812. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 27 July [1803]

812. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 27 July [1803] ⁠* 

July 27.

The estrado is not exactly the dais, tho had I recollected that word it would have been better than the original. the dais is the raised part of great halls – the estrado was in every room, & is often used plurally. I cannot tell what it was. In Portugal it is still not the common custom to use chairs. the female peasantry & servants usually squat down like the Moors, very sensibly, for in houses that have no fire places, & doors & windows that never shut close the petticoats thus keep the feet warm. there are round mats sold for them to squat upon; they puzzled me for some time, seeing them in the shops. In that part of Portugal which was last Moorish, the beds are laid upon a square platform about half a foot high – this is perhaps something like the old estrado. once & once only I saw it reach across a room like a dais. some such platform in days of dirt, when the floors were strewn with rushes, was probably placed for the gentle Dames & Damsels to squat upon. you will allow it to have been very necessary at one period when Kts, Lords, & Kings lived in such hourly dangers that they kept their horses ready saddled in their bed chambers.

Are you right in imputing inconsistency to the character of Lisvarte? [1]  He is always proud – but while his pride is well exerted it is not seen to be a vice. suspicion is a part of his character which does not appear in the first book, but which is no way incompatible with the qualities that do appear. it opens upon you indeed, unawares – as the door is to do upon the bed chamber that is fit for a Bishop. the thing existed tho it had not been laid open. The best preserved character is Orianas. interesting – yet full of sexual littleness – & true woman to the last.

What a picture of female morals is that book! every good damsel her friend’s bawd! the most important corollary which I extract from the book goes to lessen still farther the little merit of Henrique [2]  the patron of discovery, for the notion of finding out unknown Islands was common when Amadis was written. the lack of Latin is Montalvos [3]  – not Lobeiras. [4] 

The main fault in the story certainly is the want of one equal enemy – of a peer with whom Amadis may be tried – for Arcalaus [5]  is a poor villain, & Patin  [6]  only a gander. yet there is a great variety of incident – a wonderful variety <change> of tune tones produced from a single string. & the battles are the best I know. they must be good if you can extract a system of armour from them. I shall be glad of it for a better purpose than a frontispiece to Amadis – it will help my history. I often found my armorial vocabulary scant, & was obliged to give the strait forward meaning of the thing, having no name for it. but I did give every thing scrupulously.

The Arcadia [7]  is the work of a noble intellect – almost Shakesperian in its powers of language. yet it is too intricate in story, too tangled with episodes. You like it better than Amadis because with all its trickery of thought there is a pomp of fancy & a power of words in the narration peculiar to England & to the summer season of English genius. but the character of Amadis is naked narration – the plain fact plainly told with little variety of phrase. I scarcely know any book so completely prose. but Sidney was a Poet – a great & admirable poet, tho he wrote bad verses & worse metre: yet some of his sonnets xx have a fine & knight-like flow of thought & feeling.

You & Turner puzzle me by your Nicostrata [8]  – which is indeed no wonder for I have scarcely any documents yet for the Gothic period of Spanish history nor indeed, except in the laws, shall I enter at all minutely into that period. That black court-hand cannot be what he introduced – that must be the French or Roman letter introduced by authority when the poor Gulfilans were ejected.

Pray, pray set at Malthus. [9]  put some stones into my sling to knock down that clumsy Goliath [10]  of the philosophistuli of the day. send me what you will I shall not scruple at plain language. it is my hearts desire to put his rascally book to death & damnation.



Wednesday July 27.

Our market-folk this day unanimously refuse to take the small bank of England bills. Bristol paper [11]  they receive without hesitation.


* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS/ July 27, 1803
MS: Huntington Library, RS 38. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 222-225. BACK

[1] In Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803) the father of Oriana, Amadis’s beloved. BACK

[2] Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’ (1394-1460), patron of Portuguese voyages of discovery down the west coast of Africa. BACK

[3] Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo (d. 1504), Spanish author who arranged the first publication of the story of Amadis of Gaul in 1508 and wrote the first sequel, Las Sergas de Esplandian (1510). BACK

[4] Vasco de Lobeira (d. 1403), medieval troubadour who Southey mistakenly believed to be the originator of Amadis of Gaul. BACK

[5] A wizard who persecutes the hero in Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[6] Brother of the Emperor of Rome who contested a notable battle against the hero in Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[7] Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586; DNB), Arcadia (1590). BACK

[8] In legend, Nicostrata (or Carmenta) was the daughter of Ionius, King of Arcadia. She and her son settled on the site of the future city of Rome, where she invented the alphabet used in Latin and taught it to the local people. Rickman and Turner had drawn Southey’s attention to a Latin verse quoted in Pietro Crinito (1475-1507), De Honesta Disciplina (1504), Book 17, which told this story and claimed that an alphabet was taught to the Goths by Gulfilas (c. 311-382), Arian bishop of the Visigoths, before they settled in Spain. In fact, Gulfilas invented a specific Gothic alphabet when he translated the Bible into Gothic. The Visigoths did not reject Arianism for Catholicism until 589 and their Kingdom in Spain lasted until the Arab invasion of 711-712. The Gothic rite remained widespread in the Spanish Church until the 11th century. BACK

[9] Thomas Malthus (1766-1834; DNB). He had just published a second edition of his An Essay on the Principle of Population (1803), identifying himself as the author for the first time. BACK

[10] 1 Samuel 17 tells the story of Goliath, a giant of the Philistine people. BACK

[11] Bank notes issued by Bristol banks. BACK

People mentioned

Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 1 time)