1139. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [31 December 1805 –] 2–3 January 1806

1139. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [31 December 1805 –] 2–3 January 1806 ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

I shall not visit London till the end of March or the beginning of April. Then indeed if you were in Wales I should very gladly rest myself with you on the way.

Your Xmas I hope is a merrier one than mine. The Influenza has thought proper to make me in the fashion – I have been ill this fortnight, & now when recovering Edith is just seized with it. It has left me miserably weak – tomorrow I begin a course of bark. [1]  – I never saw the friend whose death you mention nor do I recollect his name.

Have you ever looked in Fordun? [2]  I bought it in Scotland because it is so cheap & must become dearer. It is a rigmarole of good stories which will supply notes or ballads ad infinitum.

I am sorry to say that I am as impatient to get out of my own country as other people are to return to it. – but the fault is in my constitution. I am as susceptible of climate as a green-house plant, & xxxx shall fairly be nipped at root if I do not get into a favourable aspect.


Jany 2.

Three days have mended me, tho I have not yet fairly resumed my usual course of life.

I have found out matter of comfort in the campaign. That as the end was to be so thoroughly ruinous, it is better that it should be settled speedily than be ten years about, like the last war, because we shall have so much the less to pay for it. I confess I have been miserably deceived – I did hope that such a confederacy might have been done something, notwithstanding Fox’s prescience. As it is I do not think the issue will be eventually disastrous to Europe, tho undoubtedly its immediate consequences will. Bonaparte is now what Charlemagne [3]  was – the great object of his ambition. But the difference of language will prevent Spain, Italy & the German States from ever becoming integral parts of the French Empire. Three generations will be enough to spoil any imperial breed in the world – perhaps two & probably so, & Bonaparte cannot, in the course of nature be a long lived man. The wear-&-tear is too great. A twenty years peace will kill off the best French generals, & reduce the army to a level with other armies. A twenty years <peace> will consolidate the Italian kingdom, & the more extensive that kingdom is made the better, for it must ultimately fall off from France. In Germany whatever tends to the destruction of the House of Austria, eventually does good. It is a barbarizing power – the Ottoman House of Europe. The only one of the breed who ever loved anything intellectual was Joseph, [4]  & he was light-headed all his life. Germany will do well, if Prussia can so compound as to get Hanover. Of the Empire I think there is an end, & the world has no loss in it.

England meantime has a plain straight-forward course to pursue. To let the continent alone – let the West Indies alone – take the Cape – take the Mauritian & the xxx French E. Indian Isles – & take Egypt. In short take whatever we can, & keep all we take, always avowing that we will never give up anything at peace – & that we are ready to make peace whenever France our enemies please. Our squadrons & cruisers should be increased so as fairly to sweep the seas, – & the people armed at home, boys being trained to arms, as a regular part of school education. Then let the French come if they can, & they will find the shore as fatal as the sea.

Have you read Thiebaults Anecdotes of Frederic the Great? [5]  a very amusing book which shows him to have been as great a brute as Peter, [6]  only in a different way. – Since his time as great a change has taken place in the art of war, as in our stage representations, – & I conceive much of the same nature, there is more effect – but not more skill. When I read of three Emperors in battle & French armies advancing into Hungary I cannot help thinking of the Emperors of Constantinople & Trebisond, [7]  a feeling that Palmerin of England [8]  xxxxxx may be called probable by prophecy.

God bless you


Jany 3. 1806.

Tell me what you think of my proposed alteration in Madoc.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Jan. 3. 1806
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Dating note: Southey states he has been ill for ‘three days’, in resuming the letter on 2 Jan 1806. BACK

[1] ‘Fever Bark’ was a popular treatment for illnesses such as influenza. BACK

[2] John Fordun, (d. in or after 1363; DNB), was a compiler of historical works relating to Scotland which, in the 1440s, became incorporated in the more extensive Scotichronicon of Walter Bower (1385–1449; DNB). Southey owned a copy of the Scotichronicon, continued by Bower, the most elaborate work of Latin literature to survive from medieval Scotland. The book was no. 966 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[3] Charlemagne (742–814) was King of the Franks 768–814 and Holy Roman Emperor 800–814. BACK

[4] Joseph II (1741–1790), Holy Roman Emperor from 1765 to 1790 and ruler of the Habsburg lands from 1780 to 1790. A modernising Enlightenment monarch. BACK

[5] Dieudonné Thiébault (1733–1807), Original Anecdotes of Frederic the Second, King of Prussia, and of his Family, his Court, his Ministers, his Academies, and his Literary Friends: Collected During a Familiar Intercourse of Twenty Years with that Prince (1805). Southey reviewed this work in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 488–495. BACK

[6] Peter I, known as ‘the Great’ (Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov; 1672–1725, ruler of Russia 1682–1725). BACK

[7] The emperor of Trebizond (on the south eastern shore of the Black Sea) was the vassal successively of the Roman emperor at Constantinople, then of the Seljuk Sultan, then the Byzantine emperor. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 left the Trebizond emperor paying tribute; after he changed his allegiance his city was taken by the Ottomans and the imperial family executed. BACK

[8] Southey published an English translation of Palmerin of England, by Francisco Moraes in 1807. Its hero is also made a subordinate of the emperor in Constantinople. BACK

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