1565. Robert Southey to Thomas Rees, 15 January 1809

1565. Robert Southey to Thomas Rees, 15 January 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Sir

D Juana de Austria the mother of Sebastian, was made Regent of Castille as soon as she returned to that country after her husbands death, [1]  while Philip 2. went to England to marry our Mary. [2]  This was in 1554. She built a Nunnery for the bare-footed Franciscans (or Clares) at Madrid, [3]  & expended much in other works of religious charity, but she never did not enter a Convent. She died at the Escurial Sept 8. 1573. in her 38th year, & was buried in the Nunnery of her own foundation.

I have Molinas book, but am inclined to think that there would be very little sale for a Natural History of Chile. [4]  A good account of that country compiled from all the authors who have written concerning it, might, because it would be very entertaining, but the documents are scarce, the labour would be considerable, & I without much chance of any thing like an adequate remuneration. Histories of Peru & Mexico are also wanting for Robertson’s work is so scandalously deficient, as xxxxx to be made false by omission. [5]  Molina is as fit as was for Pinkertons Collection [6]  as Leems was, [7]  so would Pontoppidan have been. [8]  – I am sorry to see how grievously he mismanages that work. The whole second volume is good for little, & what little is good has no business there – Pennant too is nothing without all his prints. [9]  The different travels in each geographical division should have been chronologically arranged, & all inferior works cut up into notes & appendices. to the There is now neither order, selection, nor any thing else.

I wish you had sent me proofs of your two last maps in the Cyclopædia, [10]  I could have made some material corrections, & xxx rectified the very faulty spelling. – When last in town I saw the portraits of the present King of New Zealand & his wife, drawn by the King himself. [11]  If you could give facsimiles of these in the Cyclopædia, they would be the most curious things there, as specimens of the art in its most savage state. Carlisle has them – the Surgeon in Soho Square. – You want Coletis Geographical Dictionary of S. America [12]  to incorporate in that work. I have a copy, but it <is> a book of reference which is frequently in use, else I would offer it.

There is I think room for a great collection of English poetry upon the plan of the Parnasso Italiano, [13]  which it is strange enough, has never been adopted in this country, – that of giving all those poems great works which are admitted at home or abroad to be the pride of our fine literature, but rejecting all the indifferent pieces even of the best <greatest> writers, & giving only the very best of all the secondary & inferior ones. I would so far improve upon the Italian plan as to give prefix such an account of every author as would in fact be a review of his whole works, & thus introduce in the way of anla analysis & extract, all the <main> beauties which are scattered thro the long poems of Drayton, Daniel, the Fletchers, Cowleys Davideis [14]  &c – so that the various introductions should form a connected & complete History of English Poetry without any thing like antiquarian pedantry, or any bibliological rubbish, – but <exhibiting> in as readable & interesting a form as possible, all the results of antiquarian & bibliological research, so far as they are of any importance to the philosophy of literary history. The probable extent of such a work would be about as the same as the current editions of Johnsons Collection, [15]  because the elder & later writers whom it would be proper to admit would be equal in bulk to that quantity of trash which would be discarded. – As this would be the best Collection that has ever yet appeared, so might it be made the most beautiful at no greater expence than is generally wasted in those ‘embellishments’ which are in reality no embellishments at all. I would have portraits, & views of those places which are rendered interesting by their connection either with the author or his works. – The house in which a Poet was born, or where he lived, – the scenes which he has delighted to paint, – in short what are technically called illustrations. And under each portrait whenever it was possible, the authors name should be a facsimile of his handwriting. – This would be a great undertaking, but I am confident that it could not fail of success. The mere circumstance of ridding the collection of all impurities would alone <be enough to> recommend it in this age of Eclectic Reviews Family Shakesperes & Evangelical Monday Newspapers. If this plan is thought worthy of attention, I will write more fully upon the subject, for there are few things which I should like better than to gird my loins for such a task. The only things which I could not do would be the correcting the press, as that would occasion a delay incompatible with periodical publication.

I am glad to hear you are so forward with the Annual – this is not the only advantage which I expect from the change in its government, – only I fear William Taylor will be mist. [16] 

yrs very truly

R Southey.

Jany. 15. 1809.


* Address: To/ The Reverend Thomas Rees
Endorsement: R Southey/ Jany 15/ 1809
MS: Cornell University, Healey 3116. ALS; 4p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Doña Juana of Austria (1535–1573), was married to John of Portugal (1537–1554) the son of John (or João) III (1502–1557), King of Portugal and the Algarves 1521–1557. She was the mother of Sebastian I (1554–1578), King of Portugal and the Algarves 1557–1578. BACK

[2] Philip II (1527–1598), King of Spain, Portugal, Naples and Sicily 1554–1598, married Mary I (1516–1558), Queen of England and Ireland 1553–1558, in 1554. BACK

[3] The Convent of Las Descalzas Reales, in Madrid. BACK

[4] Giovanni Ignazio Molina (1740–1829), Compendio della Storia Geografica, Naturale, e Civile del Regno del Chile (1776). An English edition of this work was published by Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme in 1809, entitled Geographical, Natural and Civil History of Chile: Translated from the Italian. BACK

[5] William Robertson (1721–1793; DNB), historian, about whose History of America (1777) Southey was habitually dismissive. BACK

[6] John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB), editor of A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in all Parts of the World (1808–1814). BACK

[7] Knud Leems (1697–1774), a Norwegian clergyman and linguist, whose ‘Account of the Laplanders of Finmark, their Language, Manners, and Religion’ was included in the first volume of Pinkerton’s Collection (London, 1808), pp. 376–490. BACK

[8] Erik Pontoppidan (1698–1764) was a Danish clergyman, historian and antiquary who wrote several books, but presumably Southey is referring to Den Danske Atlas (1763–1767). BACK

[9] Thomas Pennant’s (1726–1798; DNB), A Tour in Scotland (1771) and Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides (1774–1776), were included in Pinkerton’s Collection, Volume III, pp. 1–571. Several prints were, in fact, included. BACK

[10] It appears that Thomas Rees was contributing material on South America and the Pacific to the Cyclopedia, or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (first published in 1728 and reprinted many times in the eighteenth century). An expanded edition, updated by Thomas Rees’s friend, Abraham Rees (1743–1825; DNB), was published from 1778–1788; Abraham Rees was then commissioned by its publishers, Longman and Rees, to edit a new version, which became known as Rees’s Cyclopaedia (London, 1802–1820). BACK

[11] Possibly portraits of Hongi Hika (c.1772–1828) and his wife, since he is the only rangatira (chief) who was spoken of as a ‘King’ of New Zealand at this time. BACK

[12] Giovanni Domenico Coletti (1727–1797), Geographical Dictionary of South America (1771). BACK

[13] Southey owned the 56-volume Parnasso Italiano, overo Raccolta de’ Poeti Classici Itali (1784–1791), no. 2184 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[14] Michael Drayton (1563–1631; DNB); Samuel Daniel (1562/3–1619; DNB); the brothers Phineas Fletcher (1582–1650; DNB) and Giles Fletcher (1585/6–1623; DNB); Abraham Cowley (1618–1667; DNB), Davideis: A Sacred Poem of The Troubles of David (1656). BACK

[15] Samuel Johnson (1709–1784; DNB), The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets: With Critical Observations on their Works (1779–1781). BACK

[16] Southey reported that Thomas Rees had taken over the editorship of the Annual Review from Arthur Aikin; see Southey to Herbert Hill, 9 August 1808, Letter 1488. In consequence, Taylor decided to withdraw as a contributor. BACK

People mentioned

Aikin, Arthur (1773–1854) (mentioned 1 time)
Rees, Owen (1770–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Carlisle, Anthony (1768–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 1 time)
Rees, Thomas (1777–1864) (mentioned 1 time)