1521. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 16 October 1808

1521. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 16 October 1808 ⁠* 

Monday. Oct 16. 1808

My dear Harry

In the 4th Annual you will find my reviewals of Bruce’s Travels, [1]  & may there see the true state of the case between him & the Jesuits. I have understood with respect to his death that the common account is erroneous. it is said he fell down stairs & died; – but the truth is that he died & fell down stairs, – the fit killed him, not the fall. Murrays book I have not seen – but there are two things which you may insist upon, – the fitness of his giving us faithful translations of the Abyssinian annals & of the book of Enoch; – & the want of an Academy to undertake the publication of such works. [2] 

In your Persian reviewal cry out for a translation of Ferdusi. [3]  I hunger & thirst for the whole history of Rostan – Even the wretched rhymes in which Champion rendered a part of the poem gave me much information concerning my own old friend the Simorg. [4]  All Oriental poetry that I have seen is bad, & the superiority of the Hebrews is truly marvellous: – it almost requires a belief in inspiration to account for it. I dare say Sadi [5]  will make you sick of roses & nightingales. Do not praise Sir Wm Jones. [6]  No man, except Mr Pitt, [7]  has a reputation so much above his deserts.

Do you know your Prebendary – Dr Zouch? I have his life of Sir P. Sidney to review, [8]  – a book of sufficient industry & dullness, the former I shall praise, & of the latter characteristic say nothing, – & this is just & reasonable inasmuch as <the> industry is his merit, but the dullness his misfortune. He gives a cowardly assent to the Barbauldish opinion that the Arcadia is a book no longer to be read, [9]  perhaps for the same reason that the opinion was originally past – that because he has not read it himself. Horace Walpole [10]  the first beginner of this cry, certainly had not, for he calls it a pastoral. [11]  Z gives <There is> a very fine print of Sir Philip, – & for the true love & reverence which I bear to that perfect man, I certainly do covet & desire that print, that I might frame it & hang it in my study. If you are upon terms of any thing <like> familiarity with this said Prebend, you may some day, after dinner, express to him this wish of mine; I desire to have it gratified, as being the ‘eminent writer’ whom he quotes in his Preface, [12]  tho he evidently mistakes Dr Aikin for me.

My Uncle goes no more to Lisbon. he has hung up his wet cloaths [13]  he says, in Staunton church, happy that he has found a port. – If Mr Sealy [14]  be well reconciled to the marriage, it seems likely that he will settle it on the removal of his family xxxx to Portugal: he must be convinced that it is not a bad match for her, & that your ultimate success is not doubtful. Indeed it surprizes me that you have established yourself so far, in so short a time. – My reviewing must be done by a limited time this year – which is so much the better. When it is done I shall think about ano going to see pass a week with your Doctorship, – perhaps as soon as the Xmas parties are fairly over, if the weather be not too cold for travelling, – for Xmas parties suit not my gravity, & Xmas dinners (the merit of which I fully acknowledge) are not to be had without them. My visit will be to you & St Cuthbert, [15]  & the Cathedral Library

Has that said Mr Adamson delivered to you my books? [16] 

Poor Thalaba has at last reached the end of one edition, & Ballantyne is going to print another, which will differ materially in appearance, having a fuller page, & the notes at the end of each book. [17]  My Brazil will go to press almost immediately [18]  – a portion of the MS. having travelled to my Uncle is travelling back to me that I may insert some farther particulars respecting the Lago de Xarayes [19]  &c – & then it will be delivered over to the printer. I am not sanguine about this branch of my History, – it will be a good book, & not an interesting one, – the historical materials are generally base & insipid, & there is no making a silk purse of a sows ear.

I past five days at Netherhall with both the Ediths, [20]  – a great event in their lives, for the one has never been so far from Keswick since she was born, nor the other since she came to it. Miss Wood [21]  is going to pass the winter with Mrs Peachy at Bristol, – which seems to mean the Hot Wells, – & to imply more cough than was confessed in an Imperial letter [22]  written to enquire of me concerning the earthquake wh – an earthquake which nobody felt. [23]  Netherhall is a comfortable house, – you are left alone as much as you wish, & there is a good collection of old books.

If my Cid [24]  should have a good sale I will xx translate the Chronicles of Fernam Lopes – those of K Fernando & K Joam 1. [25]  the latter without exception the finest Chronicle in existence, – that is of a general chronicle for the Cid [26]  has a personal & dramatic interest which gives it all the charm of romance. Never was there a character more admirably delineated than this old warriors, – at the Cortes there is even a Shakesperian truth of feeling, – so much so that one may swear to the reality of the scene, – for no man but Shakespere could have feigned it. I think your heart must have given a leap spring for xxxxxxxx when the old hero addresses his swords Colada & Tirzona. There is nothing to surpass it in Homer. – The Spaniards have not felt the beauty of this wonderful book, yet they know so many ballads about Mio Cid, & have so many traditions about him, that Ruy Diez dead as he is, will do more against Buonaparte than all the Kings of Europe have done.

I am reading Round Table Romances – from Hebers library. [27]  Gyron le Courtoys [28]  I finished yesterday, & began Meliadus de Leonnoys (Tristrams father) to day. [29]  Of all Romances xx Amadis [30]  is far very far the best – & yet even Amadis fades away before the Cid, for that book, of all which I have ever seen, carries with it the strongest marks of truth, in all that is not manifestly fiction.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Dr Southey/ Durham.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. ALS; 4p.
Published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 96–99 [with omissions]. BACK

[1] Southey reviewed in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 2–16, James Bruce (1730–1794; DNB), Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in the Years 1768–73 (2nd edn, 1804–5). BACK

[2] Alexander Murray (1775–1813; DNB) edited the second, 1805, edition of Bruce’s Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile; with an Account of the Life and Writings of James Bruce, Esq. He also published the biography as a separate volume: Account of the Life and Writings of James Bruce ... Author of Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile: in the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 & 1773 (1808). This was reviewed in the Annual Review for 1808, 7 (1809), 263–270. BACK

[3] Henry reviewed, in the Annual Review for 1808, 7 (1809), 627–629, The Gulistan, or Rose Garden, of Musle-Huddeen Shaik Sady, of Sheeras. Translated from the Original, by Francis Gladwin. Hakīm Abu’l-Qāsim Firdowsī Tūsī (940–1020), author of Shahnameh, the epic poem whose hero is Rostam, is criticised on p. 629. BACK

[4] Joseph Champion, The Poems of Ferdosi, Translated from the Persian (1788). The simorg, or phoenix, features in Book XI, line 138 of Southey’s 1801 Thalaba the Destroyer, and Southey cites Champion’s edition in his notes. See Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), III, pp. 165 and 297. BACK

[5] Abū-Muḥammad Muṣliḥ al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī (Saʿdī /Saadi; 1184–1291), Persian poet. BACK

[6] Sir William Jones (1746–1794; DNB): orientalist scholar and poet whose studies of Persian and Sanskrit led him to suggest that European languages descended from India. BACK

[7] William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806. BACK

[8] Southey reviewed, in the Annual Review for 1808, 7 (1809), 224–235, Thomas Zouch (1737–1815; DNB), Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir Philip Sydney (1808). BACK

[9] Southey had in January 1805 abused Anna Letitia Barbauld for her criticism of Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586; DNB), The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1580, pub. 1590). He had been reading Barbauld’s essay ‘On Romances’, which appeared in Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose, ed. J. [Aikin, John] and A. L. Aikin [Barbauld, Anna Letitia] (1773); see Southey to Mary Barker, 26 January 1805, Letter 1027. BACK

[10] Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717–1797; DNB). BACK

[11] In A Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors of England, with Lists of their Works, 2nd edn., 2 vols (London, 1759), I, 182, Walpole called the work ‘a tedious, lamentable, pedantic, pastoral romance, which the patience of a young virgin in love cannot now wade through’. BACK

[12] Southey’s praise of Sidney is cited as such in the Preface of Thomas Zouch (1737–1815; DNB), Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir Philip Sidney (1808). The fine print, engraved by Charles Warren (1762–1823; DNB) after a painting by Diego Velsaquez (1599–1660), forms the frontispiece. BACK

[13] Here Southey alludes to Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 BC–8 BC)), Odes, I. 5: ‘Me tabula sacer / votiva paries indicat uvida / suspendisse potenti /vestimenta maris deo . . . ‘ (‘The sacred wall with its votive tablet shows that I have hung up my wet clothes to the god who has power over the sea’). BACK

[14] The father, a Lisbon merchant, of Mary Sealy, who would become Henry’s wife. BACK

[15] The shrine of St Cuthbert (c. 634–687) in Durham Cathedral. BACK

[16] Southey had lent Adamson three books which were to be returned through Henry; see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 16 August 1808, Letter 1495. BACK

[17] The second edition of Thalaba the Destroyer was published in 1809. For the alterations that were made to this edition see volume three of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004). BACK

[18] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[19] Southey came into possession of Hill’s manuscript on the colonists’ discovery of this lake. The sale catalogue of his library lists as no. 3849 ‘Miscellaneous: – Voyage up the Madeira in 1749, with a MS. map – Relaciaon da Guerre e Successos de Mato Grosso desde 1759 ate 1764 – Noticias do Lago Xarayes – Memoria de Observaçoens Physico Economicas acerca da Extraccaon do Oiro das Minas do Brazil, por Man. Ferreira da Camara; in 1 vol. half bound calf , 4to’. BACK

[20] Edith, Southey’s wife, and Edith May, his daughter. BACK

[21] Isabella Wood (dates unknown). BACK

[22] That is, a letter from William Peachy. BACK

[23] The Courier had recently carried a report of an earthquake in the area, which Southey concluded was false; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 9 September 1808 (Letter 1504) and 27 September 1808 (Letter 1512). BACK

[24] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[25] Fernao Lopes (c. 1385–after 1459), chronicler of Portugal who authored the manuscript ‘Cronica del Rei Dom Fernando o Noveno Rei de Portugal’, which was listed as no. 3829 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library after his death. Lopes also wrote the Chronica del Rey D. Ioam I de Boa Memoria, e dos Reys de Portugal o Decimo, Primeira Parte, em Que se contem A Defensam do Reyno até ser eleito Rey & Segunda Parte, em que se continuam as guerras com Castella, desde o Principio de seu reinado ate as pazes (1644). BACK

[26] Here Southey refers to the Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (c. 1043–1099), Chronica de la Famoso Cavallero Cid Ruy Diez Campeador (1593), on which his own shortly to be published edition was based. BACK

[27] As preparation for his The Byrth, Lyf, and Actes of Kyng Arthur ... With an introduction and notes by Robert Southey. (Printed from Caxton’s edition, 1485) eventually pubished in 1817. BACK

[28] An Arthurian romance published in Paris circa 1501. BACK

[29] Walter Scott, in his edition of Sir Tristram (1804) likewise credits Heber for making his Arthurian romances available, noting that the work was printed at Rouen as early as 1489, under the title of Le Roman du Noble et Vaillant Chevalier Tristan, Fils du Noble Roi Meliadus de Leonnoys, Compile par Luce, Chevalier, Seigneur du Chateau de Gast. The book was reprinted at Paris, by Antoine Verard (1485–1512), without date, in a two volume folio; and a subsequent edition was published in two parts by Denys Janot (dates unknown), in Paris, 1533. Janot had already published what seems to have been intended as a first part to the history of Sir Tristrem, Le Roman de Meliadus de Leonnoys, Chevalier de la Table Ronde (1532). BACK

[30] Southey’s translation of this romance, Amadis of Gaul, was published in 1803. BACK

Places mentioned

Netherhall (mentioned 2 times)
Staunton on Wye (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)