372. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 16 January 1799

372. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 16 January 1799 ⁠* 


The Doctor whisperd to the Nurse
And the Surgeon knew what he said,
And he grew pale at the Doctors tale
And trembled in his sick bed.

Now fetch me my brethren & fetch them with speed,
The Surgeon affrighted said,
The Parson my brother, the Undertaker the other,
Let them hasten or I shall be dead.

The Parson his brother, the undertaker the other
They hastily came complying,
And the Surgeons Prentices entered the room
When they heard that their master was dying.

The Surgeon swore as they enterd his door
Twas fearful his oaths to hear –
Now send those Prentices to the Devil,
For God’s sake my children <brethren> dear.

He foamd at the mouth with the rage he felt
And he wrinkled his black eye brow,
That rascal Joe would be at me I know!
But zounds let him spare me now!

Then out they sent the Prentices,
The fit it left him weak,
He lookd at his brothers with ghastly eyes,
And faintly struggled to speak.

All kinds of carcases I have cut up
And the judgement now must be,
But Brothers I took care of you,
Oh pray take care of me!

I have bottled babes unborn he said
The sextons have been my slaves –
I have candles made of infant fat
And flambeaus from rifled graves.

And my prentices now will surely come
And carve me bone from bone,
And I who have rifled the dead mens graves
Shall never have rest in my own.

Bury me in lead when I am dead
My brethren I intreat,
And see the coffin weightd I beg
Lest the Plumber should be a cheat.

And let it be sawdered closely down
Strong as strong can be I implore,
And let it be put in a patent coffin
That I may rise no more.

If they carry me off in the patent coffin
Their labour will be in vain,
Let the Undertaker see it bought of the maker
Who lives by St Martins lane

And bury me in my brothers church,
For that will safer be,
And I implore lock the church door
And pray take care of the key.

And let three men in the vestry sit up
To save me if they can,
And give them five guineas if they shoot
A resurrection man.

And let them watch me for three weeks
My wretched corpse to save,
For then I think that I may stink
Enough to rest in my grave.

The surgeon laid him down in his bed,
His eyes grew deadly dim,
Short came his breath & the struggle of death
Distorted every limb.

They put him in lead when he was dead
And shrouded up so neat
And they the leaden coffin weigh
Lest the Plumber shd be a cheat

And they had it sawderd mor closely down
And examined it oer & oer
And they had it <put> in a patent coffin
That he might rise no more.

For to carry him off in a patent coffin
Would they thought be but labour in vain,
So the Undertaker saw it bought of the Maker
Who lives by St Martins lane

And they buried him in the his brothers church
That safer he might be,
And they lockd the door & would not trust
The sexton with the key.

And three men in the vestry sit up
To save him if they can,
And they shall have five guineas he shall have who shoots
A resurrection man.

The first night with their blunderbusses
They sat by the vestry fire,
They had good cheer of porter & beer
As much as they could desire.

But when the sexton let them in
As thro the church they went,
He whispered & offered them a guinea
That Mister Joseph sent.

But conscience was tough, it was not enough,
And their consciences honesty never swerved,
And they bade him go with Mr Joe
To the Devil as he deserved.

So all night by the vestry fire
They sat & quaffd their ale,
And they did drink as you may think
And told full many a tale.

The second night when the Sexton came
As thro the church they went,
He whispered anew & shewd them two
That Mister Joseph sent.

The guineas were bright & attracted their sight
They looked so heavy & new,
And their fingers itchd as tho they were bewitchd
And they knew not what to do.

But they wavered not long for conscience was strong
And they thought they might get more,
And they refused the offer, but not
So rudely as before.

So all night &c.

The third night when the sexton came
As thro the church they went
He bade them see & shewd them three
That Mr Joseph sent.

They lookd askance with eager glance
The guineas they looked shone bright,
For the Sexton on the yellow gold
Let fall his lanthorn light.

And he looked sly with his rogueish eye
And gave a well-timd wink –
And they could not stand the sound in his hand
For he made the guineas chink.

And conscience late that had such weight
In the trying moment fails
For well they knew that it was true
A dead man told no tales.

And they gave all their powder & ball
And took the gold so bright
And they drank their beer & made good cheer
Till now it was midnight.

Then tho the key of the church door
Was left with the Parson his brother
It opened at the Sextons touch –
Because he had got another, –

And in they go with that villain Joe
To fetch the body by night,
And all the church lookd dismally
By his dark lanthorn light.

They laid the pickaxe to the stones
& they moved them soon asunder,
& they shovelld away the hard prest clay
And came to the coffin under.

And they burst the patent coffin first
& they cut thro the lead,
& they laughd aloud when they saw the shroud
Because they had got at the dead.

& they allowd the sexton the shroud
& they put the coffin back,
& nose & knees they then did squeee
The surgeon in a sack.

The watchmen as they past along
Full four yards off could smell
And curse bestowd upon the load
So disagreabell.

So they carried the sack a-pick-a-back –
And they carvd him bone from bone,
But what became of the Surgeons soul
Was never to mortal known. [1] 


There. thankye for the story. I wrote it in high glee – pray be godfather. Shall it be a Ballad shewing how a surgeon had served others & how he was served himself? I mean to let it follow the Old Woman, [2]  & hold back to xxxxx her. write at your earliest leisure & show me where to mend. I have read it aloud with great effect.

God bless you,

yours affectionately

Robert Southey.

Jany. 16. 99


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ Wynnstay/ Wrexham/ Denbighshire
Stamped: BRISTOL
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4819E. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Published as ‘The Surgeon’s Warning’ in Southey’s Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [161]–173. BACK

[2] Published as ‘A Ballad Shewing how an Old Woman Rode Double and who Rode Before Her’ in Southey’s Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]–160. BACK