2791. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 17 May 1816

2791. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 17 May 1816⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I am very glad you are satisfied with the Pilgrimage. [1]  A work of such length can never be compleated without many fits of misgiving in the author, & towards its close when uneasy apprehensions from another cause began to disquiet me, [2]  I more than once wished that it had never been begun. – To me the book will ever remain a sad memento of the uncertainty of human enjoyments; – & yet it is a satisfaction that the Proem has exists, & will exist as long as my name shall be remembered.

Emuling is not my coinage. You will find the word in Spenser. [3] 

The Carmen Nuptiale [4]  was half written two years ago, – & by a piece of good luck which could not have been expected it is only by one word the worse for altering. [5]  I had to turn the Belgic Lion into a Saxon one, [6]  – this Male Simorg [7]  of ours most obligingly happening to have a lionsxxxx a Lion for his supporter. Tell nobody this, & nobody will perceive how much difference the one word makes. I myself think this far the best of my minor poems. Nor am I afraid of being misunderstood in the third stanza. [8] 

The Stanza is not Spensers, – he I believe has never used it. It is the simplest form of stanza, & of the most convenient length. A longer stanza where the same rhyme recurs more frequently, leads almost inevitably to a diffuser style than is xxxxx at all times desirable.

The Lay of the Laureate is a good English name for the Carmen Nuptiale, it is just such a poem as those which were originally called Lays, – & tho I have put more of Robert Southey into it than many persons may think proper (& you perhaps among others) yet certainly the subject is one which R. S. would never have chosen, but which the Laureate could not with propriety let pass. Moreover the two Ls alliterate well & the beauty of the title page will be improved because this title renders unnecessary the introduction of the authors name – cogent reasons you must admit.

The Waterloo men have got their medals I see. [9]  – You & I & Alexander Davison have contributed to this. [10]  This is not the first time that I have been oddly classed with Alexander Davison. Poor Woodroffe Smith of Stockwell left 50£ each to Duppa, Alex. Davison, Sir John Eamer [11]  then Lord Mayor, & R S, – as his four particular friends.

I am afraid Wilson [12]  has acted from a very unworthy feeling of personal resentment towards Ld Wellington, & his own Government. Wilson has been an ill used man. If I were called upon to say what particular act above all other contributed to the success of our struggle in the peninsula, I think I should say Wilsons advance to Cuidad Rodrigo at the time when Sir John Moore was in full retreat: for that movement (beyond all doubt) prevented the French upon from advancing upon Lisbon, & the English from evacuating it, – as they were ready to do. [13]  I dare say Beresford [14] was is a better drill sergeant than Wilson, – & Wilson a better Guerrilla chief than regular soldier. But certainly his merits were never acknowledged & rewarded as they ought to have been. No weaker feeling than that of bitter resentment could ever have made him of all men take so strong an interest for Marshal Ney. [15]  – My own feelings upon this business are these, – I would have seized Ney in his flight & delivered him to the executioner: but had Lavalette come to me I would have used every effort to favour his escape, because I would not have plotted it, but when he was out of prison I would no more have abstained from assisting him (there being no paramount claims of eternal justice <policy> in his case as there were in Neys) than I could from saving any human creature from death if it were in my power. – But as for the grounds on which Bruce & Hutchinson profess to have acted, – they & my Lord Kinnaird ought to be cut for the simples; [16]  – & if the operation were extended to some of the opponents of the Alien act, the sum total of folly in the H of Commons would be reduced. [17] 

The French seem very lovingly disposed to cut each others throats, in which meritorious work I hope they may prosper to their hearts desire. A Buonapartean La Vendee [18]  would be a spectacle for men & angels, I mean good angels, – the Devils would be too busily engaged in it to have any leisure for looking on.

God bless you


17 May, 1816.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 20 MY 20/ 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. 26–28. BACK

[1] Southey’s The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816) had just been published. BACK

[2] The illness of Southey’s son, Herbert, who died on 17 April 1816. BACK

[3] An archaic word meaning ‘emulating’. Southey used it in The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Part One, Book 3, stanza 20, line 2. Southey’s model was Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599; DNB), ‘Colin Clouts Come Home Againe’ (1595), line 72. The Monthly Review, 80 (June 1816), 189–199, analysis of the poem condemned Southey’s ‘absurd coinage’ (199). BACK

[4] Southey’s The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816). It celebrated the marriage of Princess Charlotte, only child of the Prince Regent, to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1790–1865; King of the Belgians 1831–1865) on 2 May 1816. BACK

[5] Southey wrote fifty stanzas of The Lay of the Laureate in March–June 1814, when Princess Charlotte was engaged to William, Hereditary Prince of Orange (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849). He had to abandon the poem when the engagement was broken off, but he was able to reuse most of it in his Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816). BACK

[6] The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816), ‘The Dream’, stanza 19, line 2. Comparison with the earlier draft of the poem in Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, Box B/414, reveals Southey did change the description of the lion from ‘Belgic’ to ‘Saxon’. Fortunately, both the royal arms of the Netherlands and Saxe-Coburg featured lions as supporters. BACK

[7] The simurgh is a fabulous bird in Iranian mythology. It appeared prominently in Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). Prince Leopold was a ‘Male Simorg’ because, like the bird, he was expected to bestow fertility on the land – in his case by providing Princess Charlotte with an heir to the throne. BACK

[8] The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816), ‘Proem’, stanza 3, features ‘Fancy’ addressing the poet: ‘“For what hast thou to do with wealth or power,/ Thou whom rich Nature at thy happy birth/ Blest in her bounty with the largest dower/ That Heaven indulges to a child of Earth, . ./ Then when the sacred Sisters for their own/ Baptized thee in the springs of Helicon?”‘ BACK

[9] All soldiers present at the Battle of Waterloo received the Waterloo Medal in 1816–1817, the first medal ever presented to all British soldiers in a battle. BACK

[10] Wynn had spoken in a debate in the House of Commons on 29 June 1815 in favour of a national monument to celebrate Waterloo and a medal for all British troops who fought there. Southey strongly supported the proposal, e.g. in his article ‘Life of Wellington’ in the Quarterly Review, 13 (July 1815), 448–526 (523–524). The government contractor, Alexander Davison (1750–1829; DNB), paid for a commemorative medal for all sailors in the British fleet at the Battle of the Nile (1798). BACK

[11] Sir John Eamer (1750–1823), wholesale grocer and Lord Mayor of London 1801–1802. BACK

[12] Sir Robert Wilson (1777–1849; DNB), Brigadier-General who commanded the Loyal Lusitanian Legion of Portuguese troops in the Peninsular War 1808–1811. Wilson was critical of Wellington’s conduct of the Peninsular War and provided advice to opposition politicians; he was later radical MP for Southwark 1818–1831. He had helped the French politician, Antoine Marie Chamans, Comte de Lavallete (1769–1830), escape from prison, so he could avoid execution for supporting Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; First Consul 1799–1804; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815) when he regained the throne in the ‘Hundred Days’ 1815. BACK

[13] Southey praised these actions in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 498–500. Sir John Moore’s (1761–1809; DNB) British Army had advanced into Spain from Portugal, but faced with overwhelming numbers, retreated to Galicia and was evacuated to Britain in January 1809. BACK

[14] General William Beresford, 1st Viscount Beresford (1768–1856; DNB), Marshal and Commander-in-Chief of the Portuguese Army 1809–1820. BACK

[15] Michel Ney (1769–1815), French general, executed on 7 December 1815 for aiding Napoleon in the Hundred Days. Wilson had campaigned for Ney to be reprieved. BACK

[16] A colloquialism, ‘To be cured of one’s folly’. The ‘folly’ in question was the involvement of Michael Bruce (1787–1861), John Hely-Hutchinson (1787–1851) and Sir Robert Wilson in aiding the escape from prison in 1815 of the French politician Antoine Marie Chamans, Comte de Lavalette (1769–1830). The three conspirators were tried between 22–24 April 1816 and each found guilty and sentenced to three months imprisonment. Charles Kinnaird, 8th Lord Kinnaird (1780–1826) was another radical opponent of the government; he was expelled from France as an undesirable alien – a matter raised in the House of Lords on 12 February 1816. BACK

[17] The Aliens Act (1793), regulating the presence of non-British citizens, had been repealed in 1814, but then reimposed and succeeded by the Registration of Aliens Act (1816), which established a central system for recording the presence of non-British citizens in the United Kingdom. It was heavily criticised by some of the Whig opposition. BACK

[18] There were considerable tensions in parts of France in 1815–1816 between supporters and opponents of the French Revolution. The Vendée was a pro-royalist area of North Western France that saw attacks on revolutionaries in 1793–1796 and again in 1815. BACK

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