843. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [30 September 1803]

843. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [30 September 1803] ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

I am thinking – or rather trying to think about a song for you. & if I can make a good one you shall have it. but motions of the brain are not like motions of the bowels tho Dryden by his remedy of stewed prunes seemed to think them xxxxx so. [1] 

My reviewing work lies before me – like a holydays task an ugly job left till the very last. Owen Cambridge [2]  whom you so much admire is among the prisoners – & a great volume of the History of Maritime discovery by Stanier Clarke, [3]  which said Clarke I am breaking upon the wheel for the crimes of pedantry, stupidity, jack-assness & pick-pocketry. Madoc [4]  goes on & if my poor eyes allow you shall have a good spell of books for a Xmas dish. But still history [5]  suits me best. do you know that the Portugueze got at Tombuctoo? [6]  now as they did get there & yet say nothing particular about it, it is a very fair corollary that Tombuctoo is not very much better than the other collections of negro-sties which are called cities in Africa. the state of society in Negroland puzzles me. we read of cities & courts & palaces & Kings, & Kings they are to all intents & purposes. yet when we think of one of these King Toms with a captains old coat, a pair of Monmouth Street [7]  red breeches – a tye wig, playing with his brass buttons, or with a rattle one wonders how the Devil they came by the forms of a regular government. they look to me like a degraded race. as if they had been civilized once & had sunk into the dotage – the second childhood of society.

Your wine is ordered as I gave no directions for the payment the merchant has drawn upon the gentleman to whom it is consigned. I have had a grievous loss. a whole cargo of books for which I had been waiting & my Uncle searching two years – taken in the King George Packet. [8]  Among them was the oldest Poem about the Cid, [9]  & the oldest Gothic codes. [10]  Surely in time of war our Packets ought to be armed vessels or frigates. We give our mail coach a guard & yet leave our foreign mails to the mercy of every French privateer.

My eyes are very bad again. this is a sore evil & I fear it will cling to me. in other respects I am well & should be sufficiently happy were it not for the stinging recollection how much happier I have been. in company I am not less alive & chearful than ever, but when alone I feel myself sadly different from what I was – as if the roots which attach me to earth were all loosened. my head does not teem with plans & hopes as it used to do. I go to Madoc & my history with a feeling that when I have finished them my work will be done. this feeling makes me regard them with deeper interest & proceed more perseveringly least they should not be finished.

God bless you.

R S.

Keswick.  Friday.


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr. M.P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham Holywell/ Flintshire
Stamped: KESWICK / 298; WREXHAM/ 202
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 238-239 [where it is dated 28 September 1803].
Dating note: Dated from internal evidence noting the loss of Southey’s books. Friday was 30 September in 1803. BACK

[1] John Dryden (1631-1700; DNB), whose recommendation of prunes to make writing easier was well-known and much-ridiculed; see Walter Scott, The Life of John Dryden (Edinburgh and London, 1834), p. 389. BACK

[2] George Owen Cambridge (1756-1841), The Works of Richard Owen Cambridge (1803), Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 583-585. BACK

[3] James Stanier Clarke (1766-1834; DNB), The Progress of Maritime Discovery (1803). Southey reviewed the book in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 12-20. BACK

[4] Southey had finished a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

[5] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[6] John II (1455-1495, King of Portugal 1481-1495) sent a number of embassies to important West African economic centres, including the city of Timbuktu. BACK

[7] A street near Covent Garden, London, famous for its second-hand clothing shops. BACK

[8] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765-1803), Captain of the packet, King George, which sailed between Falmouth and Lisbon. He died on 11 August 1803, from wounds received when his ship was attacked by a French privateer on 30 July 1803. The King George was taken to the Spanish port of Vigo, and Southey lost his books. BACK

[9] An edition of ‘El Cantar de Mio Cid’, the oldest Spanish epic poem, probably from the 13th century. BACK

[10] The Visigothic Code, promulgated in 642 and 654 and translated into Spanish in the 13th century. BACK

People mentioned

Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)