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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1604. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [c. 25 March 1809]⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

The reviewal will answer its purpose exceedingly well [1]  – I have pointed out the only error which it contains.

Respecting the Hebraisms you have gone a little too far. – The resemblance to our Biblical language which is most apparent is the in the continually beginning the sentence with some superfluous particle. – This is literal in the case in all the oldest Chronicles of Spain & Portugal, & in Geoffroy de Ville-Hardouyn [2]  it is also to be remarked tho not so uniformly, – I have not the original of Joinville [3]  to refer to, & know not whether it be the same there also, – but there is a stage of intellect in which this is the natural mode of narration, it is the critical ‘& so’ of children & uneducated persons in our own times. – I imitated the Bible no more in the Cid than in Amadis, [4]  I always rendered the original as literally as possible, knowing that the very idioms of distant nations or ages throw light upon their history.

There is as much resemblance between my {this} Chronicle & the historical Books of the Bible in matter as in manners, & hence the similarity of manner is more perceptible, & more to be for. The Spaniards then were just as barbarous as the Jews under their Judges, – & the xxx Moors were their Canaanites, with this difference that they were the invaders, not the invaded but there was on this account a more righteous hatred, with the same religious contempt. Hebrew poetry partakes in some degree of the figurativeness of Oriental style tho except in Solomons Song it rarely or never runs into absurdities, but Hebrew narration has nothing of this character. The books of Joshua Judges & Samuel resemble the Chronicle of the Cid in matter & manner just as much as the Death Song of an American Indian resembles that of Regner Lodbrog [5]  {& for the same reason}, – the circumstances under which they were composed both being {were} the same, they were written by men in the sa a similar state of society, who related what they had heard or seen, faithfully, vividly, & in that language which most readily presented itself, never going out of their way for ornaments of style, nor stopping to round a period, but telling their story straight forward.

Now Grosvenor to have told the story of the Cid in modern style would & must have been to write a book instead of translating one; – for it is every where translation, – or at least the connecting patches {of new stuff} are too few to be worth mentioning.

Your reviewal will bear two or three pages more of extract, which perhaps it will be best to give xxxxx from the Introduction, because that {it} will show that when writing in my own character I write so much in the language of my own contemporaries as a man can do who does not write in defiance of sense & x syntax.

Concerning the next Quarterly I am desired to postpone the South Sea Mission, [6]  & make ready an Article about Portugueze literature, & another about the state of society in North America. [7]  For this latter I have a good deal to read, never having read with any view to writing upon the subject. About Hesiod [8]  it is of no consequence – I mentioned it to none but you, & to you I leave it. My design was to have cared little about the translation, but to have taken that opportunity of carefully reading a very old & very curious author for the purpose of seeing what was to be learnt from it him, & of speculating upon his Theogony. [9]  – It is rather to be hoped than xxx expected that this Review may not soon exclude me by its politicks; – for if it takes up the defence of the Duke of York I have done with it. [10]  Ellis’s wretched article half-sickened me, [11]  & made me grievously ashamed of the company to which I have been introduced. – Ellis is a man of anecdote in conversation: – as a writer take from him his antiquaries knowledge & nothing remains. – Your cousin Barré Roberts has done himself credit, [12]  – he has written with knowledge & in good humour

God bless you


Add somewhere the magical remark to the reviewal that ‘no library must be without this book’ – there are people in the world who make libraries & will believe it [13] 


* Endorsement: recd Mar. 25. 1809
MS: Bodleian Library, Eng. Lett. c. 24
Dating note: date from endorsement. BACK

[1] Southey had asked Bedford to write a review of his Chronicle of the Cid (1808) for the Monthly Review; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 28 February 1809, Letter 1590. The book was reviewed in complimentary terms in the Monthly Review, 63 (1810), 131–144. BACK

[2] Geoffrey of Villehardouin (1160-c. 1212) was a knight who took part in the Fourth Crusade, which invaded and conquered the city of Constantinople. He wrote an eyewitness account of the event in De la Conquête de Constantinople (written c. 1207). BACK

[3] Jean de Joinville (1224–1317), Chronica y Vida del Rey Sant Luys de Francia ... Traduzida de Lengua Francera en Castellana ... por J. Lidel (1557). BACK

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

[5] Regnar Lodbrog was an 8th-century Danish legendary king, whose death-song was the subject of an Old Norse poem entitled ‘The Dying Ode of Regner Lodbrog’, in Thomas Percy’s (1729–1811; DNB), Five Pieces of Runic Poetry Translated from the Islandic Language (1763). BACK

[6] Southey reviewed Transactions of the Missionary Society in the South Sea Islands for the second number of the Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809), 24–61. BACK

[7] Southey reviewed Extractos em Portuguez e em Inglez; com as Palavras Portuguezas Propriamente Accentuadas, para Facilitar o Estudo d’Aquella Lingoa (1808) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (May 1809), 268–292. Southey reviewed Abiel Holmes (1763–1837), American Annals; or, a Chronological History of America, from its Discovery in 1492 to 1806 in the Quarterly Review, 2 (November 1809), 319–337. BACK

[8] The Greek pastoral poet thought to have flourished between 750–650 BC. BACK

[9] Southey had asked if he could review Charles Abraham Elton (1778–1853; DNB), The Remains of Hesiod the Ascraean: Translated from the Greek into English (1809) for the Quarterly but no review of this work by him appeared; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 7 March 1809, Letter 1593. BACK

[10] Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), Commander in Chief of the army. He held the post from 1798–1809, but was forced to resign in the wake of allegations that he had profited by allowing his mistress, Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB), to accept money from army officers, in return for which promotion was arranged. BACK

[11] George Ellis [with George Canning] reviewed Exposé des Manoeuvres et des Intrigues qui ont Préparé l’Usurpation de la Couronne d’Espagne, et des Moyens Employés par l’Empereur des Francais pour la Mettre á Exécution…; Traduit de l’Espagnol par M. Peltier [alternative title Affaires d’Espagne] (1808) and Pedro Cevallos Guerra (1760–1840), Conféderation des Royaumes et Provinces d’Espagne contre Buonaparte ([1810]) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 1–19. BACK

[12] Barré Charles Roberts reviewed John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB), An Essay on Medals; or an Introduction to the Knowledge of Ancient and Modern Coins and Medals, especially those of Greece, Rome, and Britain (1808) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 112–131. BACK

[13] This phrase was not included. BACK

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August 2013