2811. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 19 June 1816

2811. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 19 June 1816⁠* 

I am just at this time finishing your French version of the Byzantine historians, – half of which I read some years ago, [1]  – & now I am going thro the other half for the sake of gleaning facts there connected with the age of chivalry, – X I have long thought that as in the Levant you must trace the history of Gothic – or Church Architecture, – so also in these Eastern parts of Christendom the transition might be traced from the Roman to the Romantic mode of war. The Byzantine Collection should consist of 36 vol; – according to De Bure. [2]  & he mentions some others connected with the series, – the most important of which, Geoffroy Ville Hardouin, I picked up at Coimbra. [3]  – The immediate use to which I am applying these things xx is for the preface & notes to the Morte Arthur, – Longman pays me very liberally for this, & I expect to execute it in a manner that will do me some credit. [4]  The oddest discovery which I have yet made is that chamber pots were not known when the Romance of Merlin was written, a remarkable incident in the history of King Arthur, or rather of Queen Guenevere his wife, having occurred for want of that convenient utensil. [5] 

We are in tolerable health, & in spirits much as you would anticipate. [6]  Mine which used always to be at the high water mark, – are settled to about the half-tide; – enough are left for every day use, – but I have none to spare. In this point more is gone from me than would have evaporated in the course of twenty years. We have made up our minds to remain where we are; when other considerations made the determination doubtful, the pain which must needs be felt at leaving the place where the best & happiest years of our life have been spent, was a consideration sufficient to turn the scale. So as I have yet a fourteen years lease, it is more than probable that I shall take up my last quarters in xxxxxx yonder church yard. [7] 

Our fellow traveller Nash is on the way to visit us; – this I am glad of for in the office of showing him the country, I shall be taken out of doors myself, & shall get Edith out also. He has sent me six bottles of Shiraz Wine, [8]  – knowing that I was curious to taste it.

I suppose the Princess’s illness has delayed my Poem [9]  – this is of little consequence, tho’ it will be a week after the fair, – or rather a month after the honey moon.

The next Quarterly has a paper of mine on the war in La Vendee, & will have one upon the state of the Poor, which I am now finishing. [10]  – I am sorry for Louisa’s loss – but happening as it did, it is not likely to become a habit. [11] 

Your copy of Brazil is going off to-night. [12] Pople has printed briskly. Your huge collection of Treaties [13]  has proved of use. I detect Charlevoix by its means in some falsehoods about Nova Colonia [14] 

I shall look daily for news of my Aunt, – love to her & the boys –

God bless you


19 June. 1816


* Address: To/ The Reverend Herbert Hill/ Streatham/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: 10o’Clock/ JU 22/ 1816 FNn
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, WC 155. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, 24 vols (Paris, 1648–1711). See Southey to John Rickman, 21 December 1807, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, Letter 1404, for his earlier reading of Byzantine historians. Southey later acquired an edition of 1828–1841, no. 740 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[2] Guillaume-François Debure (1731–1782), Bibliographie Instructive (1765), no. 805 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] Geoffroy de Villehardouin (c. 1160– c. 1212), L’Histoire de la Conqueste de Constantinople par les Barons Français Associez aux Venitients, l’An 1204 (1584), no. 1135 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Southey indicates he bought this book on his visit to Coimbra in March 1801. BACK

[4] The Byrth, Lyf, and Actes of Kyng Arthur(1817). BACK

[5] In The Byrth, Lyf, and Actes of Kyng Arthur, 2 vols (London, 1817), II, p. 462, Southey told this story in a note: ‘A plot was laid by the relations of the illegitimate Guenever to pass her off upon Arthur for her half sister, and thus revenge themselves upon King Leodagan, whom they hated. It was known that the true Guenever before she went to bed must go into the garden, for a purpose which the romance writer states in the plainest language, and which proves that one of the commonest and most indispensable chamber utensils was not in use in King Arthur’s days, nor in his own. She was to be waylaid in the garden, carried off, put into a boat, and kept somewhere in durance, while the false Guenever was to be conducted to the bridal bed in her place, by a treacherous governante.’ Southey derived his text from Le Compte de la Vie de Merlin et des ses Faiz, et Compte de ses Prophecies (n.d.). BACK

[6] Southey’s son Herbert had died on 17 April 1816. BACK

[7] St Kentigern’s Church at Crosthwaite, where Southey is indeed buried. BACK

[8] Wine (mainly white) grown near Shiraz in Persia. It was imported into India by English merchants and, as Nash had been based in Bombay 1801–1810, he would have had easy access to shipments. BACK

[9] Princess Charlotte, only child of the Prince Regent. She had married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1790–1865; King of the Belgians 1831–1865) on 2 May 1816. Southey had presented the couple with an epithalamion, The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816) and was awaiting its publication. The newspapers at this time (e.g. Morning Chronicle, 7 June 1816) reported that the Princess was not carrying out public engagements because of ‘a very bad cold, accompanied with some fever’. As there was a measles epidemic in London there was some concern over the Princess’s health, her physicians were called and she was bled. But the publication of the poem was probably delayed because Longman did not want it to interfere with sales of The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). BACK

[10] Southey reviewed in the Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 1–69, a series of memoirs of the French Revolutionary wars, including that in La Vendée, 1793–1796; ‘On the Poor’ also appeared in Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 187–235. BACK

[11] Louisa Southey had probably suffered a miscarriage. BACK

[12] The second volume of the History Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[13] Portuguese manuscripts and official documents collected by Hill and used by Southey in his researches. BACK

[14] In History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), II, pp. 579–580 n., Southey dealt with conflicting accounts of the dispute between Portugal and Spain over Nova Colonia (in modern Uruguay) in 1680–1681, including that by Pierre Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix (1682–1761), Histoire de Paraguay, 3 vols (Paris, 1756), II, p. 203 (no. 645 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library). Southey declared all the accounts, including Charlevoix’s, to ‘bear the grossest and most ridiculous marks of partiality. Several manuscripts respecting Nova Colonia are in my possession, (for reams have been written upon the question,) and from them I have collected a more credible and consistent account.’ BACK