April 16 1812: Southey to Walter Savage Landor

On April 16 1812, Robert Southey writes to Walter Savage Landor, who is a friend and a very fine poet.  Southey provides some advice in jest on libel laws, his views on the war in the Peninsula and colonial policy in general.

Keswick, April 16, 1812. 

MY DEAR LANDOR, --Heaven forbid that you should draw upon yourself the vexations of a printing establishment, which would involve you in trouble without end, and for no adequate purpose scarcely, indeed, for any purpose! It will be perfectly easy for you to tell the public all which you wish to tell them, with perfect security for yourself, your printer, and publisher, provided only that you bear in mind what the laws of libel are. With regard to individuals, they give sufficient scope: all may be said of them that ought to be said. With regard to the State, anything may be said, which does not bear evident intention of a wish to overthrow it. Above all that you have to beware of is, that the vehemence of your manner do not belie your intentions. 

There is no difference in the end at which you and I are aiming, but a good deal in the means. Earl Wellington is in his place. He is what nature meant him to be a soldier, likely to do greater things than Marlborough. If he be not prevented by a cowardly faction in this country, he will beat down the power of France, and England and Spain will give the law to Europe. But as for establishing him on the throne of Portugal, Heaven forfend! not that the thing should be done, which is impossible, but that you should wish it to be done. In the first place, the Portuguese would not submit to a heretic, and in the second, there are better things in store for Portugal. By one of two possible events, Portugal has at this time the prospect of being united with Spain by the death of Ferdinand and his brother, or their contracting any alliance with France (both sufficiently probable), in which case the succession devolves upon the Princess of Brazil; or if the tide of opinion should take a Republican direction, and the whole Peninsula form itself into a great federal commonwealth the form of polity which seems to be the best attainable in our present state. This is far less likely than the former means: either of them would effect the union of, without any sacrifice of pride or privilege on the part of, the weaker state. 

For the mother-country I feel nothing but hope, and for the colonies I see nothing but a series of evils. My notions of colonial policy may be summarily stated. It is as necessary for a nourishing country to send out colonies, as it is for a hive to send out swarms; but no modern Government has ever proceeded wisely in the business. With the Cape and New Holland, for instance, I would proceed thus: ' Govern yourselves, and we will protect you as long as you need protection; when that is no longer necessary, remember that though we be different countries, each independent, we are one people. Every Briton who sets foot among you shall instantly be entitled to all the privileges of a nation: every person born among you becomes as an Englishman when he lands in Great Britain. Every country in which English is the mothertongue shall be open to every member of the great English race.' In fifty years America would petition to be received back into the family.

You rate the American Spaniards too highly. I have just gone through Humboldt's Mexico, and I had before perused the Mercurio Peruano. They have all the superstitions, all the immorality of the European Spaniards, and some vices of their own to boot, which necessarily arises wherever there is a distinction of castes. In the most flourishing of the Spanish colonies there are three high parties the Europeans and Creoles, who hate each other ; the Indians, who hate both, and outnumber both. In Buenos Ayres the Europeans and the Indians are both weak to what they are in all the other kingdoms, and yet we see what barbarous bloodshed has taken place. Peru may be unbarbarized made worse than it was under the Incas by the victory of the Indians ; Mexico may become the theatre of long and obstinate wars; Miranda may introduce the French into Venezuela each of these things is but too likely to take place. My language to the colonies would be: 'Ask little from the mother-country at such a season as this;' to the mother-country, ' Grant everything to the colonies.' In fact, a reform at home insures a reform abroad, and it is as cruel as it is unjust in the Americans to visit upon regenerate Spain the sins committed by the old Adam of her Government. Did you ever see Cotton Mather's History of New England? one of the oddest books I ever perused, but deeply interesting. A history of a country given in the succession of preachers, instead of princes. It was, indeed, a genuine Priestarchy a word which, for the very uncouthness of its mongrel shape, fits the subject the better. Half the Anglo-Americans went over red- hot from the conventicle, the other half flagrant from Bridewell the tertium quid, was the roguery of the one side, superinduced upon the hard vulgarity of the other. 

Once more, do not involve yourself with a press. Its cold lead is more perilous than cold iron. I am slow in my progress with Pelayo only 200 lines since the last portion. However, I look to the end of another book ere long. 

Remember us to Mrs. Landor. God bless you. 

R. S. 

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