607. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, [22] September 1801

607. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, [22] September 1801 ⁠* 

Tuesday evening. Sept – 1801.

My dear Edith

Weather delayed our departure from Wynnstay till the afternoon of Sunday last. the richness of the library in such books as were most useful to me, & the goodness of the claret made the delay very endurable. in the intervals of sunshine we saw the surrounding scenery – the Dee flowing thro high banks of wood – & the pillars of a prodigious bridge which is to support the canal, a work of wonderful magnitude, so large indeed as almost to deserve forgiveness for its intrusion. Llangollen is seven miles from Wynnstay – the village itself is ugly – deformed by some smoky works, – one might colour it to the life in Indian Ink. the romantic Ladies [1]  there I did not think worth visiting – & we proceeded to Valle Crucis Abbey – thence along the Dee banks to Corwen: but this ground must not be hurried over. The Abbey is not a large ruin; the building never was extensive, but it was in a good stile, what remains is beautifully shaped, & its situation in a narrow valley between high hills – a brook singing along the bottom, & fine ashes on the hill side, & by the ruin, & in the ruin, make it a lovely spot. Some fellow whose brains ought to be knocked out against Pocklingtons [2]  skull, has built close by the Abbey a small London St Georges fields-tea-looking house [3]  – in which to dine with his friends – & he has made a square fishpond in front, surrounded with a square hedge of thickset, squared most trimly by the sheers of the garden-barber. it is far worse than any of Pocklingtons wilful murders upon innocent stone. – the course of the Dee now became most beautiful. like the Usk about Abergavenny it flows thro high & cultivated hills – but the river itself, is lovelier than any which I remember to have seen. it is broad & shallow, & its dark waters shiver over great stones into white & silver & hues of amber brown. no mud upon the shore – no bushes – no marsh plants – any where you a child might dip you stand dryfooted & dip his hand into the water. there are trees enough upon the hills – abundance of the bending birch that tree so light hanging & so lovely! – there are houses enough scattered, & such houses as show that the richness of the land is not ill bestowed – Corwen is little more than a village – where at the sign of Owen Glendower, [4]  whose residence was in the neighbourhood we got bad beds & fleas enough to make Wynn noisy all night & give him employment to scratch all the next day.

Two miles from Corwen is a waterfall – Rhaiadr Cynwid. the best I have ever yet found. the body of water is enough to make a constant shower of its dust, & a most cold wind, & I stood in that cold wind & that shower, & saw rainbows where the shadow of the rock ended & met the sunshine. Pontyglindifis – a bridge over a glen down which a mountain brooks roars – was the next fine object – & the only in our way to Cernioge. all else was raw & bleak. black boggy looking streams, & cold boggy hills. Wynn said it was Irish looking – I thought of the worst parts of Alentejo. thence to Llanwrst – but not along the common road. we struck to the left by way of Bettws. & this led us to a glorious pass among the mountains. the mountain side was stony, & a few trees grew among its stones, the other side was more xxxxx wooded & had grass on the top – & a huge waterfall thundered into the bottom & thundered down the bottom. when it had nearly past these rocky straits it met another stream. the width of water then became considerable & twice it formed a large – black pool – to the eye absolutely stagnant – the froth of the waters that entered then sleeping upon the surface – it had the deadness of enchantment – yet was not the pool wider than the river above it & below it where it foamed over a broken bed. Last night we slept at Llanwrst. a little town upon the Conway, remarkable for a bridge which we were told was built by one Inigo Jones [5]  – & for a church worth entering, more particularly because it contains the coffin of Llewelyn the Great. [6]  a huge stone chest, once well ornamented. On the way to Conway we lingerd an hour & half in climbing up to a waterfall which is visible from the road. Conway is walled round & I could have fancied myself in Portugal, only sunshine & a stink were wanting. the castle & the ruined wall are very very fine. It falls xxx lamentably short of Obidos, but in England I have seen no fortifications remaining so entire. thence to Bangor along the side of Penmaenmawr, a road now walled in & safe, but once terribly dangerous – for the wall runs along a giddy precipice, & the sea is at the bottom. the old Penman is a grand fellow. Zounds had he given himself one shake to shake the dust from his coat – a hail storm of rocks would have buried us. the mountain is almost all stone – lying loose, or jutting out like crystals in shape. I want some good Welshman to give me the names of the mountains in their order along this coast. we are now at Bangor – rather an Inn a mile from Bangor. tomorrow we go to Capel Cerrig, & from thence see the one side of Snowdon, & I shall look out a situation for Cadwallons [7]  hut. [MS torn]glesy is in sight, a cold uninviting place. we do not enter it this journey – it [MS torn]mes into our next route.

What I have seen is so entirely different from the Lake Scenery that it would be ridiculous to attempt comparison. these mountains look to me the highest – but that is probably because they are more insulated. Wales has wood, & the interest of ruins & many recollections, any thing so simple & severely sublime as your view to Borrodale & Newlands or so quietly beautiful as Grasmere & Rydale I have not seen. We are mounted – & the servant drives the gig – or rides as we like. I have learn[MS torn] to drive – so I may say, & that without breaking the carriage or killing a Welshman. It is cold weather, & today is cloudy – I am hoping – but not expecting a clear day to attempt Snowdon. if old Snowdon knew what a reverence I have for him he would doff his nightcap in decency. Twas a bad business that one Mr Mordred, whose magic song, ‘Made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud topt head” was hung by martial law, as a stirrer of the people to sedition, [8]  for one of those cunning men might get a good deal <of> custom by making the mountains stoop like Camels & pick up a traveller. – For our adventures they are comprized in a short narrative – I have had my hair cut, – & my pantaloons mended, & that is all. the maid at Corwen has I hoped effectually stopt a breach which threatened else to have reduced me to as indecorous a situation as old Antonios. [9] 

Probably we shall reach Llangedwin on Saturday, from thence I will write. it is not easy to find time on the road, for we reach the end of our days journey just at the night fall – too hungry & too tired to think of much more than eating & sleeping. Every evening I want the Wishing Cap of Fortunatus [10]  to return. I do not expect to exceed my months furlow, & indeed shall be lamentably lothe so to do. my travels are always in the anticipation of remembrance. but I do love a country like this & it is doing me good. give me a line to Wynnstay. how are you? & how is Coleridge? & Moses – & the little short fat round rolling maggot? – if I could but be in two places at the same time now! – dear dear Edith God bless you

yr Robert Southey.


* Address: [in another hand] Bangor September twenty three/ 1801/ Mrs Southey/ Keswick/ C W Williams Wynn
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 168-172 [dated ‘September 1801’]. BACK

[2] Joseph Pocklington (1736-1817), eccentric who undertook a number of controversial building projects at Lake District beauty spots, including Fort Joseph on Derwent Island and Barrow House in Borrowdale. BACK

[3] St George’s Fields in Southwark, South London, was the site of many cheap amusements. BACK

[4] Owen Glendower (c. 1354/9-c. 1415; DNB), last independent Welsh ruler. A tree-covered mound near Carrog marks the site of his house. BACK

[5] Inigo Jones (1573-1652; DNB), British architect. BACK

[6] Llewelyn ‘the Great’ (c. 1173-1240; DNB), Prince of Gwynedd and effective ruler of Wales in his later years. BACK

[7] The cousin of the eponymous hero in Southey’s Welsh-American epic Madoc (1805). His hut is described in Part I, Book 3. BACK

[8] Thomas Gray (1716-1771; DNB), ‘The Bard. A Pindaric Ode’ (1757), lines 33-34, names Modred as one of the Welsh bards murdered by the English invaders. BACK

[9] An incident that happened to a muleteer who accompanied the Southeys on their trip to central Portugal in March 1801; see Adolfo Cabral, Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 15-33. BACK

[10] Fortunatus was the hero of a series of tales widely published in 16th and 17th-century Europe. He had a purse that always replenished itself and a cap that could carry the wearer wherever he wished. BACK

Places mentioned