998. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 7 December [1804]

998. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 7 December [1804] ⁠* 

Dear Harry

Buy for me ‘The Whole Prophecies of Scotland, England, Ireland, France & Denmark, prophesied by Thomas Rymer, Marvellous Merling &c –’ [1]  which may at present be purchased in the Horse Wynd for four pence – says David Irving – whom if you know you may thank in my name for having made a very laborious & good <i.e. good quod laborious,> book. [2]  Buy for me also when you can meet with them, Patrick Gordons Famous History of the Valiant Bruce – a poem, the 12mo editions cannot be rare or dear, & John Harveys Lifes of Robert Bruce. a poem in 4to. – if it be to be got for five or six shillings – not the Bruciad in 8vo for that I have. [3]  And Ross’s pastoral tale entitled Helenore, or the Fortunate Shepherdess. [4]  And the Ghost – a periodical paper of which Dr Constancio was editor, & which I would have for that reason. [5]  – Pick up these at your leisure as opportunity may offer, & keep them till there be occasion to make a parcel, or opportunity of sending them. –

Your letter has just brought me the welcome intelligence that my notes have at last reached Edinburgh. [6]  I had given them up for lost & was reconciling myself to the necessity of publishing the poem without them. The numberless inaccuracies & inelegancies of language which might be weeded out are of sufficient consequence to make me very solicitous of seeing the proofs – only the first I must see on account of the Portugueze in it, which would grievously offend a learned eye if misprinted. As you cannot get the Cambrian Register, I will desire Wynn to frank the extract to you, [7]  the passage in Lafiteau [8]  should be translated.

Concerning the Venereal disease I know of no historical facts but which are commonly known such as John of Gaunts death [9]  – & the law which mentions the pestilent disease infirmity of brenning, [10]  possibly I may find some mention in my Spaniards if they really did find the disease in the Islands, whether at any rate it is certain that if not then imported, it then first became general. [11]  Dr Geddes in his translation which always debases the bible & frequently seems intended to burlesque it, has thought proper to give K David a gonorrhea! [12] 

It is very unfortunate that you have lost my letter with the reference. the two authors were Gervase of Tilbury in his Otia Imperialia, concerning King Arthur & his family of Apparitions, & Ordericus Vitalis something about Arthur also. I had told you in what collections these Authors were to be found & whereabouts the respective passages would be – but the little scrap of paper whereon the memorandum had been made God knows when or whence, was thrown into the fire as useless after I had copied it to you. Gervase I think is in the Scriptores Rerum Brunsvicensium. [13] 

In correcting the Notes you can always distinguish such as are mere extracts, which they mostly are, from those wherein Egomet ipse [14]  speak myself. in the former you will have only to correct the printers oversights, in the latter you will correct mine if you find occasion. If Sharon does not speedily furnish me with the Hirlas Horn poem I must omit it for the sake of time [15]  – & at any rate will send off a second parcel containing if not all the greater part of what remains in a few days. Let me have a proof of the preface with the exordial lines that I may keep it a few days. [16] 

I have no news yet to send you of poor Tom  [17]  – & no reason to expect any but what will be a confirmation of ill. In all such calamities – & I have had my share of them – I always apply myself with intense application to study. To me it is a heavier loss than you or any one else can imagine. There is now no human being left who can talk with me of my infancy old times – not one who nursed me in infancy or played with me in my fathers house. It makes the heart grow old before its time when so many of its dearest feelings & recollections are made thus cut off – never again to be participated with any one on earth.

God bless you Harry!


Friday 7. Dec.


* Address: For/ H. Herbert Southey Esqr/ to the care of Mr Guthrie. Bookseller/ Edinburgh
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: DEC/ 1804/ 10
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, KESMG.1996.5.63. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 290–292. BACK

[1] The Whole Prophecies of Scotland, England, France, Ireland, and Denmark. Prophesied by Marvelous Merling, Beid, Berlington, Thomas Rymer, Waldhave, Eltraine, Banester, and Sybilla. All agreeing in one, both in Latin verse, and in Scottish Meeter. Containing Many Strange and Marvellous Matters, not of Before Read or Heard. Compared with the Best Editions (1690). This was a much reprinted work, with editions published in 1745, 1757, 1774 and 1779. BACK

[2] Southey had been reading David Irving (1778–1860; DNB), The Lives of the Scotish Poets; With Preliminary Dissertations on the Literary History of Scotland and the Early Scotish Drama (1804). The prophecies attributed to Thomas the Rhymer are discussed in Irving’s ‘Life of Thomas Lermont’, and it is there that Irving informs readers that they may be bought at the Horse Wynd (a street near the Canongate and adjacent to Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh). BACK

[3] These poems about ‘Robert the Bruce’ or Robert I (1274–1329, King of Scotland 1306–1329; DNB), are cited in Irving’s ‘Life of John Barbour’, in The Lives of the Scotish Poets: the duodecimo edition of Patrick Gordon (fl. 1606–1649; DNB), The Famous Historie of the Renowned ... Prince Robert, Surnamed the Bruce, King of Scotlande ... Enlarged with an Addition of the Scottish Kinges Lineallie Discended from him to Charles now Prince ... in Heroik verse (1753); John Harvey (fl. 1702), The Life of Robert Bruce King of Scots. A Poem (1729). The Bruciad, an Epic Poem, in Six Books was an octavo edition of Harvey’s Life of Robert Bruce, King of Scots, edited by John Cumming (dates unknown) and published in 1769. BACK

[4] Alexander Ross (1699–1784), Helenore ... To which are added Songs ... and a Glossary (1778). An edition entitled Helenore, or, the Fortunate Shepherdess was published in 1804. BACK

[5] Francisco Solano Constancio (c. 1772–1846), had been sent from Lisbon to study medicine in Edinburgh by his father, a Professor of Anatomy, in an attempt to reform the practice of that discipline in Portugal. Under a pseudonym, Constancio published The Ghost, an Edinburgh periodical, for a few months in 1796. BACK

[6] For Madoc (1805) which was in the process of being printed by James Ballantyne in Edinburgh where Henry Southey was studying for his degree in medicine. BACK

[7] The Cambrian Register, the journal edited by William Owen Pughe. For the extract that Southey wanted Harry to copy, see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 7 December 1804, Letter 998. BACK

[8] In Madoc, Part 2, Book 6, Southey quotes Joseph Francois Lafiteau (1681–1746), Moeurs des Sauvages Ameriquains, Compares aux Moeurs des Premieres Temps, 2 vols (Paris, 1724), II, pp. 444–458. BACK

[9] Sir John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, 5th Earl of Leicester, 2nd Earl of Derby, Duke of Aquitaine (1340–1399; DNB) suffered a putrefaction of the genitals and body, according to Thomas Gascoigne (1404–1458; DNB) in his Dictionarium Theologicum (compiled between 1434 and 1458), which was attributed to venereal disease. BACK

[10] As early as 1162 laws existed for fining brothel keepers who kept women suffering from ‘brenning’, or ‘burning’, a symptom of gonorrhoea. BACK

[11] Epidemic syphilis had arrived in Europe by 1495, two years after the return of Columbus’s sailors. BACK

[12] Alexander Geddes (1737–1802; DNB), The Holy Bible, or the Books Accounted Sacred by Jews and Christians, Otherwise Called the Books of the Old and New Covenant; Faithfully Translated from Corrected Texts of the Originals. With Various Readings, Explanatory Notes, and Critical Remarks (1797): Leviticus 15.2. Geddes defends his translation in his Critical Remarks on the Hebrew Scriptures: Remarks on the Pentateuch (London, 1800), I, p. 339. BACK

[13] For this letter; see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, [c. 6 November 1804], Letter 987. The references Southey asked his brother to find were volume one of Scriptores rerum Brunsvicensium (1710), ed. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), which contains Gervase of Tilbury (c. 1150–c. 1228), Otia Imperialia, and Ordericus Vitalis (1075–c. 1142), Historiæ Ecclesiasticæ libri XIII which is included in André Du Chesne (1584–1640), Historiæ Normannorum Scriptores Antiqui, res ab illis ... Gestas Explicantes ab Anno 838 ad Annum 1220 (1619). Gervase and Oderic (1075–c. 1142) both describe the tradition of the ‘wild hunt’– in which ghostly huntsmen and their entourage are seen progressing through the landscape. BACK

[14] Meaning ‘I myself’. BACK

[15] Southey did obtain the poem and based a song in Madoc (1805) upon it (Part 1, Book 10, lines 49–82). In a note to the text, Southey thanked William Owen Pughe for supplying him with a literal translation of ‘this remarkable poem’, adding that his own version would have ‘stood very differently had I seen this literal version before it was printed. I had written from the faithless paraphrase of Evans’. The ‘paraphrase’ was ‘A Poem composed by Owain Cyveiliog, prince of Powys, entitled by him HIRLAS from a large drinking horn so called, used at feasts in his palace’, in Evan Evans (1731–1788; DNB), Specimens of the Poetry of the Antient Welsh Bards (London, 1764), pp. 7–13. BACK

[16] Madoc was published in 1805 with the exordium:

Come, listen to a tale of times of old!
Come, for ye know me! I am he who sung
The Maid of Arc; I am he who framed
Of Thalaba the wild & wonderous song.
Come, listen to my lay, & ye shall hear
How Madoc from the shores of Britain spread
The adventurous sail, explored the ocean ways,
And quelled Barbarian power, & overthrew
The bloody altars of idolatry,
And planted in its fanes triumphantly
The Cross of Christ. Come, listen to my lay.

See Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II, p. 8.


[17] Thomas Southey’s ship, HMS Galatea, a fifth-rate 32-gun frigate, had, on 14 August 1804, made an unsuccessful attempt to cut out the French privateer General Ernouf (formerly the British sloop of war Lilly) lying at the Saintes near Guadeloupe. Of the 90 men sent on the mission, 65 were killed or wounded, and Southey suspected that his brother was among the dead. Thomas was the first lieutenant, but was absent from the raid because he had been placed under arrest. Charles Hayman (d. 1804) was made first lieutenant in his stead and died in the attack. BACK