289. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, [March 1798]

289. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, [March 1798] ⁠* 

Bernardino de Rebolledo [1]  was a count of the holy Roman empire, lord of Yrian, head of the Rebolledos of Castille, knight of the order of Santiago, comendador and alcayde of Villanueva de Alcardete, governor and captain general of the Lower Palatinate, general of artillery, minister plenipotentiary in Denmark, minister of the supreme council of war, &c. &c. but if Rebolledo had not been a poet, these titles would have been remembered only in the family pedigree, and on his own monument. On the 31st of May, 1597, he was baptized in Leon, his native city. From his earliest years, says the Spanish biographer, our Bernardino discovered his inclination for that happy union of arms and letters, which so many have made. [2]  Two centuries ago this union was less extraordinary than at present: in England we had a Raleigh and a Sydney. [3]  Spain affords more instances; Lope de Vega served in the Armada; Garcilaso died in battle, and the poem of Ercilla was written in his tent. [4]  But the world is grown wiser, though it may not have grown better, and the trade of war, once held so honourable, is now estimated as it should be. At the age of fourteen Rebolledo entered into the fleet of Naples and Sicily, in which service he remained eighteen years, and honourably distinguished himself. Afterwards he served in Lombardy, under Spinola. [5]  At the siege of Casal, his right arm was broken by a musket ball. [6]  Perhaps the poet remembers his wound, when, in that part of his “Selva Militar y Politica,” which treats of besieged places, he enumerates, among the provisions necessary for the siege, physicians, surgeons, and medicine chests. [7] 

After serving in the Low Countries, and negociating with many of the German powers, the count was appointed plenipotentiary to the court of Denmark. But Copenhagen was besieged during his residence there, and for two years the Spanish ambassador assisted in defending the town. After so many toils and dangers he returned to Madrid, full of years and of glory; new honours were accumulated upon him, and he died in that city, universally respected, at the age of fourscore.

Amid the toils and occupations of so adventurous a life, Rebolledo produced those poems that have ranked him among the nine Castilian muses. [8]  They were printed separately at Amberes and at Copenhagen. [9]  An edition, in four volumes, was published about thirty years since at Madrid; [10]  but it is supposed, that some of his publications escaped the editor’s search. The first of these volumes contains his “Ocios” chiefly consisting of lyric pieces. From this volume a curious epistle is extracted in the “Parnaso Espanol,” hitherto my guide. [11]  The editor selects it as, in his opinion, the best poem in the Ocios of Rebolledo, and as displaying profound erudition, solid piety, exquisite taste, and accurate judgment. [12]  This praise is somewhat enormous, for what he calls a Poema Bibliografico, [13]  and what may properly be stated a catalogue in rhyme; for it is only a list of books recommended to a young student. In enumerating these, he begins with poetry; the names alone are mentioned of various poets, Greek, Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish, without one discriminating epithet or remark; except that Virgil is called, agreeably to Spanish gallantry, “the elegant defamer of Dido.” [14]  England is only mentioned under the head of history, and the writers he recommends are Camden, [15]  Hector Boethius, [16]  and Biondi, [17]  a name with which I am unacquainted. He advises his friend to fly from the madness of Copernicus, whose opinions are contrary to revelation and common sense. [18]  Afterwards he mentions all the books in the Old and New Testaments, and gives the number of chapters in each; recommends for frequent perusal, the works of St. Teresa [19]  and Kempis, [20]  and concludes thus; “as you now aspire to a more secure state you must abhor your former way of life; but if you look back upon iniquity, I shall regard you as a new pillar of salt.” [21] 

In the same volume there is a madrigal, curiously exemplifying the text; “every one that exalteth himself shall be abased, but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”  [22]  On the entrance into Biscay from Castile, through the Sierra de Orduna, between the little towns, or rather perhaps villages of Berberana and Lezama, a stream falls from the height of a mountain into a deep valley; through which a current of air continually passes, with such force, as to scatter the water on its fall, and sweep it away in vapour. The vapour, on its elevation, condenses and falls in perpetual rain. This singular sport of nature is the subject of this little poem.

With what a deafening roar yon torrent rolls
Its weight of waters, from the precipice,
Whose mountain mass darkens the hollow vale!
Yet there it falls not, for the eternal wind,
That sweeps, with force compressed, the winding straits,
Scatters the midway stream, and, borne afar,
The heavy mist descends, a ceaseless shower.
Methinks that Eolus here forms his clouds,
As Vulcan, amid Etna’s cavern’d fires,
Shapes the red bolts of Jove. Sure if some sage
Of elder times, had journied here, his art,
With many a mystic fable shadowing truth,
Had sanctified this spot, where man might learn
Wisdom from nature; marking how the stream,
That seeks the valley’s depth, borne upward, joins
The clouds of heaven; but from its height abased,
When it would rise, descends to earth in rain. [23] 



* MS: MS has not survived
Previously published: Monthly Magazine, 5 (March 1798), 195–196 [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] Bernardino de Rebolledo (1597–1676), Spanish aristocrat, ambassador and poet. BACK

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

[3] Walter Raleigh (1557–1618; DNB) and Philip Sydney (1554–1586; DNB), English soldiers and poets. BACK

[4] Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (1562–1635), prolific Spanish poet and playwright, who served in the Armada sent to invade England in 1588 on the San Juan. Garcilaso de la Vega (1501–1536), Spanish poet and soldier, who died at Nice from wounds received in battle at Le Muy. Alonso de Ercilla y Zuniga (1533–1594), Spanish soldier and author of La Araucana (1569–1589). BACK

[5] Ambrogio Spinola Doria, Marqués de los Balbases (1569–1630), Italian-born military commander who served in the Spanish forces. BACK

[6] The siege of Casale in Montferrat, 1628–1629, was an important engagement in the War of the Mantuan Succession (1628–1631), a subsidiary part of the Thirty Years War (1618–1648). BACK

[7] ‘Selva Militar y Politica’ (1652), in Obras Poéticas del Conde Don Bernardino Rebolledo, 4 vols (Madrid, 1778), II. Southey paraphrases II, p. 68. BACK

[8] Francisco de Quevedo Villegas (1580–1645); Garcilaso de la Vega (c. 1501–1536); Esteban Manuel de Villegas (1585–1669); Bernardino de Rebolledo; Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola (1559–1613); Bartolomè Leonardo de Argensola (1561–1631); Luis de Leon (1529–1591); Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (1562–1635); Francisco de Borja y Aragon, Prince of Esquilache (1577–1658). BACK

[9] Bernardino de Rebolledo, Obras Poeticas, 3 vols (Amberes, 1660–1661), and Selves Danicas (Copenhagen, 1655). BACK

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

[11] ‘Epistola’ (‘En fin os resistis a las prisiones’) in Juan José Lopez de Sedano, El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768–1778), IX, pp. 155–181. BACK

[12] Juan José Lopez de Sedano, El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768–1778), IX, ‘Indice de las Poesias’, pp. xxv–xxvi. BACK

[13] Juan José Lopez de Sedano, El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768–1778), IX, ‘Indice de las Poesias’, p. xxvi. BACK

[14] ‘Epistola’ (‘En fin os resistis a las prisiones’) in Juan José Lopez de Sedano (1729–1801), El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (1768–1778), IX, p. 157. The translation is probably Southey’s own. BACK

[15] William Camden (1551–1623; DNB), English antiquarian. BACK

[16] Hector Boethius (c. 1465–1536; DNB), Scottish philosopher and historian. BACK

[17] Sir Giovanni Francesco Biondi (1572–1644; DNB) Venetian-born historian. BACK

[18] Nicolaus Copernicus’s (1473–1543) view that the earth moved round the sun was rejected by the Catholic church. BACK

[19] St Teresa of Avila (1515–1582), Carmelite reformer, mystic and author. BACK

[20] Thomas à Kempis (1379/1380–1471), author of The Imitation of Christ. BACK

[21] ‘Epistola’ (‘En fin os resistis a las prisiones’) in Juan José Lopez de Sedano (1729–1801), El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768–1778), IX, p. 181. The translation is probably Southey’s own. BACK

[22] Luke 14: 11. BACK

[23] Bernardino de Rebolledo (1597–1676), ‘Madrigal’ (‘De un risco dilatado’) in Juan José Lopez de Sedano (1729–1801), El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768–1778), IX, p. 157. The translation is Southey’s own; a copy in the Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 271–272, dated 4 February 1798, suggests it was a recent one. BACK