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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 1: 1791-1797, Edited By Lynda Pratt

237. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19 July [1797] ⁠* 

Wednesday 19 July.

Your letter arrived yesterday by the return of the Mail, consequently too late for an answer. this was owing to the direction which I thought you had known. “Burton near Ringwood.” my letters thus directed are taken out of the Ringwood bag & left at the door as the Post Boy passes; if sent to Ch. Ch. he brings them as he returns.

I shall soon I think be master of Blackstone. [1]  you will regulate my after studies by the line you think best for me — I only beg it may be that which will the soonest enable me to leave it. a good lawyer I certainly will be, but have no wish to be a great one.

The ninth book of Joan of Arc will be omitted, & published seperately, with some enlargement. [2]  the objection that satire is misplaced will therefore no longer be valid, if it ever were which I perhaps doubt — & I think the lines good in themselves. there are {some} very bad ones Page 334 which are condemned x for they have not a solitary excuse. The outline of my alterations is briefly this — to make the Maid relate her knowledge of her own death to Conrade Book 4th. to alter the discovery of the arms, so as to reduce the story as much as possible to a moral miracle, there is too much clock-work in it now. I would therefore if possible omit the miraculous healing of Dunois but I have no idea yet how to alter the beginning if this be done. the new ninth book will be the detachment of Burgundy from the English interest by the Maid, which of course will be made xx essential to the success of the whole. I annihilate all Isabels similies, because country girls are not addicted to them. my verbal alterations will be numberless. Will you transcribe for me a few lines from Hall [3]  for a note? merely the sentence that says the Maid made her first entry into Orleans in a thunder storm. if you meet with any anec— anecdotes of Joan that may have escaped me, I will make good use of them.

My Tragedy would advance rapidly if I stole time enough, for I have both brain & back-bone full of ideas for it. it comes on very slowly. of the three acts one is about three parts finished. One fortnight given heartily to it would be enough & then three months correction would make it better than a seven years writing. The Maids martyrdom seems almost a necessary supplement to the poem, & the subject suits me. but if I had not other employment than poetry I should scarcely venture upon the drama. I can manage the Epic better, & that has every dramatic advantage if well handled. perhaps Tassos [4]  is the most interesting that has yet appeared. with Homer & Milton no future indeed no other poems can be compared the age of the one & the subject of the other preclude it, independant of their unequalld & perhaps unequalable merit. But I will {not} allow this to Virgil. his story never can interest, & this is a grievous fault. I read all the obscure epic writers I can lay my hands on. there is one advantage which a dull book possesses, no good thing is lost — like the dunghill diamond you are sure to see it shine — or more like a farthing candle in a dark night. These writers are sad imitators — I might say thieves, for I believe privately borrowing would be interpreted theft at the old Bailey. Did I tell you I had got Chapelain? [5]  & how bad he was?

I have prohibited in Madoc & Joan all long speeches, catalogues of armies or navies, geographical descriptions, shield paintings, lists of killed & wounded, prophecies, compliments, lions wolves tygers & all other wild beasts, Auroras, & all the getting up & going to bed of Phoebus. Tempests too are forbidden — you will be pleased to see how I have managed one in Madoc. item all Devils & Angels — Gods & Goddesses — in brief the whole stock in trade of Chapelain Bla[MS torn]more & fifty more. all allegorical personages are included. the subject of Joan is miraculous — but I have no miracle in Madoc. he is landed now. I wish you would pick me out from the Royal Commentaries of Peru [6]  if you meet with them or indeed where ever you can, a Peruvian mans name fit for poetry. I have enough of Mexican ones, & am somewhat puzzled to lick the ladies into shape. what think of you of Atotoztli & Tziltomiauh? these are perfect beauties compared with Tlacapantzin & Ilancueith &c. I must spell it Ziltomia & its physiognomy is bearable. I know a man who introduced Agraganda as one of Julius Caesars friends, & made Clomanthus a very accomplished English Lady in the days of James 2nd. [7]  Do christen me a Peruvian — I should like to say all the names are appropriate. “these little traits” as Puff says. [8] 

The old Lady Strathmore [9]  has some curious books. I hope to get from her library the Amadigi of Tassos father. [10]  if he had been a very bad poet Tasso would never have published his works — & I love every thing belonging to Amadis & Galaor. [11] 

God bless you. if you can get me any poetical information about the River of Amazons I shall be glad — but I must have no Amazons as Madoc was buried long before Orellana learnt to tell lies.  [12]  Did you ever see Madame Godines melancholy account?  [13]  I shall allude to it by & by.

yrs truly

Robert Southey.


Notes

* Address: C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ 5. Stone Buildings — Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: RINGWOOD
Postmark: AJY/ 20/ 97
Watermark: Crest/ G R
Endorsement: July 19/ 1797
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 136–138. BACK

[1] William Blackstone (1723–1780; DNB), Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–1769). BACK

[2] Southey removed the 1796 version of book nine from the second edition of Joan of Arc, and revised and expanded it into ‘The Vision of the Maid of Orleans’, first published in his Poems (1799). BACK

[3] The chronicler Edward Hall (1497–1547; DNB). BACK

[4] Torquato Tasso (1544–1595), Jerusalem Delivered (1580–1581). BACK

[5] Chapelain (1595–1674), La Pucelle ou la France Délivrée (1656). Southey included a summary of it in the second edition of Joan of Arc, published in 1798. BACK

[6] Garcilaso de la Vega (1501–1536), The Royal Commentaries of Peru (1688). BACK

[7] Unidentified. BACK

[8] A catchphrase of Puff in Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816; DNB), The Critic (1779). BACK

[9] Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749–1800; DNB), heiress, botanist and author of a five act play, The Siege of Jerusalem (1769). Her first husband was John Lyon (1737–1776), 9th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, her second the fortune-hunter Andrew Robinson Stoney (1747–1810). In 1789, her abusive marriage to Stoney ended in an acrimonious and scandalous divorce. BACK

[10] Bernardo Tasso (1493–1569), author of an epic on Amadis of Gaul. BACK

[11] Two central characters in the romance Amadis of Gaul (1560). BACK

[12] Francisco de Orellana (c. 1500–c. 1549), Spanish conquistador who, in 1542, allegedly encountered the Amazons on the South American river he decided to name after them. BACK

[13] Isabel Godin des Odonais (d. 1792) related her epic journey across South America in Lettre Contenant la Relation des Madame Godin (par le Fleuve des Amazons) (1778). BACK

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March 2009