3657. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23 March 1821

3657. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23 March 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 23 March. 1821.

My dear Wynn

Your confession that you dislike the Vision of Judgement [1]  less than you expected, is more gratifying to me than half the compliments that I shall receive, for you know I anticipated from the beginning your hearty disapproval. A great many of the persons who usually write to me on such occasions are just now waiting to see which way the wind of public opinion will set in. But among the poets I may call for a division & count a majority.

I am very much amused at your account of Murray & the literatuli, & at their concern for my devoted head. Lord Byron had deserved more than this at my hands; [2]  but what I have written proceeded from a sense of duty, not from any personal resentment, – if any personal feeling existed, it was a latent apprehension that some undeserved censure might attach to me for the scandalous silence of the QR. concerning Don Juan. As for Murrays anticipated contest I have no itch for controversy & will never be drawn into one. [3]  <Only> If Ld B. provokes it I will read him a lecture somewhat more at length, & such a one as will last quite as long as his Lordships works.

My hope for Europe was that the Spanish Revolution would have reached its stage of blood soon enough to deter all other nations from entering upon the same course. [4]  My fears are now like yours, – & perhaps more for Germany (especially the Prussian States) than for France & Brabant; – for if Germany were sound, the spirit might once more be abated by force of arms. Great part of the evil proceeded from the English newspapers, from the language held in Parliament, & from the foreign journals printed in England, – to these latter the movements in Portugal & Brazil may directly be ascribed. [5]  If the Portugueze Embassadors had done their duty they should long ago have called upon this Government to send the editors & their journals out of the country by the Alien Act, or at least have prosecuted them. [6] 

The Austrians [7]  say of themselves Nous serons les derniers, [8]  – looking upon the event as inevitable. Shall we escape? I should say certainly not, if I looked merely at human causes, for here the tendency of every thing is to the utter overthrow of our Institutions; – forgive me if I include ca the Catholic question among the cooperating causes of destruction. [9]  – But I have a trust in Providence & in that trust a chearing & steady hope, – which if it rested upon any other foundation would be utterly unreasonable.

My feelings upon this subject were expressed in the last New Years Ode, which Bedford may perhaps have shown you. [10]  If you have not seen it, I will send it you, as it may be long before it gets to the Press, & tho I have no talent for lyrical compositions [MS missing] was written rapidly & earnestly.

I think you need not be alarmed at Watkins [11]  tendency to Croup: there is a spurious form of the disease, which frequently recurs, & which is more alarming than dangerous. I know this by experience.

I am reading, for the second time, Michaelis’s Commentaries on the Laws of Moses, in an English translation, [12]  – certainly one of the most able & important books that I have ever perused. He wishes thexx introduction of slavery as a punishment, – this is very unlike his usual sagacity, for he seems to forget the effect which slavery produces upon the Master.

God bless you



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ Whitehall/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 26 MR 26/ 1821
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 238–239. BACK

[1] A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[2] Southey is primarily referring to the first two Cantos of Byron’s Don Juan (1819), published by Murray. The coruscating and hilarious ‘Dedication’, which attacked Southey and others, had been suppressed (and was not published until 1833), but Southey undoubtedly knew of its existence. His response was A Vision of Judgement (London, 1821), ‘Preface’, pp. xvii–xxii, where he denounced ‘the Satanic school’ of poetry without naming any one poet. BACK

[3] Unfortunately for Southey, a ‘contest’ with Byron did ensue from A Vision of Judgement (1821). Byron attacked Southey in the ‘Appendix’ to ‘The Two Foscari’, Sardanapalus, A Tragedy. The Two Foscari, A Tragedy. Cain, A Mystery (London, 1821), p. 328, and Southey responded with his letter to the Editor of the Courier (5 January 1822). The letter appeared in the Courier on 11 January 1822. Byron’s parody, The Vision of Judgment (1822), however, provided him with a crushing victory. BACK

[4] The first of a series of revolutions in Europe in 1820 had broken out in Spain in January–March 1820, when troops being sent to fight the revolutionaries in South America had mutinied. BACK

[5] Southey is particularly referring to Correio Braziliense (1808–1822), a Portuguese journal published in London, no. 3203 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. A liberal revolution in Portugal in August 1820 had led to the election of a Cortes and demands for the monarchy to return from Brazil, where it had fled in 1807–1808. BACK

[6] The Aliens Act (1793) required all aliens to register with local Justices of the Peace, and ensured they could be detained or deported. BACK

[7] Austria had crushed the revolution in Naples in March 1821 and presented itself as the main supporter of the existing order in Europe. BACK

[8] ‘we will be the last’. BACK

[9] Southey was opposed to granting full political rights to Catholics, while Wynn was in favour. BACK

[10] ‘The Warning Voice. Ode II’, Southey’s New Year’s Ode for 1821 as Poet Laureate, was not published until it appeared in The Englishman’s Library: Comprising a Series of Historical, Biographical and National Information (London, 1824), pp. 384–389. BACK

[11] Watkin Williams Wynn (1816–1832), at this time Wynn’s only son. BACK

[12] Johann David Michaelis (1717–1791), Mosaisches Recht (1770–1775), translated as Commentaries on the Laws of Moses (London, 1814), p. 157. Southey noted Michaelis’s views in Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols (London, 1829), I, p. 71. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)