1803. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 27 August 1810

1803. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 27 August 1810 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

You once told me a most interesting story of two Welshmen who endeavoured to effect La Fayettes release. [1]  I wish you would give me the particulars of that story, for I have an opportunity of introducing it where it would have a striking effect – suppressing the names of the parties or not as you may think proper. It is a circumstance so truly honourable to British feeling that it would do my heart good to record it.

The Register sells well in Scotland & in consequence Ballantyne has offered me a twelfth share in it for £209. – the profits upon which are £80. By means of this work & of the Quarterly I am beginning to see fair weather. My books in Longmans hands I can now leave to clear off some long arrears there; – & I have paid John May 100£ in part of a debt contracted <chiefly> for my brother Harry’s education. [2]  This arrangement with Ballantyne was too favourable to be let pass, – & by postponing my journey to London for six months I am enabled to conclude it. The other proprietors attribute the success of the work in great measure to me, & this offer of theirs is evidently meant to tie me to its continuance by involving my own interests in it. Jeffray it seems served it greatly, by calling upon Ballantyne (for the first time in his life) to pronounce a formal approbation of the historical part, tho he differed from most of the opinions expressed in it. This that Gog-minimus would never have done had he suspected me to be the author, but B. tells me it is amusing to hear how vaguely & absurdly the author is guest. I wonder at this, – because I make no secret of that – or of any thing else which I write, & because it bears pretty strong marks of its father.

I am busy upon the second volume. The D of Yorks business will occupy a long chapter. [3]  You must know something of Wardles [4]  prior history – tell me whether it justifies me in thinking ill of him – as I am strongly inclined to do. Is he the Wardle who ran a poney against the Exeter mail in 1807 – or the year before? [5]  – & is his private life as bad as that infamous Mrs Clarke represents it? [6]  – I need not tell you that whatever I may think of him can in no way affect the representation I am giving of the Dukes affair – but I am very anxious to know whether or not I am right in suspecting him to possess about as much public & private virtue as John Wilks [7]  xxxxx before him. If his private life is bad conduct is bad, political profligacy I shall consider as following of course.

I have another little girl who is doing well, & who is to be called Katharine. Your godson is grown well acquainted with his godfather Bedford, calls Henry Bedford his god-uncle, & sends his love to Mr Bedford as his old-god-grandfather. When will you give him an opportunity of knowing his other god father?

Bedford has had a smart attack of his complaint, – from which however he has rapidly & greatly recovered. He is now writing at the same table with me, – even had I xxxxx accompanied him to town you would not have seen us, as you would not have been at home till too late a season of the year.

God bless you


Keswick Aug 27. 1810.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ Llangedwin/ Oswestry
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey was mistaken as to the would-be rescuers identity. The story that was published was of a Hanoverian and an American who in 1794 had attempted to free Marie-Paul-Joseph-Roch-Gilbert Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (1757–1834) from his imprisonment at Olmutz; see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.2 (1811), 514–525. BACK

[2] See Southey to John May, 9 August 1810, Letter 1799. BACK

[3] In 1809, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB) had been forced to resign as commander-in-chief of the British army in the wake of allegations that he had profitted from office trafficking. After a lengthy investigation, the charges were found to be unproven. It had, however, become apparent that his former mistress Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB) had received money from individuals keen for her to use her influence with the Duke, and that the Duke himself had known of her actions. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 109–301. BACK

[4] Gwyllym Lloyd Wardle (c. 1761–1833; DNB), MP for Okehampton 1807–1812, had played a central role in exposing the Duke of York and Mary Anne Clarke’s alleged involvement in office trafficking. However, his own reputation was quickly sullied by counter-charges from Clarke, alleging corruption and conspiracy. Wynn’s elder brother, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn (1772–1840), knew Wardle as they had served together in Ireland in 1797–1798 in the ‘Ancient British Fencibles’. On 30 August 1810 Charles Watkin Williams Wynn replied to Southey: ‘until last year I had no doubt of his [Wardle’s] honour or integrity. He had lived certainly rather a debauched life but not more so than many others … Of the falsehood of many of Mrs Clarke’s allegations … I have not a particle of doubt, but enough remains to have altered my opinion respecting him … Wardle may be a rogue but I am sure he is also an enthusiast and blinds himself to his own misconduct’, NLW MS 4814D. BACK

[5] In one of the more bizarre sporting contests seen in Georgian England, a ‘Mr Wardel’ had raced his pony against the mail-coach from London to Exeter, the pony winning by 45 minutes. Readers were informed that the pony was ‘accustomed to drink ale and beer, and frequently drank a pint of port at a time’, National Register, 1 (1808), p. 565, reporting events on 3–4 September 1808. BACK

[6] Mary Anne Clarke had accused Wardle of lacking ‘those principles which characterize the gentleman and man of honour’ and, amongst other things, of keeping a mistress; see her The Rival Princes; or a Faithful Narrative of Facts, Relating to Mrs M.A. Clarke’s Political Acquaintance with Colonel Wardle, Major Dodd, &c. &c. &c. Who were Concerned in the Charges Against the Duke of York, 2 vols (London, 1810), I, pp. 7, 29–30. BACK

[7] The politician John Wilkes (1725–1797; DNB), whose profligacy and promiscuity were renowned. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)