2970. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, Easter Sunday [6 April 1817]

2970. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, Easter Sunday [6 April 1817]⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I have thrown my letters to Wm Smith together & expanded them into a pamphlett of some 24 pages. [1]  They are of course materially altered. The only remaining passage of those to which you object is the speech of Bentley, [2]  – & this I will strike out when the proof arrives, – in deference to your feeling. It does not offend my own cool judgement, – nor did I ever see it adduced as a proof of arrogance in Bentley, but rather as a saying in which he was perfectly warranted. Johnsons letter to Macpherson [3]  was never censured for its tone. – However I will expunge all that I think would displease you in its manner, – the general tone cannot be changed, it is that of a man who feels himself wantonly & grossly injured. I have taken care to use the proper qualifications of which you are said to have asserted &c –– Rickman, Bedford, my brother & Turner will see it before it is printed, – I shall know their opinions before I return the proof sheets, – so nothing will be done rashly. I have spoken upon duelling, to declare why I have not challenged him, if he challenges me after this, for branding him with the appellation of slanderer, he will do it with a full knowledge that I shall appeal to the laws. [4] 

Where my dear Wynn are the proofs of this intolerance of which you speak? I know not towards whom I have been intolerant except it be Buonaparte [5]  – & I believe he does not come within the pale of your toleration. The language of the Ed Register while it was in my hands is that of a man who felt strongly & spoke plainly, but who made no difference between Trojan & Tyrian. [6]  In the Quarterly I have rarely had any thing to do with politics, except in the two last numbers, [7]  & the man who censures the last number paper must stand up for Hunt [8]  & Cobbett. You probably know better than I do myself the manner in which I have been assailed ever since I was made Laureate – has the intolerance been on my side?

This affair would not have affected me more than the blowing of the wind if it had not made my wife seriously ill: & thus <it> has vexed me so much, that I would certainly have challenged Wm Smith if a sense of duty did not withold me.

I have been greatly harassed & interrupted about the House which I inhabit, – an Extent is issued against the Estate, [9]  – & it will be sold in the course of the summer. I would fain have put off my journey in consequence, but I do not like to disappoint my companions, [10]  & moreover change of air, scene & circumstance is almost necessary for me. I have not recovered & never shall recover last years affliction: [11]  & my worldly prospects are improving when I have no longer a heart to enjoy them. Were it not for these children [12]  I should wish to be in yonder churchyard, – this world has nothing to give me, & my heart as well as my hopes are in the next –

God bless you my dear Wynn


Easter Sunday


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ Norton/ near/ Warrington
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: 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, 69–70 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey had sent Wynn two letters, 17 March and 19 March 1817 (Letters 2944 and 2948), in response to the publication of his juvenile Jacobin play, Wat Tyler, and William Smith’s denunciation of Southey in the House of Commons on 14 March 1817 in the debate on the Seditious Meetings Bill, where he condemned ‘the settled, determined malignity of a renegado’ and compared 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. The letters to Wynn contained two letters for publication: to William Smith, 17 March 1817; and to the Editor of the Courier [19 March 1817] (Letters 2943 and 2946). These did not appear, but formed the basis of the pamphlet, A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (1817). BACK

[2] Richard Bentley (1662–1742; DNB), classical scholar and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Richard Cumberland (1732–1811; DNB) had reported that when a schoolmaster had promised to make Cumberland as learned as his grandfather, Richard Bentley, the latter had exclaimed to the schoolmaster: ‘Pshaw, Arthur, how can that be, when I have forgot more than thou ever knew’st?’, Memoirs of Richard Cumberland. Written by Himself, 2 vols (London, 1807), II, p. 33. Southey removed this passage. BACK

[3] Samuel Johnson’s (1709–1784; DNB) famous letter to James Macpherson (1736–1796; DNB), 20 January 1775, after Macpherson had responded to Johnson’s charge that the Fragments of Ancient Poetry (1760) was a forgery, rather than a translation from Gaelic. Johnson’s letter began ‘I received your foolish and impudent letter ..’ and continued in the same vein. BACK

[4] A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M. P. (London, 1817), p. 28, called Smith a ‘SLANDERER’, but only if he had referred to Southey as a ‘Renegade’ in his speech in the Commons on 14 March 1817 (he had). However, any reference to duelling was removed from the pamphlet; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 13 April 1817, Letter 2976. BACK

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

[6] Publius Virgilus Maro (70–19 BC), Aeneid, Book 1, line 574. Southey had written the historical sections of the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808–1811 (1810–1813). BACK

[7] Southey’s articles: ‘Works on England’, Quarterly Review, 15 (July 1816), 537–574 and ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278. BACK

[8] Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (1773–1835; DNB), radical politician. BACK

[9] Greta Hall had suffered from the complicated financial and legal entanglements of its owner, Samuel Tolson Jnr (dates unknown) who was by April 1817 in Carlisle jail for debt; a creditor had taken out an injunction (an ‘extent in aid’) against him, seeking recompense by forcing a sale of the estate. BACK

[11] The death of Southey’s son, Herbert, on 17 April 1816. BACK

[12] Southey’s daughters, Edith May, Bertha, Kate and Isabel. BACK

People mentioned

Smith, William (1756–1835) (mentioned 2 times)
Southey, Isabel (1812–1826) (mentioned 1 time)
Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Herbert (1806–1816) (mentioned 1 time)
Cobbett, William (1763–1835) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Bertha (1809–1877) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)