3049. Robert Southey to William Wilberforce, 10 December 1817

3049. Robert Southey to William Wilberforce, 10 December 1817⁠* 

My dear Sir

I have just received a letter from Kosters sister, [1]  informing me that the Consulship at Maranham is vacant, the person who held the office [2]  being obliged to leave that place in consequence of an intrigue with the Governors daughter, [3]  – of course it is impossible that he should ever return there.

A very erroneous notion has got abroad that I who dwell at the foot of Skiddaw, who associate more with the dead than xxx with the living, & who have set my heart & hopes upon the next world – not upon this, – am very much engaged in political affairs: & possess in consequence some political influence. This draws upon me a great deal of abuse to which I am properly indifferent; tho it induces likewise occasional applications from which I would willingly be spared.

In writing to you upon this occasion I mean merely to xxx say that if this Consulship in Maranham, or any similar situation in Brazil at any future time, could be obtained for Henry Koster, the interest of the British merchant, & the honour of the British nation would be in safe, upright & conscientious keeping. But I am perfectly aware that the claims upon you must be numerous, & the applications with which you are troubled, ten times more so. And I am also aware that your parliamentary interest, when you might chuse to exert it, is probably by no means commensurate with the weight which your opinion carries to the public, – this being, I believe, far greater than that of any other individual.

I have looked with some anxiety for the letter of Mr Pitts [4]  with which you promised to favour me. It is not I think from any clinging prejudice that I am unable to regard Mr Pitt as a great statesman. His conduct of the war appears to me to have been miserable, & his domestic policy perilously erroneous in some momentous points – more especially in the Catholic question. I do however full justice to his intrepidity, his talents, & his English feeling, – in which last & most essential quality for a British minister Mr Fox was lamentably wanting. – But I am better qualified to deliver an opinion upon Ignatius Loyola [5]  or George Fox, [6]  than upon either of these great leaders.

Perhaps you may have heard that I am writing (in truant hours & yet with great diligence) a life of Wesley. [7]  It will be upon such a scale as to comprize a view of our religious history during the last fourscore years. I think it will not be read without interest & I hope not without utility sooner or later. I remember Wesley well, he laid his hands upon me when I was about six years old, & blest me. It was a chance meeting: – I was going xx up the stairs of a lodging house at xxx Bath when he came out of one of the rooms, & was struck with my appearance.

farewell my dear Sir

& believe me faithfully & most respectfully


Robert Southey.

Keswick. 10 Dec. 1817.


* Endorsement: Pte Mr Southey/ recommending/ Mr Henry Koster
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: R. I. Wilberforce and S. Wilberforce, The Correspondence of William Wilberforce, 2 vols (London, 1840), II, pp. 387–389; R. I. Wilberforce and S. Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce, 5 vols (London, 1838), IV, p. 373 [in part; misdated 11 December 1817]. BACK

[1] Koster had seven sisters: Harriet (b. 1780); Charlotte (b. 1783); Juliana Elizabeth (1788–1790); Maria Susanna (d. 1790); Lucretia (1795–1822); Emma (1797–1817); and Elizabeth (1799–1875). BACK

[2] Robert Hesketh (1789–1868), Consul in Maranhao 1812–1832, Consul at Rio de Janeiro 1832–1852. He retained his post, despite his reported behaviour. BACK

[3] A daughter of Paulo Jose da Silva Gama, Baron de Bage (1748–1826), Governor of Maranhao 1811–1819. BACK

[4] William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minster 1783–1801 and 1804–1806. Pitt had presided over the declaration of war on Revolutionary France in 1793 and favoured Catholic Emancipation. BACK

[5] Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), founder of the Jesuit order. BACK

[6] George Fox (1624–1691; DNB), founder of the Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers). BACK

[7] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

People mentioned

Koster, Henry (1793–1820) (mentioned 2 times)

Places mentioned

Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)