2748. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 30 March 1816

2748. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 30 March 1816⁠* 

Keswick. 30 March. 1816.

My dear Wynn

I inclose for your perusal a letter which has this day come to my hands from Mr Peacock, the person in whose house I lodged at Newington twenty years ago. He is now confined in a private mad-house, according to his own account most unjustly. Most persons in a similar situation probably think the same. – but I very much doubt whether the circumstances in his case were ever such as to justify the treatment which he has received. Let me first state what I know of the circumstances, & then, after seeing his letter you will be able to advise with me whether any thing can be done for his deliverance.

Peacock & his wife [1]  lived unhappily together, – & I believe she hated her husband. He happened to be at Yarmouth when the fleet anchored there after Duncans victory, [2]  & went on board immediately, – before the wounded were taken out, & while marks of the carnage were every where apparent. The sight affected him so powerfully as certainly to derange him for a time: – & on his return home he wrote letters to the King [3]  & the Ministers describing what he had seen, – & these letters he put into his wifes hand that she might dispatch them. The next morning he asked if she had sent them, & upon her replying in the negative, he observed that perhaps it was as well not. She herself told me this, – but I suspect that the strongest proof of insanity which was to <ever> produced against xxx him were these letters, which she preserved for that purpose.

Another instance (& it is all that ever came to my knowledge) was his taking upon himself in 1798 to make an opposition dinner at the Crown & Anchor, [4]  to which he invited Adam, [5]  & I believe Fox, to meet the City Reformers. The madness here lay in making himself responsible for the entertainment, & it was put a stop to by his wife.

Farther than this I know nothing except that I received a letter from him in 1808 from a place of confinement, & replied to it according to the address which he then gave me. I received no farther communications from that time, – he says he has repeatedly written, – & that <it> certainly looks ill that his letters should have been intercepted. – By whose means, or xxx for what purpose, he is confined <at present> (his wife being dead) I do not know & I take blame to myself for not having inquired into the transaction upon his first appeal to me.

The first thing which occurs to me is that my brother Harry should see him, & hear what the Keeper of the madhouse reports concerning him. – You have taken some interest in the subject of these institutions establishments: [6]  – would you accompany my brother upon this visit? You would know what enquiries to make, & in what manner to make them.

I write with some degree of agitation, – partly from a sense of having left this poor fellows case unexamined, & – still more because Herbert is unwell enough to give me much uneasiness. – Otherwise I had much to say upon the present state of things. We are probably at this time nearer together in political feeling than we ever were before. How desperately imprudent is Brougham!  [7] 

God bless you my dear Wynn

Yrs very affectionately



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre MP/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 2 AP 2/ 1816
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 136–137. BACK

[1] Mrs Peacock’s first name and dates are unknown. BACK

[2] The British fleet, commanded by Adam Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan (1731–1804; DNB), had won a decisive victory over the Dutch at Camperdown on 11 October 1797. As many as a thousand British sailors may have been killed or wounded before the fleet started to arrive back in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, on 17 October 1797. BACK

[3] George III (1738–1820; King of the United Kingdom 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[4] The Crown and Anchor tavern on The Strand. It was the site of a famous dinner on 24 January 1798 to celebrate the birthday of Charles James Fox, at which leading members of the Whig opposition joined forces with the radical London Corresponding Society. Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk (1746–1815; DNB) delivered a toast to ‘Our Sovereign’s Health, the Majesty of the People’, which led to his being stripped of his public offices. BACK

[5] William Adam (1751–1839; DNB), Whig lawyer and politician and electoral manager for the group at the general elections of 1796 and 1802. MP for Gratton 1774–1780, Wigtown 1780–1784, Elgin Burghs 1784–1790, Ross-shire 1790–1794 and Kincardineshire 1806–1812. He was later Baron of the Scottish Court of Exchequer 1814–1819. BACK

[6] Wynn had a long-standing interest in the reform of asylums and was largely responsible for ‘Wynn’s Act’ of 1808, which set up the first county asylums. He was a member of the 1815–1816 House of Commons Select Committee that was investigating English asylums. BACK

[7] Brougham had very mixed fortunes in March 1816: he secured a major political triumph by forcing the government to repeal income tax on 18 March; but lost much of his political credit with a bitter attack on the Prince Regent two days later. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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