301. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, [April 1798] 

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301. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, [April 1798] ⁠* 

The second volume contains the “Selva Military Politica, [1]  “a work (says Don Juan de Sedano) truly masterly and unique in its kind; it is our most celebrated and most useful didactic poem.” [2]  It should be remembered, that when this panegyric was published, Yriarte [3]  had not written his admirable poem upon music: “with incomparable skill, and singular genius to lay down the rules and precepts of military duty, and of the most sound policy.” [4]  The “Art of War” of Rebolledo will not bear comparison with Mr. Fawcett’s excellent poem, [5]  a work which it would be unjust to mention without the highest approbation: yet is it respectable both for poetry and morality, when we recollect, that it has been written nearly a century and a half, and that its author was a count and an ambassador.

This poem begins with the existence of God, an explanation of the trinity, the history of the devil, an account of chaos, of the creation and fall; the progress of society is then described, and Rebolledo asserts, that distinctions were first made by nature, who gave active and enterprising minds to the rulers, and fitted the others for subjection, by making them stupid, indolent, and contented. If indolent and contented stupidity should characterise the governed, and active and enterprising minds were designed by nature to rule, this system has been strangely inverted.

The author next examines the various forms of government, and points out the inconveniences of all. He allows the dangers of monarchy, but observes that, in a christian state, these dangers are not to be feared. The right divine is asserted, and as the consummation of this policy, we have immediately the art of war.

To this poem sixteen little pieces are added, each containing some example from history. One of these is upon the death of Uriah, and it concludes thus: “if good kings can act thus wickedly, what ought we not to fear from tyrants?”  [6]  Perhaps Rebolledo had seen Algernon Sidney [7]  at Copenhagen; for this and the following poem seem more like the sentiments of an Englishman at that period, than of a Spaniard.

Not long this fearful conflict shall endure,
That arms the earth with light’ning, that o’erspreads
Earth with its horrors, making the firm globe
Tremble. Not long these terrors shall endure,
That seem as they appall’d the fires of heav’n,
For night approaches now, preserving night,
And war will sleep in darkness. But the chief
Stretch’d forth his hand, and bade the sun stand still
On Gibeon; “and thou, moon, o’er the vale
Of Ajalon, till vengeance be complete!”
And wherefore did the harmonies of heav’n
Cease at the voice of Joshua? The Most High,
He who is just, suspended nature’s laws,
That kings might meet the meed they merited. [8] 

The third volume is composed of religious poems, chiefly paraphrased from the bible; among these are versions of the psalms, of the book of Job, and of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. These he dedicated to Christina, queen of Sweden; [9]  and the Spanish editor says, they may greatly have contributed to the conversion of that princess to the Catholic faith. His version of the Lamentations concludes with the doxology, and with a declaration that he lays it at the feet of the church with all catholic obedience. [10] 

In this volume the history of the “New Testament” is thrown into a sacred Idylium. He commences it by saying, that the mysteries of our redemption are properly concealed in the sacred books, lest they should get into the profane hands of the vulgar: and the introduction concludes thus; “ye who heard the profane thoughts of my first follies, hear now my last accents, though not so poetical, much more pious.” [11]  He then explains how the word was united to the flesh hypostatically; and this is a fine instance of the sesquipedalia verba, [12]  as it has a whole line to itself, “hipostaticamente.” [13]  The Franciscan dogma is elucidated by the usual comparison of the sun-beams passing through glass; and by another, which I do not recollect elsewhere; “as the dew falls upon the earth, without disturbing the air.” [14] 

The “Selvas Danicas” fill the last volume, a genealogical poem upon the succession of the kings of Denmark. [15]  This work I have never seen.

Such are the works of Rebolledo, who “to the manners of a Christian and of a cavalier, united the virtues and endowments that constitute a hero; such as nobility of blood, and good fortune in his undertakings: and here (says Sedano) [16]  I will no longer delay a reflection, that has often occurred to me in collecting the memoirs of our illustrious Spanish poets; and that is, that the epithet illustrious is perfectly applicable with regard to their blood; not that this is any recommendation of the intrinsic merit of the sciences; but because it confirms the opinion of those, who think that good blood and an illustrious education contribute to a love of, and progress in letters. He then shows, that it is not absolutely necessary that a good poet should be poor.

T.Y.


Notes

* MS: MS has not survived
Previously published: Monthly Magazine, 5 (April 1798), 275–276 [from where the text is taken] under the pseudonym ‘T. Y.’ For attribution to Southey, see Kenneth Curry, ‘Southey’s contributions to The Monthly Magazine and The Athenaeum’, The Wordsworth Circle, 11 (1980), 216. BACK

[1] A mis-spelling of ‘Selva Militar y Politica’ (1652), in Obras Poéticas del Conde Don Bernardino Rebolledo, 4 vols (Madrid, 1778). BACK

[2] Juan José Lopez de Sedano (1729-1801), El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768-1778), V, p. xlv. BACK

[3] Tomas de Iriarte y Orpesa (1750–1791) Spanish poet whose works included La Musica (1779). BACK

[4] Juan José Lopez de Sedano, El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768-1778), V, p. xlv. BACK

[5] Joseph Fawcett (c. 1758–1804; DNB), The Art of War. A Poem (1795). BACK

[6] 2 Samuel 11–12; King David desired Bathsheba, the wife of one of his captains, Uriah the Hittite, so he ordered Uriah to be put in the most dangerous position in a forthcoming battle. Southey’s translation is from Obras Poéticas del Conde Don Bernardino Rebolledo, 4 vols (Madrid, 1778), II, p. 376. BACK

[7] Algernon Sidney (1623–1683; DNB), English republican politician. He served as a commissioner to negotiate a peace between Denmark and Sweden in 1659. Bernardino de Rebolledo (1597–1676) had been an envoy to the Danish court in 1649–1652. BACK

[8] Obras Poéticas del Conde Don Bernardino Rebolledo, 4 vols (Madrid, 1778), II, pp. 377–378. The translation is probably Southey’s own, see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 272, where it is dated 30 January 1798. BACK

[9] Christina (1626–1689; Queen of Sweden 1632–1654), abdicated and became a Catholic. BACK

[10] Obras Poéticas del Conde Don Bernardino Rebolledo, 4 vols (Madrid, 1778), III, p. 388. BACK

[11] Obras Poéticas del Conde Don Bernardino Rebolledo, 4 vols (Madrid, 1778), III, pp. 415-416. BACK

[12] A foot and a half long word. BACK

[13] Obras Poéticas del Conde Don Bernardino Rebolledo, 4 vols (Madrid, 1778), III, p. 416. BACK

[14] Obras Poéticas del Conde Don Bernardino Rebolledo, 4 vols (Madrid, 1778), III, p. 416. BACK

[15] Obras Poéticas del Conde Don Bernardino Rebolledo, 4 vols (Madrid, 1778), IV. BACK

[16] Juan José Lopez de Sedano, El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768-1778), V, xl. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2011