163. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 28 June 1796

163. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 28 June 1796 ⁠* 


THE story of the Mysterious Mother is of an earlier date than the noble author [1]  imagined: it may be found in a work of bishop Hall, [2]  entitled Resolutions and Decisions of divers Practical Cases of Conscience, in continual Use amongst Men; of which the second edition, dated 1650, is now lying before me. The bishop says, he had it long ago from the relation of Mr. Perkins, [3]  and since that, met with it in the report of two several German authors. [4] 

Fuller [5] , in his Holy State, says of this Perkins, that “he was an excellent chirurgeon at joynting of a broken soul; and would pronounce the word ‘Damn’ with such an emphasis, as left a doleful echo in his auditors’ ears a good while after.” He was lame of the right hand; and Hugh Holland, in his Icones, saith of him:

Dextera quantumvis fuerat tibi manca, docendi
Pollebas mirâ dexteritate tamen.

Tho’ Nature thee of thy right hand bereft,
Right well thou writest with thy hand that’s left.  [6] 

The same story is told by Julian de Medrano, of whose Common-place Book an edition was published, 1608, by Cesar Oudin, secretary and interpreter to Henry IV, of France. [7]  The Spanish writer says, he heard the story in the Bourbonois, where the people showed him the house the parties had lived in, and the place where they were buried, and repeated to him the epitaph:

Cy-gist la fille, cy-gist le père,
Cy-gist la soeur, cy-gist le frère;
Cy-gist la femme & le mary,
Et si n’y a que deux corps icy. [8] 

The author of the Mysterious Mother adds, in his preface, that there is a similar story in the Tales of the Queen of Navarre. [9]  It may be worth remarking, that Julian Medrano was a cavalier of her court, and dedicated his book to that princess; he, of course, would never have taken the story from a book of tales, and given it as a fact that he had learned in his travels.

June 28, 1796.



* MS: MS has not survived
Previously published: Monthly Magazine, 1 (July 1796), 447 [from where the text is taken] under the pseudonym ‘B.’. A new attribution to Southey, it repeats information found in his letter to Grosvenor Charles Bedford [started before and continued on] 23 October [1795] (Letter 137). BACK

[1] Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717–1797; DNB), The Mysterious Mother. A Tragedy (1768), a play dealing with incest. BACK

[2] Joseph Hall (1574–1656; DNB), Bishop of Norwich, religious writer and satirist. BACK

[3] William Perkins (1558–1602; DNB), theologian and Church of England clergyman. BACK

[4] Joseph Hall, Resolutions and Decisions of Divers Practicall Cases of Conscience, 2nd edn (London, 1650), pp. 412–415. BACK

[5] Thomas Fuller (1607/8–1661; DNB), The Holy State (Cambridge, 1642), p. 90. BACK

[6] Thomas Fuller, The Holy State (Cambridge, 1642), p. 92. BACK

[7] Julian de Medrano (fl. 1608), La Silva Curiosa, en que se Tratan Diversas Cosas Sotillisimas, y Curiosas, muy Convenientes para Damas y Cavalleros, en Toda Conversacion Virtuousa y Honesta (Paris, 1608). Southey owned a copy of this edition, see A. N. L. Munby (gen. ed.), Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons, vol. 9 Poets and Men of Letters, ed. Roy Park (London, 1974), pp. 75–288; p. 259. BACK

[8] The French can be translated as: ‘Here lies the daughter, here lies the father,/ Here lies the sister, here lies the brother;/ Here lies the woman and the husband,/ And yet there are only two bodies here’. BACK

[9] Margaret of Navarre (1492–1549), The Tales of the Heptameron of Margaret Queen of Navarre (1558). BACK