733. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19 November [1802]

733. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19 November [1802] ⁠* 

I bought eight volumes of old French Poetry at Lisbon, [1]  published about 1720 by Contellier. perhaps this is the same – or part of the same collection which you mention as Cretin [2]  is among them – & that fellow whom Gibbon [3]  mentions. Villon [4]  I think his name who wrote a long poem xxxx when under sentence of death. but the metrical chronicle is not Cretins. Les Vigilles de Charles 7. [5]  I forget by whom, my ear is so Antigallican it never retains a French sound. that poem is very curious – I have many extracts from it. the most curious piece in the collection is I believe by Cretin – about 200 stanzas each of some remarkable thing of his time. I am more desirous to see the poems by Froissart [6]  than any thing else in the language – you will find a better view of old French poetry in Pasquier [7]  than in any other author.

Your censure of the Cid [8]  has rather pleased me because what you as well as I myself have felt to be in the xxxx spirit of poetry is nothing more than the genuine language of the chronicles whence I have compiled. I am very sure that the passages you would point out as most striking are literal translation. the phrase denaturalize so exactly conveys its meaning that I have not now to alter it – where it first occurs in the book I must explain that it was a form whereby vassals legally threw off their allegiance, becoming enemies instead of vassals. now to naturalize being an English word & precisely in the converse meaning. it appears to me that the to compound it with a privative was the shortest & most obvious of rendering the meaning desired. the Cid is not so fair a specimen of my stile, as it is of the manner in which I weave costume xxx <with> the main thread. the oldest Spanish chronicle – that is in Spanish – the one compiled by order of Alonso the Wise [9]  is made up in great part of tradition preserved as is usual chiefly in ballads. many of the facts are evidently the invention of these poets, & tho the metre be lost the character of poetry generally appears. this is the case with all their heroic period – from Bernardo del Carpio [10]  down to the Cid. you must believe a little more than you do of Theseus & Hercules. [11]  in the notes I shall distinguish what is certain truth but they enter my preliminaries as the history <a picture> of manners necessary to be understood than as history. xx xxx daylight begins only with in the Cids time.

I still suffer from weak eyes, an inflammation of the lower lids, so painful at night that I am usually obliged to sit in a dark room. this has sadly impeded my progress. I get on as well as I can but the loss of the candle light hours destroys half of the best half of my time.

God bless you


R Southey.

Kingsdown.  November 19


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmark: [partial] 122/ BRISTOL/ NOV 19
Endorsements: Nov 19/ 1802; Mr Wynn
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Poetes Anciens Francais (1723-1762), no. 2269 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[2] Guillaume Cretin (c. 1465-1525), French poet and chronicler. BACK

[3] Edward Gibbon (1737-1794; DNB), ‘Extracts from the Journal’ in Miscellaneous Works, 7 vols (London, 1796-1797), VI, p. 167. BACK

[4] Francois Villon (c. 1431-after 1463), Le Grand Testament (1461-1462). BACK

[5] Martial d’Auvergne (c. 1430/1435-1508) Les Vigilles de la Mort de Charles VII (1477-1483). BACK

[6] Jean Froissart (c. 1337-c. 1405), best known for his chronicle, but also composer of narrative and lyrical poetry. BACK

[7] Etienne Pasquier (1529-1615), Recherches de la France (1560). BACK

[8] Southey had transcribed for Wynn material relating to Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar (c. 1040-1099), a Castilian aristocrat and military commander, whose exploits were the subject of numerous poems and tales. Southey’s English translation and compilation of three of these was published in 1808 as The Chronicle of the Cid. BACK

[9] The early to mid 14th-century Cronica de Alfonso X (1221-1284), King of Castile and Leon 1252-1284. BACK

[10] Legendary Spanish hero. BACK

[11] Heroes in Greek legend. BACK

Places mentioned