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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1109. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 3 October 1805 ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

I shall take your advice respecting xxxx Madoc, & confine myself to correcting the parts as they are. About the catastrophe when my thoughts acquire any thing like a definite form – you shall be consulted. [1] 

To day I start with Elmsley for Edinburgh, & shall be home within three weeks. I have a world of reviewing to do, which with Espriella, [2]  will keep me hard at work till April, – & then, as soon as I have cleared off these incumbrances I design once more to cross the seas, & pay my last visit to Portugal. [3]  Concerning this I will write at large hereafter. Now of course we are in haste, & have besides something to say which {you} will be glad to hear.

Froude, a clergyman of Devonshire, [4]  happened some little time ago to tell me that a Lady in Nottinghamshire had an old MSS volume of poems, which nobody could make out. [5]  I expressed a wish to see it, – & in short – have it now lying on my desk. It contains all sort of things & among others three metrical Romances. Sir Ysumbras [6]  – Sir Gowther [7]  – & Sir Amadas. [8]  The first you will recollect by the title of Isembras, whether that was known to exist or not I cannot tell. The two latter are discoveries, I believe, & Amadas, being known to Walter Scott only by name, was suspected by him in the Edinburgh Review as being possibly the original of Amadis. [9]  The copy of these is imperfect at the beginning, but nothing of any importance is lost. The story this. Amadas has spent all his property except forty pounds. With this he sets out to seek his fortune – he finds a widow sitting by a bier in a lonely chapel with two tapers burning, & her husbands body, which was rotting above ground, because a cruel creditor would not permit it to be buried. Amadas pays 30£ to redeem it, & spends the other ten upon the funeral. As he rides on close thro a forest bewailing his poverty aloud, a knight in white armour upon a white horse overtakes & overhears him; & then advises him to go & marry the Emperors daughter by his help, covenanting to have half of whatever he shall chuse for this assistance. Accordingly he supplies him with cloaths from a wreck & bids him say that his retinue have perished in the storm. Amadas marries the Princess & has a child. The White knight comes & sends up word of his arrival in a sort of suspicious way, as if he doubted whether the promise would be kept; he is most joyfully & gratefully received but demands to have the Princess & the child cut in half. The Lady on no account will permit her husband to break his promise & prove a false knight, & lays down on a table to submit to the operation. It then appears that the White Knight is the Spirit of the Merchant who does this only to prove Sir Amadas.

Sir Gowther – the Son of the Devil – is equally wild in story – but I have no time now for more. Each is about 800 lines long. the rest of the volume contains many curious things with much devotional poetry. I shall show it to Walter Scott, & get the owners permission to take measures for publishing such of its contents {as} are worthy.

God bless you

RS

October 3. 1805.


Notes

* Address: To C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P. / Wynnstay/ Wrexham {Shrewsbury}
Stamped: OSWESTRY/ 163
Endorsement: Be so good as direct the enclosed to Messrs Thomas Coutts & Co Strand London [Thomas Coutts (1735–1822; DNB), banker and head of the successful company Coutts & Co.]
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 339–341. BACK

[1] In an earlier letter, Southey had suggested various alterations to his poem for its next edition, including omitting the volcanic eruption that occurs at the end; see Southey to Charles Watkins Williams Wynn, [September 1805], Letter 1107. BACK

[2] Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[3] Southey did not make his intended trip to Portugal as Edith did not wish to go and he did not want to be separated from her. See Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 20 October 1805, Letter 1113. BACK

[4] Robert Hurrell Froude (1770/71–1859; DNB), Church of England clergyman of Dartington, South Devon, and later Archdeacon of Totnes. BACK

[5] The Sherbrooke family of Oxton, Nottinghamshire had owned a manuscript volume containing rare medieval metrical romances since the sixteenth century. It was compiled by one Richard Heege in the fifteenth century. Southey later arranged for its purchase, through the good offices of Scott, by Scott’s friend Thomas Thomson (1768–1852; DNB), an Edinburgh advocate, record keeper and editor of medieval manuscripts. See Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 11 January 1806, Letter 1146. From Thomson the manuscript went to the Advocates Library, Edinburgh. It remains in their collection today (National Library of Scotland, Advocates MS 19.3.1). BACK

[6] Sir Isumbras is a metrical romance, written in Middle English, and surviving in at least nine manuscripts and five prints. It is a secularized retelling of the legend of Saint Eustace (a 2nd-century AD Christian martyr) which circulated widely in England in martyrologies, legendaries and homilies. BACK

[7] Sir Gowther is a metrical romance, written in Middle English, that survives in one other fifteenth-century manuscript, British Library Royal MS 17.B.43. BACK

[8] Amadas (or Sir Amadace) is a medieval English chivalric romance found in one other fifteenth-century manuscript, Taylor MS 9, otherwise known as MS Ireland Blackburn in the Robert H. Taylor Collection, Princeton University Libraries. BACK

[9] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803) was reviewed by Walter Scott in the Edinburgh Review, 5 (October 1803), 109–136. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013