1893. Robert Southey to John Theodore Koster, 31 March 1811

1893. Robert Southey to John Theodore Koster, 31 March 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 31. 1811.

My dear Sir

Upon receiving advice from my bookseller of the contents of a parcel sent per waggon, I was at a loss to guess who could have presented me with a treatise upon Bullion. [1]  Having gone to sleep over Huskissons’ pamphlet, [2]  and experienced the same lulling effects from the Quarterly Review of the question, [3]  I had made up my mind to the satisfactory conclusion that it was one of those things for which I had no capacity, a conclusion to me perfectly satisfactory, for I have long perceived the necessity of being ignorant on many points, and am neither more sorry nor more ashamed of an inaptitude for finance, than for the want of a musical ear, or a hand for painting. It is true I had a sort of saving opinion that when any thing was clearly understood, it could not be very difficult to make a man of fair intellect understand, and therefore when there any wide difference upon principles, and both parties appeared perplexed, I thought it exceedingly probable that both were still in the dark.

You have proved this to the case upon the Bullion question, and of all the discoveries which have been talked of in our days (setting the chemists aside) unless I am grievously mistaken, yours is the only one which will stand the test of time and sound criticism. Horne Tooke [4]  has credit for a discovery in language, which no men could be ignorant of who had ever translated the word notwithstanding or nevertheless, or thought of their meaning. Malthus [5]  has credit for a discovery, of which all that is true is to be found in every writer who ever took the future condition of mankind into consideration from the earliest times to our own, and all that is original is nonsense or worse than nonsense. But the principle that gold is no more capable of being kept at a maximum than any other commodity of which the supply and the consumption are liable to variations, has never (to my knowledge) been advanced before, and when once advanced, like the discovery of gravitation, it makes that the subject of science which before was only hypothesis and guess-work. I am exceedingly obliged to you for giving me clear light when I was totally in the dark.

But when you say that the value of money does not alter, but that some things become dearer and others cheaper, I either do not understand your argument, or it fails to convince me.

I hope you received my first vol. of Brazil [6]  which the publisher was instructed to send you on its appearance. The second is considerably advanced, but occupations of temporary interest from time to time call me from it. I am become a warmer politician than I ever again expected to have found myself, having had the Revolutionary small pox. [7]  But Spain and Portugal have roused me again, and I am carrying on the war with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength. It does my heart good to think that our poor friends the Portuguese whom every body had thought himself privileged to look upon with contempt, should be the first people to set an example of beating the French upon their own ground. What an unlucky statesman Lord Grenville  [8]  is! and how perilous a thing is it even for a brave and honest man to attach himself to a party when even such a man as General Ferguson [9]  could speak as he did of the Portuguese when it was first proposed to take them into our pay!

Possibly I may see you in the course of two or three months. I am bound for London as soon as my hands are clear of something which does not admit of procrastination, [10]  and most likely I shall make Liverpool on my way either going or returning. We have had a sickly season here with our children (now four in number) and I almost fear Mrs. S. will not be able to accompany me to town, as is our wish and intention if possible. There is a weaning in the case and that seems to be a formidable objection and the more so the nearer it comes. From Durham I hear that Mr. Sealy [11]  is likely soon to have number of his grandchildren increased.

Remember us to Mrs. Koster and your family. Mrs. Coleridge would desire to be particularly remembered if she knew to whom I was writing.

Believe me, my dear Sir,

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* 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), 43–45. BACK

[1] J. T. Koster, A Short Statement of the Trade in Gold Bullion: with an attempt to shew that bank-notes are not depreciated (1810). BACK

[2] William Huskisson (1770–1830; DNB), The Question Concerning the Depreciation of our Currency Stated and Examined (1810). BACK

[3] Huskisson’s pamphlet was reviewed in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 414–453. BACK

[4] John Horne Tooke (1736–1812; DNB), Epea Pteroenta, or the Diversions of Purley (1786–1805), an important philological treatise that helped democratize grammar by attempting to reduce all words (including conjunctions) to verbs or nouns, or derivatives of these parts of speech. BACK

[5] Robert Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), which argued that population, which grew at a geometric ratio, always tended to outstrip food supply, which only increased at an arithmetic ratio. BACK

[6] History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[7] i.e. having supported the French Revolution. BACK

[8] Grenville had made a speech in the House of Lords on 18 March 1811 on the futility of British intervention in Spain and Portugal. Southey noted laconically, ‘Two days after these opinions were delivered, the telegraph announced the news of Massena’s retreat’, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 264, referring to the French general, André Massena’s (1758–1817) retreat from Portugal into Spain, which began on 13 March 1811. BACK

[9] Major-General Ronald Crauford Ferguson (1773–1841; DNB), Whig MP for Kirckaldy Burghs 1806–1830, Nottingham 1831–1841. He successfully commanded a brigade in Portugal in 1808–1809 and in a speech in the Commons on 9 March 1810 had doubted the possibility of creating an effective army from Portuguese recruits. BACK

[10] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809 (1811). BACK

[11] Richard Sealy (c. 1752–1821), Lisbon merchant and father-in-law of Henry Herbert Southey. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)