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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1341. Robert Southey to William Taylor, [July 1807] ⁠* 

My dear friend

How much better a Decameron might you make yourself, than you can translate from Tressan! [1]  Tressan frenchifies & modernizes & Parisianizes every thing which he touches, & tho I like French cookery, yet their literary cookery absolutely nauseates me whenever there be one serious ingredient in the mixture. It would cost you little more trouble to draw from your own well, than to rebottle water which he had distilled till it has lost all its life & freshness.

Do you remember the story of Thorkill in Saxo Grammaticus? L.8. [2]  – I transcribed it ten years ago with the view of making something out of it. You might easily dress it up into a xxxx fine tale: – I wish I could see you versify some wild legends as you versified Ellenore; [3]  – were you to make a volume of such things I would gladly repay some old Anthology [4]  debts to you, & thank you for giving me a motive to write verse, – which without strong motive I am in danger of neglecting till the habit perhaps may be lost. St Athendio & the Devil – the five martyrs – King Ramiro, Garci Ferrandez – & xxxx the Inchcape Bell are at your service, [5]  & I would do my best to produce something better for you, – for I have stories enow to spare.

Are you sure that Ellis is not really & rightly quoting Leyden, who may have given your matter in his own words? I have not the book to refer to, but you are aware I suppose that there is a Dr Leyden, [6]  a very odd fish, but a man of great antiquarian knowledge, & great genius, if he did but know what to do with it.

Owen lent me when I was last in town a tale of King Arthurs Court from the Mabinogion, [7]  truly Welsh & savage. If it be possible to make him get thro this work Turner will do it, but poor Owen is one of Joanna Southcotts four & twenty Elders, – to whom Espriella will soon introduce you, [8]  if you x are yet ignorant of this mystery of fatuity rather than iniquity. You will find too an account of the Swedenborgian mythology there, [9]  – if you make a Decameron take some of these wild heresies for the creed of a tale, & let us see a Swedenborgian romance, a Manichæan one &c –. But to return to Owen – this tale of Peridur [10]  bore no resemblance to any of the other Round Table stories, &, like both the other Mabinogion which I have seen, was of genuine Welsh growth. [11]  When the customs of chivalry became prevelent the popular stories of all Xtendom became of one character, – before that time {the fictions of} each had probably a national character of their own, & these Welsh tales are of that earlier stamp, – Celtic Sagas.

Thank Dr Sayers [12]  for me. Longman is always sending parcels to me, & his book the expectation of his book [13]  will give me a new cause for pleasurable impatience, which I always feel when one is on the way. By that means it may easily be conveyed. – Tell me what of my books you have not got, that when Espriella is ready I may direct Longman to make amends for my former neglect. Remember this is a question, & requires an answer, at no very remote time, – for Richard Taylor [14]  has but a few sheets more to print.

Of Henry White I have all the information that his own family, & his own letters could supply. [15]  You will smile to find me editing Evangelical letters, – but you will be struck by the promise of excellence which many of his later pieces, especially of the fragments, display. Coldham & Enfield [16]  were remarkably kind to him.

Palmerin [17]  will appear nearly at the same time with Espriella – I am about the Preface. It is not so fine a book as Amadis, [18]  which I deem one of the great books of the world; – but it is so unlike it that it cannot be called the second-best. Had I known how much it was necessary to translate I should never have undertaken it, – about a third I guess of the first volume, – & not less than four fifths of the last, nor than half of the second & third. My next work will be the Cid, which you will find very very curious. The age of this Chronicle is not known, – the whole of it, with few alterations is to be found in the General Chronicle compiled by order of Alfonso X (El Sabio) [19]  – about the year 1250. which is the transcript is uncertain. What is fiction must have been at least a century old before it would thus be incorporated into history. There is a metrical history of the Cid of which the date also is unascertained, but it is the oldest poem in the language, & certainly one century anterior to the Romance {Chronicle}. Whatever of picture & of costume this contains & the Chronicle does not I weave in, & also whatever is to be found upon the subject in other works of equal antiquity, – & at the end of every section give full references. The Introduction will give a summary of the history of Spain from the Gothick conquest, & the whole will form a compleat picture of its heroic age, & the most curious picture specimen of chivalrous history in existence, as well as the oldest. It will supply the place of much introductory matter to my history of Portugal, as showing the state of the peninsula at the time when that history commences, the Cid having been a contemporary with Count Henrique [20]  – the father of the Kings of Portugal.

I abhor the cry of Popery with you, but I dissent from relaxing the laws against it with Erskine [21]  & with Ellenborough. [22]  Sir Francis Burdetts success is symptomatic of a healthy state of public opinion; – he is very honest – I wish his ability were equal to his honesty, – & wish he had a better set of about {him} than Clifford [23]  & Yorke [24]  & others, who have want that sound morality which should be the salt of patriotism – in scriptural phrase. [25]  Sheridan daily continues to sink lower & lower in baseness, flattering the mob without novelty & without wit, & even flattering Sir Francis – after the last Middlesex election, when all these ousted curs who are now looking up to the people with their tails between their legs, were yelping in one cry against him!  [26]  – I am very sorry for Paul, [27]  very sorry for him, he is wanted to bait M. Wellesley to death, – for who, I suppose, will prove to be the efficient minister. [28]  If I had resolution enough to set about it I feel inklings & inclination to address an ode to the people of Liverpool, in what may be called the style documentary. [29] 

Of Harry we may soon look for news. I miss him much at this season when he has been wont, for the last three years, to come with the warm weather, bear a hand at the oar in our evening parties, & give me lessons in swimming. – I am angry with you for your No Popery in the Monthly: [30]  & xxxxxxxxxxxx I justify the penal laws of Elizabeth & James against the Priests, [31]  acknowledging at the same time the high merit of those who suffered. There was nothing else to be done – the Papists burnt every heretic; – we said be Papists if you like – but you shall have no priests; it was self defence. they began burning – which you have kept out of sight, – & they continued it till within {about} thirty years, – & they would begin again if they dared. I am glad to find Coleridge & Rickman agree with me in my intolerance of Popery. the measure of Ld Grenville [32]  was a foolish one, which would not have satisfied the Catholicks – & would have introduced a Popish Chaplain with every regiment & every ship in the service. I would rather have had the ministry turned out, than that they should have succeeded but that is not the question {now} at issue between the King & the Constitution, in which of course I go with the Constitution. But when ever such a measure is likely to be carried then I shall cry no popery as loud as I can.

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ Wm Taylor Junr Esqr/ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Endorsement: Ansd 31 July
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4856
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, pp. 198–203.
Dating note: dating inferred by endorsement. BACK

[1] Louis-Élisabeth de la Vergne, Comte de Tressan (1705–1783), translator of the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) into French. BACK

[2] Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1150–1220), author of the Gesta Danorum, a sixteen book Latin history of Scandanavia. In Book 8 appears the story of Thorkill, who piloted King Gorm up river to a magical land where the women, the food, the drink and the treasures are all charmed, and destroy those who partake of them. BACK

[3] Taylor’s translation of the supernatural ballad ‘Lenore’ by Gottfried August Bürger (1747–1794) was published in March 1796, in the Monthly Magazine. BACK

[4] Taylor had given Southey the idea for the Annual Anthology (1799–1800). BACK

[5] Southey published these poems as follows: ‘A True Ballad of St Antidius, the Pope, and the Devil’ in the Morning Post in early February 1803 and revised for Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works (1837–1838); ‘Queen Urraia and the Five Martyrs of Morocco’ in the Morning Post in early September 1803, in the Iris, 3 November 1804, in English Minstrelsy. Being a Selection of Fugitive Poetry from the Best English Authors; with some Original Pieces hitherto unpublished (2 vols, Edinburgh, 1810), in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (Edinburgh, 1810), in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works (1837–1838); ‘King Ramiro’ in September 1803 in the Morning Post and on 12 May 1804 in the Iris (edited by Taylor) and then, revised, in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and with revisions in Poetical Works (1837–1838); ‘Garci Ferrandez’, in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809 (1811), in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works (1837–1838); ‘The Inchcape Rock’, in mid October 1803 in the Morning Post, in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works (1837–1838). BACK

[6] John Leyden (1775–1811; DNB), son of a shepherd, miscellaneous writer, ballad collector, friend of Heber and of Scott. Leyden’s facility for languages earned him a career in Britain’s Indian colonies. BACK

[7] Southey was reading a translation by Owen Pughe of the Welsh romances dating from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, collected in fourteenth-century Welsh manuscripts and known as the Mabinogi. Some of these were published in the journal edited by Pughe, The Cambrian Register (1796, 1799), where they are entitled The Mabinogion, or Juvenile Amusements, being Ancient Welsh Romances. The tales preserving Arthurian lore are Culhwch ac Olwen (Culhwch and Olwen), Peredur son of Efrawg and Breuddwyd Rhonabwy (The Dream of Rhonabwy). BACK

[8] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807) included a section on Southcott. For this section see Robert Southey and Millenarianism: Documents Concerning the Prophetic Movements of the Romantic Era. BACK

[9] A religious movement that developed from the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), a Swedish scientist and theologian, who claimed to have received a new revelation from Jesus Christ. In 1788 his followers styled themselves ‘The New Church’. Southey’s account of Swedenborgianism is given in Letter 62 of Letters from England (1807). BACK

[10] Peredur Son of Efrawg, in which the hero visits Arthur’s court. BACK

[11] Southey had read translations by William Owen Pughe of the Welsh romances dating from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, collected in fourteenth-century Welsh manuscripts and known as the Mabinogi; see Southey to William Taylor, 1 July 1804 (Letter 958) and 27 May 1806 (Letter 1189). Some of these were published in the journal edited by Pughe, The Cambrian Register (1796, 1799), where they are entitled The Mabinogion, or Juvenile Amusements, being Ancient Welsh Romances. The tales preserving Arthurian lore are Culhwch ac Olwen (Culhwch and Olwen), Peredur son of Efrawg and Breuddwyd Rhonabwy (The Dream of Rhonabwy). BACK

[12] Frank Sayers (1763–1817; DNB); whose 1792 collection Poems had influenced Southey’s early work. BACK

[13] A new edition of Sayers’s Poems, Containing Sketches of Northern Mythology was published in 1807. BACK

[14] Richard Taylor (1781–1858; DNB) was printing Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[15] Southey had written to Taylor regarding his edition of The Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham (1807); see Southey to William Taylor, 13 April 1807, Letter 1307. BACK

[16] The firm of lawyers of Middle Pavement, Nottingham, to which Kirke White was apprentice, gave him a month’s leave of absence for the benefit of his health as he prepared himself for university. George Coldham (1766–1815), was William Taylor’s cousin. BACK

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

[18] Southey’s translation of the Spanish romance Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[19] Southey’s edition Chronicle of the Cid, from the Spanish was published by Longmans in 1808. It comprised translations from the Crónica Particular del Cid, with additions from the Crónica de España of Alphonso the Wise and the Poema del Cid. Here Southey also refers to the Chronica de Espana (las Quarto Partes Enteras de la) que Mandó Componer el Rey D. Anonso el Sabio. Donde se Contienen los Acont Cimientos y Hazañas Mayorca y mas Señaladas que Sucedieron en Espana; des de su Primera Pobolacion Hasta Casi los Tiempos del Dicho Senor Rey. Vista y Enmendada Mucha Parte de su Impression por el Florian Docampo (1541). BACK

[20] Henry of Burgundy, Count of Portugal (1066–1112). BACK

[21] Thomas Erskine, 1st Baron Erskine (1750–1823; DNB), Lord Chancellor between 1806 and 1807 in the Ministry of All the Talents. BACK

[22] Edward Law, 1st Baron Ellenborough (1750–1818; DNB), Lord Chief Justice and member of the cabinet in the Minstry of all the Talents. Together, Erskine and Ellenborough were the chief law officers of a government that attempted to change the law that imposed civil penalties on Catholics. BACK

[23] Henry Clifford (1768–1813; DNB), lawyer, acted for Burdett in a case arising from the Westminster election of 1807. BACK

[24] Henry Redhead Yorke (1772–1813; DNB), former radical writer, turned defender of the establishment, nearly fought a duel with Burdett in 1806. BACK

[25] ‘The salt of the earth’: Matthew 5: 13. BACK

[26] Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816; DNB), the Whig politician who had lost his seat in the Westminster election of November 1806 because of the attacks made on him in the press by radicals – principally William Cobbett (1763–1835; DNB). Returned for a different constituency in the 1807 election, and hoping to lead the radical Whigs in the House of Commons, Sheridan now sought the support of those who had criticised him a few months previously. BACK

[27] James Paull (1770–1808; DNB), an MP and ally of radicals – Burdett’s fellow radical candidate for Westminster in the 1807 election. After disagreements, Burdett and Paull fought a duel; radicals withdrew their support of Paull; he lost the election. Plagued by his duelling wound, and having suffered a gambling loss, Paull cut his throat on 15 April 1808. BACK

[28] Paull attempted to hold Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (1760–1842; DNB), former Governor General of Britain’s colonies in India, to account for misgovernment in India. Faced by proceedings against him, Wellesley declined a ministerial position in the new government. BACK

[29] Britain’s largest slave trading port. The Abolition of the Slave Trade passed into law on 25 March 1807; the last British slave trading ship left from Liverpool in July 1807. Southey did not write such an ode. BACK

[30] In ‘Concerning a War Whoop’, in the Monthly Magazine, 23 (1807), 327–328, Taylor argued that ‘No Popery’ campaigns had historically been repressive witch hunts. BACK

[31] During the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I a series of penal laws placed restrictions upon Catholics: they were to be prevented from holding civil office, fined or imprisoned if they did not attend Anglican service, forbidden to celebrate Mass, and executed if they harboured or assisted Catholic priests. BACK

[32] The bill to relieve Catholics from the remaining restrictions on them – including becoming officers in the army and navy – introduced by the ministry of William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville (1759–1834; DNB), Prime Minister from 1806 to 1807. The King’s refusal to accede to legislation of this kind brought the ministry down. BACK

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August 2013