Printer-friendly versionSend by email
The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1670. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 17 August 1809 ⁠* 

Last night a letter from Thomas Rees communicated to me the intelligence of the death of the Annual Review. The Longmen Men of the Row [1]  were long in making up their minds to discontinue it; – it is not above ten days ago that a large parcel of books designed for another volume arrived here, & King Thomas told me he should send off one to you in a few days.

Now then supposing that you will seriously set about the Crusades I will give you such directions in the art of historical book-keeping as may save time & facilitate labour. [2] 

Make your writing books in foolscap quarto & write onl on only one side of a leaf; draw a line down the margin, marking off space enough for your references, which should be given at the end of every paragraph, – min noting page, book or chapter of the author referred to. This minuteness is now demanded, & you will yourself find it useful, for in transcribing, or in correcting proofs it is often requisite to turn to the original authority. Take the best author, that is to say the one who has written most at length of all the original authors upon the particular point of time on which you are employed; – & draw up your account from him, – then on the opposite page correct & amplify this from every other who has written upon the same subject, this page should be divided into two columns, one of about two thirds of th its breadth, the other the remaining one; – you are thus enabled to add to your additions.

One of these books you should have for your geography, – that is to say for collecting descriptions of all the principal scenes of action, – which must be done from books of travels – their situation, their strength, their previous history, – & in the notes their present state. These descriptions you can insert in their proper place when you transcribe. Thus also you should collect accounts of the different tribes & Dynasties whom you have occasion to mention. In this manner the information which is only to be got at piece meal, & oftentimes incidentally when you are looking for something else, – is brought together with least trouble, & almost imperceptibly.

All relative matter, not absolutely essential to the subject, should go in the form of supplementary notes, & these you may make as amusing as you please, the more so & the more curious the better. Much trouble is saved by writing them on separate bits of paper, each the half of a quarter of a foolscap sheet, numbering them, & making an index of them; – in this manner they are ready for use when they are wanted.

It was sometime before I fell into this system of book-keeping, & I believe no better can be desired. A Welsh Triad might comprehend all the rules for style, say what you have to say as perspicuously as possible, as briefly as possible, & as rememberably as possible, & take no other thought about it. [3]  Omit none of those little circumstances which give life to narration, & bring old manners, old feelings & old times before your eyes.

Gibbon will supply you with the names of the main authorities. [4]  The Gesta Dei per Francos  [5]  must be one of the first importance quoad order of time. This Gibbon refers to for the best account of the state of Jerusalem from the time of Heraclius [6]  (i.e. the beginning of Mahommedanism) to the Crusades. He refers to also to a memoir of M de Guignes sur le Commerce des Francois dans le Levant avant les Croisades, [7]  – in the Mem de l’Academie des Inscriptions 7. 37. p 467–500). [8]  Your first Chapter will be the most difficult & should be written last, – I would advise you to begin with the xxxx xxxxx xx xx not {to} think of introductory matter till you are far advanced in the work & find your stock of knowledge of considerable amount.

For the first crusade you will want the Geste Dei, [9]  – the Acts of the Council of Clermont, which are in the great collection of Council T. 12. [10]  – Anna Comnena [11]  – I dare say the Byzantine Historians are in the College library. Look at Gibbons 19th note to his 58th chapter for his authorities. His 41st to the same chapter is full of minute references, [12]  – but you must not be contented with merely following his references, – unless you read with your own eyes you will do nothing. Do not be dismayed at the sight of a large book, – but read on manfully, & you will find {in} the accumulation of knowledge quite as great a pleasure as the veriest miser finds in the accumulation of gold. Read half a dozen authors at once, & thus you never need dwell upon one till you are tired of it, – & begin the history of two or three Crusades at once, – that you may be able to go on with one part of the narration when you are in want of materials for another. When you have done enough to give security to yourself that you will do more, I will put in requisition all my means of obtaining books, & borrow for you from Heber whatever his library contains. Read every traveller that has every written upon Syria, Egypt or Palestine, – in the worst of them you may chance to find something which will throw light & upon history, & make you fully understand circumstances which else you might imperfectly have comprehended. – I can be of some use to you in the way of annotations, – & nothing in the course of my reading which bears upon your subject shall be let slip. Go to work with a good heart & you will soon find yourself the happier for having so such a work in hand.

I have undertaken to write for Ballantynes Edinb. Annual Register the history of affairs in Spain & Portugal last year, – for which I shall be well paid, but hard worked being pressed for time. [13]  If Mary can tell me any anecdotes of Junots character & conduct, [14]  – or of the state of Lisbon during his reign there, I dare say I shall be able to make good use of them. to day I am going to Lowther, from whence I return on Saturday. Yesterday I took Miss Betham, Edith & Mrs Coleridge up Skiddaw being their first appearance upon that stage. They walked it, & did it well by half of meat & drink on the way. Coming home Mrs C. got into a bog some way above her knees, & I saved her life! I wish you had been there to have assisted in it. Afterwards I washed her pettycoat in one of the becks gills, & carried it home upon my stick. Oh Domine Doctor [15]  if you had but been there!

My lease for 21 years is executed; – that’s well. Poor Jackson is alive but will hardly outlive this month. I know not which will carry him off x, diarrhœa or dropsy. His brothers have been to see him & his sister from London. He however happily does not seem to apprehend that his end is so near. Our love to Mary

God bless you


Aug August 17. 1809. Keswick.


* Address: To/ Dr Southey/ Durham.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, KESMG 1996.5.73
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 155–159 [with omissions]. BACK

[1] Longman’s publishing firm in Paternoster Row, London. BACK

[2] Henry Herbert Southey did conduct research on the crusades. BACK

[3] Welsh sayings collected in groups of three lines, the earliest of which predate Saxon times. Preserved in different versions, partly in the fourteenth century White Book of Rhydderch and Red Book of Hergest, the triads were associated with bardic recitation. Southey cited the triads in the preface to Madoc (1805) from the translation of Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg; 1747–1826; DNB) in his Poems, Lyric and Pastoral (1794). BACK

[4] Edward Gibbon (1737–1794; DNB), History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1789), chapters 58–61. BACK

[5] No. 1193 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library was Gesta Dei per Francos, siue Orientalium Expeditionum et Regni Francorum Hierosolimitani Historia a Variis, Sed Illius Aeui Scriptoribus, Litteris Commendata, etc, edited by Jacques Bongars (1554–1612). BACK

[6] Heraclius (c. 575-641), Byzantine Emperor 610–641. BACK

[7] Joseph de Guignes (1721–1800). BACK

[8] The French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (renamed Académie royale des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in 1716) was founded in 1663 and published its scholarship in the form of Memoires. BACK

[9] See note 5. BACK

[10] The first Crusade (1095–1099) was instigated during a meeting of the Church Council, presided over by Pope Urban II (c. 1035–1099), in a field in Clermont, France. Southey derives his reference to the Acts of this Council from Gibbon, Decline and Fall, chapter 58. BACK

[11] Anna Comnena (1083–1153), daughter of Alexios I Komnenos (1048/1056–1118), Byzantine emperor 1081–1118. She wrote the Alexiad, a history of her father’s reign. Southey may have read her narrative in the French-compiled dual Latin/Greek edition of Byzantine texts, Byzantinae Historiae Scriptores (1645–1711). BACK

[12] See note 4. BACK

[13] Southey contributed the ‘History of Europe’ section to the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1808–1810. BACK

[14] Jean-Andoche Junot, Duc d’Abrantes (1771–1813) was the commander of the French invasion of Portugal in 1808. BACK

[15] Southey’s nickname for Henry Herbert Southey. BACK

About this Page

Published @ RC

August 2013