Robert Southey’s Madoc Revisited: Excluding Indigenous Peoples from British Business Imperialism in the Early Decades of the Nineteenth Century

This paper focuses on Madoc, a poem written by Robert Southey and published in 1806-7. It sheds light on the role cultural productions and representations played in the cultural shaping of British business imperialism in the early decades of the 19th century. A literary success of the time, Southey’s poem revisited the legend of Madoc, a Welsh prince having discovered the Americas in the 12th century already and assimilating with American Indigenous populations before conquering the whole of the American continent. Rather than a simple literary work, Southey’s poem participated, this paper posits, in the construction of private British colonialism. Indeed, the poem of Madoc appears as having been initially created to support and promote the financing of a private English colonial project. Led by Southey and friends, it envisioned constructing a pantisocracy (an artistic utopia) in the Americas. Placed in its historical context, this poem, however, does not only have colonial origins. It also appears as having participated and culturally supported the constitution and financing of a particular form of British imperialism in Central and South America with, as yet, no real political existence. Presenting an America devoid of natives capable of achieving great things without being of European descent, the trope upon which the story of Madoc rested contributed to shaping the perception of many subsequent British colonial transatlantic enterprise as endeavours that could only maintain commercial and political relations with Spanish descendants, rather than indigenous populations. This study highlights the central role of a piece of literary work in the financial and political promotion of a particular form of private British colonialism. As such, it contributes to recent transdisciplinary scholarship studying the development of money markets and empires through the lenses of both political economy and literature.