2698. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 12 January 1816

2698. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 12 January 1816⁠* 

My dear Rickman

It is Barrow [1]  who so perversely persists in discrediting cannibalism for no better reason than that he thinks his own preconceived opinion of more weight than the testimony of any body else: [2]  – this is strange & provoking in a man of so much knowledge & so much ability. It is curious too, – for he has expressed this disbelief before thro the same channel, [3]  & after the publication of my first volume [4]  seemed to retract it. Murray has a manuscript in his hands concerning the Tongataboo islands which contains some pleasant stories upon this subject, & upon savage life in general. I have advised him by all means to publish it. It is one of the most curious books of its kind, – drawn up from the account of a certain Mr Mariner who was spared from the massacre of a ships crew being a lad, & lived among them several years. [5] Wynn sent me once an extract from an unprinted Welsh Chronicle written in Latin, speaking of an invasion from Ireland it said that the leader was killed, & being a very fat man, one of the Welsh Chieftains had been for his share & made bacon for <of> him – I think the Latin words are ‘in carnem suillam condidit.’ [6]  – Now whether this for rashers, or for lard as unguents, like <as> the French surgeon in Brazil collected human fat from the Tupinambam boucans [7]  I know not; – but incline to believe in the rashers. It is a pity Barrow is not a Welshman, for the pleasure which he would derive from this story –

God bless you


Keswick. 12 Jany. 1816


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqre/ St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 15 JA 15/ 1816
Endorsement: 12 Janry 1816
MS: Huntington Library, RS 263. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 11–12. BACK

[1] Sir John Barrow, 1st Baronet (1764–1848; DNB), Second Secretary to the Admiralty 1804–1806, 1807–1845 and reviewer for the Quarterly Review. BACK

[2] Barrow doubted the existence of cannibalism in his review, in Quarterly Review, 13 (July 1815), 352–83 (367), of Journal of a Cruize made to the Pacific Ocean by Captain David Porter, in the United States Frigate Essex, in the Years 1812, 1813, and 1814, containing Descriptions of the Cape de Verd Islands, Coasts of Brazil, Patagonia, Chili and Peru, and of the Gallapagos Islands. Also a full Account of the Washington Group of Islands; the Manners, Customs, Dress of the Inhabitants, &c. &c. (1815). BACK

[3] Barrow had previously cast doubt on cannibalism in his reviews of Antoine Dentrecasteaux (1737–1793), Voyage de Dentrecasteaux (1808) in Quarterly Review, 3 (February 1810), 21–43 (38) and of Matthew Flinders (1774–1814; DNB), A Voyage to Terra Australis (1814) in Quarterly Review, 12 (October 1814), 1–46 (23). However, in the latter article, he qualified his opinions a little by asserting that the practice of cannibalism ‘for the mere love of human flesh as food’ had not been demonstrated. BACK

[4] Southey’s History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), I, pp. 191–95, 217–21 and 637 cited European travellers’ discussions of cannibalism in sixteenth-century Brazil. BACK

[5] William Mariner (1791–1853) lived in the Tonga islands from 1806 to 1810 after the local people attacked his ship and killed his crewmates. His narrative was published by Murray, having been prepared for the press by the meteorologist John Martin (1789–1869; DNB), as An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean, with an Original Grammar and Vocabulary of their Language (1817). Southey reviewed the book in Quarterly Review, 17 (April 1817), 1–39. BACK

[6] ‘He put him away for pig meat’. Southey quotes the twelfth-century Vita Griffini Filii Conani – the Life of Gruffudd ap Cynan (c. 1055–1137; Prince of Gwynedd 1081–1137). The unfortunate subject of this story was Trahaern ap Caradog (d. 1081; Prince of Gwynedd 1073–1081), who was killed fighting Grufydd ap Cynan at the Battle of Mynydd Carn in 1081. BACK

[7] Southey’s story of collecting human grease from the frames on which the Brazilian tribe, the Tupinambas, grilled their enemies, is related in his History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), I, p. 327. His source was Jean de Léry (1536–1613), Histoire d’un Voyage faict en la Terre du Brésil (La Rochelle, 1578), p. 245. Southey owned copies of 1578 and 1585 editions, nos 1709–1710 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

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