1313. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [April 1807]

1313. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [April 1807] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

And so I am a court-pensioner! [1]  It is well that I have not to kiss hands upon the occasion or upon my soul I do not think I could help laughing at the changes & chances of this world. O dear dear Wynn when you & I used to hold debates with poor Bunbury over a pot of porter, how easily could your way of life have been predicted. & how would his & mine have mocked all foresight. And yet mine has been a straight onward path. Nothing more has taken place in me than the ordinary process of beer or wine – of fermenting, & settling, & ripening.

If Snowdon will come to Skiddaw in the summer, Skiddaw will come go to Snowdon at the fall of the leaf. I shall work hard to get the Cid [2]  ready for publication & must x go with it to London, for the sake of getting at a few books in the Museum [3]  & some perhaps at Holland House, [4]  which I have not myself. In that case my intention is to go first to Bristol – & perhaps to Taunton, – & Wales will not be out of my way. – but I wish to show you those parts of this country which you have not seen, which I have since you were here: & to introduce you to the top of Skiddaw, which is an easy mornings walk.

The Specimens [5]  shall be sent you when the cancels are compleated – & I am glad it has not been done sooner for this reason. They call upon me for a supplement [6]  – to supply the numerous omissions which were none of them my making. xx Dapple has made wild work with his mutilations, interpolations, & alterations – & whether the charitable world of book buyers will ever give me an opportunity of setting all this to rights is very doubtful. [7] 

The mystery of this wonderful history of the change in administration is certainly explained; [8]  but who are the Kings advisers? Are they his hopeful sons – or old Lord Liverpool? [9]  – Mr. Simeons [10]  wise remark that the new ministry was better than no ministry at all – put me in mind of a story which might well have been quoted in reply. One of the German Electors when an Englishman was introduced to him thought to hit his national the best thing he could say to him was to remark that it was very bad weather – upon which the Englishman shrugged up his shoulder & replied yes – but it was better than none. – Would not this have told in the house.

You do not shake my opinion concerning the Catholicks. Their religion regards no national distinctions – it teaches them to look at Christendom – & on the Pope as the head thereof, – & the interests of that religion will always be preferred to any thing else. [11]  Bonaparte is aware of this, & is aiming to be the head of a Catholick party in Germany – the scheme is curious. They propagate the nonsense of Jacob Behmen [12]  first – which has already put Kant & Fichte [13]  out of fashion there, – & then when they have prostrated the understanding of the people, the conquest is easy. The main movers of this new propaganda are at Rome, where Coleridge knew some of them, & obtained distinct information upon the xx subject.

So sure as the Catholicks were admitted into the navy so surely would you have a Catholick Chaplain on every ship, – & I would stake my salvation that some of them would be carried into Brest to serve the Anointed Emperor. [14] 

These people have been increasing in England of late years, owing to the number of seminaries established during the French Revolution. It is worth your while to get their Almanack the Lay Directory it is called & published by Brown & Keating – Duke Street – Grosvenor Square. [15]  They are at their old tricks of miracles here and every where else. St Winifred [16]  has lately worked a great one, & is in as high odour as ever she was.

I am for abolishing the test [17]  with regard to every other sect – Jews & all, – but not to the Catholics. They will not tolerate; – the proof is in their whole history, in their whole system, & in their present practice all over Catholick Europe. And it is the nature of their principles now to spread in this country. Methodism & the still wilder sects preparing the way for it. The old remedies have been proved efficient, & should again be enforced. You have no conception of the zeal with which they seek for proselytes, nor the power they have over weak minds, for their system is as well the greatest work of human wisdom as it is of human wickedness. It is curious that the Jesuits exist in England as a body, & have possessions here – a Catholick told me this, & pointed out one in the streets of Norwich – but he could tell me nothing more, & expressed his surprize at it & his curiosity to learn more. Having been abolished by the Pope, they keep up their order secretly, and expect their restoration, which if he be wise Bonaparte will effect. Were I a Catholick that should be the object to which my life should be devoted – I would be the second Loyola. [18] 

Concessions & conciliations will not satisfy the Catholicks like our Llewellyn [19]  – vengeance & the throne xxx xx are what they want. If Ireland were far enough from our shores to be lost without danger to our own security I would say establish the Catholick religion there – as the easiest way of civilizing it, – but Catholic Ireland would always be at the command of the Pope, & the Pope is now at the command of France. It is dismal to think of the state of Ireland. Nothing can redeem that country, xxxx but such measures as none of our statesmen – except perhaps Marquis Wellesley [20]  – would be hardy enough to adopt – nothing but a system of Roman conquest & colonization – & shipping off the refractory savages to the colonies –

England condescends too much to the Catholick religion, & does not hold up her own to sufficient respect in her foreign possessions: & the Catholicks instead of feeling this as an act of indulgence to their xxxxxxx <opinions>, interpret it as an acknowledgment of their superior claims, & insult us in consequence. This is the case of Malta. In India the want of an established Church is a crying xxxxxxxxx evil. Nothing but Missionaries can secure in that country what we have won. The converts <would> immediately become English in their feelings – for like Mahomet we ought to make our language go with our religion – A better policy this than xx that of introducing pig tails after our own home plans of princely reforms – for which Ld W. Bentinck [21]  –with all due respect to him, – or whoever else was the agent in this inconceivable act of folly – ought to be gibbetted upon the top of the highest pagoda in Hindostan.

Xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx

The Devil & his Dam will be a terrible cry to have raised against you. As for me you will not suspect me of any undue bias in favour of our Church Establishment: – a very little alteration would make it xx as good as any Establishment can be, & it is the best extant – but in my own opinions I am as to all essential points so very nearly a Quaker, that if it were not for their non-essential peculiarities I should quietly enter their fold, & no longer be a stray sheep in the land. But just as they, who hold all wars to be forbidden by Christ, think the British navy exceedingly useful – just so do I regard the Church Establishment; – it is our protection against the intolerance of Romish bigotry, or Calvinistic fanaticism.

God bless you


I suppose I shall receive an official confirmation from the Treasury. [22]  – in what manner are these things paid? – do they remit, – or do I draw – as thanks to Lord Melville [23]  – navy officers are now permitted to do from abroad.


* Endorsement: April 1807
MS: National Library of Wales MS 4812D. ALS; 5p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 74–77 [in part]. BACK

[1] Wynn succeeded, before he left office, in arranging that the pension he paid Southey from his personal funds was replaced by a government pension. BACK

[2] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[3] The British Museum. BACK

[4] To take advantage of the library of Spanish books assembled by Henry Richard Vassall-Fox. BACK

[5] Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807), co-edited with Grosvenor Charles Bedford, and published, to Southey’s dismay, with numerous errors. BACK

[6] This was not issued. BACK

[7] Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807), which was jointly edited with Bedford and to Southey’s dismay contained numerous errors. A second edition was not called for. BACK

[8] The so-called Ministry of All the Talents, in which Wynn had served as Under Secretary of State in the Home Office, had broken up because the King would not accede to its plan to introduce an act emancipating Catholics from the civil penalties and restrictions placed upon them. BACK

[9] Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool (1770–1828; DNB). BACK

[10] John Simeon (1756–1824), MP for Reading. BACK

[11] Southey objected to the emancipation of Catholics as it would allow into public office men who were loyal to the Pope rather than to the King. BACK

[12] Jakob Böhme (1575–1624), the German mystic, shoemaker and author of Aurora (1612), admired by German intellectuals and Catholic converts including Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829) and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854). BACK

[13] Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814). BACK

[14] That is, Napoleon. BACK

[15] The Catholic Directory and Annual Register. BACK

[16] Miraculous cures were being claimed at the holy spring of St Winifred at Holywell, north Wales, a site of pilgrimage since the medieval period, where, in the seventh century, St Beuno is said to have restored his niece St Winifred to life after Caradoc, a rejected suitor, had cut off her head. In 1806 John Milner (1752–1826; DNB), the Catholic bishop, published Authentic Documents Relative to the Miraculous Cure of Winifred White, of the Town of Wolverhampton, at Holywell, in Flintshire, on the 28th of June, 1805 detailing many cases of miraculous cures at the fountain. Southey and Milner became opponents in print in the 1820s. BACK

[17] The Test Act of 1673 required all persons filling any office, civil or military, to take oaths of supremacy and allegiance to the King and the Church of England. BACK

[18] Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), founder of the Jesuits. BACK

[19] Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (c. 1223–1282; DNB), the last prince of independent Wales before its conquest by Edward I. Llywelyn several times proved willing to come to terms with the English crown. BACK

[20] Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (1760–1842; DNB): Anglo-Irish politician and bellicose Governor-General of the British colonies in India between 1798 and 1805. BACK

[21] Lieutenant-General Lord William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck (1774–1839; DNB). When Governor General of British India from 1828, Bentinck introduced a policy of Westernisation – making English the language of government rather than Persian and attacking Hindu practices such as sati. BACK

[22] See note 1. BACK

[23] Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742–1811; DNB), Secretary of State for War 1794–1801 and First Lord of the Admiralty 1804–1806. BACK

Places mentioned

Skiddaw (mentioned 2 times)
Holland House (mentioned 1 time)