583. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23 May 1801

583. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23 May 1801 ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

I am about to return, for some half dozen cogent reasons. it is better get off leisurely than wait the hurry of expulsion which cannot be far distant. summer is near – to remove for a short time to Cintra would be troublesome & disjoint all my studies – to remain x here would be taking a spell of Purgatory. if a decent ship offers for Bristol of course it is preferable. if not I must perforce take the Packet – it is enormously dear – now 20 guineas each person. it cost sixty pounds to bring us here from Bristol. – to clear myself here I drew a few days since for 40 £. the most irksome expence is what my books will cost at the English custom houses, a heavy & disgraceful duty which ought to be abolished. – When I shall have been six or eight months in England some of my crops will be in such a state of forwardness that I can subsist upon them till all arrears are cleared. Wherever I may land you will suffer me to draw on you for the passage & journey. I have spent largely in books – yet often spared when I would willingly have spent. my collection however will supply long labour & repay it. when I have gone thro it will be time enough to collate & compare & correct with other authors. It is of all toil the pleasantest – my notes will be essential otter [1]  of folios. the dish of giblets from the great goose of the text. – they will be the cod & oyster sauce – the pig & purtenancies. – I have got thro the earlier reigns & reached the first important period – the quantity that has been read to form these pages affords a fine exemplification of the infinite compressibility of matter.

At last I have got the Wars of Granada for you. [2]  your wine (two hogsheads) will be shippd according to direction, in this convoy which next sails & in which I hope to embark. if you begin it immediately it will be little or no better than what you get in town – give it age & it will be excellent. – I now quite long to be in England – while the prospect of departure was distant I was quite happy & did not wish it nearer – but now the unsettling is begun – & it is only in England that I can rest. my thoughts & expectations & wishes are made up of green fields, & gooseberry pie, & newspapers, & proofsheets & old friends.

I do not think the Days of Queen Mary can be in danger from the Catholic question. [3]  you know one act is to conclude with the light of a martyr-pile seen thro the window – & the Te Deum at his burning. I think you will partake my hatred of Popery when you see what a systematic plan of roguery it has been. I have to biographize the three great saints Francisco, Domingo, & Ignacio Loyola. [4]  the life of Francisco is sketched already & I know not whether it provoked me most frequently to curse him for a knave, laugh at him for an idiot, or pity him for a madman, for he was a pretty mixture of all three. There is a Disciple of this precious Saint whose character is fully dramatic. You perhaps know that the Catholics parallel Francisco & the Redeemer – from the birth in the manger – to the five wounds of crucifixion, with an impudence of blasphemy that is indeed shocking. This Giovanni [5]  they call the Judas Iscariot of the Franciscan apostles. because he embraced their mad mode of life with all fervour & sincerity – grew sick of his brethren – said they were fools or hypocrites – & finally hung himself. there is a fine canvass. paint him as one whose strong talents are subdued by stronger feelings – create a nun of Saint Claras [6]  school – & there is ample scope for passion.

Loyola was the perfect Don Quixote of popery. he literally read Saint-books till he became as made in Saint-errantry as the dear La Manchan. [7] 

Our packets are now hurried off faster than is convenient for private letter-writing, we have the Spaniards in Portugal [8]  – & St Cyr [9]  at their head. wars & rumours of wars – & nothing certain except that the Spaniards have refused to fill up a carte-blanche which Pinto [10]  went to present. Now should I hugely like to see de fun, if there is to be any. One peep at the Inquisition by day light! One scrap of Dagon [11]  when he falls down & is broken! – one rag of the red petticoat when Duessas filthiness [12]  is uncovered! but this is not the time. It is not France that will regenerate Spain & Portugal. France dares not unite & strengthen this peninsula – which is the policy of England, & ought to be her aim. melt them in the burning fiery furnace – there will be some scum & scoria – but the liquid metals will then & then only amalgamate. it is the only possible union. Ireland was not laid cooly on the anvil.

– Pray keep for me the law about the Clergys privilege for robbery & rape. I have found out how an English Bishop beat a Spanish Bp at Rome – & how they fought at the Basle [13]  council for the seat of honour. – an edict was issued forbidding all arms to be carried – & the English said they would fight them with sticks. Twould have been a fine precedent – a case in point for the Bishop of Bangor. [14] 

God bless you – I shall write again whenever my departure is fixed.

yrs truly

Robert Southey

Lisbon. 23 May. 1801.

Why did you vote for so abominable a foreign postage? every remittance from hence now costs a Merchant eleven shillings! – 2 draughts at 4s – 4d each – & 2s, 2d the letter that acknowledges one. & the still more abominable tax upon paper! – Will the day ever arrive when all taxes shall be commuted for a fair tax upon income?


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmark: FOREIGN OFFICE/ JU 8/ 1801
Endorsement: May 23 1801
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 170-173. BACK

[1] Attar, essence of rose-petals. BACK

[2] Gines Perez de Hita (c. 1544–c. 1619), Historia de los Vandos, de los Cegries, y Abencerrages, Cavalleros Moros de Granada, y las Civiles Guerras que huvo en ella, hasta que el Rey Don Fernando el Quinto la Gono (1601-1619). BACK

[3] Southey’s plan for a play set in the reign of Mary I (1516-1558, Queen of England 1553-1558; DNB), Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 190-192. Attitudes to Roman Catholics were especially controversial in 1801 as the government of William Pitt (1759-1806, Prime Minister 1783-1801, 1804-1806; DNB) had fallen over George III’s refusal to lift civil disabilities on them. BACK

[4] St Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226), founder of the Franciscan order; St Dominic (1170-1221), founder of the Dominican order; and St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits. Southey could have undertaken this work for his ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[5] Giovanni della Cappella (fl. 13th century). BACK

[6] St Clara (1193-1253), founder of the order of Franciscan nuns. BACK

[7] The eponymous hero of Don Quixote (1605-1615), by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), was from the Spanish region of La Mancha. BACK

[8] Spanish forces had invaded Portugal on 20 May 1801. BACK

[9] Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr (1764-1830), French general. BACK

[10] Luis Pinto de Sousa Coutinho, Viscount of Balsemao (1735-1804), Portuguese Secretary of State (prime minister) 1788-1801. He was dismissed on 6 January 1801, but remained in the ministry as Foreign Secretary until 21 May 1801 and returned as Secretary of State in 1803. He was the chief negotiator with Spain in the attempt to prevent an invasion in 1801. BACK

[11] God of the Philistines. When the Ark of the Covenant was captured and taken to his temple at Ashdod, the image of Dagon was broken by divine intervention, 1 Samuel 5: 2-7. BACK

[12] Edmund Spenser (1552-1599; DNB), Faerie Queene (1590-1596), Book 1, canto 8, stanzas 45-46. Duessa was a witch who, when stripped of her disguise, was found to be hideous. BACK

[13] General Council of the Church, held at Basel in Switzerland, 1431-1439. On 12 November 1435 violence broke out when the Bishops of Burgos and Cuenca scuffled with an English delegate, probably the Archdeacon of Limerick, over seating arrangements. The offenders were punished. BACK

[14] William Cleaver (1742-1815; DNB), Bishop of Chester 1787-1800, Bangor 1800-1806, St Asaph 1806-1815. A well-connected clergyman, he edited the ‘Grenville’ edition of Homer’s works, published in 1801 by Oxford University Press and paid for by three of Wynn’s uncles. BACK

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)