Nineteenth-Century Contexts-an Interdisciplinary Journal
Robert Southey was once referred to by Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch as “one of the best known of the unread poets” (9) in a study that deliberately focused on what he considered Southey’s largely failed poetic quest: “Southey’s grand failures,” he explained, “are more interesting than his modest successes and far more illuminative of Romanticism and Romantic myth-making generally” (9). In an oblique way, my focus in this essay is likewise another of Southey’s grand failures-- his planned, but never finished, History of Portugal. This ambitious project, despite remaining mostly unwritten, occupied much of Southey’s time in the early years of his career. Only part one, The History of Brazil, was actually published (1819-23); however, his early hopes of attaining a strong literary reputation and financial reward rested on it, even more than on his poetry. Indeed, as we will see, starting early on in his writing life, Portugal was a subject he returned to repeatedly. Having been in the country twice for rather extended periods, Southey eventually became an acknowledged expert on Portugal and its culture: after returning home to Keswick from his second trip, he wrote that he had become “a Portuguese student among the mountains.” And Adolfo Cabral, who discovered and edited the manuscript of Southey’s unpublished journals of this trip, stressed that “for about fourty years a vast part of his literary activity was wholly or partly dedicated to Portugal or Portuguese subjects” (Journals xxi).1
Mourão, Manuela, "Robert Southey on Portugal: Travel Narrative and the Writing of History" (2015). English Faculty Publications. 48.