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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

906. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 3 March 1804 ⁠* 

First – as of most consequence – about the Hussar. [1]  you can have no accounts before the admiralty, & must therefore make yourself easy till those accounts arrive. Moreover shipwrecks of that kind are more disagreeable than dangerous, the crew of a frigate know how to bestir themselves & are enough to help themselves. fatal wrecks usually happen from wants of hands – that is they become fatal, because the men cannot help themselves.

I do not like your sketch [2]  – because I abhor the allegorical in painting, & think it ought for ever to continue – as it now is, appropriated to Magazine frontispieces. Owens monument [3]  must be designed by an Antiquarian draftsman – by little Underwood [4]  if he be to be found. – or it may be formed after that of his eldest son which exists in Pennant Melangle Church-yard, [5]  having the armed figure recumbent with the shield, just as I would have this.

The more I think of these prints the less am I disposed to tolerate anything that would interfere with the province of poetry. Therefore I will have no striking part of the poem represented – because the artist must either exceed or weaken the idea. The vignettes must all be to elucidate. For the first I wish to get a view of Holyhead [6]  from the water. Then the ship of Madoc, copied from William the Conqueror Tapestry [7]  may head the second Part. A view of Dinevor [8]  also – there is one engraved in Sothebys descriptive Poem about Wales. [9]  About the natural history I have written before, only you may add the Bison & the Crocodile to the list. If you can lay hold of Picarts Religious Ceremonies [10]  copy the likenesses of Tezealipaca & Vitzliputzli [11]  as I suppose they call the Mexitli of my poem. these ugly Devils will look well. A Mexican Temple will furnish a good vignette. two indeed, one of the Cu [12]  or pyramidal platforms on which they were erected, & another of the building of Skulls. [13]  If you go to London I shall see you there – if not I shall call for you on my return & then we can talk about these things far more expeditiously than pen & ink will permit. Go I must to finish these Specimens. [14]  Try you meantime, at the floating Island drawn by four canoes over the Lake – but remember that in canoes the men paddle instead of rowing, & sit face forward therefore. You may make them very beautiful. The sea may be very nearly as Broad as this paper.

A floating Islet waited for me there,
The beautiful work of man. I set my feet
Upon green-growing herbs & flowers, & sate
Embowered in odorous shrubs. four long light boats
Yoked to the garden, with accordant song,
And dip & dash of oar in harmony
Bore me across the lake. [15] 

You may give him six or eight such horses to his water coach if you like better. This is a good subject, & as the figures are the least prominent part will not much puzzle you. The blind man feeling Madocs face [16]  is a subject too good for a vignette & must suffer – it must therefore be given up. The conclusion of the book will form a finer picture – & show the dress well. Cadwallon and Madoc on the beach at evening [17]  – C. raising his hand to the sea as if saying

Oh what a nobler conquest might be won There upon that wide field! [18]  put in plenty of sea to give the sea-feeling

Not to lose a post I write in haste & hasten to conclude. I am busy as usual as it was in the beginning & will be, doing more things at once, or at least as many as ever man did before me. Compiling these Specimens [19]  – rewriting the second part of Madoc, copying & correcting the first for the press, & daily go on with a voluminous History [20]  – enough in conscience! the first job takes time & trouble in making the biographical notices – but it is not unpleasant & will probably be the most profitable of all my jobs – for to the honour & encouragement of what we poets call genius be it known to you that this compilation is to be published upon the same terms as the Poem whereon I have bestowed so much thought – research & feeling. & you will see that I shall be better paid for it in the end. [21]  My fraternal love to Peter. take him to Ealing as your pet-pig, or he will be made bacon, brawn, black-puddings, & the devil knows what in your absence. [22] 

Amadis is an extraordinary book & now the job is done I am glad that I undertook it. [23]  God knows, says Sir Philip Sydney – that it wanteth much of a perfect poesy – but he says he had known men made better & braver by its perusal. [24]  for me I have a sort of family love for Vasco Lobeira, [25]  more than for Ariosto [26]  or Milton, approaching to what I feel for Spenser; & certainly when I get to heaven, he will be one of the very first persons to whom I shall desire to be introduced. What he must have been his book tells, & I am therefore prepared to recognise him & talk Portuguese. but what shall I do if I find Madoc a carrotty-headed fellow with a broad face, & muddy brains in a thick skull speaking nothing but Welsh? if my own Joan of Arc should turn out a crazy Papist upon nearer acquaintance! [27]  but when I saw her in a dream, if it was she herself who visited me, she was what she ought to be. – I have neither room nor time to send you a poem upon Amadis which I have written in Coleridges copy [28]  – but you may take the first stanza

King Lisuarte
Made a supper so hearty
That it gave him a sad belly-ache.
Helisaboa the Master
Spread him a plaister,
And gave him a potion to take.

There being no reason for this to be found in the book, you may guess why it was made. So fare you vale Senhora & by the by never spell Senhor again as if you meant to call me an Italian. for Signor is as abominable to me as Monsieur would be. Ediths love – A Dios


Saturday March 3. 1804


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 92–96.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 265–269. BACK

[1] HMS Hussar was a 38-gun fifth-rate frigate launched in 1799 and abandoned after striking the Saints Rocks near Brest on 8 February 1804. The crew (including Lieutenant Edward Barker (d. 1810), who was probably a cousin of Mary Barker) made their way to shore in open boats and became prisoners of war in France. BACK

[2] Southey had commissioned Barker to create illustrations for Madoc (1805). In the end the proposed vignettes were not carried out, as the poem was published with only two engravings. BACK

[3] Owain Gwynedd (c. 1100–70) was the Welsh king of Gwynedd who fought Henry II of England (1133–1189; reigned 1154–1189) and fathered the legendary prince Madoc, hero of Southey’s poem, which begins with the strife that followed Owain’s death. No engraving of Owain’s monument appeared in Madoc (1805). BACK

[4] Thomas Underwood (1772–1835), artist and engraver, appointed Draughtsman-in-Ordinary to the Antiquarian Society in 1792. The engraved title page of Madoc is signed by Owen Morgan (dates unknown). For Barker’s contributions to the illustrations for Madoc; see Southey to Mary Barker, 17 February1804, Letter 896. BACK

[5] Pennant-Melangell, site of the tomb of Iorwerth ab Owain Gwynedd or Iorwerth Drwyndwn (1145–74), ‘the broken-nosed’, the eldest legitimate son of Owain Gwynedd. Iorwerth was killed in battle at Pennant Melangell during the wars deciding the succession following the death of his father (in Book 1 of Madoc he is said to have been murdered). BACK

[6] The principal harbour of Anglesey, North Wales. BACK

[7] The Bayeux tapestry; for Southey’s complaint that the illustrator Nicholas Pocock (1740–1821; DNB) had spoilt the image, which appeared on the title page of Part 1, ‘Madoc in Wales’, in the 1805 first edition, by drawing a too-modern ship; see Southey to Joseph Cottle, 25 August 1805, Letter 1097. BACK

[8] Dinefwr, the Great Fortress, centre of the court of the kingdom of Deheubarth in Camarthenshire. BACK

[9] William Sotheby (1757–1833) published Poems: Consisting of a Tour through Parts of North and South Wales, Sonnets, Odes, and an Epistle to a Friend on Physiognomy in 1790, and four years later an illustrated edition entitled A Tour through Parts of Wales, Sonnets, Odes, and Other Poems; with Engravings from Drawings ... by J. Smith. L.P. (London, 1794). ‘The proud wreck/ Of ancient Dinevawr’ (Dinefwr) is pictured opposite page 20. Dinevawr features in Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 3. BACK

[10] Bernard Picart (1673–1733), Cérémonies et Coutumes de tous les Peuples du Monde (1723). The English translation, The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations of the Known World, with Historical Annotations and Curious Discourses, was published in 1733. Southey read this work at the age of fifteen and decided then to write a number of epics, each to be based on a prominent mythology described by Picart. BACK

[11] The illustrations of ‘TESCALIPUCA’ and ‘VITZLIPUTSLI’ appeared in volume three of the 1733 edition of Picart’s Cérémonies et Coutumes de tous les Peuples du Monde. No Mexican figures were used to illustrate Madoc. BACK

[12] The platforms feature in Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 6, but without illustrations. There is an illustration of the temple in Francisco Javier Clavigero, Storia Antica del Messico (Cesena, 1780–1781), II, opposite p. 35. BACK

[13] The skull-mounds appear in Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 6, but without illustrations. BACK

[14] Southey’s jointly edited project with Grosvenor Charles Bedford, Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). BACK

[15] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 6 lines 131–137. BACK

[16] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 3. BACK

[17] Madoc, Part 1, Book 3. BACK

[18] Madoc, Part 1, Book 3, lines 281–2. BACK

[19] Specimens of the Later English Poets, which Southey jointly edited with Grosvenor Charles Bedford and published with Longman in 1807. BACK

[20] Southey’s projected ‘History of Portugal’, which was never published. BACK

[21] The sale of Specimens of the Later English Poets never justified a second edition. BACK

[22] Peter, Barker’s pet pig. Southey’s prophecy came to pass; see Southey to Mary Barker, 10 December [1804], Letter 1000. BACK

[23] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul was published by Longman and Rees (1803). BACK

[24] ‘Truly, I have known men, that even with reading Amadis de Gaul (which God knoweth wanteth much of a perfect poesy) have found their hearts moved to the exercise of courtesy, liberality, and especially courage’, Philip Sidney (1554–1586; DNB), The Defense of Poetry (Glasgow, 1752), p. 44. BACK

[25] Vasco de Lobeira (d. 1403), the Portuguese author of Amadis. Southey contributed a biographical notice on Lobeira to John Aikin’s General Biography, (1807), VI, 314–317. BACK

[26] Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533): Italian author of the epic romance Orlando Furioso (1516). BACK

[27] Southey’s poem, Joan of Arc (1796; 2nd edn 1798). BACK

[28] Of Southey’s version of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

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August 2013