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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1019. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 14 January 1805 ⁠* 

Jany 14 1805

Dear Wynn

Yours with its contents arrived this evening. I have had the story of St Magnus’s dance [1]  by me ever since 1798, & have once or twice attempted to balladize it, but could never tell how to relate it, that is at what point of time to begin –, for I should like best to make the ballad of a terrific character which might be easily done. There is a story in the Pia Hilaria how St James of Nisibis made some {young} women old for mocking him [2]  which I should perhaps have struck off some time ago but for a stupid reason – I did not know how to pronounce Nisibis – nor where to find out. Indeed I have plenty of stories for such purposes – or seeds of stories, & if the humour should come on me at some leisure time may very possibly produce a whole batch. The Old Woman of Berkeley [3]  has been one means of preventing this, because I shall not make so good a ballad again.

Just now I am hard prest by more Annuals, Irish Antiquities – Celtic Researches &c – Among others a pamphlet upon the Slave Trade by a Liverpool Merchant, entitled No Slavery – No Sugar;  [4]  Which if it be not ironical is the most impudent defence of that xxxx accursed traffic that ever yet disgraced the English language. I really cannot tell whether it be serious or ironical, & Arthur Aikin is as little able to decide as myself – however I shall treat it as irony. – Turners last volume is in the press & will be very curious. [5]  – There are three books which I am much in want of, & wish you could procure for me when you get to town. The false Berosus Beausobres Hist. du Manicheisms, & La Croze’s Hist. du Christianisme des Indes. [6]  The first was invented to gratify the vanity of the Spaniards, & is the basis of their fabulous history

There is a good story of the Paddy’s in a late paper. a party of them who were employed to repair a bridge, got under it in a lighter, & {began by} pulling out the key-stone!

God bless you

RS


Notes

* Address: To C. W. Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D
Unpublished. BACK

[1] In the fourteenth-century manuscript chronicle Flores Historiarum (first printed 1567), ‘Matthew of Westminster’ records a story from the town of Colewiz in Saxony, where, in the year 1012, the priest of the church of Magnus Martyr cursed a group of revellers so that they were compelled to continue singing and dancing without pause for a year. For a translation, see Matthew of Westminster, The Flowers of History, 2 vols (London, 1853), I, p. 502. BACK

[2] Southey refers to Pia Hilaria (1617–1638), a collection of comic stories about Catholic superstitions, some in verse, compiled by Angelin Gazet (1568–1653). Southey owned the two volume London edition of 1657. The story of St James of Nisibis (died c. AD 338), a saint of the Syriac church, appears on pages 353–355. BACK

[3] Southey’s ‘A Ballad Shewing how an Old Woman Rode Double and Who Rode Before Her’, (more familiarly known as ‘The Old Woman of Berkeley’) was published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]–160. For its composition and publication history, see Robert Southey Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), V, pp. 293–300. BACK

[4] Southey was reviewing in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), Edward Ledwich (1738–1823), The Antiquities of Ireland (1804), 398–413; Edward Davies (1756–1831; DNB), Celtic Researches, on the Origin, Traditions, & Language, of the Ancient Britons; with some Introductory Sketches, on Primitive Society (1804), 634–644; the pamphlet No Slaves – No Sugar: Containing New and Irresistible Arguments in Favour of the African trade by a Liverpool Merchant (1804), 644–648. BACK

[5] Turner’s four volume History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799–1805). BACK

[6] Isaac (Manes) de Beausobre (1659–1738), Histoire Critique de Manichés et du Manicheisme (1734); Mathurin Veyssière de la Croze (1661–1739), Histoire du Christianisme des Indes (1724). The former was no. 185 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

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August 2013