898. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 18 February 1804]

898. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 18 February 1804] ⁠* 

You will find Lord Derwentwater a true & genuine ballad singers ditty, [1]  & it almost puzzles me to conceive by what kind of man such a ditty can have been written his head must have been full of old ballads, & those must have been all he knew.

The emendation you propose is a good one – my head was so full of Rodri [2]  that I never thought of the Pencenedll. [3]  send me the arms & I will see about the design. I have an acquaintance who will do it admirably if – poor fellow – he has got out of Buonapartes clutches for he was nabbed at Calais, – Underwood the draftsman to your Antiquarian Society. [4]  But if he is still in limb I will ask Duppa to whom to apply.

I think little of Campbells poetry. his Pleasures of Hope are neither sense nor English. [5]  Something there is in him, but not much – I should hope more if he were not such a damnd coxcomb, – & vain of his pretty face, which does not look as if it belonged to a man. The best poet of the pres in season at present is that lump of Lasciviousness Little Moor. [6]  But there is a boy of much promise at Nottingham by name White – who poor fellow publishes in hope of raising money to help him to Oxford for ordination! there is a little wild ode of his to the Rosemary which is really very affecting. I know nothing of him but from his book, for which I have done my best in the Annual. [7]  That Peter Bayley of whom you spoke is the most rascally of all plagiarists, & God have mercy upon him, for after my broadside has begun the attack he will be most preciously peppered from half a score batteries. [8] 

What you say of a suppl volume in supplement to Ellis as well as in succession I will execute if the Modern Specimens answer. [9]  It will be very easy work –& my profits will depend upon the success. After having done all that can be done from Andersons Collection [10]  here, I must take a six weeks fag in London. Stationers Hall [11]  will probably supply me with many forgotten volumes, & the Reviews will lxx serve as Catalogues. The work is likely to sell, & will certainly amuse me – if it does not any body else.

Madoc is just cleard out on his last voyage – thus compleating the first of the poem. [12]  At times – in moods of what the Mystics call desertion – I am less satisfied with it than with Thalaba. [13]  there is not that perpetual fire & flame. But it stands a higher test, & is of a higher character. the individuals in the poem seem to be individualized – at least in my conception they certainly are – & in this which is one main excellence I think I shall have succeeded. The second – or Transatlantic part will have more action & more narrative excellence – for hitherto the best parts are dramatic. The inclosed fragment [14]  will be lifeless enough as a fragment – but when you see it in reference to their former quarrel, & the affectionate parting on the following day, you will I think see that it has its peculiar merit, & is an indispensable link in the passion of the poem. I shall divide the poem into two Parts, & number the subdivisions 1. 2. 3 &c naming each from its main subject – what you now received is part of ‘The Departure.’ [15]  A meeting with Rodri on the sea after his escape concludes the first division, [16]  & gives sufficient insight into the future to form the historical interest into a whole.

Du Cange [17]  is out of my reach as yet. As for Wotton [18]  if Heber or Jeffery will look out they may catch a small paper copy – & I am about to write to Heber to tell him of the Specimens –

God bless you




* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ FEB 18/ 1804
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The ballad was commonly sung in Cumbria and the Scottish borders. The text, as given 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.’
In an earlier letter, Southey asked Wynn if he had ever seen the ballad; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 February 1804, Letter 893. 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 (d. 1195; DNB), son of Owain Gwynedd (1100–1170, Prince of Gwynedd 1137–1170; DNB) and brother of David (d. 1203; DNB). BACK

[3] Meaning the patriarch of the tribe, or clan leader; a central figure in medieval Welsh society. BACK

[4] Thomas Underwood (1772–1835) was appointed Draughtsman-in-Ordinary to the Antiquarian Society in 1792. BACK

[5] Thomas Campbell (1777–1844; DNB): Scottish poet, whose Pleasures of Hope (1799) was a popular success. In 1803 Campbell moved to London where he was received in fashionable Whig society, notably at the salon of Lord Holland, whose library Southey would later use when working on his History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[6] Thomas Moore (1779–1852; DNB): Irish poet, author of the Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little, Esq. (1801), of songs and ballads (published as the Irish Melodies from 1808) and Lalla-Rookh, an Oriental Romance (1817). BACK

[7] Southey favourably reviewed Henry Kirke White, Clifton Grove, a Sketch in Verse, with other Poems (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 552–554. White’s poem ‘To the Herb, Rosemary’ is praised on page 553. BACK

[8] Southey reviewed Peter Bayley (bap. 1778–1823; DNB), Poems (1803), in which he accused the author of plagiarising from Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 546–552. BACK

[9] Here Southey envisages supplementing the collection edited by George Ellis, Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790; 2nd edn1801; 3rd edn 1803), if successful in the project that he was undertaking with Grosvenor Charles Bedford entitled Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). Late, and riddled with errors owing to Bedford’s dilatoriness, the project did not sell and the supplement to Ellis did not appear. BACK

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

[11] 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

[12] Southey was revising his poem Madoc, written in 1797–1799, for publication. It was published in 1805. BACK

[13] Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[14] This has not survived with the letter. BACK

[15] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 17. BACK

[16] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 18. BACK

[17] Charles Du Fresne, Seigneur Du Cange (1610–1688), Glossarium Ad Scriptores Mediae et Infimae Latinitatis (1733–1736) was listed as no. 953 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[18] William Wotton’s (1666–1727; DNB) study of medieval Welsh law: Cyfreithjeu Hywel Dda ac Eraill, seu Leges Wallicæ Ecclesiasticæ et Civiles Hoeli Boni et Aliorum Walliæ Principum (1730). BACK

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