377. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 February [1799]

377. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 February [1799] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I hoped to have seen you instead of writing again – but in fact I am not well enough to venture upon the journey, & it is better to err on the prudent side than to venture too much. the season is against me – I want the cold bath – I am relaxed & incapable of much exertion. if you were the physicians wig instead of the judges, you should have a detail of all my physical feelings.

this is very unfortunate. month after month passes away & I am already at an age when a man ought to be settle travelling on in his road. I want to be so settled as to look on to no removal.

however to a pleasanter subject. I thought you knew that that all my lesser ballads were reserved for the Anthology or Gleanings. [1]  The x Cross Roads which I repeated to you & a story of a Sailor conscience haunted for flogging a negro to death a circumstance which occurred here, make all the ballads besides those you know in the volume. [2]  On these things I bestow not much correction. on a great work like Madoc I should think ten years labour well bestowed.  [3] 

Are you satisfied with the plan of Queen Mary? [4]  & do you think it better than my old Banditti [5]  – Pedro the Just [6]  – or the Pythoness? [7]  I like it & think I have thought of it long enough to begin.

To the pious painter, the story of which I found in the Pia Hilaria, there is a sequel in Le Grands book which must be balladized in a second part – how the Devil was even with him. [8]  Cornelius Agrippa [9]  is bad enough – a better far is what perhaps you have not seen – The Well of St Keyne. [10]  the Saints are very kind to me. St Isidro – (not Isidore) has furnished me with a legend which will work up into a somewhat terrific & grotesque. [11]  I loppd off the other botch & merely made it The Parson & the Undertaker. [12]  It might perhaps have been The Undertaker that beast & my brother the Priest. but the Poet is like the Law & de minimis [13]  it takes no notice.

God bless you. you are I suppose like us knee deep in snow – but ours is clean snow – & I can study a Lapland description.

yrs truly

R Southey.

Monday 4 Feby.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ FEB 4 99; [partial] FE/ 99
Endorsements: Feby. 4/ 1799; Mr. Wynn
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 180–181. BACK

[1] The first volume of the Annual Anthology appeared in 1799. BACK

[2] ‘The Cross Roads’ and ‘The Sailor, who had Served in the Slave-Trade’, Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [89]–102, [103]–114. BACK

[3] Southey had first thought of writing about Madoc in 1789. His poem was not published until 1805. BACK

[4] Southey’s proposed tragedy, set during the reign of Mary I (1516–1558; reigned 1553–1558; DNB); see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 190–192. BACK

[5] A plan or idea for a work (probably a play) which has not survived. It was possibly modelled on Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805), Die Raüber (1781). BACK

[6] Another unexecuted or lost work. Pedro I (1320–1367; King of Portugal, 1357–1367); his lover Inez de Castile (1325–1355) was murdered on the orders of his father. When he became King he personally killed two of the murderers, while one more escaped. He was alleged to have arranged for Inez’s corpse to be crowned Queen. For Southey’s plan see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 189–190. BACK

[7] The Pythia was the title given to the priestess of Apollo at Delphi, who was famous for her prophecies, uttered under the influence of vapours rising from the earth. Southey planned – but did not execute – a drama based on an episode from Biblioteke, 16.26, about the abduction of the Pythia by Echecrates the Thessalian; see Southey to John May, 3 December 1798, Letter 358. BACK

[8] The first part of ‘The Pious Painter’ was published anonymously in the Morning Post, 2 November 1798; the second appeared in the same newspaper on 26 July 1799. Southey’s sources were Angelinus Gazaeus (1568–1653), Pia Hilaria (London, 1657), pp. 31–36 and Pierre Jean Baptiste Le Grand d’Aussy (1737–1800), Fabliaux, 4 vols (Paris, 1779–1781), IV, p. 51. BACK

[9] ‘A Ballad of a Young Man that would Read Unlawful Books and How he was Punished’, Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 198–200. BACK

[10] Southey’s ballad, first published anonymously in the Morning Post, 3 December 1798. BACK

[11] Probably ‘The Wedding Night’, Morning Post, 18 December 1799. St Isidore of Seville (c. 560–636) was a well-known Spanish saint. BACK

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

[13] The Latin translates as ‘on trivialities’. BACK