Letter 1082.1. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, [mid-July 1805]

Letter 1082.1. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, [mid-July 1805] ⁠* 


I HAVE asserted that Vasco Lobeira  [1]  is the author of ‘Amadis of Gaul’.  [2]  – As this is a curious point of literary history, and some of the Reviews have contradicted the assertion,  [3]  allow me as briefly as possible to state the proofs by which it is supported.

1. The Portuguese have always ascribed the romance to this author.

2. It was evidently written when the Court of Windsor  [4]  was the most splendid of the Courts of Christendom; therefore it is not older than the time of Lobeira.

3. The names Oriana, Lisuarte, Grimanesa, and Briolania, are Portugueze.

4. The Spanish version, the oldest which is known to be extant, refers to a Portugueze original, and says, that an Infanta of Portugal had objected to a certain part of the story. There exists a sonnet, in old Portugueze, attributed to a Portugueze Infante, addressed to Vasco Lobeira, as author of ‘Amadis,’ and objecting to this very part.  [5] 

5. Gomes Eannes de Zurara, librarian to the King of Portugal, and keeper of the archives, in a chronicle written 1463, sixty years after Lobeira’s death, has this decisive passage: — ‘Many authors, being desirous to lengthen their works, fill up their books by relating how princes passed their time in banquettings and games and revels, from which nothing followed except their own diversion; as in the ancient feats of England, which is called Great Britain, and in the book of “Amadis,” though that was made wholly at the pleasure of a man called Vasco Lobeira, in the time of King D. Fernando, all the things in the said book being feigned by the author.’  [6] 

In reply to these arguments and this testimony, it is said that D’Herberay and Tressan speak of certain originals in the Picard language. Neither of these authors speak decisively. The one says, ‘he remembered such manuscripts which he thought might be the originals;’ the other, that ‘he thought he had seen such among Queen Christina’s collection in the Vatican.’  [7]  These authorities are of little weight. Such manuscripts, however, may probably have existed, and are easily accounted for. The daughter of Joam I. who knighted Vasco Lobeira, married Philip the Good of Burgundy.  [8]  What more probable than that this Infanta (for all the family were learned and were patrons of learning) should have taken to her husband’s court the romance which was the delight of her father’s, and that it should have been translated to please her? The Picard version, therefore, if it could be produced, would not invalidate Lobeira’s claim.

On these grounds I shall think myself justified in asserting, in the literary History of Portugal, that Vasco Lobeira is the author of ‘Amadis of Gaul,’ the most celebrated of the prose romances, and the best.

I have thus defended my opinion, because, unless I mistake, one of the Reviews in question was written by a gentleman for whose talents I have the highest respect, whose knowledge of chivalrous literature exceeds mine, and with whom I would not venture to break a spear any where except on my own ground.  [9] 



* MS: MS has not survived
Previously published: Monthly Magazine, 20.2 (September 1805), 100 [from where the text is taken]
Dating note: Dated from the reference in Southey to John Rickman, [mid-July 1805], Letter 1082. BACK

[1] Vasco de Lobeira (d. 1403), a Portuguese author. BACK

[2] In the Preface to his translation, Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[3] Walter Scott had done so in his reviews in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 600–603, and the Edinburgh Review, October (1803), 109–136. BACK

[4] In 1386 the Treaty of Windsor united the English and Portuguese courts via the marriage of King Joam I of Portugal (1358–1433) with Philippa of Lancaster (1359–1415). BACK

[5] Southey had discussed the uncertain location of this sonnet in the Preface to Amadis, 4 vols. (London, 1803), I, p. ix: ‘In the reign of Joam I. says Manuel de Faria y Sousa, “the Infante Don Pedro wrote the Sonnets Bom Vasco &c. Vinha Amor &c. in praise of Vasco Lobeyra, the inventor of the Books of Chivalry by that of Amadis.” I know not where the second of these Sonnets is to be found, neither of them are among the Infante Dom Pedro’s Poems published by Joseph Scares da Sylva at the end of his Memorias para a Historia del Rey Dom Joam 1. as copied from the Cancioneiro of Resende; nor do I recollect them in that very rare and valuable Collection, to which I cannot now refer.’ BACK

[6] Possibly Gomes Eanes de Zurara (c. 1410–1474), Chronica del Rei D. Joam I de Boa Memória. Terceira Parte em que se Contém a Tomada de Ceuta (Lisbon, 1644). BACK

[7] Here Southey rehearses the discussion he had published in the Preface to his translation of Amadis (4 vols. (London, 1803), I, pp. 3–4. He refers to Nicolas de Herberay des Essarts (d. ca. 1557), a Picardy-born translator of Amadis into French (1540–1548); Louis-Élisabeth de la Vergne de Tressan (1705–1783), also a translator of Amadis into French (1779). Both French translators claimed an earlier, Picard original for the romance. The possible location of the manuscript was in the collection in the Vatican archives assembled by Christina (1626–1689), Queen regnant of Sweden from 1633 to 1654, who converted to Catholicism, abdicated and lived in Rome. BACK

[8] Isabella of Portugal (139 7–1471), daughter of King Joam I of Portugal (1358–1433), married, in 1429, Philip the Good, also Philip III, Duke of Burgundy (1396–1467). BACK

[9] Walter Scott; see note 3. BACK

People mentioned

Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 1 time)