1528. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 6 November 1808

1528. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 6 November 1808 ⁠* 

My dear Scott.

I have sometimes thought of publishing translations from the Spanish & Portugueze, with the originals annexed, [1]  – but there was no prospect of profit to tempt me, & as certainly, if I live, it is my intention to enter fully into the literary history of both countries, – that made me lay aside the thought of any thing on a lesser scale. Another reason perhaps may have been this, that it is not more difficult to compose poetry than to translate it, & that, in my own opinion I can make as good as I can find. – Very very few of the Spanish ballads are good; – they are made in general upon one receipt & that a most inartificial one – they begin by describing the situation of somebody, who makes a speech which is the end. An Nothing like the wildness or the character of our ballads is to be found among them. It is curious & at present inexplicable to me how their prose should be so exquisitely poetical as it is in the Cid, [2]  – & their poetry so completely prosaical as it is in almost all their narrative poems. – Nevertheless I xxxx to be <might be> tempted. Some translations I have by me, – & many of my books are marked for others. there are some high-toned odes in the Spanish, & a good many beautiful sonnets. Many of their epics would afford good extracts – & I am competent to givex critical bio sketches of biography, formed not from at second hand, but from full perusal of the authors themselves. My name however is worth nothing in the market; & the booksellers would not offer me any thing to make it worth my while to interrupt occupations of greater importance. I thank you heartily for your offer of aid, & should the thing be carried into effect, would gladly avail myself of it.

I am planning some thing of great importance, – a poem upon Pelayo the first Restorer of Spain; – it has long been one of my chosen subjects & these late events which have warmed every heart that has right British blood circulating thro it, have revived & strengthened old resolutions. [3]  It will be in regular blank verse, & the story will naturally take rather a higher tone than Madoc. [4] 

It gives me great pleasure to hear that you have done with the Edinburgh Review. Of their base article respecting Spain [5]  I heard from Coleridge, – that subject is the fair touchstone whether a man has any generous sympathies in his nature. There is not in history such another instance of national regeneration & redemption. I have been a true prophet upon this subject, & am not a little proud of the prophecy. Of the eventual issue I have never felt a moments doubt. Such a nation, – such a spirit are invincible. But what a cruel business has this curst convention of Cintra been! [6]  – Junot pretty clearly expressed his own feelings of our Commander in chief [7]  when he recommended him to take up his bo quarters at Quintellas [8]  house as he had done, – ‘the man, he said, kept a very good table, & he had very seldom had reason to find fault with it! – My blood boils to think that there should be an English General to whom this rascal could venture to say this! – In one of the Frenchmans knapsacks, among other articles of that property which they bargained to take away with them, was a delicate female hand with rings upon the fingers. – Our ministers do not avail themselves as they might do of their strong cause. They should throw away the scabbard, & publish a manifesto stating why this country never will make peace with Bonaparte, – & on what plain terms it will at any moment make peace with France under any other ruler: I fully believe that it would be possible to overthrow his government by this means at this time.

A reviewal of my Cid by you [9]  will be the best aid that it can possibly receive.

500 only were printed, & in spite of the temporary feeling, & the wonderful beauty of the book, I dare say they will hang upon hand. If it sold well I should be very desirous of translating the chronicles of Fernam Lopez, [10]  which are in my judgement far superior to all others.

It will rejoice me to see you here, & show you my treasures, & talk of the days of the shield & the lance. We have a bed at your service, & shall expect you to be our guest. Wordsworth who left me to day desires his re[MS torn]ances. He is about to write a pamphlet upon this preci[MS torn] Convention, [11]  which he will place in a more philosophical point of view than any body has yet done. I go to press in a few weeks with my History of Brazil, & have at present Thalaba at present in Ballantynes hands, that poem having just reached the end of its seven years apprenticeship. [12]  And I have got half way thro my Hindoo poem, [13]  which it is to be hoped will please myself, inasmuch as it is not likely to please any body else. It is too strange, too much beyond all human sympathies, but I shall go on, & as in such cases I have usually little but my labour for my pains, the certainty that it never can never be popular will not deter me from gratifying my own fancy.

Mrs Southey joins me in remembrances to Mrs Scott.

believe me yours very truly

Robert Southey.

Keswick Nov. 6. 1808


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqr./ Ashesteil/ Selkirk
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Watermark: JW & BB/ 1807
Endorsement: Southey/ 6th. Novr. 1808
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3877. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 177–180. BACK

[1] Scott’s suggestion that Southey might publish such translation was rapidly superseded by his solicitation, with William Gifford, of Southey to write on Spanish affairs for the new Quarterly Review. BACK

[2] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid was based on Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (c. 1043–1099), Chronica de la Famoso Cavallero Cid Ruy Diez Campeador (1593). BACK

[3] Pelagius/Pelayo (c. 685–737), founder of the Kingdom of Asturias. Through his victory at the Battle of Covadonga, he is credited with beginning the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors. The planned poem became Roderick, Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[4] Southey’s poem Madoc (1805). BACK

[5] In no. 24 (July 1808), 441 the Edinburgh was lukewarm about war in the article ‘Mr Whitbread’s Letter on Spain;’ in no. 25 (October 1808), 215 it also cast doubt on the worth of supporting the Spanish in their war against French occupation: see ‘Exposition of the Practices and Machinations which led to the Usurpation of the Crown of Spain, and the Means adopted by the Emperor of the French to carry it into Execution’. BACK

[6] Southey’s exasperation was caused by the Convention of Cintra, signed on 30 August, whereby the French army commanded by Jean-Andoche Junot (1771–1813) and defeated by Anglo-Portuguese forces under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the 1st Duke of Wellington) at Vimeiro on 21 August, was allowed to retreat intact, with its weapons, from Portugal. Wellesley, who did not sign the Convention, had been superseded in command by two veteran generals, just arrived in Iberia, who were content to make peace: Sir Harry Burrard (1755–1813; DNB) and Sir Hew Dalrymple. Public outcry led to an inquiry, after which Burrard and Dalrymple never again took command. BACK

[7] Dalrymple. BACK

[8] A Portuguese dealer in diamonds at whose Lisbon palacio the French commander Junot took up his quarters. BACK

[9] Scott reviewed Southey, Chronicle of the Cid Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, the Campeador, from the Spanish in the Quarterly Review, 1 (1809), 117–134. BACK

[10] Fernao Lopes (c. 1385–after 1459), chronicler of Portugal, wrote Crónica del-rei D. Pedro (1735); Chronica del Rey D. Ioam I de Boa Memoria, e dos Reys de Portugal o Decimo, Primeira Parte, em Que se contem A Defensam do Reyno até ser eleito Rey & Segunda Parte, em que se continuam as guerras com Castella, desde o Principio de seu reinado ate as pazes (1644). Lopes’s manuscript ‘Cronica del Rei Dom Fernando o Noveno Rei de Portugal’ was listed as no. 3829 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library after his death. BACK

[11] Wordsworth’s Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, to Each Other, and to the Common Enemy, at this Crisis; and Specifically as Affected by the Convention of Cintra (1809). BACK

[12] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810; the second edition of Thalaba the Destroyer in 1809. BACK

[13] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)