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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to John Rickman, 20 November 1808

Vol. I Contents
Early Life: I
Early Life: II
Early Life: III
Early Life: IV
Early Life: V
Early Life: VI
Early Life: VII
Early Life: VIII
Early Life: IX
Early Life: X
Early Life: XI
Early Life: XII
Early Life: XIII
Early Life: XIV
Early Life: XV
Early Life: XVI
Early Life: XVII
Ch. I. 1791-93
Ch. II. 1794
Ch. III. 1794-95
Ch. IV. 1796
Ch. V. 1797
Vol. II Contents
Ch. VI. 1799-1800
Ch. VII. 1800-1801
Ch. VIII. 1801
Ch. IX. 1802-03
Ch. X. 1804
Ch. XI. 1804-1805
Vol. III Contents
Ch. XII. 1806
Ch. XIII. 1807
Ch. XIV. 1808
Ch. XV. 1809
Ch. XVI. 1810-1811
Ch. XVII. 1812
Vol. IV Contents
Ch. XVIII. 1813
Ch. XIX. 1814-1815
Ch. XX. 1815-1816
Ch. XXI. 1816
Ch. XXII. 1817
Ch. XXIII. 1818
Ch. XXIV. 1818-1819
Vol. IV Appendix
Vol. V Contents
Ch. XXV. 1820-1821
Ch. XXVI. 1821
Ch. XXVII. 1822-1823
Ch. XXVIII. 1824-1825
Ch. XXIX. 1825-1826
Ch. XXX. 1826-1827
Ch. XXXI. 1827-1828
Vol. V Appendix
Vol. VI Contents
Ch. XXXII. 1829
Ch. XXXIII. 1830
Ch. XXXIV. 1830-1831
Ch. XXXV. 1832-1834
Ch. XXXVI. 1834-1836
Ch. XXXVII. 1836-1837
Ch. XXXVIII. 1837-1843
Vol. VI Appendix
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“Nov. 20. 1808.
“My dear Rickman,

“The earliest chronicle in French is that of Geoffrey Vilhardouin, so often quoted by Gibbon, which relates the capture of Constantinople by the Latins, and is, therefore, long subsequent to My Cid. I believe the earliest histories of the Normans are in Latin, and believe also that all Latin chronicles will be found either as you describe them, or florid and pedantic. Men never write with feeling in any language but their own; they never write well upon subjects with which they do not sympathise; and what sympathy could there ever be between monks and chivalry? My Cid is the finest specimen of chivalrous history: it is so true a book that it bespeaks belief for the story of his victory after death, and it requires arguments and dates to prove that this part is not authentic.

“I am brimful of this kind of knowledge, and much more of it will appear in the first vol. of Portuguese History than in the Cid. There are two other subjects on which I am as well informed as those for which you give me credit*,—savage manners and monastic history; and the latter, not the least curious of the whole, certainly the most out-of-

* “Two out-of-the-way things, you certainly know better than all other men—Eastern fable and European chivalry and romance; and this nobody will dispute who has read the annotations to Thalaba and My Cid.” J. R. to R. S.

Ætat. 34. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 191
the-way. It is a little unlucky that the least interesting of all my histories must come out first.

“The Saxon language, you say, ousted the Welsh as completely as its possessors. But there is reason to believe that a part only of our prior population was Celtic, and that we had previously hived Teutonic and Cantabrian swarms. A Basque dictionary would be a treasure; none of our etymologists have had recourse to it. I was told by the only person I ever met with who had studied this language, that there was far more of it than had been supposed both in the Spanish and Portuguese,—about as much, probably, as we have of Welsh. Bilbao would be the place to get Basque books; but I will try to obtain a dictionary through Frere, who has offered his services to my uncle in this line,—a new species of diplomacy of more use than the old.

“In one point, and only in one, does China offer—an exception to the evil consequences of polygamy*, and that is, it has remained an undivided empire. This, I suppose, is owing to the unique circumstance of its having a literary aristocracy, all subordinate authority being in the hands of men whose education

* “In your introduction to My Cid, I was not surprised that you insist largely on the evils of polygamy, knowing that to be your particular aversion. I myself do not admire polygamy, nor much more that idea of Dr. Johnson’s, that happiness would not be less in quantity if all marriages were made by law without consulting the inclinations of the couples. However, in taking a general view, we must not forget that the largest and most populous empire in the world, China, goes on pretty well under both these inconveniences, for I think in fairness you will allow that the want of an alphabet accounts sufficiently for the frozen limits of Chinese science, without calling in the aid of polygamy or of aught else.”—J. R. to R. S. Oct. 12, 1808.

and whose habits of life make them averse to war. Robbers are the only rebels there; the demoralising effects of the system are the same there as everywhere.
Shuey-ping-sin* exemplifies that. I have not asserted that it is a barrier to intellectual improvement otherwise than as that must be checked by public disturbances and private voluptuousness. The want of an alphabet in China is certainly cause sufficient; but it is a supererogatory cause, for those Orientals who have one are not advanced a step farther. For an effect so general there must be some general cause, operating under so many varieties of climate and religion; and this is the only one which has universally existed.

“I recommend and exhort you to read Captain Beaver’s African Memoranda; you will find a book and a man after your own heart: I would walk to the Land’s End to have the satisfaction of shaking hands with him. . . . .

“God bless you!

R. S.”