185. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 3 November 1796

185. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 3 November 1796 ⁠* 


YOUR correspondent, Meirion, has answered my objections with learning and liberality; I am instructed by the one, and obliged by the other. His etymological explanation of the labours of Hercules, [1]  appears as strong as etymology can make it; but the examples of Volney and Dupuis, [2]  have shown what baseless fabrics ingenuity and learning can rear upon such foundations. On points so very remote, we must be guided by probabilities; and is it not more probable, that such a man as Hercules really existed, and that the romantic actions of the hero of a romantic age, should be disfigured by panegyric and fiction, than that one believed by the Greeks to have been the contemporary of Theseus, [3]  should be only the year personified? With respect to Geoffrey of Monmouth, [4]  Meirion has pointed out my ignorance. [5]  Will he allow me to profit by his knowledge? Are there any poems remaining of Howel, the son of Owen Gwynedh? [6]  Where are they to be found? and can he inform me from the Welsh Chronicles, where the battle was fought in which he perished? [7] 


Nov. 3, 1796.


* MS: MS has not survived
Previously published: Monthly Magazine, 2 (November 1796), 767 [from where the text is taken] under pseudonym ‘B.’. For attribution to Southey, see Kenneth Curry, ‘Southey’s contributions to The Monthly Magazine and The Athenaeum’, The Wordsworth Circle, 11 (1980), 215. BACK

[1] In classical mythology, Hercules performed twelve labours. BACK

[2] Constantin François de Chassebœuf, Comte de Volney (1757–1820), Les Ruines, ou Mediations sur Les Revolutions des Empires (1791) and Charles François Dupuis (1742–1809), Origine de Tous Les Cultes, ou Religion Universelle (1795). BACK

[3] A hero in Greek mythology. BACK

[4] The historian, and Bishop of St Asaph, Geoffrey of Monmouth (d. 1154/1155; DNB), whose works included The Historia Regum Britanniae. BACK

[5] In a letter published in the Monthly Magazine, 2 (October 1796), 687–688, ‘Meirion’ had corrected Southey’s assertion (6 September 1796 [Letter 175]) that only one manuscript of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia survived, noting that three such manuscripts were in existence. BACK

[6] Hywel (d. 1170), illegitimate son of Owen Gwynedd (c. 1100–1170) and, in legend, half-brother of Prince Madoc. Eight poems attributed to him survive, of which the best-known is a ‘gorhoffedd’ (a boasting song). BACK

[7] Hywel died at the battle of Pentraeth on the isle of Anglesey in North Wales. BACK

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