3015. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23 August 1817

3015. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23 August 1817⁠* 

Keswick 23 Aug. 1817

My dear Wynn

After getting thro the packets of letters pertinent & impertinent which were waiting my return, – this is the first which I write ex propria motu, – [1]  on the first evening that I am left to myself & my wonted occupations.

During the thirteen weeks which I past upon the continent I saw no English newspapers, except at Paris when dining at Mackenzies. [2]  In Switzerland while halting on my return for three days at the house of my Uncles brother-in-law [3]  I found Galignanis paper [4]  & in it an abstract of the debate upon the choice of a speaker. [5]  There were so many valid reasons why the result ought to have been different that I was disappointed to find xxxx how it had terminated; – yet the whole manner of the debate was exceedingly gratifying, & the more so to me, from the Westminster feeling which was brought forward. It seems impossible that you should not succeed in case of another vacancy; – if ever such an event occurs I will go up to London on purpose to see you in your proper costume, & dine with you on the banks of the Thames.

They tell me both here & in town that travelling has fattened me. Certainly it agreed with my bodily health most admirably, xx whether that <it> be attributable to early rising, continual change of air, or copious libations of good wine, or to all these. The early rising is unluckily the only practice which it would be possible to continue here. As for the wine, when I think of the red wines of Savoy (the Montmelian [6]  in particular), & the white wines of the Rhine & the Moselle, I feel something as the children of Israel did when they remembered the flesh pots of Egypt. [7]  Were I to settle anywhere upon the continent, Switzerland should be the country, &, probably Lausanne the place. There are lovelier places in the Oberland of Berne, & the adjacent small cantons, – but Lausanne has those <all those> comforts which are desirable & there is as good society in the canton de Vaud as need be desired. We could not gain admittance into Gibbons garden, tho his house xxxx xxxx <belongs> xxxx by <to> the Banker on whom we had bills; [8]  – the assigned reason for refusing was, that the way lay thro a chamber which was then occupied by an invalid. I confess that I doubted this, & could not believe that the only way into the garden should be thro a bed chamber. This was a mortifying disappointment: as some compensation however, our own apartments were not more than 100 yards off, & opened upon a terrace which commanded exactly the same view of the lake & mountains, with no other difference of foreground than a hundred yards would make in looking over gardens & groves of fruit trees.

Our route was from Paris by Dijon, Besançon & Pontarlier to Neuchatel. We meant to have proceeded immediately to the pass of S Gothard & have returned by the Simplon, but it was too early in the season, & this pass is not at any time practicable for a carriage without taking it to pieces, – which involves a heavy expence at all times, so we proceeded to Lausanne & Geneva & entered Italy by the pass of M. Cenis, making an excursion on the way to the Chartreuse. Wordsworth told me I should see nothing finer than this in Switzerland, & he was perfectly right. [9]  Turin & Milan were the farthest points which we reached, then to Como, Lugano, across the Lago Maggiore, & back over the Simplon. From Martigny (in the Valais) we went to Chamounix, & would also have gone to the St Bernards if the weather had not been unfavourable, – then to our friends near Morges with whom we rested three days. [10]  Thro Friburg to Berne was our next move, from this latter city we sent our carriage to Zurich, struck into the Alps – going by way of Thuin, Interlaken, Linterbrunn, Grindlewald, Meyringhem & Sarnen to Lucerne, then to Altof, Schweitz, Arth & Zug to Zurich. From Schaffhausen we went to the source of the Danube, then thro the Black Forest to Freyburg, crost the Rhine to Strasburg, & returned the same night to Kehl, – Baden – Rastadt – Carlsruhe – Heidelburg – Manheim – Frankfurt – Mentz so to Cologne Brussels & home by way of Lisle & S Omers.

I kept a full journal – this was a great effort, weary as we always were at night. However I persevered, & if it were tolerably printed it would fill a reasonable octavo volume; but if drawn out for publication the extent would be doubled. I have no such intention, in as much as my time may be much more worthily employed, – & that portion of it which is given [MS torn] more profitably x xxxx xxxxxx Scotland xxx Highland xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xx xxxxxxx xxxx

In several places I saw Elmsleys name & met several Englishmen who had become acquainted with him in Italy. He was last [MS obscured] at the Ambrosian Library. [11]  I bought a box of books at Milan, & thrice as many at Brussels, – picking up others on the way. At Lugano I purchased three volumes by an Italian poet, [12]  whom Wm Spencer [13]  had patronised in England – I forget his name, – but when the book arrives I will transcribe for your amusement a choice passage from it respecting Madoc. [14]  In the same shop I found a volume of Polish Chronicles in Latin printed at Cracow, a book such I suppose to be exceedingly rare. [15]  Ramusio is among my purchases [16]  & the Gesta Dei. [17]  And I have seen & paid for my set of the Acta Sanctorum. [18] 

Does this country you will ask appear flat & unprofitable after Alpine scenery? Certainly not. It has lost very little by the comparison, – & that little will soon be regained. Skiddaw is by much the most imposing mountain for its height that I have yet seen, – many mountains which are actually as high again from their base do not appear to more advantage. I find here, as Wordsworth & Sir G Beaumont had told me I should, the charm of proportion, & would not exchange Derwentwater for the Lake of Geneva, – tho I would gladly enrich it with the fruit trees & the luxuriant beauties of a Swiss summer. Their waterfalls indeed reduce ours to insignificance: – on the other hand all their streams & rivers are hideously discoloured – so that that which should be one of the greatest charms of the landscape is in reality a disgusting part of it: the best colour which you see is that of clean soap suds, – the more common one that of dirty the same mixture when dirty. But the rivers have a power might & majesty which it is scarcely possible to describe, especially the Ares which comes down the Maurienne from M Cenis. Indeed I should consider my journey as well repaid if it was only for the images which I treasured up in ascending this part of Savoy.

I found all well at home. We had been outbidden at the sale of our house, for which as it seems likely that we shall not be molested by our new Landlord [19]  I am not sorry, being in no condition to purchase estates. My worldly affairs however are on the whole prosperous, & as far as relates to these things I have no care for the morrow. But there is a world of work before me. I expect by every post the first proof of my third volume of Brazil, [20]  & am about to visit Ld Hollands Lope de Vega [21]  for the ways & means of the quarter. I hope also to finish my Tale of Paraguay [22]  during the winter.

God bless you my dear Wynn –

Yours most affectionately



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ Llangedwin/ Oswestry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 276–278 [in part]. BACK

[1] A Latin legal term, meaning ‘of one’s own accord’. BACK

[2] Colin Alexander Mackenzie (?1778–1851), a wealthy Scot who was employed on a number of delicate diplomatic missions and may well have been a government spy. In 1815 he was appointed one of the Commissioners of Liquidation, Arbitration and Deposit, who adjudicated on claims by British citizens for loss of property against the French government. Southey had dined with him on 17 May 1817. BACK

[3] John Awdry (1766–1844), solicitor in Reybridge and wife of Jane, née Bigg-Wither (1770–1855), sister of Herbert Hill’s wife, Catherine. Southey stayed with the family in Echichens, Switzerland twice on his journey. BACK

[4] Galignani’s Messenger, a daily newspaper in English, printed in Paris from 1814 by Giovanni Antonio Galignani (1757–1821). BACK

[5] Wynn had stood for the post of The Speaker on 2 June 1817 but was heavily defeated by 312 votes to 151 by Charles Manners-Sutton (1780–1845; DNB), the government candidate, who served as The Speaker 1817–1835. BACK

[6] At this time the most highly-prized red wines of Savoy came from the area around Montmelian, especially the light-coloured claret. BACK

[7] Exodus 16: 3. BACK

[8] Edward Gibbon (1737–1794; DNB) famously finished his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788) in the summerhouse in the garden of his home, La Grotte, in Lausanne (he lived in the city 1783–1793). By 1817 the occupants were increasingly annoyed by the stream of tourists, including Southey, who visited the house. BACK

[9] Wordsworth had visited the Chartreuse monastery in 1790. BACK

[10] John Awdry and his family; Echichens is in the Swiss district of Morges. Southey visited the Awdrys for a second time 29 June – 3 July 1817. BACK

[11] Biblioteca Ambrosiana, a Library in Milan opened in 1609 and containing a huge number of medieval manuscripts. BACK

[12] Filippo Pananti (1776–1837), Avventure o Osservazioni di Filippo Pananti sopra le Coste di Barberia, 5 vols (Milan, 1817), I, p. 107; no. 3075 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[13] William Robert Spencer (1769–1834; DNB), English poet and junior member of the family of the Dukes of Marlborough. BACK

[14] Southey’s epic poem, Madoc (1805). BACK

[15] Maciej Miechowita (1457–1523), Chronica Polonorum (1521), no. 3335 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[16] Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485–1557), Navigationi e Viaggi, 3 vols (1556–1588), no. 2382 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[17] Jacques Bongars (1554–1612), Gesta Dei per Francos (1611), no. 1193 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[18] A complete set of the Acta Sanctorum, 53 vols (1643–1794), no. 207 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Southey had bought an abridged version in 1815, much to his disappointment. BACK

[19] Greta Hall had been put up for sale in June 1817 and was bought by Isaac Fisher (c. 1773–1819), a member of a Borrowdale farming family and a gold and silversmith in Cockspur Street, London. BACK

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

[21] Southey reviewed Lord Holland, Some Account of the Lives and Writings of Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, and Guillen de Castro (1817) in Quarterly Review, 18 (October 1817), 1–46. BACK

[22] A Tale of Paraguay (1825). BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)