Letters written during a short residence in Spain and Portugal . . . with some account of Spanish and Portuguese poetry.

Bristol, printed by Bulgin & Rosser, for Joseph Cottle, and Robinson, Cadell & Davies, London, 1797.

8vo, pp. [iii]–xx, 551, [1, errata], without the half-title; occasional spotting, upper outer corner of one leaf torn away (E5, not affecting text); contemporary calf-backed boards; minor wear, spine slightly faded; from the library of Ian Robertson (1928–2020).


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First edition. A descriptive narrative of Southey’s travels in Spain and Portugal during a visit to his uncle from December 1795 to May 1796. The Letters, Southey’s first published work in prose, describe ‘the arduous land journey from Coruña, the port of landing, to Madrid, and thence to Lisbon, and provides a detailed account of the places visited and the discomforts of travelling’ (Curry, Southey p. 31). The Letters became instantly popular, a second edition appearing in 1799 and a third in 1808.

Within a short time of landing at La Coruña, Southey had become adept in Spanish and Portuguese, and was dedicating himself to the study of the Peninsula’s poetry, much of which he translated and incorporated into the Letters, where he claimed: ‘The Spanish poets please me better than the Portuguese; they possess more dignity, and they are not infected by that national vanity which characterises their neighbours, and which, though it may be very patriotic, is very ridiculous. Camoens, indeed, is as much superior to his countrymen as he is below his Italian competitors; but after his name is mentioned, we may seek in vain to equal the wit of Quevedo, the genius of Luis de León, and the sententious strength of the Leonardos’ (pp. 373–4).

‘Although Southey was not aware of the importance at the time, his few months in Spain and Lisbon were to influence his life significantly. From his residence and from the opportunities for study he received came the impetus to make himself a leading authority upon matters Spanish and Portuguese during his generation and to widen his circle of friends to include those with more cosmopolitan interests’ (Curry, Southey p. 33). Later works, such as the History of the Peninsular war (1823–32) and his epic poem, Roderick, the last of the Goths (1814), owe much to this period of Southey’s life.

NCBEL III 255; Palau 320963. See Robertson, Los curiosos impertinentes (1992) pp. 92–5.

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