3683. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 8 May 1821

3683. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 8 May 1821⁠* 

My dear Wynn

During the last year or year & half that I was at Westminster one imposition served me: – after it was given up & laid on the table, it was regularly abstracted either by myself or the Αναξ ανδρων, [1]  for whom I performed the like service; & so it lasted till the appearance of the quartan [2]  might have betrayed its history to an observant eye. Something like this I have now good hope of effecting with my Official Odes. It was notified to Shield that one would be required this year; & one having been made ready (which to him is really a serious labour, the mere transcribing the music being a weeks work for an industrious copyist!) he is plainly mortified that it has not been called for. I on the other hand, am exceedingly well pleased, meaning not to write any thing else upon St Georges Day, as long as this can be kept in reserve. [3] 

I am very glad to hear that you are concerned with the Records, especially if it is likely to accelerate a work so much wanted as that of a Corpus Hist. [4]  What I fear is that it will be very slowly performed, – which to a man who wishes to make use of it is a serious consideration. These things are best done by an efficient Academy, where there are no monastic institutions, or none who maintain a character for erudition. Such an Academy might render very great service to British literature, – but the scheme which was lately talkd of was absurd enough to make the very name ridiculous. [5] 

Do you know that the late Ld Lansdown [6]  while he was in office transferred some very valuable papers from the public records to his own possession? So Lyon of the Record Office [7]  assured me, with great indignation, he having a xxxx proper sense of the value of such things.

I should like to know what your Corpus is to comprehend, & how far you purpose to come down with it. I hope the Saxon & Welsh remains may be included, – with literal Latin versions. You will want more labourers than one. Paley [8]  should be Commander in Chief, but he should have others under him.

God bless you


8 May 1821.


* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 249–250 [in part]. BACK

[1] ‘King of men’; i.e. Edward Combe. BACK

[2] Something occurring every fourth day; in this case, a schoolboy exercise. BACK

[3] Southey feared that, as Poet Laureate, he would have to write an annual Birthday Ode, as well as a New Year’s Ode. George IV chose to celebrate his ‘official’ birthday on St George’s Day (23 April), unless it fell on a Sunday, in which case it would be celebrated on 24 April. For this occasion in 1821, Southey composed the ‘Ode for St George’s Day’, unpublished until Poetical Works, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), III, pp. 258–262; it was not performed in 1821, or subsequently, and Southey never wrote another Birthday Ode. BACK

[4] Wynn was one of the Commissioners on the Public Records of the Kingdom, a body periodically appointed since 1800 to look into the nation’s archives. He actively supported plans to publish collections of medieval records, as well as series like Statutes of the Realm (1810–1825). BACK

[5] The Royal Society of Literature, set up in 1820. BACK

[6] William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne (1737–1805; DNB), Prime Minister 1782–1783. BACK

[7] Samuel Lysons (1763–1819; DNB), engraver, antiquarian and Keeper of the Records in the Tower of London 1803–1819. BACK

[8] Southey probably meant John Caley (1760–1834; DNB), Secretary to the Record Commission 1801–1831. BACK

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