3698. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 30 June 1821]

3698. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 30 June 1821]⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I wish I had been near enough when Hobhouse spoke of his English friends usage at Milan, [1]  to have supplied you with the main fact which it was not convenient <for him> to tell. – I heard it at Milan. [2]  The English Gentleman was Dr Polidori, [3]  who giving himself English airs at the Opera, tapt an Austrian Officer on the shoulder, & desired him to pull off his hat. The Officer simply looked round at him with some surprize for he happened to be the Commandant of Milan. [4]  Polidori then threatened to take off his hat for him, upon which the Officer walkd with him into the lobby, & deliverd him x into the Centinels care.



* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 1p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, p. 177 [where it is mis-dated ‘[Autumn, 1817]’
Dating note: Southey probably learnt of the speech by Hobhouse, which he mentions in this letter, in the newspapers on 30 June 1821 and wrote immediately to Wynn. BACK

[1] In a debate in the House of Commons on 29 June 1821, John Cam Hobhouse (1786–1869; DNB) stated: ‘Some time since he happened to be in the theatre in Milan, in company with an English physician [John Polidori (1795–1821; DNB)]. His friend being incommoded with the cap of a grenadier officer who stood before him, begged him to take it off that he might see what was going on. To this civil request a rude answer was given, and the Englishman desired the grenadier to walk out of the box. The invitation being immediately complied with, both himself and his friend concluded that the preliminaries of a more particular meeting were immediately to be arranged [i.e. a duel]. The House would judge of their mutual surprise, when, upon crossing a lobby, his friend was seized, put in the guard-house, and next morning desired, by a message from count Saurau [Franz Joseph, Count von Saurau (1760–1832; Austrian Governor of Lombardy 1815–1818], to quit the Milanese immediately. Upon his remonstrating with the count, upon the hardship of the case, the count replied, “I believe you are aware that the same thing might be done in England by lord Castlereagh, [Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769–1822; DNB), Foreign Secretary 1812–1822] under the alien act.”’ BACK

[2] Southey had visited Milan from 14–16 June 1817. BACK

[3] The Anglo-Italian writer and physician, John Polidori, had accompanied Byron to mainland Europe in 1816. After his dismissal in mid-September 1816, Polidori went to Milan. The incident described by Southey and Hobhouse happened on 28 October 1816 at La Scala opera house. Polidori was only saved from worse consequences after the intercession of Byron and a number of other acquaintances. BACK

[4] Probably this was not true: according to John Cam Hobhouse’s Diary entry for 28 October 1816 the officer in question was only a Captain. BACK