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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1209. Robert Southey to Lord Holland, 10 August 1806 ⁠* 

Keswick. August 10. 1806

My Lord

I have to thank your Lordship for the Life of Lope de Vega. [1]  It has interested me the more because I was quite unacquainted with his dramatic writings. I wish it had contained more translations – & that those from the drama had not been in rhyme; – for tho rhymes gives its full effect to the point & antithesis affected by the poet, it weakens the better parts. – What you say of the effect produced by his poetry (p. 230) is as applicable to Pope [2]  as to Lope, & strictly true of both. [3] 

The few only point in which I feel anyways inclined to differ from you is in identifying Lope de Vega & Tomé de Burguillos. [4]  Reading those poems after the preface of D Ramon Fernandez [5]  I thought them more uniformly vigorous than any of Lopes verses, – but certainly the argument which you adduce appears unanswerable; if his contemporaries attributed them to him in his life time & he did not contradict them, – there is nothing to be said in reply.

Perhaps Horace Walpole had read the Jerusalem Conquistada. in the first Canto there is a Picture which walks out of its pannel. [6] 

I have more than once & with more than ordinary care re-read the Coplas of Manrique [7]  since Lady Holland expressed a wish to me to see them in English. That it would be impossible to translate them well I will not say, but it would not be difficult to prove that it is impossible to do them justice in any translation. They derive a charm from an unusual & stimulating metre which could not be preserved; & the language is every where so happy that the slightest deviation from its literal meaning would almost in every instance weaken it.

I beg my respects to Lady Holland

& have the honour to be

your Lordships

most obedient humble servant

Robert Southey.


* Endorsement: Rt. Southey Poet/ aug: 1806
MS location: British Library, Add MS 51823
Previously published: Mark L. Reed, ‘New Letters of Wordsworth and Southey, August, 1806’, The Princeton University Library Chronicle, 32.3 (Spring 1971), 153–158. BACK

[1] Some Account of the Life and Writings of Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (1806). BACK

[2] Alexander Pope (1668–1774; DNB). Alexander Pope (1668–1774; DNB). BACK

[3] ‘He so familiarised his countrymen with the mechanism of verse, he supplied them with such a store of commonplace images and epithets, he coined such a variety of convenient expressions, that the very facility of versification seems to have prevented the effusions of genius, and the redundancy of poetical phrases to have superseded all originality of language’, Some Account of the Life and Writings of Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (London, 1806), p. 230. BACK

[4] Rimas Humanas y Divinas del Licenciado Tomé de Burguillos (1634), a pseudonymous collection of poems by Félix Arturo Lope de Vega y Carpio (1562–1635), the Spanish playwright and poet. The attribution of this volume to Lope de Vega is made on page 43 of Holland’s Account. BACK

[5] A eighteenth-century editor of Lope de Vega, Don Ramón Fernández [believed to be a pseudonym of Pedro Estala (1757–1815)]. BACK

[6] The epic poem by Lope de Vega, Jerusalén conquistada (1609). In The Castle of Otranto (London, 1764) by Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717–1797; DNB), a figure in a painting walks out of the frame (pp. 19–20). BACK

[7] Jorge Manrique (c. 1440–1479), a poet admired by Lope de Vega, who wrote Coplas a la muerte de su padre (Stanzas on the Death of his Father), completing them just before his death. BACK

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August 2013