756. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 30 January 1803

756. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 30 January 1803 ⁠* 

I agree completely with what you say of the intermingling description & narrative. if in Thalaba [1]  there be any description which does not carry on the narrative at the same time, it is a fault & must be expunged. What you condemn in Homer strikes me as it does it you. the same defect fault is in Trissino [2]  but magnified like a Louse in a solar microscope. [3]  this very thing have I laboured to avoid by lyrical transitions, & dramatic changes of scene. frequent feebleness of language there is, not from system but from accident. there are faults not neither immediately nor soon perceived by the author who must long associate with words the feeling that first indited them. These I shall weed out as I can – but the trick of swelling out unimportant narration by swelling xxxxx by language is xxxxxxx abominable. all that can be done with these connecting parts is to make them as perspicuous & as concise as possible. the story of Aswad [4]  must come out – I always knew it was a defect & always threatened it. how to supply its place has not yet occurred to me.

But surely that Scotch Review [5]  is a very unfair one, & if it had not used the language of ridicule you & everyone else would have felt its unfairness. what can be more unfair than the charge that there is no originality? than the assertion that it is made up of scraps of old sermons because I have imitated one simily from Bishop Taylor? [6]  <than> that <the> reckoning it among the inconsistencies of the poem that a magician is ‘knockd down’ by a sand shower of his own raising when the lines expressly say that the pillar of sand was driven by the Breath of God? [7]  than that total overlooking of the Mohammedan principle of Fatalism which pervades & ought to pervade the whole story? – I have heard something of the Reviewers. they are all young volunteers who set out with a resolution to abuse every thing because the English Reviews were all ‘milk & water’. this was their own assertion. they avow a determination to notice only works of importance. yet some single sermons are reviewed by Sidney Smith, [8]  because the author preachers thereof reviewed his sermons in the British Critic. [9]  this fact came from Sidney Smiths brother. [10] 

I shall be very glad to see you here on the circuit & show you all I have & talk with you about it. you are right in saying that an author is in danger of being deceived as to the perspicuity of his work. if the Cid [11]  be obscure it must be made clearer, & at all events compressed if you have found it tedious. yet you cannot see it in the light that I do who have compressed a folio volume into forty of my own quarto pages. a few whole days of labour – if my eyes were well & my journey-work all cleared off – would finish this prelim part of the præliminaries [12]  – the chapters upon the Moorish period are written (– except the literary part for which I want documents – in particular Casiri Bibleot. Arab. Hispanica. [13] ) it will be followed by the lives of the more popular Spanish Heroes – Bernardo del Carpio – the Counts of Castile, the Infante of Lara & the Cid. [14]  next I go to a sketch & summary of Monastic History from S Antony the Great [15]  – to the Cistercian reform – & from that second æra to the establishment of the Mendicant Orders. to compleat this will probably lead me to the Museum [16]  during the summer.

The booksellers have blabbed my name as the translator of Amadis [17]  – & I have been obliged to make new terms & avow it. they now pay me 100 £ pounds when the book is done. fifty when the edition is sold. & half the profit of all future editions. I wrote very angrily to them with a proper resentment. they did not design to act meanly. but the thing has vexed me, for I was very desirous to have remained silent.

This goes with a chance direction – for I have quite lost sight of you. Coleridge is with me – on his way abroad – for he is in wretched health. his letters to Fox [18]  I have seen at last. you will see me again in the Morning Post [19]  soon: odd as it must needs be thought the most profitable employment I can find. meantime with some drudgery & sore eyes, & a history on hand Madoc [20]  creeps on, & my head is full of ideas for it. pray get me the first copy of Giraldus [21]  you meet with.

God bless you.


Jany. 30. 1803.

Kingsdown. Bristol.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esq. M.P./ Lincolns Inn/ London
Endorsements: Jan. 30. 1803; Mr Wynn
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 304-306. BACK

[1] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[2] Gian Giorgio Trissino (1478-1550), Italian poet and author of the epic, Italia Liberata dai Goti (1547-1548). BACK

[3] A device that used the sun’s rays to produce highly magnified images of very small objects. BACK

[4] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 1, lines 187-633. The story was not removed in subsequent editions. BACK

[5] The review of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) by Francis Jeffrey (1773-1850; DNB) in Edinburgh Review, 1 (October, 1802), 63-83. BACK

[6] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 8, lines 226-237 is a versification of Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667; DNB), ‘The Miracles of Divine Mercy’, Sermon XXV of XXVIII Sermons Preached at Golden Grove (London, 1654), p. 325. BACK

[7] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 4, line 568. BACK

[8] Sydney Smith (1771-1845; DNB), author, clergyman and wit. His earliest contributions to the Edinburgh Review, of which he was one of the co-founders, included articles on Samuel Parr (1747-1825; DNB), Spital Sermon Preached at Christ-Church Upon Easter Tuesday, April 15, 1800 (1801) (1 (October 1802), 18-24), Thomas Rennell (1754-1840; DNB), Discourses on Various Subjects (1801) (1 (October 1802), 83-90) and William Langford (1744/5-1814), Anniversary Sermon of the Royal Humane Society (1801) (1 (October 1802), 113). BACK

[9] The review of Smith’s Six Sermons, Preached in Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh, in British Critic, 16 (October 1800), 388-392. BACK

[10] Possibly Robert Percy Smith (1770-1845; DNB), also a noted wit. BACK

[11] Southey had transcribed for Wynn a number of sources 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

[12] The initial sections of Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[13] Miguel Casiri (1710-1791), Bibliotheca Arabico-Hispana Escurialensis (1760-1770). The book is a catalogue of Arabic manuscripts in the Escorial Library. There is no copy in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[14] Bernardo del Carpio is a legendary hero of medieval Spain; the Counts of Castile were the area’s earliest rulers in the 9th-11th centuries; the legendary figures, the Seven Infantes of Lara, were the subject of a now lost medieval epic poem. BACK

[15] St Anthony the Great (c. 251-356), founder of monasticism in Egypt. BACK

[16] The British Museum, London, opened in 1759. BACK

[17] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[18] Coleridge’s letters to the Whig leader, Charles James Fox (1749-1806; DNB), published in the Morning Post on 4 November and 9 November 1802. BACK

[19] Southey had published regularly in the Morning Post in 1798-1799. He contributed three poems in 1801 and began to contribute sporadically in 1803, with ‘A True Ballad of a Pope’, Morning Post, 4 February 1803. BACK

[20] Southey had completed a fifteen-book version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

[21] Giraldus Cambrensis (c. 1146- c. 1223), medieval clergyman and chronicler. Southey probably wanted a copy of his Itinerarium Cambriae (1191). BACK

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