1353. Robert Southey to John Theodore Koster, 20 August 1807

1353. Robert Southey to John Theodore Koster, 20 August 1807 ⁠* 

Keswick. Aug. 20. 1807.

My dear Sir,

I have to thank you for the little box of books which I found here a few days ago on my return from a short visit to Ambleside. That it came thro you I learn by my Lisbon advices and also from Samuel Reid. The cargo is deficient in three volumes which I hope have been forgotten in the first packing, and not lost on the way.

It will not be very long before I shall have it in my power to send you the first fruits of many years hard labour. I am going to press with the Chronicle of the Cid, a book of which the history is briefly this. [1]  In describing the state of society in the Spanish peninsula at time when Portugal first became an independent state I had many years ago written an abstract of the Cid’s life, as exhibiting in a connected and highly curious narrative the manners of the age; for this, however, short as it was the after growth of my papers convinced me that there would be no room. I then thought of enlarging it and printing it separately; but in setting about this the original documents appeared to be every way so interesting that I finally resolved upon setting seriously to work, and giving a Chronicle of the Cid at length and more fully than it has ever yet been done even in his own country. Here are three documents which I have had before me, the Poema del Cid, the oldest poem in the language and perhaps the oldest work having been written almost immediately after his death. The Chronica del Cid, and the Chronica Geral compiled by order of Alonso el Sabio about the year 1250. [2]  These two works are generally the same, that is the one has either been extracted from, or engrafted into the other, each however, contains some circumstances which are not in the other. With these before me, I have combined all that is contained in the three into one narration, which is every where translation, tho of course it differs from every one of the separate originals. I have added whatever matter is to be found in other equally authentic authorities, given minute references to these at the end of every section, and entered into every kind of critical investigation and elucidation which was necessary in the notes.

The whole will be preceded by an introduction concerning the state of Spain under the Goths and Moors, which will sketch its history till the period when the Chronicle begins. I believe that this will be as curious a book as has ever yet appeared in our language.

It has pleased his most gracious Majesty, or rather it pleased Lord Grenville for him just when he went out of office, to give me a pension of 200£. I thank the royal bounty. It will please his Majesty to deduct from this in the shape of taxes 56£. I admire the royal conscience. Having thus premised that I am a pensioner I may now say a word or two upon the state of affairs. Things appear to me to be hurrying towards a revolution and that not from the efforts of any party to bring about one, but from the total lack of all talents among our governors, and the excess of political profligacy. While Pitt [3]  and Fox were living they who did not credit the one believed in the other, this political faith is at an end. Ld. Grenville is the only man left who has the character of a statesman. In that character he is greatly over-rated, and he has let the time slip when he might have acquired the highest popularity by resigning those sinecures of which sooner or later he must be stripped. The people begin to despise their rulers; every day they become more and more convinced of the extent of their prodigality and peculation. External circumstances become daily worse and worse, and what is to save the state waggon, driven so unskilfully and at such an unmerciful rate, down so steep a road, what is to save it from an overturn! Sir Francis Burdett wants talents equal to his integrity and his popularity, but were there an able man in his place, he might be the political Martin Luther of England. I was very very sorry, or rather very indignant at your last election. Nothing could be more dishonourable to a city which I was wont to think one of the most liberal in the kingdom; than thus to displace one of the best members to make room for one of the very worst. [4] 

I shall take the liberty of directing a small box for my Uncle to your care, consisting of jellies, etc., things very eatable at a custom house, but I believe not otherwise serviceable. My brother Harry is with him. I have at length fixed my family here, and have just received the main part of my own and Uncle’s library from Bristol. Remember us all to Mrs. Koster – your son and your daughters. I shall see you in the course of the winter.

Yrs very truly

R. Southey.


* MS: Instituto Historico e Geografico Brasileiro, Rio de Janeiro; text taken from Sousa-Leão
Previously published: Joaquim de Sousa-Leão, ‘Cartas de Robert Southey a Theodore Koster e Henry Koster, anos de 1804 a 1819’, Revista do Instituto Historico e Geografico Brasileiro, 178 (1943), 37–39. BACK

[1] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid, from the Spanish was published by Longmans in 1808. BACK

[2] Southey’s edition included translations from the Crónica Particular del Cid (1593), with additions from the Crónica de España of Alphonso the Wise (1541) and Romancero e Historia del Cid (1632). BACK

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

[4] William Roscoe, elected in 1806, offended many of his constituents by speaking in favour of Catholic emancipation and against the slave trade. He lost his seat in the May 1807 election and the Tory George Canning (1770–1827; DNB), who had satirised Southey’s poems in The Anti-Jacobin, or, Weekly Examiner (1797–1798), became the city’s MP. BACK

Places mentioned

Ambleside (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)