1728. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams-Wynn, [late December 1809]

1728. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams-Wynn, [late December 1809] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

When is the Installation to take place? – If not till summer I will try to do something, tho with little expectation of either pleasing myself, or any body else. [1]  Except a solitary sonnet to Lord Percy [2]  upon the Slave Trade, [3]  xxxxxxxxx I have not written a poem these seven years –never being idle enough to think of one. And for making goo writing upon such an occasion I should almost as soon think of trying my hand at an Oxford sausage against an Oxford cook, as for of making Oxford verses in competition with University poets. However it is so reasonable that you should look to me, that this very morning I was casting about in my own mind to see whether any thing would be brought forth. – Upon your triumph I can only say I am glad you have had reason to rejoice. – tho in my conscience I wish it had been any other reason. – xxx Perceval himself is not a more determined No Popery Man than I am. [4]  This xxxx <question> however has now nothing to do with the matter, & there <are> other points in which I can as sincerely compliment Ld G. as I should condemn him upon this. But upon no point so willingly as the belief that whether in power or not he will, as far as in him lies, save this country from the dangers, – xxx xxxx xxxx xx & worse, dishonour of peace with Buonaparte. Is there any objection to xxx touching upon this?

Rogers came to Balliol a few months before I left it. [5]  He was a wild Welshman just caught – a very honest good fellow, whom we used to call Cadwallader. He lived a good deal with us, & had I am sure at that time a very sincere regard for me. I have never seen him since – They tell me he is become a stiff disciplinarian, – which is not much to his credit. – nevertheless for the memory of old times it would be a great xx joy to me to give him a shake by the hands once more.

Much joy of your daughter <child>. The heathen name which you give her is in danger of being shortened into Vic, – & that is the diminution of Vixen, xxxx a name proper to female terriers, & therefore unseemly for your daughter.  [6] 

It will not be long before you receive my first volume, there is but one sheet more to print, besides the supplementary notes. Kehama is in Ballantynes hands & I expect the first proof this week. [7]  Gifford has sent me the Life of Nelson to review, [8]  & offers 20 guineas per sheet for doing it, – it is precisely that subject on which his expectations from me must necessarily be disappointed, let me do what I can. The book is by no means so bad as might have been expected yet being almost wholly compilation it would have been far better if the Compiler could have been contented to appear in as Editor only, & have printed this document under the title of the Nelson Papers, – giving the little else which they had to give in the form of notes & xxxxx headings. If they meant to make a book of reference this would have been the best form, – & it is only as a book of reference that what they have made can be considered, – for who will read it? – I mean to weigh the book & calculate its faults (as biography) by the stone.

Adm. Sotheby [9]  made my brother Acting Commander with the Lyra [10]  – & I have been trying to get him confirmed, – which most likely will not be done. However if Sir G Beaumont can do it for me, he will. My best hope for him is that Lord Melville may go back to the Admiralty, [11]  – when I am sure Scott would get him promoted. Surely it is not possible that the present set of men can keep their ground. Yet I will rather support even them than see the Foxites in power. [12] 

My Uncle takes the living of Streatham, resigning for it his Christ Church preferment in Herefordshire. This will be likely to bring me more frequently to London. I shall probably visit him then towards the fall of the leaf, – if one may look on so far. I hope to get the press of business off my hands in time to be at Durham for the Long Main, [13]  – a thing which it is highly proper that D. Manuel should see. [14]  Heaven knows whether I shall ever see the other side of Snowdon. The older I grow the more I have to do at home, the less inclination to leave it, & yet the more calls abroad.

They have made a melodrama of Mary the Maid of the Inn at one of the Strand theatres. [15]  Did I ever tell you that the story is in Plotts Staffordshire? [16]  The scene of it was the Black Moor of Skorridge, near Leek, x the chief personage a man, & the murder not discovered but prevented. If you have the book you will find it at P. 291. [17]  I verily believe that at least half my reputation is owing to that paltry ballad, – which is bad enough to spoil a very fine story. The strolling players recite it here about the country.

Tom has found on shipboard a copy of the American Madoc which is on its way to me. [18]  It was published in numbers. Longman has unluckily bound it without directions, & so deprived me of the criticisms upon the covers.

God bless you



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M P./Acton/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 179–181.
Dating note: internal evidence of the performance of the melodrama of Southey’s ‘Mary the Maid of the Inn’ from 27 December 1809. BACK

[1] The service of installation of Lord Grenville, as Chancellor of Oxford University took place in 1810. Southey was asked by Wynn (Grenville’s nephew), to write a poem commemorating the event. It was published as ‘Verses. Spoken in the Theatre at Oxford Upon the Installation of Lord Grenville’, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.2 (1811), 641–643. BACK

[2] Hugh Percy, 3rd Duke of Northumberland (1785–1847; DNB), politician and landowner, whose ‘most dramatic, and puzzling, Commons interventions came in 1807 when he first tried to turn the Slave Trade Abolition Bill into a Slavery Abolition Bill by moving an amendment to emancipate every black child born after 1 January 1810’, DNB. BACK

[3] Southey’s poem ‘Sonnet to Lord Percy, on his Late Motion for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in the West Indies’ was published in the Courier in April 1807, under the signature ‘R. S.’ BACK

[4] Spencer Perceval was appointed Prime Minister in October 1809 and was strongly opposed to Catholic emancipation. BACK

[5] Cooke Rogers, a student of Balliol college, who Southey knew briefly while he was there, his first name and dates are unknown. BACK

[6] Presumably Wynn intended to call his daughter Victoria, but there is no record of a child of that name. Charlotte his first daughter was born in 1807 and Mary was born in 1810. BACK

[7] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama was published in 1810. BACK

[8] Southey reviewed several books about Nelson in his article for the Quarterly Review, 3 (February 1810), 218–262. These included John Charnock (1756–1806; DNB), Biographical Memoirs of Lord Viscount Nelson, &c., &c., &c.; with Observations, Critical and Explanatory (1806); James Harrison (d. 1847), The Life of Lord Nelson (1806); T. O. Churchill (fl. 1800–1823), The Life of Lord Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronté, &c (1808); and James Stanier Clarke (c. 1765–1834; DNB) and John McArthur (1755–1840; DNB), The Life of Admiral Lord Nelson, K.B. from his Lordship’s Manuscripts (1809). Southey’s article was later expanded into a full-scale Life of Nelson (1813). BACK

[9] Rear-Admiral Thomas Sotheby (1759–1831). BACK

[10] HMS Lyra was a Royal Navy Cherokee class 10-gun brig-sloop, launched in August 1808. BACK

[11] Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742–1811; DNB), Secretary of State for War 1794–1801 and First Lord of the Admiralty from 1804. From 1802–1805 Melville’s use of public funds when Treasurer of the Admiralty (1782–1800), was investigated by a Royal Commission. On 9 April 1805 he was censured in the House of Commons for allowing the misuse of public funds. He resigned and impeachment proceedings were commenced against him, but he was cleared of nearly all the charges in June 1806. However, Melville did not hold a government position again before his death in 1811. BACK

[12] Whigs with a political allegiance to Charles James Fox, Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons until his death in September 1806. BACK

[13] An annual cock fight at Durham. BACK

[14] Don Manuel Espriella, the fictional tourist of Southey’s Letters from England: By Don Manuel Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1st edn, 1807; 2nd edn, 1808). Southey’s plans for Espriella to travel to further parts of the country in an additional volume never materialised. BACK

[15] ‘Mary, the Maid of the Inn’ was written in 1796 and published by Southey in Poems (1797), in The Oracle, 11 February 1797 and, revised, in later editions of the 1797 Poems, in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and in Poetical Works Collected by Himself (1837–1838). It was still being issued as a one penny broadside ballad in the mid-nineteenth century. Southey’s poem was adapted for the stage by the theatre manager and actress, Jane Scott (married name Middleton; bap. 1779–1839) and it was presented at the Adelphi Theatre in London between 27 December 1809 and 2 April 1810, and again in 1811 and 1816. BACK

[16] Robert Plot (bap. 1640–1696; DNB), Natural History of Staffordshire (1686). BACK

[17] Southey’s citation is correct. The passage appears in Plot’s Natural History of Staffordshire (London, 1686), p. 291. BACK

[18] Madoc: A Poem was published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1806. BACK

Places mentioned

Streatham (mentioned 1 time)