3440. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 18 February 1820

3440. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 18 February 1820⁠* 

The Kings death [1]  will of necessity delay my departure from home till I can spin verses enough for the occasion, – & the hearty dislike I have, for more than twenty years, felt for writing verses upon occasional topics, makes this no easy task, especially when <since> I have learnt in perfection the art of writing with difficulty. However I had begun to think upon the subject when the alarm was given in December, & had even just made a beginning – for the sake of pitching the tone tune. How the plan may turn out remains to be seen – it is somewhat in the manner of Dante’s invention, – not of his style. [2]  The measure will be a nine days wonder, for I am writing in hexameters, – written of course by accent xx not by quantity, [3]  & (I think) so written that they cannot, in a single instance, be possibly mis-read, if read according to the natural pronunciation of the words. I have composed about an hundred lines, which may be perhaps a third of the whole. [4]  It is not more difficult than blank verse, or if more difficult in some respects, it affords greater facility in others. And it is a full, sonorous, stately measures, capable of great variety great sweetness & great strength. The pleasure of making the experiment takes off the tedium of the task, & its success or failure will be so much a matter of indifference, that when it is once sent into the world, I shall scarcely ever think of it again


Another cause of delay has arisen since I began this letter. Longman tells me he means to reprint the first volume of the Brazil, in order to make up the sets, there being about 170 copies of the second & third which would otherwise serve only for waste paper. [5]  I had x made a good many improvements in the first volume, chiefly from Jaboatam, [6]  & the Valeroso Lucideno. [7]  But there are others <to> make. In the first place Cazal has printed a letter to Emanuel from Pedro Vaz de Caminha (who was in Cabrals fleet) containing a minute account of the discovery. [8]  The original is stated to be in the Torre do Tombo. [9]  At first I suspected its authenticity, because it contains the words sertoens, & inhame, the former I had supposed to have been coined in Brazil, the latter to be of Tupi growth: but I have since recollected that sertoens is also used in Portugueze Africa, & that inhame is as likely to be Angolan as Tupi, & has indeed more of an Angolan physiognomy. [10]  – It will take me a few days to insert the substance of this letter, which is of considerable length: the & this comes of course in the first chapter, & must not be delayed. [11]  I have other additions to make, but they will not be wanted so soon. Lescarbot in his Hist. de Nouvelle France, (1606) [12]  has an account of Villegagnons expedition. The substances of the Relacoens Annuaes, of which we have only three volumes is contained in a Hist: des choses plus memorables advenues tant ez Indes Orientales, que autres pais de la descouverte des Portugais, en l’establissement & progrez de la foy Chrestienne – by the Jesuit Pierre du Jarric. Bourdeaux 1610–14. a book in three small quartos of solid contents, which I long had had scent of, before I found it at Brussels. [13]  It was of sufficient reputation to be translated into Latin. And lastly there is the history of the West India Company by Johannes de Laet, out of which I am just Dutchman enough to xxx <pick> the meaning. [14]  But I may make room in my trunk for de Laet & the dictionary, & settle my affairs with him at Streatham.

Most probably I shall not leave home before the latter end of March. Indeed in case of an early dissolution of Parliament And if Parliament is dissolved soon, [15]  I shall call at Wynnstay on my way, & halt a few days with Wynn either there, or at Llangedwin. I reckon upon passing April & May in town, – taking out ten days or a fortnight for work in Suffolk, upon Sir H. Bunburys papers, & some which have been offered me by Major Moore. [16] 

Do you know that a rascally London bookseller is [MS missing]king Memoirs of the late King in sixpenny [MS missing]rs by Robert Southy Esqre. “printed for the Author,” “Observe to order Southys Life of the King to avoid imposition.” [17]  – And as the practise of our laws xx is, as far as possible to protect all rogues & criminals, the fellow may do this with impunity, because he misspells xx my name, & lies to the ear, not to the eye, – or to the eye of the ignorant only.

Love to my Aunt

God bless you


Keswick. 18 Feby. 1820.


* Address: To/ The Reverend Herbert Hill/ Streatham/ Surrey.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 21 FE 21/ 1820
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, WC 190. ALS; 4p.
Previously Published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 180–183. BACK

[1] George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) had died on 29 January 1820. This event prompted Southey to write A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[2] Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321), Divine Comedy (1308–1321). BACK

[3] The hexameter was borrowed from Latin poetry, which did not depend on accent, or stress, but on the number of syllables per line. BACK

[4] In fact A Vision of Judgement (1821) ran to over 600 lines. BACK

[5] The second edition of the first volume of the History of Brazil (1810–1819) was published in 1822. BACK

[6] Antonio de Santa Maria Jaboatão (1695–1779), Novo Orbe Serafico Brasilico, ou Chronica dos Fradres Menores da Provincia do Brasil (1761). BACK

[7] Manuel Calado (1584–1654), Valeroso Lucideno e o Triunfo da Liberdade (1648). BACK

[8] Manoel Aires de Casal (1754–1821), Corografia Brazilica, ou Relação Historico-Geografica do Reino do Brazil, 2 vols (Rio de Janeiro, 1817), I, pp. 12–34. This book was no. 3252 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Pedro Vaz de Caminha (c. 1450–1500) was a member of the fleet led by Pedro Alvares Cabral (c. 1467– c. 1520), which discovered Brazil in 1500. Caminha’s letter of 1 May 1500 announced the discovery to Manoel I (1469–1521; King of Portugal 1495–1521). BACK

[9] The Portuguese National Archive in Lisbon. BACK

[10] Manoel Aires de Casal (1754–1821), Corografia Brazilica, ou Relação Historico-Geografica do Reino do Brazil, 2 vols (Rio de Janeiro, 1817), I, pp. 27, 30. Southey was correct: ‘sertoens’ (backcountry, away from the coast) was a term used by the Portuguese in Africa; and ‘inhame’ (yam) was a word derived from the Spanish ‘name’, possibly from the Fula language of West Africa, ‘nyami’ (to eat). BACK

[11] This appeared in the second edition of the first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (London, 1822), pp. 8–24. BACK

[12] Marc Lescarbot (c. 1570–1641), Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (1609), no. 1713 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. The book contains an account of Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon’s (1510–1571) attempt to found a French colony in Brazil 1555–1567. BACK

[13] Pierre du Jarric (1566–1617), Histoire des Choses plus Memorables Advenues tant ez Indes Orientales, que autre Pais de la Decouverte des Portugais (1608–1614), no. 1396 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Southey had bought the book from Jean-Baptise Ver Beyst (1770–1849), the celebrated Brussels bookseller. Jarric’s work drew on Fernão Guerreiro (c. 1550–1617), Relaçam Annal das Cousas que Fezeram os Padres da Companhia de Jesus nas Partes da India Oriental (1607–1611), nos 3483–3484 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, and was translated into Latin in 1615. BACK

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

[15] The death of George III automatically triggered a general election. The House of Commons was dissolved on 29 February 1820 and election contests occurred 6 March–14 April 1820. BACK

[16] Information for Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). Bunbury had been Under-Secretary for War and the Colonies 1809–1816; and Moor had offered Southey the use of the papers of his brother-in-law, Sir Augustus Simon Frazer (1776–1835; DNB). BACK

[17] Authentic Memoirs of Our Late Venerable and Beloved Monarch, George the Third … by Robert Southy, Esq. (1820). The identity of the publisher is unclear. BACK

Places mentioned

Streatham (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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