorities confirm it. [1]  It is also common that the way of seeking it is to strike an axe into a tree; – I suppose the bees of that country contrive to hollow a tree for themselves as wasps hollow a bank. – but about this I shall have more to say hereafter. – I do not know that the sugar maple grows in S America; – it requires no warmer climate than our own, – for it flourishes at Versailles.

The Dobrizhoffer [2]  which I got at is out of Arrowsmiths reach: xx I xxxxx xxxxx wish he could get at the book.  [3]  – & earnestly wish I could meet with a copy for myself. It may be worth his while to enquire at the London Institution, [4]  – for it is probably too modern a book to be found at the Museum, [5]  unless they have funds for purchasing increasing the library which I believe is not the case. Has he Falkners book as well as his map. [6]  for they do not necessarily go together, – if he has I shall be greatly obliged to him to let me see it. – Longman will send it down. Longman by the by will consult him about this map of Chiloe, [7]  whether it be worth while to xxx engrave it for a History of Chili, a book of good authority by one of the Ex Jesuits, – which has been translated in America, & to which I am going to add notes & a Preface for them. [8] 

I will write about the Map when I have well examined it, – it is no candle light work.

Can you explain to me Herreras account of the mode of arithmetic used by the Indians of Yucatan. [9]  He says they count by fives till they come to twenty, then by twenties as far as a hundred, then to 400, & then to 8000, & from thence ad infinitum. I suppose Herrera did not understand this himself, – yet it looks like a blundering account of something remarkable, – & certainly the power of numeration which it implies is in itself curious.

I am hard at work filling up the two most laborious chapters of the volume. [10]  The Printer will have to wait a fortnight while they travel into Herefordshire. [11]  – By way of a fine stile – have you seen the advertisement of the Lady who was ‘born deficient of arms & legs!’–  [12] 

They ought to build stone theatres [13]  – if theatres are to be built at all, – which I hold not; they doing more harm than good. I suppose they will build cast iron-ones, – that being all that is wanting to make them uglier than they are at present. Bedford suspects the Society for the Suppression of Vice of setting them on fire. [14] 

Edith continues to grow better

God bless you


Feby 27. 1809.


* Endorsements: RS./ 27 Feby 1809; 27 Feb. 1809
MS: Huntington Library, RS 137. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 133–135. BACK

[1] The text in question here is a passage of the History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), I, p. 169, in which Southey summarises the narrative of Ulrich Schmiedel (?1510–1579?), a German mercenary in the service of Spanish conquistadors who travelled up the river Plate from Buenos Aires into the interior of Peru and Bolivia. Schmiedel, the author of Viaje al Río de la Plata (1534–1554), states, in Southey’s version, that the adventurers found honey in almost every tree. BACK

[2] 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

[3] Aaron Arrowsmith was renowned for his 1790 large chart of the world. Among Arrowsmith’s other productions were A Map of America (1804), which depicted North and South America. The second volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1817) contained Arrowsmith’s Map of Brazil and Paraguay with the Adjoining Countries. BACK

[4] The London Institution was established on 18 January 1806 at Old Jewry in the City of London, and was modelled on the Royal Institution. BACK

[5] The British Museum. BACK

[6] 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

[7] Writing to Rickman on 18 February, Southey declared that he had a 1791 map of the Chiloé archipelago, which consists of several islands lying off the coast of Chile; see Southey to John Rickman, 18 February 1809, Letter 1582. The map came from P. F. Pedro Gonzalez de Agueros (dates untraced), Descripcion Historial de la Provincia y Archipielago de Chile, y Obispado de la Concepcion (1791), no. 3480 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[8] Juan Ignacio Molina (1740–1829), a Chilean-born Jesuit who returned to his ancestral country of Italy when the Jesuits were expelled from South America in 1768 and who there wrote works, in Italian, on the natural and civil history of Chile. The English translation to which Southey refers is The Geographical, Natural and Civil History of Chili, published in Middletown, Conn., 1808. The London edition, 2 volumes, published in 1809 by Longman, featured two appendices compiled by Southey—‘An Account of the Archipelago of Chiloe, from the Description Historial of the Province P. F. Pedro Gonzalez De Agueros, Madrid 1791; An Account of the Native Tribes who Inhabit the Southern Extremity of South America, Extracted Chiefly from Falkner’s Description of Patagonia’. BACK

[9] Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas (1559–1625), Historia General de las Indias Occidentales o de los hechos de los Castellanos en las Islas y Tierra firme del Mar Oceano (1728). Southey cites the passage from Herrera (4. 10. 4) in his History of Brazil, 3 vols (1810–1819), I, p. 638, giving the verdict of a ‘friend, better acquainted with such subjects than I am’ (Rickman) that this is the earliest example of ‘vigesimal numeration’. BACK

[10] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810). BACK

[11] To Southey’s uncle Herbert Hill in Staunton on Wye. BACK

[12] From the Annual Register, ‘Chronicle’, 51 (1809), 322–323: ‘Wonderful Production of Nature, now exhibiting at the house of Mr. Polley, No. 17, New Bond-Street – Miss Beffin, a young lady who was born deficient of arms and legs – she is of comely appearance, 24 years of age, and only 37 inches high; she displays a great genius, and is an admirer of the fine arts; and what renders her so worthy of the public notice is the industrious and astonishing means she has invented and practised in obtaining the use of the needle, scissors, pen, pencil, &c. … all of which she performs principally with her mouth.’ Sarah Beffin (or Biffin; 1784–1850). BACK

[13] The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden had burnt down in 1808, and a fire at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane destroyed the building on 24 February 1809. BACK

[14] The Society for the Suppression of Vice, established in 1802, considered the theatre to be immoral. BACK

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