846. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 28 October 1803

846. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 28 October 1803 ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

If a Lieutenant Colonel who has all the volunteers of two huge countries command, [1]  can find leisure for those researches which entitle him to the degree of F.A.S. [2]  he may help out a poem [3]  which certainly ought to entitle me to the Poet Laureatship of the Principality.

What was the dress of the Welsh? I have given Ririd [4]  at a venture a shirt of fine linen – a tunic – an embroidered girdle – a mantle bordered with fur – & a fur cap – & he looks very well in it. Supposing that they had assimilated to Saxon decency I would have given him breeches, but neither breeches, small clothes, indescribables, pantaloons, nor galligaskins could be put in in English <verse>. Stockings may have been in use then, but could not when the King has a Pedifer to chaf his feet as he sate at table. [5] 

I am going to carry Madoc to Bardsey. [6]  if you have Powell [7]  or Warrington [8]  at hand do tell me which of the old Kings were buried there. Owen Gwynedh [9]  & his father Gryffedh [10]  were buried at Bangor. I could make a swelling & sonorous passage about the old gentlemen & their worthinesses – if I knew them. The extract which I made at Wynnstay from the Royal Tribes [11]  & the Gwydir History [12]  are become very useful. twas unfortunate that we did not visit Bardsey – I feel it now. this Welsh part of the poem [13]  will be very Odyssey-like. I am weaving into it all the collectable circumstances of the time & manners of the peoples in this order. Journey to Mathrafal – the Hirlas Horn – the Grave of Jorwerth at Pennant Melangel the Meeting of the Bards. Dinevor & the Embassy of Gwgan of Caer Einion from the Royal Tribes. [14]  thus far is done. then come Bardsey & Llewelyn. the child of Hoel. the Excommunication of Owen Cyveilioc [15]  at Bangor for not crusading – & the Priest detected by Madoc in digging a hole from his fathers grave thro into the church yard to eject his body, he having died under the censure of the church (from Giraldus [16]  & your friend Mr Yorke. [17] ) this will tell well & Madoc shall carry over the bones of Owen to America. I shall then try my strength with Camoens [18]  & Valerius Flaccus [19]  (who was a man of far more genius) – in the embarkation scene. I can find a place for only one picture – & that will be taken from the Llanberris scenery – about the village – not the Lake. Dinevor is such mere English scenery that I have but hinted at it to contrast it with glens & mountains. but the Towey had beavers in the days of Giraldus [20]  & I have shown Madoc one poor hermit one to put him in mind of his own countrymen. [21]  I wish your brother [22]  would colonize the Dee with some of these old Welshmen. there is something to me very affecting in the extirpation of so interesting an animal.

Hei mihi [23]  that I have written no song! whether it be that Madoc has monopolized my whole stock of ideas – or that my gift is in singing songs not writing them – My feelings when I have been trying are either the contempt that would make “vile ballads” about of mockery, or a forefeeling of triumph ready to break out into prophetic hymns of victory. I begin to fear they will not attempt invasion.

This war with Portugal [24]  affects me in both senses of the word. of course it will drive my Uncle to England & so somewhat influence my choice of an abiding place. it cuts off all supply of books reducing me to feed upon the charity of great new libraries – for I have no resource but in Lord Bute [25]  – & it ruins the pleasantest hope I entertained – that of speedily crossing over to the land I love. God-a-mercy that a fellow [26]  whelped in Corsica & living in France should interfere with the studies of a poor historian by the side of Lake Derwentwater!

God bless you. I am well & active both in body & mind – but hæret lateri! [27]  yet I am the better for it – it seems to have connected me with the other world – given me new relations to it & loosened my roots here.


Friday night. 28 Oct. 1803.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr. M.P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: 20 Oct <28th > 1803
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. 242-244. BACK

[1] Wynn was in command of the Montgomeryshire Volunteers. BACK

[2] Possibly a jokey tribute to Wynn’s contributions to Southey’s researches on antique Welsh customs and history; rearranging the FSA of Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. BACK

[3] Madoc (1805). BACK

[4] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 12, lines 116-122. BACK

[5] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 2, lines 95-96 and Note. BACK

[6] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 13. BACK

[7] David Powell (1549/1552-1598; DNB), The Historie of Cambria, Now Called Wales (1584). BACK

[8] William Warrington (1735-1827), The History of Wales (1788), no. 2981 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] Owen Gwynedd (1100-1170, Prince of Gwynedd 1137-1170; DNB). The father of Madoc, in legend. BACK

[10] Gruffudd ap Cynan (1054/5-1137, Prince of Gwynedd 1081-1137; DNB). BACK

[11] Philip Yorke (1743-1804; DNB), The Royal Tribes of Wales (1799). Southey eventually acquired an edition, no. 3133 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[12] Sir John Wynn (1553-1627; DNB), The History of the Gwedir Family (1770). Southey eventually acquired an edition of 1827, no. 3133 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[13] Southey goes on to describe some of the main events in Madoc (1805), Part 1, Books 10-15. BACK

[14] Philip Yorke, The Royal Tribes of Wales (Wrexham, 1799), p. 55. BACK

[15] Owain Cyfeiliog (c. 1125-1197, Prince of Powys 1160-1195; DNB). BACK

[16] Giraldus Cambrensis (c. 1146- c. 1223; DNB), Itinerarium Cambriae (1191). BACK

[17] Philip Yorke, The Royal Tribes of Wales (Wrexham, 1799), pp. 4-5. BACK

[18] Luis Vaz de Camões (1524-1580), Os Lusiadas (1572) BACK

[19] Gaius Valerius Flaccus (d. c. AD 90), Argonautica. BACK

[20] Giraldus Cambrensis, Itinerarium Cambriae (1191). BACK

[21] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 12, lines 35-43. BACK

[22] Sir Watkin Williams Wynn (1772-1840). BACK

[23] The Latin translates as ‘Oh dear’. BACK

[24] Britain and Portugal did not go to war and Portugal retained a precarious neutrality until 1807. BACK

[25] John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute (1744-1814; DNB), Ambassador to Spain 1795-1796 and a collector of books on Spain and Portugal. BACK

[26] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[27] Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BC), Aeneid, Book 4, line 73: ‘[it] clings to my side’, in the sense of an arrow in a deer. BACK

People mentioned

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

Places mentioned