2957. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 26 March 1817

2957. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 26 March 1817⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I do not by any means regret the application to Chancery, [1]  – it was the strait-forward course, – & the question could not have been referred to a Court of Law (being so plain a case) if a false defence [2]  had not been set up & supported by perjury. – There is a strong impression upon my mind that Winterbottom is dead; & it is much less xxx improbable to me that a fellow should have been found to xxxx swear falsely in his name, than that he, – a Dissenting Minister – & a man who was said to have undergone the same change in his opinions as I have done, should in the first place be guilty of so base an act as to publish the book & then to defend the act by a direct perjury. My Magazines in which it appears to me that I have read of his death are unluckily forty miles off at the binders. But I have taken measures for ascertaining this matter; – & if it should prove that I my suspicions are well founded the transaction will assume a very different aspect from what it now wears.

Luckily I have the rough draft of my first Letter, – & shall therefore throw them both into one, [3]  – but this I will delay till I have satisfied myself about Winterbottom.

A word or two about my intolerance. I xx recollect but two persons of whom I have spoken with acrimony in the true sense of the word. Whitbread in the Register, – & Joseph Lancaster. [4]  In the first case I was treating of a leading politician whose opinions would have laid this country at Buonapartes [5]  mercy, – in the second I was exposing one whom I knew to be a quack, a rogue, & a liar. As for my allusions to the Ed. Review [6]  it would surprize me much if I were censured for speaking as I think upon that subject, abstaining as I have uniformly done from any thing in the way of personal defence during fifteen years of continual attack on their part. In the article which Wm Smith pulld out of his pocket [7]  I have called Hunt an incendiary for one of the wickedest paragraphs xxx that ever was written; – & I have bestowed the same appellation upon Cobbett: [8] xx can any man in his senses think them misapplied? And for the passage which Wm Smith read (p. 227) xx it xxxxxx xx it neither names any individual nor alludes to any, x but deals in generals, relating to those metaphysicians who begin by denying the difference between right & wrong. Of such men as myself there is plain mention (p 237) [9]  – & so far have I been from having ever sought to put my former opinions in the shade, – that they are placed in broad day light in the Pilgrimage to Waterloo; [10]  – nor have I ever cancelled a line in my early poems on this account; – They who blame me for intolerance should remember xxx the abuse which has been incessantly poured upon me

Wilberforce wrote me a very handsome letter upon Wm Smiths conduct, saying that he felt as if he had to clear his own character from a stain till he assured me that he was not in the house at the time [11] 

It will be unfortunate if I should miss you on my transit. I shall be in London (God willing) on the 17th pass a week with my Uncle in Hampshire & leave London for the continent if possible on the 1st of May.

God bless you


26 March. 1817.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ Vale Royal/ Northwich
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: 26 March/ 1817
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 67–69. BACK

[1] Southey’s application to the Court of Chancery for an injunction to prevent the publication of Wat Tyler was refused on 18–19 March 1817. BACK

[2] Winterbotham had claimed that Southey had given Wat Tyler to him and Daniel Isaac Eaton (1753–1814; DNB) to publish and had surrendered any copyright in the work. BACK

[3] Southey had written two letters which he originally hoped to publish in the Courier: the ‘first letter’ was Southey to William Smith, 17 March 1817 (Letter 2943). This was followed by a second, Southey to the Editor of the Courier [19 March 1817] (Letter 2946). These two letters were sent to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, on 17 and 19 March 1817 (Letters 2944 and 2948), for him to forward to the newspaper. In the event, Wynn’s absence from home led to a delay in his receiving the letters. By the time he did so, the public debate had moved on and Southey therefore decided not to publish them in the Courier, but instead to incorporate them into his pamphlet A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (1817). BACK

[4] Southey regularly denounced the radical MP, Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB), for his opposition to the war in Spain, e.g. Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 303 and Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 295–296. His criticisms of Joseph Lancaster’s educational schemes were collected in The Origin, Nature, and Object of the New System of Education (1812). BACK

[5] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815). BACK

[6] Southey had publicly criticised the Edinburgh Review on a number of occasions, e.g. in Carmen Triumphale (1814). He returned to the attack in A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (London, 1817), refuting the Edinburgh’s accusation that he was guilty of ‘vindictive and jealous writings’ (p. 9) and claiming that he ‘accepted the hatred of sciolists, coxcombs, and profligates, as one sure proof that I was deserving well of the wise and of the good’ (p. 11). BACK

[7] Smith had denounced Southey in the House of Commons on 14 March 1817 in the debate on the Seditious Meetings Bill, condemning ‘the settled, determined malignity of a renegado’ and comparing Southey’s arguments against radical views in the Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 227, with those expressed in Wat Tyler (1817), Act 2, lines 103–112. BACK

[8] In the Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 273 Southey drew attention to a paragraph in Leigh Hunt’s Examiner, 9 (8 December 1816), 769. The latter dealt with the injuries of a man attacked during the Spa Fields insurrection of 2 December 1816. Although the Examiner condemned the assault, it called ‘the corruptionists, who in luxury and cold blood can provoke such excesses, greater scoundrels’. Southey’s Quarterly essay (275) also attacked William Cobbett for stating that the revolutionaries at Spa Fields were unconnected to the organisers of the meeting, Political Register, 31 (7 December 1816), 733. BACK

[9] Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 236–7, dealt with those (among whom Southey included himself) who had opposed the war against Revolutionary France in 1793–1802 through a ‘deep, though mistaken principle’, but supported war against Napoleonic France in 1803–15 because they ‘loved liberty’. BACK

[10] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), e.g. Part Two, Book 2, ‘The Evil Prophet’, stanza 6. BACK

[11] Southey wrote to Wilberforce thanking him on 23 March 1817 (Letter 2953). BACK

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