893. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 February 1804

893. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 February 1804 ⁠* 

Saturday Feby. 4. 1804.

Dear Wynn

Your bribe has arrived, & accelerates a letter – for I should else have written tomorrow to enclose a scene of Madoc [1]  which I have cut out of my copy in order to insert a passage at the beginning of it – & you being M.P. the fragment had better travel to London than to that other sink of corruption whither it would else have infallibly been consigned. I have settled the manner of its publication – it is to come out in quarto with head & tail pieces to my own taste at Longmans whole risque, I sharing the eventual profits. – & it will be published in the next winter, if I live & do well, & if Bounaparte do not eat up the Poet & Publisher, & Public into the bargain. You do not answer a question which I put concerning your arms. Shall the shield rest against an oak? or will you have a monument designed for Rodri [2]  to whom your aps  [3]  ascend, & let him bear the shield like an old Knight on his tomb & so that & his name tell the pedigree? If you could trace to Iorwerth Drwndwn [4]  instead, his monument does exist in Pennant Melangle Church Yard, [5]  with the shield so placed, & the dedication print would be the King & Unique of its kind, for it would have an actual & important reference to the poem.

I am going to try to get money by making a book as a companion to Ellis’s – Specimens of the Modern English Poets [6]  – beginning where he ends & including all the dead down to the present day. A work of less trivial labour & interest than you will at first imagine: for many an obscure author will be to be hunted out, & many a verdict of disgrace or fame to be reversed. There will be a preliminary essay on the state of English Poetry at the period when the Specimens commence – with James 2. [7]  there Ellis is my model, only that there will be sometimes rather more critical remarks in the brief biography. These shall be no trite specimens, – excluding the pieces which are in every bodys hands, my object will be to select the best of each author & the most characteristic. It will not surprize me if this should prove the most profitable of all my attempts. I mean to write to Heber about it that he may tell Ellis (a proper attention on my part.) All that can be done from Andersons Collection [8]  I shall do here leisurely & as mere amusement – & come up to London about the close of spring perhaps to hunt in the Reviews & at Stationers Hall [9]  for the books that are gone to oblivion I shall have more trouble in procuring materials than Ellis had for these books are not old enough for the collectors.

Have you ever seen the Ballad of Lord Derwentwater? [10]  the latest genuine ballad that has ever fallen in my way. if not tell me & I will send it you. it is of this country.

Your friend Mr Yorke has been a great benefactor to Madoc. I have made good use of the disinterment of Owen Gwynedd. [11] 

Did I tell you that Thomson, the Correspondent of Burns, had solicited me to write for some old Welsh airs? [12]  – & that I had told him I could as easily sing the songs as write them. Mrs Hughes [13]  perhaps would hardly believe the excuse – but it is the truth. I have not room in a song.

God bless you –


Coleridge is in town. I am living the most recluse life conceiv[MS torn] never seeing a human being except the family faces – for our very few neighbours have taken wing. I never was so utterly secluded from society before, & never felt so little want of it, & never knew time pass so rapidly.

See Thelwalls Letter to Jeffray the Edinburgh Reviewer [14]  – tis a foolish letter but he has convicted the man of such abominations – such misquotation & misrepresentation that he ought to be skinned & hooted from society as if he been a practitioner in St Georges fields under the Lord Horse. [15]  – Did not you admire the Clergyman walking at night in the Bird Cage Walk to meet the Ghost? [16]  Was it the Bishop of Pimlico? [17] 

Feb. 4

William Taylor has reviewed Thalaba in the Critical. [18]  Walter Scott (I hear) has done the same by Amadis in the Edinburgh. [19]  I have seen neither.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] F/ 1804
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s poem, Madoc, which he had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication. It was published in 1805. BACK

[2] Either Rhodri ap Merfyn (820–878) – styled Rhodri Mawr (the Great), king of Gwynedd and Powys, the ninth century king who first united the Welsh; or Rhodri (1170–1190) son of Owain Gwynedd (1145–74) and brother of David (d. 1203), see note 4 below. BACK

[3] Meaning ‘son of’ in Welsh patronymics. BACK

[4] Iorwerth ab Owain Gwynedd or Iorwerth Drwyndwn (1145–1174), ‘the broken-nosed’, was the eldest legitimate son of Owain Gwynedd (the king of Gwynedd) (c. 1100–1170). Iorwerth was killed in battle at Pennant Melangell, in Powys, during the wars deciding the succession following the death of his father (in Book I of Madoc he is said to have been murdered). His son Llywelyn eventually united the realm and became known as Llewelyn Fawr (‘the Great’) (c. 1173–1240). BACK

[5] St Melangell’s Church, Pennant Melangell is a small parish church and site of the tomb of Iorwerth Drwyndwn (see note 4), near the village of Llangynog, Powys, Wales. BACK

[6] An early reference to the project that Southey undertook with Grosvenor Charles Bedford and published with Longman in 1807 as Specimens of the Later English Poets. It was intended to be a companion work to George Ellis’s, Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790; 2nd edn 1801; 3rd edn 1803). BACK

[7] James II and VII (1633–1701, King of England, Scotland and Ireland 1685–1689; DNB). BACK

[8] Robert Anderson (1749–1830; DNB), The Works of the British Poets (1792–1795), which included biographical and critical articles. The work consisted originally of thirteen volumes, to which a fourteenth was added in 1807. BACK

[9] Near Ludgate Hill, in the City of London: a repository for old books because the Stationers’ Company, whose headquarters it is, had a royal monopoly on book production in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. BACK

[10] James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater (1689–1716; DNB), was an illegitimate descendant of Charles II (1630–1685, King of Great Britain 1660–1685; DNB). He fought in the 1715 Jacobite uprising, and after his capture at the Battle of Preston, was executed the following year. His wife, Lady Derwentwater (d. 1723), was supposed to have thrown her jewels in the lake rather than see them confiscated by the Crown, which nevertheless took the family’s estate. The ballad Southey refers to was commonly sung in Cumbria and the Scottish borders. The text, reproduced in Francis Child (1825–1896; DNB), The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882–1898), no. 208, runs as follows:

Our King has wrote a lang letter,
And sealed it owre with gold;
He sent it to my lord Dunwaters,
To read it if he could.

He has not sent it with a boy,
Nor with anie Scots lord;
But he’s sent it with the noblest knicht
E’er Scotland could afford.

The very first line that my lord did read,
He gave a smirkling smile;
Before he had the half o’t read,
The tears from his eyes did fall.

‘Come saddle to me my horse,’ he said,
Come saddle to me with speed;
For I must away to fair London town,
For to me was ne’er more need.’

Out and spoke his lady gay,
In child-bed where she lay:
‘I would have you make your will, my lord Dunwaters,
Before you go away.’

‘I leave to you, my eldest son,
My houses and my land;
I leave to you, my second son,
Ten thousand pounds in hand.

‘I leave to you, my lady gay, –
You are my wedded wife, –
I leave to you, the third of my estate;
That’ll keep you in a lady’s life.’

They had not rode a mile but one,
Till his horse fell owre a stane:
‘It’s warning gude eneuch,’ my lord Dunwaters said,
‘Alive I’ll neer come hame.’

When they came into fair London town,
Into the courtiers’ hall,
The lords and knichts in fair London town
Did him a traitor call.

‘A traitor! a traitor!’ says my lord,
‘A traitor! how can that be’
An it was na for the keeping five thousand men,
To fight for King Jamie?
‘O all you lords and knichts in fair London town,
Come out and see me die;
O all you lords and knights in fair London town,
Be kind to my ladie.

‘There’s fifty pounds in my right pocket,
Divide it to the poor;
There’s other fifty pounds in my left pocket,
Divide it from door to door.’

[11] Southey owned Philip Yorke, (1743–1804; DNB), Royal Tribes of Wales (Wrexham, 1799), in which it is reported that the body of Owain Gwynedd was removed from Bangor cathedral into the churchyard on the orders of the Archbishop of Canterbury, because Owain had married his first cousin, and despite being excommunicated continued to live with her until she died (pp. 4–5). Owain was the Welsh king of Gwynedd who fought Henry II of England (1133–1189; reigned 1154–1189; DNB), and fathered the legendary prince Madoc, hero of Southey’s poem, which begins with the strife that followed Owain’s death. The disinterment is mentioned in Madoc, Part I, Book 15, lines 129–154. BACK

[12] George Thomson (1757–1851; DNB) was an amateur musician, who engaged Robert Burns (1759–1796; DNB) to write Scots songs, for which Thomson commissioned musical settings by leading composers of the day. These were published in Select Scottish Airs (1793), with further volumes, including more Burns’ songs, following in 1798, 1799, 1802, 1818–1826 and 1841. Thomson also produced volumes of Welsh and Irish airs in the same way. Among the composers featured were Ignace Joseph Pleyel (1757–1831), (Franz) Joseph Haydn (1732–1809; DNB) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827); Thomas Moore (1779–1852; DNB) and Lord Byron were among the poets; see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey [12 January 1804], Letter 883. Southey’s correspondence with Thomson does not appear to have survived. BACK

[13] Unidentified; probably someone Southey met on his visit to North Wales in autumn 1801. BACK

[14] In 1804, Thelwall published a Letter to Francis Jeffrey on Certain Calumnies and Misrepresentations in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ accusing Francis Jeffrey of leading an attempt to break up his lecture in Edinburgh, and of misrepresenting his poetry in his review for the Edinburgh Review, 3 (April 1803), 197–202. BACK

[15] A reference to Henry (‘Horse’) Campbell, a university friend of Southey’s who had gone to Antigua and then returned and become an evangelical field preacher (letter 1141. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 1–5 January 1806). Methodist and evangelical preachers at St George’s Fields, Westminster, met derision from members of the public who used the area for games and sports. BACK

[16] In January 1804 The Times reported the testimony of two soldiers of the Coldstream Guards to the effect that they had seen the ghost of a headless woman at Birdcage Walk, St James’s Park. According to Jacob Larwood (1827–1918), ‘so generally was this story believed that one night a clergyman bivouacked in Birdcage Walk, patrolling it for several hours, in the hope of meeting the ghost and exposing the fraud’ (Jacob Larwood [pseud. of L. R. Sadler] , The Story of the London Parks (London, 1881), p. 481. BACK

[17] Perhaps a reference to Southey’s and Rickman’s mutual friend Richard Heber, whose house and library was in Pimlico. BACK

[18] Taylor reviewed Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) in the Critical Review, 2nd series, 39 (December 1803), 369–379. BACK

[19] Scott reviewed Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul in the Edinburgh Review, 5 (October 1803), 109–136. BACK

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