2722. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 21 February 1816

2722. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 21 February 1816⁠* 

Keswick. 21 Feby. 1816

My dear Wynn

Since you heard from me last my ‘Pilgrimage’ has never been off my desk, & I have not reached the end of it, [1]  – such a snails pace have I travelled. With as boyish a heart as ever, I begin to have a grey head, & many symptoms that the noonday of life is gone by. In the year 1798 I once wrote 1200 lines in a week, Gualberto made part of them, the greater number of the rest were in Madoc. [2]  This I could not do now; & an increased fastidiousness, or sense of imperfection will not account for all, or even half the difference; the inclination for the effort is wanting – which is a strong indication that the power no longer exists.

I took the story of Bless thy eyes from Bowdlers book, [3]  with a strong suspicion, I confess, that the word Bless was put evangelice for a much more soldierlike expression; – but I had no suspicion that eyes had been substituted for nose; or I should certainly have restored the true reading. In consequence of what was said of the Convention of Cintra in the former number (where my sentiments were suffered to stand) [4] Sir Hew Dalrymple has sent me a long vindication thro Murray. I cannot reply to him, as I should wish to do for his courtesy, – & must therefore take advantage of his letter having come to me as an anonymous person: not to reply to it at all. [5]  He is very fearful of what I shall say in my history, [6]  – & from this fear it is impossible to relieve him. This is an evil inseparable from the task of writing contemporary history; – there are occasions on which be as cautious as you may, you must either sacrifice xxxx truth, or wound the feelings of others. – My Spanish honours bring me into a curious dilemma; – as a Member of their two Academies [7]  I am expected to send copies of whatever I may publish to each, – & to do this with a history which will neither mince the matter respecting the Holy Office, nor Ferdinand would be a direct insult. [8]  As for Ferdinand & the Liberales [9]  there is as much to be said in justification of one as of the other: – their Constitution provided for quarrelling with the puppet King at its head, & would soon have ended by xxxxxxxxxx getting rid of him. It is not much to be wondered at if he who has just sense enough to understand this thoroughly, & is moreover so thorough a Catholic as to embroider petticoats for the Virgin, [10]  should have very little mercy upon men who really are thorough Jacobinical Atheists; & who declare that they would show no mercy if the power were in their hands. This is a matter which I can judge with entire impartiality; – for certainly had I been born a Spaniard, & bred under such a Government & such a Church, – the first wish of my heart would <have> been to destroy both. In short it is as fair a war between them, as between shark & sailor. – It required all Broughams effrontery to take up this question, – while these men were acting against France, he never spoke of them but with contempt. [11] 

Dr Aikin announces Annals of George 3d & I am to review his work an offer readily accepted on my part, – because what I shall then write will serve as the outline of my own intended book. [12]  In this forthcoming number I have a short paper upon a French account of Massenas campaign in Portugal, – & another upon Alfieri, of little or no value. [13]  For the next I must exert myself, as my ways & means will require.

We have had an Avalanche here. I do not know whether you saw Applethwaite when you here, – a gill under Skiddaw. An immense portion of snow came rolling down & brought with it a proportionate quantity of wreck from the mountain, so as to bury the stream for some hundred yards, & the water now works its way under this mingled mass, – or rather under an arch of snow which is covered with wreck. This arch has fallen in in many places, & the whole scene is highly curious.

You will receive my Pilgrimage in the course of a month – I end it with a Vision, which enables me to speak of the political aspects, & of the prospects of society as I would wish to do. How I like it myself I shall better be able to say when it is compleated: the barometer of an authors own feelings is liable to many variations, – Bedford will tell you of the prints, which will give the book a certain & permanent interest. [14]  – I have made proper mention of Picton, [15]  who I think may take place of Sir Henry Morgan, in the Worthy of Wales. [16] 

God bless you

Yrs very affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre MP/ London/ [in another hand]
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] FREE/ 1816
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 13–15. BACK

[1] Southey began The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816) on 8 December 1815, but the poem proved longer and harder to write than he had anticipated. It was not finished until late March 1816 and was published in May 1816. BACK

[2] ‘St. Juan Gualberto. Addressed to a Friend’, first published in Annual Anthology, 2 vols (Bristol, 1800), II, pp. 1–19; and Southey’s first complete version of ‘Madoc’, written in 1797–1799. BACK

[3] Southey had included the following anecdote in his article ‘Life of Wellington’, Quarterly Review, 13 (July 1815), 448–526 (511): ‘“Bless thy eyes!” said a soldier in Spain, when Lord Wellington passed by him for the first time after he had returned from Cadiz to the army. “Bless thy eyes! I had rather see thee come back, than see ten thousand men come to help us.” The bowdlerised anecdote came, fittingly, from Thomas Bowdler (1754–1825; DNB), A Short View of the Life and Character of the Late Lieut.-General Villettes (Bath, 1815), p. 120. BACK

[4] In his first article on the ‘Life of Wellington’, Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 215–275, especially at 242–243, Southey had criticised the conduct of Dalrymple when, arriving in Portugal as commanding officer, he had, at the Convention of Cintra, signed 30 August 1808, allowed a defeated French army free passage out of the country with its weapons and supplies intact. BACK

[5] Lacking a reply to the enquiry he had made through Murray, Dalrymple wrote to Southey directly, and Southey replied on 6 March 1816, Letter 2732. BACK

[6] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[7] The Royal Spanish Academy (founded 1713) and the Royal Spanish Academy of History (founded 1738). BACK

[8] The Spanish Inquisition (established 1478) upheld religious orthodoxy in Spain and had a notorious reputation in Protestant Europe and among Enlightenment thinkers. Southey was a determined opponent of its activities. The Inquisition was abolished by the French regime in Spain in December 1808, but was reinstated by Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808, 1813–1833) on 21 July 1814 as part of his plan to restore absolutism in Spain. BACK

[9] While Ferdinand VII was under arrest in France, those areas of Spain that were not under French control acknowledged the authority of the Cortes elected in 1810. It drew up the liberal Constitution of 1812, which Ferdinand abolished in May 1814. The King’s reactionary policies produced a number of minor revolts in 1814–1815. The Constitution’s supporters were known as ‘Liberales’. BACK

[10] Blasius Ostolaza (1775–1835), one of Ferdinand VII’s confessors during his captivity in Spain, had claimed that the King passed his time embroidering a silk gown and petticoat for a statue of the Virgin Mary. The report had produced widespread ridicule in Britain, e.g. The Literary Panorama and National Register, n.s. 2 (1815), 89–90. BACK

[11] In Southey’s eyes Brougham was an opportunist. Brougham had belittled the patriots who fought against the French invasion of Spain, because the British government (which he opposed) supported them. However, he now backed the same patriots’ cause against Ferdinand VII. Indeed, Brougham had spoken in the Commons on 15 February 1816, calling on the British government to do more to defend the Spanish liberals from Ferdinand VII. BACK

[12] John Aikin, Annals of the Reign of King George III (1816) was not reviewed by Southey in the Quarterly Review. (The work was no. 20 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, but the pages were uncut.) Southey had contemplated such a project himself for some time. BACK

[13] André Delagrave (1774–1849), Campagne de l’Armée Francaise en Portugal, dans les années 1810–11, &c. par Mr A. D. L. G., Officier Supérieur employé dans l’État-Major de cette Armée (1815), dealing with the French Marshal, André Massena’s (1758–1817), campaign in Portugal 1810–1811. This review was not published in the Quarterly Review. Southey did review, in Quarterly Review, 14 (January 1816), 333–368, Vita di Vittorio Alfieri, &c. Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Victor Alfieri, Written by Himself (1815) and The Tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri, Translated by Charles Lloyd (1815). BACK

[14] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816); the final book of Part Two was ‘The Hopes of Man”. When published it included eight engravings of sketches of the battlefield: seven were taken from works by Nash, and one from a drawing by Charles Bell (1774–1842; DNB). BACK

[15] Sir Thomas Picton (1758–1815; DNB), a Welshman from Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, was a prominent commander in the Peninsular War. He died a hero’s death in action at Waterloo, commanding the 5th Infantry Division, although his reputation was tainted by accusations that he ordered the torture of prisoners when Governor of Trinidad, 1797–1803. Southey celebrated him in The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Part One, Book 3, stanzas 29–30. BACK

[16] Admiral Sir Henry Morgan (c. 1635–1688; DNB), the Welsh naval captain, privateer and pirate of the Caribbean. BACK

Places mentioned

Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)