957. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 30 June 1804

957. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 30 June 1804 ⁠* 

Dear Rickman,

Herewith comes the key. the desk might pass safely through the Inquisition – but what is to be done about the Irishness of Bruces Travels? which I am afraid renders it liable to confiscation, unless Mr Abbotts bill about <for> extending Literary Property to Ireland render that statute obsolete now, as it of course must be hereafter. [1]  perhaps this plea with the help of a well-applied five shillings, may avail. Claus <Olaus> Magnus must pay sixpence per pound weight, & will still be a cheap purchase. [2] 

Bruce is not to be depended upon for any point of history. tho he understood Portugueze it is plain that he did not write from Portugueze books by his misnomers. Vasco de Gama [3]  he calls Vasques de Gama. now, the es is a xxxxxx patronymic ending, equivalent to the ιδης [4]  of the Greeks. the son of Vasco would be called Joam or Antonio Vasques. this was sheer indolence in Bruce – but he sometimes from the <same> trick of writing without authorities xxxxxx asserts what is absolutely false. – I make a critical bibliography as I go on which will be found useful by those who come after me.

I xx am just comp finishing the life of Alboquerque the founder of the Portuguese Empire in the East, & to whom the very xxxx a man who was indeed fit to found Empire. [5]  his son was his historian – a very honest one – he tells you that Alb<oquerque> finding the Tamorim continued to relay evade a disadvantageous treaty by perpetual delays – advised th his brother to poison him, & succeed to the throne – as then the business might be settled – And so he did – Bras d’Alboquerque relates it in this cool way – & it authenticates his whole history. [6]  Barros conceals the fact. [7]  I have caught so <out> Barros in so many dishonesties that I now begin to feel a pleasure in detecting more, that his character may be settled.

Thank you for some Parl. Pro. yesterday. [8]  I perceive an equal number of both sexes among the negroes – contrary to what I had understood to be the case.

yrs truly


Saturday. 30 June. 1804.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS./ June 30: 1804
MS: Huntington Library, RS 60. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 279–280. BACK

[1] Southey is asking Rickman to supervise the movement of a cargo of books sent by his brother Thomas Southey from Cork, Ireland, through customs, where duty would be levied on it according to its weight. He jokes that one of the books, James Bruce’s Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, in the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 and 1773 (1790), notoriously full of the implausible and the exaggerated, was ‘Irish’ enough in character to be an Irish publication, and so exempt from duty. ‘Mr Abbott’s bill’ was an attempt by Charles Abbott, the Speaker of the House of Commons and, in 1801–1802, Chief Secretary and Privy Seal for Ireland, to extend British copyright law to Ireland (after the political union of Britain and Ireland in 1803) and so end the practice of pirate editions being published there. BACK

[2] Olaus Magnus (Olaus Magni or Olaus Magni Gothus; 1490–1557): Swedish Catholic cleric and historian of Scandanavia; author of Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (1555). Southey’s edition was that of Basle, 1567, and was no. 1936 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[3] Vasco da Gama (c. 1460/9–1524): Portuguese explorer who was the first European to reach India by sea, enabling the establishment of Portugal’s colonial empire and commercial monopoly in Asia. BACK

[4] Meaning ‘the son of’. BACK

[5] Afonso de Albuquerque (1453–1515): naval officer and second governor of Portuguese colonies in India, which he greatly expanded by conquest and fortification. His feats were celebrated in the epic poem The Lusiads (1572), by Luís Vaz de Camões (1524–1580), of which Southey owned several editions. BACK

[6] Southey owned an edition of the collection of Albuquerque’s papers and letters edited by his son, Brás de Albuquerque (1500–1580), Commentarios do Grande Affonso d’Alboquerque (1774), no. 3165 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[7] No. 3180 of the sale catalogue of Southey’s library was Joao de Barros (1496–1570) and Diogo de Couto (c. 1542–1616), Decadas da Asia dos Feitos, que os Portuguezes Fizeram na Conquista, e Descubrimento das Terras, e Mares do Oriente (1778–1788). BACK

[8] In June 1804 William Wilberforce once more presented a bill to abolish the slave trade. It successfully passed through the House of Commons, but was too late in the parliamentary session to complete its passage through the House of Lords, and on its reintroduction in 1805 was defeated. BACK