3213. Robert Southey to Henry Koster, 27 November 1818

3213. Robert Southey to Henry Koster, 27 November 1818⁠* 

My dear Koster,

Thank you for your list of Governors and Bishops, [1]  for all you have done for me, and all you are doing. I am hard at work as usual, and have at this time the 48th sheet of the third volume lying before me: when the volume reaches you, you will see in more parts than one of what you use you have been. The end of my long labours is at last fairly in view, there is a great pleasure in completing anything, more especially a work of such extent and difficulty as this, which I verily believe to be the most laborious history in our language. As soon as it is finished I go to press with the History of the Peninsula War, [2]  which will excite much more immediate attention. But I am far from regretting that so much time and labour has been bestowed upon a subject for which few English readers (such as readers now are) can be expected to feel much interest. No other person could have brought the same industry and the same advantages to the task: – an Englishman would have wanted the wide scope of Portuguese knowledge and the Portuguese feeling to which so many years conversance with Portuguese literature had given me; and on the other hand a native of Portugal or Brazil would have been shackled by many prejudices or political considerations, and his ignorance on some points would have counter-balanced his superior knowledge which he would have possessed on others. What I have done is in many parts very imperfect; it is nevertheless even now a great achievement, as long as I live I shall carefully correct and enlarge it from whatever documents written or printed, may come to my hands, and centuries hence, when Brazil shall have become the great and prosperous country which one day it must be, I shall be regarded there as the first person who ever attempted to give a consistent form to its crude, unconnected and neglected history.

Whether anything may come of Mr. Wilberforce’s good wishes and good endeavours remains yet to be seen: that he is not wanting in either is certain. [3]  I wish you may be stationed at Para: the climate has been so much improved by the progress of cultivation that it is said to be better than that of any of the southern capitals. As a place of trade, it must become of more importance than even Recife, for Para must be the chief port for Mato Grosso, and the facilities of water communication in all directions seem to offer an interminable field for enterprise and commerce. And you would find materials for more than one volume in the new scenes which would be laid open, and the new sources of information.

I have lately obtained, and just in time, the Corografia Brazilica, [4]  which may possibly have reached Keswick sooner than Recife. Had this book appeared sooner it would have been better for my purpose: however I have contrived to wean in its information as well as I could; and perhaps no person but myself will perceive that the matter might have been better arranged.

It is remarkable that there are no Dominicans in Brazil, there were enough of them in Portugal, where they were quite as much in fashion as any other order, and yet I have not found any mention of them in your country.

Nash has not been with us this year, nor have I ever been farther from home than Rydale. I have had only one guest, but my time as usual has been much interrupted by chance visitors. My brother the Captain is about to take up his abode in Newlands at Lady Day next, perhaps you may remember the house, an unfurnished one belonging to Mrs. Barcroft, and known by the name of Emerald Bank. [5]  His residing there will be useful in drawing me out of my den which I am too much in the habit of keeping. [6] 

Among the books which I bought of Ver Beyst [7]  during my last journey is a history of the Dutch West Indian Company, by Johannes de Laet, written in Dutch and printed in 1644. [8]  I had suspected that such a book must have existed, but could never obtain any intelligence of it, till to my great delight I found it upon our friends shelves. My last years purchases on the continent make a formidable appearance now that they are fairly arranged; the “organ-room” [9]  is pretty well filled, and I show the Acta Sanctorum to all book-lovers with great pride, as the jewel of my library. [10] 

A person whose name I forget, [11]  but who had been some years at the Rio, wrote to me from Leeds some little time ago, to consult me about publishing here in England – a Tupi grammar and vocabulary! Things in which I was perhaps the only other person in England who felt the slightest interest. My advice was if he had any journal, or any information concerning Brazil to publish that, and bring in his grammar and vocabulary under cover of more promising matter, by way of appendix: and this he seems disposed to do. [12] 

With the third volume of Brazil I shall have to send you in the early spring my “Life of Wesley and Rise and Progress of Methodism” – two large volumes and of matter much more various and amusing than the subject may perhaps seem to you to promise. [13]  The conclusion of the first volume is in the printer’s hands, and parts of the additional notes go off to him by this night’s post. I know not whether you recognize my hand in the Q.R. In the last number I had Evelyn’s Memoirs, and the means of improving the people. In the next something about New Churches, and the Copyright question. [14] 

All here desire their kindest remembrances, believe me my dear Koster,

Your affectionate friend,

Robert Southey.

Keswick. 27 Nov. 1818.


* MS: Instituto Historico e Geografico Brasileiro, Rio de Janeiro; text taken from Sousa-Leão
Previously published: Joaquim de Sousa-Leão, ‘Cartas de Robert Southey a Theodore Koster e Henry Koster, anos de 1804 a 1819’, Revista do Instituto Historico e Geografico Brasileiro, 178 (1943), 56–58. BACK

[1] For the third volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[2] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[3] Wilberforce had agreed to try and use his influence to try and obtain a consular appointment in Brazil for Henry Koster. BACK

[4] Manoel Aires de Casal (1754–1821), Corografia Brazilica, ou Relação Historico–Geografica do Reino do Brazil (1817), no. 3252 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[5] Tom and his wife had in 1810 lodged at a house in Castlerigg, to the east of Keswick, owned by a local farmer Joseph Barcroft (c. 1753–1810); see Robert Southey to William Peachy, 22 October 1810, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part 4, Letter 1820. The widowed Mrs Barcroft had married John Sander in 1813. Lady Day (25 March) was a traditional day for the start of tenancies. BACK

[6] Emerald Bank lies in the Newlands valley, about six miles to the southwest of Southey’s home, Greta Hall. BACK

[7] Jean-Baptiste Ver Beyst (1770–1849), a well–known bookseller in Brussels. Southey had bought a large consignment of books from him in 1817. BACK

[8] Joannes de Laet (1581–1649), Historie ofte Iaerlijck Verhael van de Verrichtingen der Geoctroyeerde West-Indische Compagnie (1644), no. 1671 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] A room that used to contain an organ when it was inhabited by William Jackson. It was formerly Coleridge’s study. BACK

[10] Southey had bought the 53–volume compendium of hagiographies entitled Acta Sanctorum (1643–1794), no. 207 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[11] John Luccock (1770–1826), an English wool merchant, who lived in Brazil 1808–1818. BACK

[12] Luccock took Southey’s advice and published Notes on Rio de Janeiro, and the Southern Parts of Brazil; Taken During a Residence of Ten Years in that Country, from 1808 to 1818 (1820). As an Appendix he added ‘A Glossary of those Tupi Words, which Occur in the Preceding Pages’ (pp. 629–639). But the ‘Grammar and Dictionary of the Tupi Language’ that the book stated he hoped to publish if there was sufficient interest (p. [640]) did not appear. BACK

[13] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[14] Southey’s review of Memoirs, Illustrative of the Life and Writings of John Evelyn (1818), Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 1–54, and his article ‘On the Means of Improving the People’, Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 79–118. They were followed by Southey’s review of Haydon, New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818) in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591, and an ‘Inquiry into the Copyright Act’, Quarterly Review, 21 (January 1819), 196–219. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Rydal Mount (mentioned 1 time)
Emerald Bank, Newlands (mentioned 1 time)


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