2795. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 20 May 1816

2795. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 20 May 1816⁠* 

The Pilgrimage [1]  is doing well – I hear of 1500 sold, being three fourths of the edition. How little are books is the sale of books dependent upon their merit! Scarcely more than this number of Thalaba [2]  has sold been sold in fifteen years; – a name is every thing.

We get on well with Brazil, – this next chapter will introduce you to the most remarkable personage in the history – Vieyra the Jesuit; – & you will find – what is not often to be met with in history – part of ser a sermon in the text. [3]  Why not as well as a speech in the Senate or the Parliament, – the matter being of historical import.

You see I shall have more verses to send Mrs R. shortly. Whether they may please at Court I know not, – but they please myself which is of much more consequence. [4]  By a rare piece of good fortune the male simorg [5]  has Lions for his supporters, – & I had only to change the word Belgic for Saxon. [6]  The world not knowing this, will not discover that the change is very much for the worse.


20 May. 1816


* Address: John Rickman Esqre// St Stephens Court/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 23 MY 23/ 1816
Seal: black wax, arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine and with motto ‘In Labore Quies’ below
Endorsement: 20 May 1816
MS: Huntington Library, RS 284. ALS; 2p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). BACK

[2] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[3] Antonio Vieira (1608–1697), Brazilian-born Jesuit, preacher and statesman. Southey introduced his activities in History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), II, pp. 456–500. Vieira’s Sermõens varios, e Tratados (1679–1748) was no. 3771 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. They are still regarded as the supreme achievement of Portuguese prose and Southey quoted (in translation) a sermon Vieira preached at Sao Luis in 1653 in History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), II, pp. 474–481. BACK

[4] Southey had written fifty stanzas of an epithalamion, The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816) in March–June 1814, when Princess Charlotte, only child of the Prince Regent, was engaged to William, Hereditary Prince of Orange (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849). He had to abandon the poem when the engagement was broken off, but he was able to reuse most of it when, in 1816, the engagement of Charlotte to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1790–1865; King of the Belgians 1831–1865) was announced. BACK

[5] The simurgh is a fabulous bird in Iranian mythology. It appeared prominently in Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). Prince Leopold was a ‘male simorg’ because, like the bird, he was expected to bestow fertility on the land – in his case by providing Princess Charlotte with an heir to the throne. BACK

[6] The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816), ‘The Dream’, stanza 19, line 2. Comparison with the earlier draft of the poem in Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, Box B/414, reveals Southey simply changed the description of the lion from ‘Belgic’, representing Prince William’s coat of arms, to ‘Saxon’, representing that of Prince Leopold, as the royal arms of both the Netherlands and Saxe-Coburg featured lions as supporters. BACK

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