3321. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19 June 1819

3321. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19 June 1819⁠* 

Can it possibly be true that a Committee of the H. C. has determined the Plague not to be contagious?? [1]  – They make sad work when they get upon metaphysics (bullion, [2]  – to wit, & a standard of value) – but for Gods sake let them take care how they meddle with physics, – & legislate upon such a theory! Endemic diseases can only be produced in two ways, – by contagion, as itch, small pox &c – or by some principle in the atmosphere as at Batavia, Walcheren [3]  &c. The plague is certainly not produced by the latter cause, though Europeans, xx if they insulate themselves while it is raging in any Mahomedan city, always escape. Ergo – I impaled Dr Adams [4]  once upon that syllogism, who was the great advocate of this monstrous notion. – The fact is notorious, & the inference perfectly irresistible.

Keswick. 19 June 1819.

My dear Wynn

You will wonder perhaps at the direction of the inclosed. It is in reply to a letter about the institution at Bailbrook, – which I have promised to bring before the public in the QR. with a very sincere desire of assisting so useful a scheme. [5] 

You have given the newspapers a wholesome lesson, tho the gentleman whose name is so carefully kept out of them escaped more cheaply than he deserved, – for as for the defence, – as the men man said about Gullivers Travels, I do not believe above half of it. [6]  But unless some such checks are given, & the newspaper–writers made to stand in some fear of Parliament, Parliament will very soon stand in fear of them. And so far am I from joining in the praise so liberally bestowed upon those gentlemen xxx in general, that I verily believe them to be among the very worst members of the community.

I shall finish my Brazil [7]  in less than a week. A sheet is on the table before me, – & a sheet of Wesley also. [8] Your godson is going on well.

God bless you


I was a good deal shocked yesterday by seeing Daunceys [9]  death in the newspaper. – somewhat the more so because I had <just> been up Skiddaw for the first time this year, – & the last time that I was on it had been in company with him & his daughters. His loss will be severely felt by his family, I fear in every way.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P/ Whitehall/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 22 JU 22/ 1819
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 2p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] A Select Committee on the ‘Doctrine of Contagion in the Plague’ was approved on 11 February 1819 and its Report was ordered to be printed on 14 June 1819. The committee’s supporters were anxious to relax the quarantine laws. BACK

[2] The House of Commons was debating legislation to recommence the convertibility of paper currency to gold, which had been suspended since 1797. The legislation passed on 2 July 1819 and convertibility was restored on 1 May 1821, but the period 1819–1821 witnessed a fall in commodity prices and rising unemployment. BACK

[3] Batavia had long been notorious as a site of fever. For example, the British army captured it from the Dutch in August 1811 and the linguist John Leyden (1775–1811; DNB) died of fever during the campaign. The unsuccessful British expedition to Walcheren in the Netherlands in July–December 1809 had been decimated by ‘Walcheren Fever’. BACK

[4] Joseph Adams (1756–1818; DNB), who lived at Madeira 1796–1805 and was a crucial figure in the promotion of vaccination. In his Inquiry into the Laws of Different Epidemic Diseases (London, 1809), pp. 40–59, he had asserted that plague arose from poor sanitation in towns. BACK

[5] Lady Isabella Lettice King (1772–1845; DNB) founded the Ladies’ Association at Bailbrook House, near Bath, in June 1816. It provided a home for orphaned gentlewomen with no income and was duly praised by Southey in his review of Thomas Fosbrooke (1770–1842; DNB), British Monachism; or, Manners and Customs of the Monks and Nuns of England (1817), Quarterly Review, 22 (July 1819), 59–102 (96–101). BACK

[6] On 15 June 1819 Wynn had brought to the House of Commons’ attention the reports in The Times for 9 June 1819 of a debate in the Commons, which (incorrectly) suggested that Canning had been attacked for ‘habitually turning into ridicule the sufferings of his fellow creatures’. The shorthand writer who submitted the report was summoned to the House to explain himself and was committed to the custody of the serjeant-at-arms until he was released the following day with a reprimand. The name of the reporter was not mentioned in The Times, 15 June 1819 (probably Southey’s source of information), but he was John Payne Collier (1789–1883; DNB). His defence was that he had not heard the debate properly and had been given inaccurate information by ‘a stranger’. Jonathan Swift’s (1667–1745; DNB), Gulliver’s Travels (1726) was entirely fictional. BACK

[7] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[8] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[9] Philip Dauncey (1759–1819), barrister, mainly practising in the Court of Exchequer. He had been married to Marie Dolignon (1769–1804), the daughter of Elizabeth Dolignon, who was effectively Southey’s guardian when he was at Westminster School, and had visited Southey in 1818; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 November 1818, Letter 3204. Philip Dauncey had two daughters: Louisa Dauncey, who married Robert Bill, and Mary Sophia Dauncey, who married, in 1826, John Henry Latham (c. 1796–1873), a West India merchant. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)