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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1337. Robert Southey to Longmans, 29 June 1807 ⁠* 

June 29. 1807.

Dear Sirs,

I have been told by persons most capable of judging, that the old translation of Don Quixote [1]  is very beautiful. The book has never fallen in my way. If it be well translated, the language of Elizabeth’s reign must needs accord better with the style of Cervantes [2]  than more modern English would do; and I should think it very probable that it would be better to correct this, than to translate the work anew. As for my undertaking any translation, or indeed any revision, which might lead to the labour, or half the labour, which Palmerin [3]  cost me, it is out of the question; but if Mr. Heber can lend you this translation, I will give you my opinion upon it: and I will do for you, if you want it, what you would find much difficulty in getting done by any other person, – add to a Life of Cervantes an account of all his other writings, and likewise of the books in Don Quixote’s library, as far as my own stores will reach, and those which we may find access to; and make such notes upon the whole book as my knowledge of the history and literature of Spain can supply. I believe a new translation has been announced by Mr. ——, [4]  whose translation of Yriarte proved that either he did not understand the original, or that of all translators he is the most impudent. Such preliminaries as these which I propose might fill half a volume, or extend to a whole one, just as might be judged most expedient. It gives me very great pleasure to hear that you have engaged for a genuine version of the Arabian Nights, – which I consider as one of the greatest desideratums in modern Oriental literature. We have a number of imitations in our language, which I am still boy enough to delight in; and were you, as the French have done, to publish a complete collection of them, I, for one, should be glad of the opportunity of buying them. If you published them volume by volume, with good prints, like your Theatre, school-boys would take off half an edition.

As the new Joinville [5]  is, beyond all comparison, the most unreasonably dear book I ever saw, so is your Holinshed [6]  the cheapest; and I shall keep the copy you have sent accordingly. Dear books may not deter the rich from purchasing, but here is proof for you that cheap ones tempt the poor.

To-morrow I will make up my parcel for the Athenæum. [7]  At Dr. Aikin’s request I have undertaken (long since) the Spanish and Portuguese literary part of his Biography. [8]  Some articles appeared in the last volume, and, few as they are, I suppose they entitle me to it. Will you ask Dr. A. if this be the case?

Yours truly,

R. Southey.


Notes

* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 104–105. BACK

[1] Thomas Shelton (fl. 1598–1629; DNB), The History of the Valorous and Witty Knight-Errant, Don Quixote of the Mançha (1612–1620). BACK

[2] Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616). BACK

[3] Palmerin of England; by Francisco de Moraes. Corrected by Robert Southey from the Original Portugueze (1807). BACK

[4] John Belfour (1768–1842; DNB), translator in 1804 of Fables on Subjects connected with Literature. Imitated from the Spanish of Don Tomas de Yriarte. BACK

[5] Memoirs of John Lord de Joinville ... containing a history of part of the life of Louis IX. ... To which are added, the notes and dissertations of M. Du Cange on the above; together with the dissertations of M. le Baron de la Bastie on the life of St. Louis, M. l’Évesque de la Ravaliere and M. Falconet on the Assassins of Syria. The whole translated by T. Johnes (1807). BACK

[6] Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1807–1808). BACK

[7] The Athenæum, a Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information, ed. J. Aikin and published by Longmans. BACK

[8] John Aikin, General Biography; or, Lives, Critical and Historical, of the Most Eminent Persons of All Ages, Countries, Conditions and Professions, Arranged According to Alphabetical Order (1799–1815). BACK

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August 2013