1540. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 22 November 1808

1540. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 22 November 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick. Nov. 22. 1808.

My dear Tom

I am not quite sure which deserves the severest carts-tailing, you or your Admiral, [1]  you for what you say of Freres translation, he for what he says of mine. [2]  A translation is good precisely in proportion as it faithfully represents the matter, manners & spirit of its original. – this is equally well done in his verse & my prose, & I will venture to say I never has been, & never will be better done elsewhere. You do not like it at all. – with what notion have you been reading it? not I am sure with the recollection that <it> is part of the oldest poem extant in any modern language, – being of the time of William the Conqueror, – the manner & the metre of which have been represented as accurately as possible. In fact his translation had long been the wonder of all who had seen it, & I had heard wonders of it from Walter Scott, Harry, Heber & the Hollands before I saw it. Your phrase of eking out is carts-tailable – without benefit of clergy. If you will please to sum up that pages of that thin book you will find that they only fall 30 short of the thick Madoc, [3]  – & instead of wanting materials, I supprest half a draw full of notes, besides my own King Ramiro & Garci Ferrandez. [4] 

Now to soft Tommys criticism. He seems to suppose that a book ought always to be rendered into English of the newest fashion, – & if not, that it should be given in the English of its own age, – a book of the fifteenth century (16th he means) in that of the fifteenth. He did not recollect that in the thirteenth century there was no such thing as English, which is I think answer enough. But the fact is, that both in the Chronicle & in Amadis [5]  I have not formed a style but followed one. The originally when represented as literally as possible ran into that phraseology, – & all I had to do was to avoid words & forms of words of modern creation, & also such as were unintelligibly obsolete. There is, as you must have heard Wordsworth point out, a language of pure intelligible English which was spoken in Chaucers time & is spoken in ours – equally understood then & now, & of which the Bible is the written & permanent standard in prose, as it has undoubtedly been the great means of preserving it. To that beautiful manner of narration which characterises the best Chronicles this language is peculiarly adapted, & in fact it is appropriated to such narration by our books of chivalry, & I might almost say consecrated to it by the historical parts of scripture. – It so happens that of all things which I have ever done the only one for which all the Reviews with one accord commended me, was for the manner in which I had rendered Amadis; – I wish he may steer clear of all mischief as I shall of them upon this occasion. The fault which he finds is that I have translated the Chronicle of the Cid instead of writing his history.

The list of books which I am about to order for you is this: Madoc, Specimens, Metrical Tales, Letters Sp & Portugal, 5th Annual, [6]  – all of which except the Letters I forgot that you had not.

The 7th Kehama went off yesterday, [7]  – it just brings you onto new ground. Upon fore-summing what remains to be written it does not appear that the Poem will extend much beyond 4800 lines & I am getting on toward 2700. There xx seem to be only seven sections more, which can hardly be averaged at more than 200 each. A little they may perhaps grow under my hands, – yet I think not much. In correcting & inweaving after ornaments a couple of hundred may probably be added. I had originally guessed the poem would run from 5 to 6000, & on thinking about it last night in bed was agreably startled to find myself as it were within sight of the end – so much sooner than I had expected. At the end of a journey one quickens one pace & I think I shall get on faster with it than ever for this reason – Especially as I long to be rattling the chariot wheels over the brazen floors of Hell. [8] 

Bonaparte may get to Madrid. I expect many & great reverses for him for a while, but as for his establishing Joseph on the throne [9]  & conquering xx xx Spain! – he may as well try to put out the Sun as to crush the spirit of that nation. The French would not have won half their victories, had it not been for their cowardly spirit which supposes they must be victorious. A man ought to lose his ears for entertaining such an opinion.

Our projected county meeting came to nothing. Lord Lonsdale set his face against it, & upon consultation with Curwen, [10]  we were convinced that it was hopeless to muster support against his merry men, who would have bellowed as loudly against us at the meeting, as they had done against the cursed Convention, before they were under the orders of mum. So Wordsworth went home to ease his heart by writing a pamphlett, [11]  which you may be sure will be a right good one, & contains more true philosophy & true patriotism than has for many a long year appeared in such a form. How he gets on with it I have not heard.

The new Review [12]  is to appear in April. Among the persons who are calculated upon to write in it there Frere, G. Ellis, your Admirals brother, [13]  who stands in about the same relation to me as a poet, that he does to you as a seaman, & is withal in other things a man of more than common talents, & well to be liked, – Heber, Copplestone the Oxford Poetry Professor (a great admirer of Madoc) – Miss Baillie, [14] Sharon Turner – & Capt Burney. A good many of these persons I know have the thorough conviction of the destructive folly which it would be to make peace, that I & Walter Scott have. – for to do Walter Scott justice, all his best & bravest feelings are alive upon that subject. I think we shall do good, & will do my part with a hearty good will. What I said to Bedford was that as long as the Government Caravan was travelling my road I was content to travel with it, – & that tho all my opinions hang together, all the hanging which they imply does not immediately appear. [15]  – One good thing is that I shall be pretty sure of civil treatment here, & the Review will carry great weight with it.

If you mean to send all my books to Brathay as they come out, what with their binding & their travelling expences you will have enough to pay. I should think you had made quite presents enough of this kind. Lloyd can much better afford to buy these books than you can to give them to him, & if he does not think them worth buying I know not why you should wish them to be upon his shelf.

I have had a book case put up opposite the great map on the landing place, – which it greatly ornaments, being filled with respectables, – some of my xx <geese [16] >, – such as are not gaudy but clean. Edith has but one batch more of junipering [17]  to get thro the whole.

Your niece sends & receives her regular kisses. Herbert goes stout, fat, & strong, you would be delighted with him. As for Emma she is as yet only entering into the state of kissability. She is as lively & good humoured as ever, & every body admires her. But my boy is the beauty of the house. Another month – God willing – will set her on her legs to stand at least & perhaps walk by the window & chairs, – & then she will become a play thing in her turn.

I hear as seldom from the man-slayer at Durham as you do. He is got into a furnished house, & offers me a bed, – which I mean to occupy early in the new year, having resolved to pay him a weeks visit.

Landor has not written to me. There will be such a tremendous campaign that the chances are much against any individual – especially one who will seek the hottest service as he will do. In the field he is but one, & as obnoxious to a ball as the merest machine of a soldier, – but should he be in a besieged town, such a man is worth a whole regiment there. God protect him wherever he be.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Dreadnought/ Plymouth Dock/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 192–195 [in part]. BACK

[1] Tom’s ship HMS Dreadnought was now under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas Sotheby (1759–1831), younger brother of the author, William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), Southey’s acquaintance. BACK

[2] A reference to Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808), to which three of Frere’s translations from the Poema del Cid were appended. BACK

[3] Madoc (1805). BACK

[4] Southey instead published ‘King Ramiro’ revised, in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and with revisions in Poetical Works (1837–1838). It had first appeared in September 1803 in the Morning Post and on 12 May 1804 in the Iris (edited by Taylor). He published ‘Garci Ferrandez’, in the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1809 (1811), in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works (1837–1838). BACK

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

[6] The second editon of Madoc (1807), Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807), Metrical Tales and other Poems (1805), Letters written during a Journey in Spain, and a Short Residence in Portugal (1808), and the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807). BACK

[7] Southey was sending his brother drafts of The Curse of Kehama (1810) in instalments. BACK

[8] Events at the end of The Curse of Kehama. BACK

[9] Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte (1768–1844) was the elder brother of Napoleon, who made him King of Naples and Sicily (1806–1808), and, in August 1808, King of Spain and the Indies as Joseph I of Spain (1808–1813). Joseph was forced by a revolt to abandon Madrid and did not return until January 1809, after French reinforcements retook the city. BACK

[10] John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB), Whig MP for Carlisle, Workington landowner. BACK

[11] Wordsworth’s Concerning the 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) was triggered by the agreement, made on 30 August 1808, of the British generals to allow a defeated Napoleonic army to withdraw from Portugal to France unmolested and with its weapons – a decision he and Southey thought pusillanimous. BACK

[12] The Quarterly. BACK

[13] William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), Southey’s acquaintance. BACK

[14] Joanna Baillie (1762–1851; DNB), the Scottish dramatist, friend of the Aikins and of Scott. BACK

[15] For this, see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 November 1808 (Letter 1530) and 11 November 1808 (Letter 1532). BACK

[16] Southey’s name for his better quality books; his more dilapidated ones were called ‘ducks’. BACK

[17] ‘To juniperize’ was Southey’s term for adding a gold border and lettering to the bindings of his books. The allusion was to Friar Juniper, disciple of St Francis, who cut the silver bells off the gold border of an altar cloth to give to a poor woman begging alms. BACK

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