397. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 9 April 1799

397. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 9 April 1799 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I suspect that my two letters directed to you on the Chester Circuit as you desired, had not reached you when you last wrote or there would have been no charge of idleness in yours. & now having acquitted myself of that charge I proceed to the indictment of my ears. If the charge had come from Dapple it would not have surprized me. one may fancy him possessed of more than ordinary susceptibility of ear; but for the irritability of yours I cannot so satisfactorily account. I could heap authority upon authority for using two very short syllables in blank verse instead of one. they take up only the time of one. Spirit in particular is repeatedly placed as a monosyllable in Milton, − & some of his ass editors have attempted xx to print it as one − not feeling that the rapid pronunciation of the two syllables does not lengthen the verse more than the dilated sound of one. The other line you quote is still less objectionable, because the old Ballad style requires ruggedness − & because were this line rugged − & secondly because the line itself rattles over the tongue as smoothly as a curricle upon xxx down turf. I have made candles of infants fat − & this kind of cadence is repeatedly used in the Old Woman & in the Parody. [1] 

The Grandmothers Tale [2]  I will not defend against you. it is a mere matter of taste. I have seen it produce much pleasure, & it has been noticed to me among the most pleasing poems in the volume. certainly it is of that class of poems sermoni propriora [3]  − which you may without impropriety construe very proper for a sermon. yet I think if you will look at the only part that admitted of story writing the lines from But God whose eye beholdeth all things &c − to the end of the speech, you will find them strong & impressive. [4]  however the difference of taste even in men of equal talents & education you must be aware of almost as much as myself. The Maid of the Inn you selected for censure & in my own mind it values little. yet how popular has it become! [5]  & where one person reads the Hymn to the Penates, [6]  unquestionably the best piece in the volume, fifty can repeat that foolish ballad. it is far more popular than Rudiger [7]  tho utterly inferiour to it.

Of my late volume the worst pieces in my own judgement are the Complaints of the Poor & the Rose. [8]  both of which have been pointed out to me with praise & neither of which are good for anything. but a man who publishes poems, like one who gives a dinner must attend a little to the taste of those whom he entertains − & not entirely to his own. The Sailor [9]  is a good ballad but it begins & ends feebly. I know it prevented a West Indian Planter [10]  from buying my first volume − so it made the fellow feel. from your censure of the Eclogues [11]  I conclude you except the first & last − the best pieces I think in the volume − the last indeed is of all my trifles what I most prize.

I am very curious to see Barkers sketch. [12]  he discovered early mark of uncommon genius. how far his studies in Italy have improved him I am yet to learn.

On May-day if no accident intervene I expect to be in town −

God bless you −

yrs affectionately

R Southey.

April 9. 99.


* Address: To/ C W W Wynn Esqr MP./ Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmarks: [partial] TOL/ APR 9 99; FREE/ AP/ 10/ 99; B/ AP/ 10/ 99
Endorsements: April 9. 99; Mr. Wynn
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 68–70. BACK

[1] ‘A Ballad Shewing How an Old Woman Rode Double and Who Rode Before Her’ and its parodic companion-piece, ‘The Surgeon’s Warning’, both published in Southey’s Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]–160, [161]–173. BACK

[2] Published in Southey’s Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. 194–201. BACK

[3] Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65–8 BC), Satires, Book 1, no. 4, line 42. Southey’s rough translation follows. BACK

[4] Robert Southey, Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. 199–200. BACK

[5] ‘Mary’, first published in Southey’s Poems (Bristol, 1797), pp. [159]–182, and subsequently much reprinted, for example, in Poetical Beauties of Modern Writers (London, 1798), pp. 98–102. BACK

[6] Published in Southey’s Poems (Bristol, 1797), pp. [199]–220. BACK

[7] Southey’s gothic ballad, first published in his Poems (Bristol, 1797), pp. [183]–198. BACK

[8] Both first published in Southey’s Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. 81–84, [71]–80. BACK

[9] ‘The Sailor ,who had Served in the Slave-Trade’, published in Southey’s Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [103]–114. BACK

[10] Unidentified. BACK

[11] The six ‘English Eclogues’ published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [181]–232. The first was ‘The Old Mansion House’, the last ‘The Ruined Cottage’. BACK

[12] Thomas Barker (1767–1847; DNB), member of a family of artists based in Bath. Barker had lived in Italy between 1790–1793. The ‘sketch’ is possibly connected to his plan to base a painting on Southey’s ‘Mary’. BACK

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