1464. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 11 June 1808

1464. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 11 June 1808 ⁠* 

We have had a good deal of illness in the house, which has broken my rest by night & my employments by day. A bilious fever which is epidemic among the children in this neighbourhood, attacked all mine successively, – the eldest had rather a severe fit & Herbert was alarmingly ill for the whole of last week. He is now recovering, but still unable to stand. One of the comforts of this situation is that there is an apothecary who is very superior to the ordinary run of such men within half a quarter of a mile of us.

Your note from Moncada is in good time. [1]  My preface, introduction & a portion of the notes are on the eve of their departure for London – Frere has not yet sent me his translations, – & I am now in want of them, to insert in their place among the remaining notes. [2]  Will you write & ask him to transmit them, – I do am not sufficiently acquainted with him to do this comfortably.

I find the origin of our word Commodore in one of my extracts from old Pere Tomich, which I was fitting into its place yesterday. Johnson supposed it to be a corruption from Commendador [3]  – a word too little resembling it in meaning, – but it is manifestly to be found in this Catalan author. He is speaking of the Usages which Count Ramon Berenguer [4]  enacted in 1068. E primerament lo dit Comte agradua los Comtes, dient los potestats sobre los Vescomtes, nobles Vervessors qui son en grau sobira apres los Comtes a potestats dessus dits, exceptat sobre los nou Barons, los quals lo dit Comte mete en grau de dits Comtes, appellant los Comdors, quasi volent dir, que en les senyories e Baronies que ells havien sobre lurs vassalls eran axi com los Comtes. [5]  – I do not understand the composition of the word so as to find this meaning in it, – Tomich no doubt did. – I very much wish we had more of the Catalan writers, – particularly the two histories, which K Jayme [6]  & Pedro [7]  left of their own times.

The France Antarticque of Thevet [8]  is a poor book when compared with Lery [9]  or Hans Stadt, [10]  – still I have made a good gleaning from it. I have now collected all that is to be found (that is as far as my knowledge of books upon the subject extends) concerning the xxxx Brazilian Indians, & shall without delay, put the materials together. This chapter will come in when the Jesuits are first introduced. I have transcribed for the press just up to that time, – about twenty printed sheets in quantity (160 4to paper) – Some alteration must be made upon the authority of the Hist. of S Vicente, [11]  – & when this is done & the notes fitted in, – these chapters shall be sent to Longman, & sent transmitted in one of his parcels to some Hereford-Bookseller, if he has a correspondent there. Otherwise they may make a parcel with Henry Whites Remains [12]  (which will be republished in the course of this week) & the large paper poems & Anthology, [13]  which I shall send him to bind for you, – desiring him to employ a better binder than the one whom he sent to us in London.

Fr. Manuel Risco – the continuator of the Esp. Sagrada has published a Latin history of the Cid: [14]  whether it be an old history, or a composition of his own I cannot discover from his references to it, but most probably he would not neither venture, nor wish, to write in Latin himself. It is vexatious that we did not learn this sooner. – The Spanish historians & antiquaries seem resolved to make amends for xx believing or pretending to believe, so many lying legends, by denying or doubting every thing else which comes in their way: & they speak with contempt of whatever they call in question. I have no doubt that every thing in the history of the Cid is true, except the expedition against the Emperor, the miracles, & the whole circumstances of his death & burial: – some part of these last additions are borrowed from the story of Bernardo del Carpio, [15]  & not a word of this is to be found in the Poem, – proof sufficient of the antiquity of that extraordinary composition, which is in spite of its barbarous language, one of the most spirited poems extant. – Salazar & Ferreras [16]  are both of this class of doubters; they strain at the uncommon – & swallow the impossible.

Pedro de Cieça’s is an excellent book, [17]  & makes me very much regret that only the first part was published. One has so often to regret this, that it may be concluded good books had as little success in old times as they have in this our own. The Spaniards of that age have not had justice done them for the literary treasures they have left us. We blame the Conquerors by Wholesale, & forget how many of them left their comrades to amass the spoils while they recorded the history of the great events which they witnessed, & of the xxx countries which they traversed. I believe no other conquerors ever left such records to posterity, & the Portugueze are entitled to the same praise, tho unhappily many of their most important works have been supprest or lost, – in particular the great history of Antonio Galvão, [18]  – one of the best men that ever Portugal produced.

I shall miss Brito Freire [19]  when I lose him – he is a better informed writer than the Italianized author, & xxx does not mar good matter like F. Raphael de Jesus [20]  by an affectation in the manner of delivering it – That sermon of Vieyras [21]  is written with wonderful power – & the simily is one of the most original & apposite I have ever seen. I am making straight way thro these sermons, with great delight, – often thinking of Fr. Gerundio [22]  & xxx not knowing whether to wonder most at such talents or at such a perversion of them.


Keswick. June 11. 1808.


* Address: [written in another hand] Revd. Herbert Hill/ Staunton on Wye/ Hereford / [franked] London June fourteen 1808/ W Williams Wynn
Postmark: FREE/ 14JU14/ 1808
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 70–73. BACK

[1] In his edition of the Cid, Southey notes, of the people known as Almogavares, that Francisco de Moncada (d. 1635) ‘in his Expedition de los Catalanes y Araguneses (1623), f. 19, thinks the name refers rather to their origin than their customs, and that they were descended from the Avars’, Chronicle of the Cid (London, 1808), p. 418. BACK

[2] Angelo Maria Bandini (1726–1803), Vita e Lettere di Amerigo Vespucci (1745). J. H. Frere (1769–1846; DNB): poet, diplomat, Hispanist, Frere had parodied Southey’s radical ballads in ‘The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-grinder’ in the Antijacobin (1797). Three of Frere’s translations from the Poema del Cid were appended to Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid. Frere had been Britain’s ambassador to Portugal while Southey’s uncle had lived there; from 1808–1809 he was ambassador to Spain. BACK

[3] In the entry for ‘commodore’ in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755). BACK

[4] Ramon Berenguer I the Old (1023–1076) was Count of Barcelona in 1035–1076. He promulgated the earliest versions of a written code of Catalan law, the Usages of Barcelona. BACK

[5] In his Chronicle of the Cid, Southey cites this passage from Pere Tomich (fl. 1431–1438), Historias e Conquestas dels Excellentissims e Catholics Reys de Arago: e de Lurs Antecessors los Comtes de Barçelona (Barcelona, 1534), c. 32, ff. 24. It translates as ‘And, in the first place, the said Count fixed the rank of the other Counts, granting them power over the Viscounts, [who are] noble Valvassors occupying the highest rank after the above-mentioned Counts in terms of power, except for the nine barons to whom the said Count gave the same rank as the Counts and called them Commodores, as if to say that they were like Counts to the vassals in their signiories and baronies.’ See the Chronicle of the Cid (London, 1808), p. 403. BACK

[6] Jayme I (1208–1276) was the King of Aragon, Count of Barcelona, and Lord of Montpellier from 1213 to 1276. He produced, in Catlan, a chronicle of his reign: the Llibre dels fets. BACK

[7] King Pedro IV (1319–1387), the King of Aragon, King of Sardinia and Corsica (as Peter I), King of Valencia (as Peter II), and Count of Barcelona from 1336 until his death. In c. 1370 he caused (c. 1370) the Chronicle of Sant Joan de la Penya to be written. BACK

[8] André Thevet (1516?-1592), Singularitez de la France antarctique (1557). BACK

[9] Jean de Léry (1536–1613), Historia Navigationis in Brasiliam, quae et America Dicitur (1578). BACK

[10] Hans Staden (c. 1525–c. 1579) was a German adventurer shipwrecked off South America and captured by the Tupinambá people of Brazil. In his True History, first published in German and then, in Latin, in the collection of voyages edited by Johan Theodor and Johann Israel De Bry, Peregrinationes (1598–1613) (where Southey found it), he claimed to have witnessed cannibal feasts. BACK

[11] Fr. Gaspar da Madre de Deos (1715–1800), Memórias para a História da Capitania de São Vicente (1797). BACK

[12] The Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham (1807), which were edited by Southey. BACK

[13] Southey’s Annual Anthology (1799–1800). BACK

[14] Fr. Manuel Risco (1735–1801), Historia del celebre Castellano Rodrigo Diaz, llamado vulgarmente, El Cid Campeador (1792). Under Risco’s editorship, further volumes of the monumental history of the Spanish church España Sagrada. Teatro Geográfico-Histórico de la Iglesia de España were produced. The first parts of this work were published under the editorship of Fray Enrique Flórez de Setién y Huidobro (1702–1773) from 1747 to 1749. BACK

[15] The legendary hero of medieval Asturias, who supposedly defeated Roland unarmed. He is the protagonist of El Bernado (1624), by Bernardo de Balbuena (1561–1627). BACK

[16] See Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (London, 1808), p. 400, where he cites Luis de Salazar y Castro (1658–1733), Historia Genealogica de la Casa de Lara (1697), and p. 388, where he refers to Juan de Ferreras y García (1652–1735), Synopsis Historica Chronologia de Espana, 16 vols (Madrid, 1700–1727), Part 16. Emendada, Anadida y Findicada, C. 12. BACK

[17] Pedro de Cieça de Leon (c. 1520–1554), La Chronica del Peru (1554). BACK

[18] António Galvão (c. 1490–1557), was a Portuguese soldier and colonial administrator who compiled a history of all Spanish and Portuguese voyages of discovery, Tratado que Compôs o Nobre & Notauel Capitão Antonio Galuão, dos Diuersos & Desuayrados Caminhos, por Onde nos Tempos Passados a Pimenta & Especearia Veyo da India às Nossas Partes, & Assi de Todos os Descobrimentos Antigos & Modernos, que São Feitos até a Era de Mil & Quinhentos & Cincoenta (1563), published in English by Richard Hakluyt (c. 1552–1616; DNB), The Discoveries of the World from Their First Original Unto the Year of Our Lord 1555 (1601). His manuscript History of the Moluccas was lost. BACK

[19] Francisco de Brito Freyre (1625–1692), Nova Lusitania, Historia da Guerra Brasilica (1675). BACK

[20] Friar Raphael de Jesus (1614–1693) was one of the authors who contributed to Monarchia Lusitania (1690). Part VII was his. BACK

[21] Antonio Viera (1608–1697), the Brazilian-born Jesuit renowned for his preaching and as the architect of the Jesuit missions (Reductions) there. Here, Southey referes to Viera’s, Todos sus Sermones y Obras diferentes que de su original Portugués se han traducido en Castellano (1734). Southey’s library contained, at his death, Vieyra’s Historia do Futuro & Arte de Furtar (1718). BACK

[22] José Francisco de Isla (1703–1781) authored Historia del Famoso Predicador Fray Gerundio de Campazas, alias Zotes (1758), a satire on pompous and pedantic Spanish sermons. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)