1237. Robert Southey to John Theodore Koster, 11 November 1806

1237. Robert Southey to John Theodore Koster, 11 November 1806 ⁠* 

Keswick. Nov. 11. 1806.

My dear Sir,

We are all truly rejoiced at the good tidings communicated in your letter. The newspapers had led me to expect a different conclusion to the contest, it would have given me great pleasure to have seen General Tarleton ousted by any body, but the election of Mr. Roscoe  [1]  is something more than a victory over this fellow. It is a triumph of literature, of intellect, of humanity, of liberty: – of the good principle over the evil one. Your city has in part redeemed itself from the infamy of its accursed slave trade, by sending such a representative to Parliament.

Since you saw my brothers, [2]  a great family event has happened here – I have had a son born, who is heir apparent to more Portuguese books perhaps than any one not a subject of Portugal. We call him Herbert. An infant’s life is so precarious that I do not venture to form any hopes about him, but if it please God that he should live and take but half as much delight in these said books as his father does, I think he will not be dissatisfied with his inheritance.

Henry (I beg his pardon – the Doctor I should have said) will have told you that I go on as usual in this delightful place. Nothing is so regular as I am, except the Church clock, and if there is at any time a difference between us, I believe in my conscience it is the clock that is wrong. I have several things in hand of more or less importance. One is a new edition of Palmerin of England, [3]  corrected from the Portuguese, which I think I can prove to be the original. You have no taste for such things, but you would enjoy Don Quixote more entirely after reading them. [4]  Another is the Chronicle of the Cid [5]  – which is of higher character and claims. To this there will be some valuable preliminary and explanatory matter, and the book itself, filled up from all the existing documents which Spanish literature supplies, is I believe, the most curious picture of manners that has ever appeared. I shall here dispose of some of the materials which I had collected as preliminaries for my Portuguese history, [6]  relating to the state of society in that country after the Moorish conquest and before its establishment as a separate Christian state, because I shall have no room there for anything which can with equal propriety be placed elsewhere.

Coleridge has been returned about a fortnight, [7]  still hypochondriacal but certainly in better health of body. He talks of delivering Lectures at the Royal Institution upon the Principles common to the Fine Arts. [8]  His adventures in Italy have been very interesting. The second Inquisitor at Rome, Piccolomini, brother to the Prince, [9]  gave him timely notice that an order to serve the English had arrived, and obtained passports for him a few hours before it was carried into execution. Lucien Bonaparte, [10]  advised him if he had ever written anything against his brother to take care of himself, indeed, I have no doubt that had he been taken he would have been murdered like Palm [11]  or Captain Wright. [12]  Lucien leads a wise and happy life; he is entirely a domestic man, passionately fond of his wife and children, and it is believed a true lover of liberty. He is greatly beloved at Rome. The general feeling throughout Italy is an utter dread and abhorrence of the French, but an utter contempt for every body else, which it must be confessed on our part, we heartily deserve. In Naples and Sicily however all the intellect, talents and property of both countries are on the side of the French, as they would be on the side of the Devil, to get rid of a more rascally King [13]  and more rascally government than the Devil himself could have the heart to establish among them. But conduct with respect to those countries has been, like the whole conduct of the English government, stupid and senseless to the last degree. But this is a heart-sickening subject, for things are so bad that they must be worse before they can be better.

All our family desire their remembrances. I shall perhaps see you in the spring when I mean to go to Lisbon, [14]  if it be not shut against the English, at any rate to London.

Yours 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), 35–37. BACK

[1] Banastre Tarleton, 1st Baronet (1754–1833; DNB), army officer and politician, was MP for Liverpool between 1801 and 1806, when he was ousted at the election by William Roscoe. BACK

[3] Southey was preparing for the press, an English translation of Palmerin of England, by Francisco Moraes, published in 4 volumes in 1807. BACK

[4] Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616), Don Quixote de la Mancha. BACK

[5] Southey’s Chronicle of the Cid was published in 1808. BACK

[6] Southey’s projected, but never completed, ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[7] Coleridge had travelled abroad to Malta for his health in 1804, taking up a temporary post there as Public Secretary to the British Civil Commissioner. He arrived back in England in August 1806 but, though he returned to Keswick for a short time, did not live there again. BACK

[8] He did not in fact lecture there until 1808, on the subject of Shakespeare and Milton. BACK

[9] In March 1806 Napoleon put pressure on the Pope to remove English, Russian, Sardinian, and Swedish subjects from his dominions, and to close his ports to the ships of those powers with which France was at war. Coleridge elaborated several stories, some taller than others, dramatising his departure from Rome. In Biographia Literaria, 2 vols (London and Princeton, 1983), I, p. 216, he wrote of having been ‘rescued’ from arrest by ‘the kindness of a noble Benedictine, and the gracious connivance of the good old man, the present Pope.’ The Pope in question was Pius VII (1742–1823), elected 1800; the noble Benedictine has not been traced. The Piccolomini family of Sienna, powerful in Rome and the church from the twelfth to the seventeenth centuries, was less prominent by 1800. No inquisitor of that name has been traced. BACK

[10] Lucien Bonaparte (1775–1840), brother of Napoleon. BACK

[11] Johann Philipp Palm (1768–1806), a bookseller from Nuremberg, Germany, who was executed by a French firing squad on 26 August 1806 for publishing and distributing libellous pamphlets about France and Napoleon. BACK

[12] John Wesley Wright (1769–1805; DNB), naval officer. In May 1804 his ship, the Vincejo was captured off the coast of France by the French navy. Accused of having landed royalist agents, he was imprisoned in Paris, where he died in solitary confinement. He was thought by the British to have been murdered. BACK

[13] Ferdinand I (1751–1825), king variously of Naples, Sicily, and the Two Sicilies from 1759 until his death. His feudal reign was opposed by liberals who allied themselves with the invading French forces which occupied Naples in 1799–1800 and 1806–1815. Ferdinand withdrew to Sicily, where his government was directed by the British. BACK

[14] Southey did not return to Lisbon. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)