138. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 November [1795]

138. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 November [1795] ⁠* 

Your exordium is the worst part of the translation. [1]  & in the two last lines the word death is not applicable to the light & lover. quench in night or extinguish are words that equally affect both.

The lofty towers opposd of Sestos stood — is a good transposition of your line. Ηιθεον φλεξας και παρθενον [2]  — the epithet faithful is prematurely given. & pleasing woe is too trite an antithesis. the four lines Ah with what art the wily youth essayd to — mutual ardor melt — are by no means the meaning of the original — nor consonant to the story — “enquire Stranger the sea-echoing straits of Abydos yet <now> moaning the love & death of Leander. but for but whence (or how) came Leander of Abydos to the love of Hero, & won her too to love?” Your translation is very different — he used no arts to win the Lady but impudence, nor is there any part of the piece to which “across the sea to breathe the flame he felt” can refer. well done Aristarchus! “grew beneath her parents eyes” is a meaning opposite to the text. she dwelt απο προγονων  [3]  — this you have rendered too laxly in secluded from the world. “Where jealous Weakness points Detractions tongue” is a line eminently beautiful & entirely your own. the flames of Loves dart — is a metaphor incongruous tho common custom has familiarized — you should avoid <it> for both reason. it is improper & hackneyd. “ambrosial shade” I understand not. ambrosia is an aristocratic liquor that the Deities have monopolized, & poor mortal cannot even get a smell. — find out what made the odors of Libanus — (Qy. Cedars?) & give an appropriate epithet. Cyprus isle that rises from the deep is a pleonasm — you must omit isle — or the end of the line. fade in the whiteness of surrounding snow — is very happy. “throughout her form the varied flowers appear — the first part of this line is awkward. Οφθαλμος γελοων [4]  — is weakly rendered. you have paraphrasd too much — Sparta renownd for beauty.

Oer all her charms has roved my eager sight
Yet no satiety attends delight —

is a better couplet than either of the two — at any rate keep the marked words. Wrapt in her arms to breath my soul away — is not the meaning — “If I might ascend the couch of Hero — I would then willingly die — ”. [5] 

that flame possession only could assuage — is not in the original & has no merit to plead for its preservation. a la lanterne with it — it needs xxx neither judge nor jury. the following lines to the end of her speech are very good. you may still add another couplet to express Παρθενικης επι λεκτρον αμηχανον εςιν ικοθαι. [6]  your concluding line have a different meaning but I cannot wish them removed. Excellent Critic! the signs of conquest & of Love he knew. a bad translation. When Leander heard the anger of her womanish threats he knew them to be signs of consent. people talk big when they can do little — exemplum nobis præbet optimum [7]  the present Louis’s proclamation [8]  — that worthy imitation<or> of Henry 4th. [9] 

is not hymenæal a more appropriate phrase than matrimonial?

σον δ’ ικετην με κομιζε, και, ην εθςλης, παρακοιτιν —  [10] 

you must translate this better & nearer the original meaning. the two lines on Hercules are very flat. [11]  the her lovers pains — it is always better to avoid these trite phrases. & if we analize the meaning of easing a lovers pains — we shall not find it to be the most delicate. the phrase would be proper for a brothel — as a man goes to ease himself at a necessary. love & lust must not be confounded — or to use better terms affection & appetite — I own Leanders comes under the last class. the meaning is — you know how Atalanta fled her lover — one only is mentiond. ενι κραδιη θετο x παση [12]  this is badly rendered x & bade the Maid with equal fury burn. beside there is a kakophony in the line — erudite Observer!

Πολλακις αμφ ωμοισιν εον ξυνεεργε χιτωνα [13]  — you lose the beauty of this picture in your translation.

thy words o Stranger soon the rocks might raise — the Devil they might! this however Musæus must answer for. I have too good an opinion of our modern female to think an Irish man from the other side the water would have succeeded so well without pleading better. you have just above this used pleasing pain γλυκερω πυρι. [14]  I do not like either — perhaps something like thrilling glow  [15]  or warmth would be nearer the xxx original.

Τις σε πολυπλανεων επεων εδιδαξε κελευθους; [16]  the meaning is difficult to preserve in English — but it is very beautiful & your line totally unlike it. I object to that line particularly. I wish you could avoid a triplet — perhaps an alexandrine may contain the meaning.

Without a cure the ill is seldom found — the Meaning is — tho Love makes wounds he cures them likewise. a pestilence on the fellow who invented the jargon of wounds & arrows. your lines fall short of the original here.

Nor heed the billows boisterous tho they rise — this little alteration is for the better.

His bosom seemd to catch the kindred flame — is the best of the variæ lectiones.

you have not given a good translation of his speech as he is going to swim. Δεινος Ερως & Ποντος αμειλιχος [17]  ’tis an exclamation. down to Παρθενος ηματιη, νυχιη γυνη [18]  — are very good — your versification grows better towards t as you advance.

Defy the tempest & the storm deride is not in the original nor is it good. ποθος [19]  is hardly fierce desire — & all such expressions of ram-cat raptures are bad. by the by she a dark lanthern might have deprived us of this poem.

your storm is very good — zounds I sweat at the bare idea of the Bay of Biscay. heigh ho! Grosvenor I shall be there within a fortnight & trifling as much of this letter may appear — your xxx <friend> never wrote with a heavier heart.

Ερως δ’ κ ηρκεσε Μοιρας [20]  — the prayers of Love is too dilated [MS obscured] his open throat involuntary quaffd — they are two bad lines [MS obscured] floating to the shore — & tempest-tore — something like this will [21]  be better —Θρυπτομενον σπιλαδεσσιν [22]  — is the Greek — & this idea you must preserve — as it forms the picture. αλληλων αποναντο [23]  — not faithful to the last — they were united in death.

There Grosvenor I have criticised with sincerity — & now tell you you will make a beautiful poem. remember that if you keep the MSS six months every time you read it you will make some amendment.

you shall from me before I go — a few lines. I have much to say to you but cannot write it. Grosvenor I am not happy. & with a sick heart am condemned to carry a chapeau bras [24]  to the court of Madrid —

Zounds Grosvenor, Mrs De la Motte [25]  if I am right is the person talks hard words about every thing — & nonsense about me — I have not the misfortune of being liable to Lordship — the disease is not in our family any more than the Kings-evil. were <was> your advice consistent with what you knew of me? I have a mind to retaliate by a little sedition.

God bless you. think of me when I am absent & let me hear often from you. tho I go without pleasure I shall not return without wisdom.

yours most affectionately

R Southey.

Nov. 6. Bath.


* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr./ New Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single
Stamped: BATH
Postmark: ANO/ 7/ 95
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; COLES/ 1794
Endorsements: Recd. Novr. 7; Ansd. 12
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Throughout this letter Southey provides a detailed critique of Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s translation of Musæus (fl. c. early 6th century), which was eventually published in 1797 as The Loves of Hero and Leander. BACK

[2] The Greek translates as ‘having excited the youth and the maiden’. BACK

[3] The Greek translates as ‘at a distance from her ancestors’. BACK

[4] The Greek translates as ‘a laughing eye’. BACK

[5] Footnote inserted in another hand: ‘Southey has mistaken this.’ BACK

[6] The Greek translates as ‘it is possible to reach the girl’s bed’. BACK

[7] The Latin translates as ‘our best example is’. BACK

[8] On learning of the death of his nephew, Louis XVIII (1755–1824; reigned 1814–1824) proclaimed himself King of France on 24 June 1795. He was, of course, unable to enforce his claim. BACK

[9] Henry IV, King of France (1562–1610; reigned 1589–1610). Although he was proclaimed king in 1589, he had to fight a long civil war to establish his right to the throne. BACK

[10] The Greek translates as ‘convey me as your suppliant, and your bedfellow, if you will’. BACK

[11] Another hand has inserted: ‘send the original Southey’. BACK

[12] The Greek translates as ‘<s/he> put <it> in his/her whole heart.’ BACK

[13] The Greek translates as ‘fastened his cloak about his shoulders’. BACK

[14] The Greek translates as ‘with sweet fire’. BACK

[15] thrilling glow: Another hand has inserted: ‘I have put it away in the first instance. GB’. BACK

[16] The Greek translates as ‘who taught you the paths of misleading words?’ BACK

[17] The Greek translates as ‘dangerous passion and unassuageable sea’. BACK

[18] The Greek translates as ‘girl in the daytime, at night a woman’. BACK

[19] The Greek translates as ‘yearning’. BACK

[20] The Greek translates as ‘passion as allotted was quite sufficient’. BACK

[21] something ... will: Another hand has inserted: ‘no Southey not the latter’. BACK

[22] The Greek translates as ‘smashed upon reefs’. BACK

[23] The Greek translates as ‘they took pleasure of each other’. BACK

[24] A bicorn hat worn by court officials and Embassy staff. BACK

[25] Unidentified; perhaps a London acquaintance of Southey’s. BACK

People mentioned