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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1439. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Athenæum, [March 1808] ⁠* 


To the Editor of the Athenæum.


IN an old and rare Spanish book, known by the title of Las Preguntas del Almirante, are these two coplas, which may possibly interest some of your philosophical readers. [1] 

Pregunta 247.

De un letrado, qual es mejor espejo para estudiar, plano, concavo, o convexo?
Los que acostumbran el estudiar
y hallan el molde a la vista danoso,
dan por remedio el mas provechoso
en un fino espejo de azero mirar.
Y pues vos en esto ya soys tan artista,
sabed que esta dubda me tiene perplexo,
de espejo que es concavo, o plano, o convexo,
qual dellos mejor conserva la vista?

Respuesta elel Auctor.

A mi me paresce sin otra revista
que el espejo plano es mas conveniente,
porque a los ojos si mucho no dista
reflecte los rayos mas perfetamente.
Porque el convejo por su derredor
difunde los rayos que son visuales,
y el concavo en si incluye los tales,
por tanto el mas plano es mucho mejor. [2] 

The Letradō, [3]  who propounds the question, says, that those persons who are accustomed to study, and find that the print hurts their eyes, recommend looking in a fine steel mirror as the best remedy, and he enquires what mirror will preserve the sight best – plane, concave, or convex. The author replies, that the plane mirror is best. This is the sum of the two coplas, which I have given at full. Allow me to enquire, through the Athenæum, in what manner such mirrors can have been used?

As Nicolas Antonio [4]  did not know the name of the author from whose very singular work this is extracted, it may be worth while to mention, that it appears by an acrostick at the beginning of the sixth part, to have been Fray Luys d’Escobar. The book was first licensed in 1543, but he complains that it had been printed out of the kingdom without his knowledge, and in an incorrect state.  [5]  I have an account of the whole work drawn up, but such an account necessarily contains extracts which I have neither time nor resolution to versify; and unless this were done it would not be fit for the Athenæum.



* Previously published: Athenæum, a Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information, 3:15 (Mar. 1808), pp. 228–229. BACK

[1] The title of the book translates as ‘The Admiral’s Questions’ and ‘coplas’ are ‘stanzas’ or ‘verses’. Southey published this query in his and Coleridge’s Omniana; or, Horae Otiosiores, 2 vols (London, 1812), I, pp. 99–100. BACK

[2] The Spanish translates as:

Question 247.

From a scholar: which is the best mirror for studying – a plane, a concave or a convex one?
Those who are accustomed to studying
and find the pattern harmful to their eyesight,
say that the most useful remedy
is to look into a fine steel mirror.
And since you are such an expert in this matter,
know that the following doubt puzzles me:
which type of mirror – concave, plane or convex –,
is best to preserve one’s eyesight?

The Author’s Answer.

Without any further consideration, it seems to me
that the plane one is the most convenient,
because, as it is not too far from the eyes,
it reflects the rays much more perfectly.
Since the convex one spreads
the visual rays all around,
and the concave gathers them all up in itself,
the most completely plane mirror is by far the best.

[3] Meaning ‘scholar’. BACK

[4] Nicolas Antonio (1617–1684), the compiler of Bibliotheca Hispano Nova (1696) listed the work as being anonymous. BACK

[5] The sale catalogue of Southey’s library reveals that he came to own a copy of a later edition of this work: Luis d’Escobar, Las Quatro Cientas Respuestas, a Otras Tantas Preguntas, con Quinienfos Proverbios de Consejos y Avisos a Manera de Letania, 2 vols (Valladolid, 1550–1552). BACK

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August 2013