2927. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23 February 1817

2927. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23 February 1817⁠* 

My dear Wynn

The affidavit arrived on Saturday, – & I must go to Cockermouth to swear to it, so that it cannot be returned till tomorrows post. [1]  The inclosed will tell you my brothers opinion; he has more knowledge of the world than most men, & I should willingly assent to his advice, were it not highly probable that the publishers will force me to come forward at last, by putting my name in the advertisement, as they did in a paragraph in the M Chronicle. [2]  Therefore I think it is better to act at once, – & indeed in all cases the straightforward manliest course is the best. But it rather staggers me that both Turner & Rickman incline to Harrys way of thinking. If you should alter yours, desire Turner by a note not to proceed. I think you will remain in the same mind, & in that belief shall send up the affidavit.

How much could I say to you upon the subject of your letter! Muirs & Palmers cases did harm, because both parties were hardly used. [3]  They had not deserved the punishment, – especially Palmers – whose case was a flagrant act of injustice. Margarot was justly sentenced, - [4]  but there was an appearance of wrong in not allowing some of his challenges. Gilbert Wakefields book [5]  was not addressed to the mob, – I think there is more danger than if transportation was made the punishment that it would prevent convictions, than that the power would be abused. But what else will stop the evil? & if the evil be not stopt a jacquerie is inevitable. Give the Press full play, & nothing can prevent the Agrarians [6]  from raising the mob upon us. They will swallow up all the feebler vermin, as the Committee [7]  tells us they are doing; – & as for stopping them by force of reason, – you might as well reason against a steam engine, or one of our mountain floods.

I groan over the cowardice of the ministry. Every concession will only provoke insult, dem contempt & farther demands. But they must be supported, – the choice is between them & Revolution; – & therefore I was sorry that you had refused to be on the Finance Committee. [8]  Indeed this is no time for doing any thing which may increase their discredit.

If I were not too closely occupied I would by way of penance, gird up my loins, & take the subject of Wat Tyler for an historical play, in which to put forth all the powers I could bring to bear upon the story. Plot is excused in such dramas, so that <if> interest can be excited without one by the mere march of events. I meant to have done this in 1797 – but it was laid aside.

I have bought the first vol. of the Rerum Hibernicarum Script. & have taken a great fancy to O’Conor, notwithstanding the great O in his name. [9]  Some of the parts which relate to your Uncle & to his own situation are Stowe are exceedingly fine. I hope the work will proceed; – it is indeed a munificent example of wisely directed patronage.

The second vol. of Brazil [10]  is finished, & you will receive it in a few days. I am busy upon the third, – & such is the course of my life at present, that this employment seems like playing truant from closer calls. Murray offers me 150£ for two articles in each number. I want this money from the next, & shall earn it in the course of the six weeks: the subjects are Mariners Tonga Islands (pray read the book) [11]  – & the Reports of the Committee. [12]  I must write the latter part of this first, – & leave the beginning till I see what is to be done, – the main part will be a pic sketch of the growth & progress of political discontent in this country, – & the means of abating it: I shall aim at a conciliating & persuasive tone, & avoid all personalities, which I endeavour totis viribus [13]  to attack that spirit of party which is the curse & the opprobrium of England.

God bless you my dear Wynn


23 Feby. 1817.


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ London/ London <Xxxxxx xxxxx xxxx/ C Williams Esqr M.P./ Xxxxx xx/ Great Marlow/ Free>
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: FREE/ FE 26/ 1817; FREE/ 26 FE/ 1817; [partial] FE/ 2X/ 1817
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. 60–62. BACK

[1] Southey had learned that Wat Tyler, a radical play he had written in 1794, had been published without his consent. His affidavit was part of his legal action to gain an injunction against this publication. BACK

[2] Southey was informed of the publication of Wat Tyler by a short article in the Morning Chronicle, 12 February 1817. BACK

[3] Thomas Muir (1765–1799; DNB) and Thomas Fysshe Palmer (1747–1802; DNB) were radicals sentenced, by Scottish courts in 1793, to transportation to Australia. Palmer was a Unitarian Minister, whose only crime was to order the printing of an address to parliament. BACK

[4] Maurice Margarot (1745–1815; DNB) was a delegate from the London Corresponding Society to the Edinburgh Convention of the Friends of the People in Scotland in 1793. He was transported to Australia in 1794, only returning in 1811. BACK

[5] Gilbert Wakefield’s A Reply to Some Parts of the Bishop of Llandaff’s Address (1798) led to a sentence of two years’ imprisonment. BACK

[6] Southey’s name for the Society of Spencean Philanthropists (founded 1814), a group of revolutionaries who supported the theories of Thomas Spence (1750–1814; DNB) that all land should be publicly owned. BACK

[7] The House of Commons and House of Lords both established committees on 4 February 1817 to investigate popular unrest. Their alarmist reports helped justify the new Treason Act and Seditious Meetings Act in 1817. BACK

[8] The House of Commons appointed a Select Committee in February 1817 to examine how to reduce public expenditure. It began by examining sinecures and superfluous public offices. BACK

[9] Charles O’Conor (1764–1828; DNB), Rerum Hibernicarum Scriptores Veteres, 4 vols (1814–1826), no. 2112 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. O’Conor was a priest from a well-known family of Irish scholars. His book was an edition of some of the Irish manuscripts in the library at Stowe, where he worked as chaplain to Mary, Marchioness of Buckinghamshire (d. 1812), the sister-in-law of Wynn’s uncle, Lord Grenville. BACK

[10] Southey’s History of Brazil, 3 vols (1810–1819). BACK

[11] William Mariner (1791–1853) lived in the Tonga islands from 1806 to 1810 after the local people attacked his ship and killed his crewmates. His narrative was published by Murray in 1817, having been prepared for the press by the meteorologist John Martin (1789–1869; DNB), An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean, with an Original Grammar and Vocabulary of their Language (1817). Southey reviewed the book in Quarterly Review, 17 (April 1817), 1–39. BACK

[12] ‘Rise and Progress of Popular Disaffection’ in Quarterly Review, 16 (January 1817), 511–552. The books of which it was nominally a review included the Report of the Secret Committee of the House of Commons, Respecting Certain Meetings and Dangerous Combinations (1817), which investigated recent revolutionary outbreaks and reported on 19 February 1817. BACK

[13] ‘with all one’s might’. BACK