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774. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19 April 1803 ⁠* 

I have just received yours. your grandmothers death [1]  the papers had told me – but I was not aware that she had outlived all the enjoyment of life. this cursed Influenza [2]  has xxxx cut off my best friend here – the mother of Danvers. an old Lady of whom you must have heard me speak. whom I regarded with something like a family affection. I got thro the Influenza, & then Tom had it – next it passed to Edith & Margaret & lastly the servant [3]  was attacked so we had our share.

My brother is appointed to the Galatea – not the Mercury. [4]  but the papers were well informed, for his commission had the word Mercury erased. he of course joined immediately. he tells me our present naval force is mere show. the ships all want men. One of the 74s at Spithead which lies there as if ready for service has only 40 hands besides the marines. the Galatea has not a single man. Surely if war was actually apprehended higher bounties would be offered & the press be hotter.

Yesterday the last of Amadis [5]  went off to London. I have now to review a collection of the living Italian poets [6]  & then shall feel myself free again. in writing the preface to Amadis I formed an opinion concerning the origin of romantic machinery different from either Wartons [7]  or Percy. [8]  it appears to me to be derived neither from Arabia nor Scandinavia, but to be of classical derivation, modified by the circumstances of society. Enchanted arms, magical rings – dragons – are all to be found in classical fiction. The Fairies (the legitimate fairies – such as Morgana le Fay are Nymphs – & the Ladies of the Lake a great improvement upon the Naiads.

I do not think it impossible that the original Amadis may still exist. before the present Spanish book [9]  was printed the story was popular. the Spaniards when they came in sight of Mexico said it was like the enchanted palaces in Amadis– & they called a braggart another Agrajes sin obras, [10]  which xxx the character of Agrayes has been modified by the Spanish editor – but one sees that it may have been originally of that stamp. Now manuscript copies must have been common in some shape or other, or the book never could have been the bye-word of an army. Tressan [11]  thinks he saw the Picard original as he will have it, in the Vatican. if he saw it at all he might have mistaken old Portugueze for Romance. I should not be very greatly surprized were I one day to find the original rotting in some Convent Library.

You will now hear of Madocs  [12]  rapid progress. I wish I could find such mines of Welsh anecdote as my Spanish books open of Indian costume. there I am very rich. & on the other hand my head is full of Welsh scenery – not American. I did not see enough of Wales – but not a single thing of what I did see is lost. I can call up the whole succession of hills & rocks & streams & lakes & mountains with life-vividness. Last Autumn I went to Dinevor – full of expectation & determined to make my description upon my spot. It was so little & insignificant compared to the Northern scenery that I did not write a line; it is a mighty pretty noblemans seat – but for the castle of a Welsh Prince! Dolbadan is the place.

God bless you –

R S.


Tuesday 19. April. 1803.

Notes

* Address: To/C W Williams Wynn Esqr. M.P./ Chester
Postmark: [partial] BRISTOL/ APR 1803
Endorsement: April 19 1803
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 311-312. BACK

[1] Frances Wynn, née Shakerley (1717-1803), second wife of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn (1692-1749; DNB). BACK

[2] The influenza epidemic of 1803. BACK

[3] Unidentified. BACK

[4] HMS Galatea, a 32-gun Royal Navy frigate, bound for the West Indies; HMS Mercury, a 28-gun Royal Navy frigate, serving in the Eastern Atlantic. BACK

[5] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[6] Possibly G.B. Cassano (fl. 1802), Il Fiore della Poesia Italiana (1802), which Southey reviewed in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 562-563. BACK

[7] Thomas Warton (1728-1790; DNB), Observations on The Fairy Queen of Spenser, 2 vols (London, 1762), II, p. 84, claimed ‘the romances of the dark ages’ were ‘founded on Saracen superstitions’. BACK

[8] Thomas Percy (1729-1811; DNB), Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 3 vols (London, 1767), I, pp. xix-lxxvi, ‘An Essay on the Ancient English Minstrels’ claimed an Anglo-Saxon and Nordic origin for romance. BACK

[9] The earliest printed edition of Amadis of Gaul was produced in 1508. Southey may not have seen this version. Though he borrowed a Spanish version of the story from Reginald Heber for his translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803), the earliest Spanish edition in Heber’s library is from 1551, Biblioteca Heberiana; Catalogue of the Library of the Late Richard Heber, Part One (London, 1834), no. 92. This may explain Southey’s puzzlement about the popularity of the story during the invasion of Mexico in 1519-1521. BACK

[10] The Spanish translates literally as ‘Agrajes without deeds’, a description from Amadis of Gaul of the knight Agrajes of Scotland, which later migrated into popular usage. Southey’s introductory essay to his translation, Amadis of Gaul, 4 vols (London, 1803), I, pp. xxxii-xxxiii, repeats much of the information in this paragraph. BACK

[11] Louis-Elisabeth de La Vergne, Comte de Tressan (1705-1783), Traduction Libre d’Amadis de Gaule, 2 vols (Amsterdam, 1780), I, p. xxv, no. 41 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[12] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

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August 2011