3178. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 August 1818

3178. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 August 1818⁠* 

4 Aug. 1818.

My dear Wynn

I envy you your French wines, & in a less degree your French cookery also, – both indispensable in the Aldermans Heaven, [1]  where the stomach is infinite, the appetite endless, & the dinner eternal. I should envy also your bathing upon that noble beach, if I had not Derwentwater were {not} within reach, & still better the rock-baths in Newlands, which are the perfection of bathing. [2]  What you say of the country about Boulogne is just what I should have supposed it be, from what we saw upon the road, & the place itself is a very interesting one. I xxxx slept there & did not leave it till noon the next day, happening to have an acquaintance there in Sir Jere Homfray; [3]  (my neighbour Miss Barkers Uncle). – I had been told that the road to Paris was uninteresting, but to me it appeared far otherwise, – for even if it had not possessed an historical interest of the highest kind to an Englishman, the scenery itself is in many parts very striking.

I have never seen the French Espriella. [4]  A French newspaper in which I was liberally abused for having written a most atrocious libel upon my own country was shown me at Huy; – & some obliging person thought proper to favour me with a second paper of the same kind from Paris, with a few vituperative lines of English upon the cover. I guessed that the case must be as you have now described it, – & I thought no more about it. But it might be worth while to have the matter explained in the QR. [5]  because the good effects would be felt in my next years account with the Patres Nostro. [6] 

Had you been in England I should have wished you to see my letter to Brougham before it past thro the press. [7]  Local circumstances made it becoming in me to resent an insult which was offered in the before my neighbours & acquaintance, – utterly without provocation, (for I had not written a syllable concerning the election nor spoken interfered with it in any way,) – & more suo, [8]  with as little regard to decency as to truth. I am giving him a thorough dressing, – which will have its effect here, & when you see the offensive passages which have drawn upon him this castigation you will not think & bear in xxx {mind} the temper which he has excited in the rabble of this country, you will think me right in grappling with him as I have done. This is not a case in which there is occasion to enter into any sort of explanation, or justification of myself, – I have simply to say that all which he has said of me is absolutely false, & then to lay on & pummel him without mercy. – Had it not been for the Special Constables whom he thought proper to call Bludgeon men, [9]  he would have carried his election a-la-Burdett, [10] vi et armis. [11]  He invited the Kendal mob to meet him at Appleby, [12]  & they went accordingly.

You will be better pleased to hear that if the Carriers do not disappoint me I may expect tomorrow to receive my three cases of books from Brussels, with the Acta Sanctorum, [13]  & some fourscore volumes besides, – the gatherings of my last years journey from Como to Brussels. Far better & far more agreably would my time & thoughts be xxxxx {employed} with the Saints of old than with the Sinners of the present day, – with past events & in other countries than with the current politics of our own. Heaven knows I have no predilection for a train of thought which brings with it nothing elevating & nothing chearful. But I cannot shut my eyes either to the direct tendency of the principles which are now at work, or to their probable success, – inevitable indeed & at no very distant time, – unless some means be taken for checking the progress of the evil.

The state of religious feeling appears to differ much in different parts of France, – in most places we found {that} the churches were very ill attended, – but at Auxonne they were so full, that we literally could not decently walk in to examine them as we wished to have done. – In Switzerland the Protestant Cantons have suffered more than the Catholic ones. I had good opportunities of enquiring into this in the Pays de Vaud, – & the state of religion of {in} Geneva is now notorious. Upon the banks of the Rhine all the inhabitants who were not actually employed in the fields seemed to be busy in performing a pilgrimage – it was a most striking sight to see them, men women & children, toiling along bareheaded, under a July sun, singing German hymns. I suspect that the progress of irreligion has kept pace with the extent of French books in {the} Catholic part of Europe, & that where they have not found their way, the people remain in the same state as before. But if things remain quiet for one generation the Catholic Church will recover its ascendancy – its Clergy are wise as serpents; – & with all their errors, one cannot, considering all things, but heartily wish them success.

You should go to St Omers, if it were only to groan over the ruin of its magnificent cathedral. [14]  The country between that place & Lisle is the perfection of cultivated scenery, & the view from Cassel the finest I have ever seen over a flat country. – God bless you my dear Wynn – I half hope Parliament may be sitting in December that I may meet you in town.

Yrs most affectionately



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ Bologne
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298; F/ 18/ 282
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 48123D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, 307–309 [in part]. BACK

[1] Many local councils contained aldermen (either elected or appointed), who often held office for life. Their gluttony (at public expense) was proverbial. BACK

[2] The rock–baths near Tom’s home in the Newlands valley, Emerald Bank. BACK

[3] Sir Jeremiah Homfray (1759–1833; DNB), a Welsh ironmaster and speculator in mineral rights, living in Boulogne since being declared bankrupt in 1813. Southey visited him in May 1817 during his continental expedition of that year. BACK

[4] Joseph-Antoine de Gourbillon (dates unknown) and T. W. Dickinson (dates unknown), L’Angleterre et les Anglais, ou Petit Portrait d’une Grande Famille, Copié et Retouché par Deux Témoins Oculaires, 3 vols (Paris, 1817) an adaptation of Southey’s 1807 travelogue Letters from England: By Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. BACK

[5] The Quarterly Review did not publish an article on the French version of Southey’s travelogue, or comments on Southey in the French press. BACK

[6] Longmans, Southey’s publisher, whose business premises were in Paternoster Row. BACK

[7] At the general election in June–July 1818 the Lowther family’s dominance of Westmorland was challenged by Henry Brougham’s candidature. Wordsworth worked hard for the Lowthers, but Southey had kept his distaste for Brougham much more low-key – hence his outrage at reports that Brougham had condemned both Southey and Wordsworth at the hustings on 30 June 1818. Southey composed a lengthy reply, but was dissuaded from publishing it until it appeared as a ‘Postscript’ to the second edition of Carmen Triumphale (London, 1821), pp. 45–53 (it did not name Brougham). BACK

[8] ‘In his usual manner’. BACK

[9] The Morning Chronicle, 6 July 1818, reported Brougham’s speech after the close of the election, in which he condemned the use of special constables under the authority of a Bow Street officer from London to keep order at the polling booths and threatened legal proceedings over their actions. BACK

[10] Burdett was MP for Westminster 1807–1837 and mobilised a great deal of popular support; at the 1818 general election his pro-government opponent, Sir Murray Maxwell (1775–1831; DNB), was severely injured by a paving stone hurled at him by those opposed to his candidature. BACK

[11] ‘By force of arms.’ BACK

[12] Some of the worst election violence was in Kendal, while the polling station was at Appleby, the county town of Westmorland. BACK

[13] Southey had bought in Brussels in 1817 the massive compendium of hagiographies entitled Acta Sanctorum (1643–1794), no. 207 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[14] The medieval Cathedral of Saint-Omer. It was closed during the French Revolution in 1792. The diocese was suppressed in 1801 in the Concordat of that year and the bishop’s seat moved to Arras. BACK

Places mentioned

Emerald Bank, Newlands (mentioned 1 time)