2078. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 April 1812

2078. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 April 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 15. 1812.

My dear Wynn

What a number of recollections crowd upon me when I think of Adderley! Of all our school companions how very few of them are there whose lots in life have proved to be what might have been expected for them. You & Bedford have gone on each in your natural course, & are to be found just where & what xx I should have lookd to find you, if I had waked after a Nourjahad nap of twenty years. [1]  The same thing might be said of me if my local habitation were not here at the end of the map. I am leading the life which is convenient for me, & following the pursuits to which from my earliest boyhood I was so strongly predisposed. A less troubled youth would probably have led to a less happy manhood. – I should have thought less, studied less, laboured less, felt less, & suffered less, – now for all that I have felt & suffered I know that I am the better, & God knows that I have yet much to think, & to study & to do. – It is now eighteen years since you & I used to sit till midnight over your claret in Skeleton Corner [2]  – half your life, & almost half mine. – during that time we have both of us rather grown than changed, & accident has had as little to do with our circumstances as with our character.

Your godson Herbert, who is just old enough to be delighted with the Old Woman of Berkeley, [3]  tells me he means when he is a man to be a Poet like his father. It will be time enough ten years hence, if I <we> live so long to take thought as to what he shall be, – the only care which I need have xxxxxxxxxx <at present> is x to what should be done in case of my death for the provision of my family. I have insured my life for 1000£. I had calculated upon my copyrights as likely to prove valuable when it would become the humour of the day to regret me, – but to my great surprize I find <learn> that the booksellers interpret the terms of their taking the risk & sharing the profit, as an actual surrender to them of half the property for evermore in perpetuity. Townsend the traveller [4]  who was as much deceived in this case as I have been was about to try the point with them, – I know not what prevented it, – but Turner tells me the law was likely to be against him. This is a flagrant & a cruel injustice, – all however that I can do is to take precautions against it in future, – but it is somewhat late in the day.

By the end of next year I hope to stand on the right side in Longmans books, where I was greatly behind hand. The current editions will more than balance the account. If the Register continues I shall by the same time have paid off a debt contracted for my brother Henrys education, after which it will be in my power to lay by at least 100£ a year. At present I am worth 209£ – vested in the Register as a twelfth share. This is the foundation stone & it is something to have laid one. If I live & preserve my health & faculties I have no doubt of realizing a decent competency in the course of twenty years: but twenty years is almost as much as my chance of life would be reckoned at in tables of calculation, & much more than it really is, for besides my hereditary title to consumption, I am not of a long lived race. The Southeys of the last generation barely reached three score.

One thing which I will do whenever I can afford leisure for the task, will be to write & leave behind me my own memoirs. [5]  They will contain so much of the literary history of the times as to have a permanent value on that account. This would prove a good post-obit, at least to the amount of my life-insurance, for there can be no doubt that I shall be sufficiently talked of whenever I am gone. – Such are my ways & means for the future. But if I should not live to provide more than the very little which is already done, then indeed the exertions of some friends would be required. An arrangement might be made with Longman to allow of a subscription edition of my works, & this would be productive in proportion to the efforts that were used. I should hope also that in such a case the continuance of my pension might be looked for from either of the present parties in the state, thro Perceval, or Canning, or yourself.

This is a sort of Testamentary letter. It is fit there should be one & to whom my dear Wynn could it so properly be addressed? – By Gods blessing I may yet live to make xx all necessary provision myself. My means are now at last improving every year. I am up the hill of difficulty, & shall very soon get rid of the burthen which has impeded me on the ascent. I have some arrangements with Murray which are likely to prove more productive than any former speculations, & which I hope to get thro in the course of the summer. And should I succeed in obtaining the office which the old Frenchman [6]  fills at present so properly, & which is the only thing for which I have the slightest ambition, it would soon put me in possession of as much as I could want or wish for, inasmuch as I could lay by the whole income & the title would be in a great degree productive.

Hitherto I have <been> highly-favoured, – a healthy body, an active mind, & a chearful heart are the three best boons which nature can bestow, & God be praised, no man ever enjoyed them more perfectly. My skin & bones scarcely know what an ailment is, my mind is ever on the alert, & yet when its work is done becomes as tranquil as a babes, & my spirits invincibly good. Would they have been so, or could I have been what I am, if you had not been for so many years my stay & support? I believe not. Yet you had been so long my familiar friend, that I felt no more sense of dependance in receiving my main (& at one time sole subsistence) from you, than if you had been my brother: – it was being done by, as I would have done.



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr
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), III, pp. 330–333 [in part]. BACK

[1] In Frances Sheridan (1724–1766: DNB), The History of Nourjahad (1767), the central character is gifted with a long life, but one interspersed with prolonged periods of sleep. BACK

[2] Wynn’s rooms at Christ Church, Oxford. BACK

[3] ‘A Ballad Shewing how an Old Woman Rode Double and Who Rode Before Her’ and an accompanying engraving published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]–160. BACK

[4] Joseph Townsend (1739–1816; DNB), geologist, author of A Journey Through Spain in the Years 1786 and 1787; with Particular Attention to the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Population, Taxes, and Revenue of that Country (1791). BACK

[5] Southey never wrote his memoirs. BACK

[6] The diplomatist and writer Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB). He died on 23 May 1812, but Southey’s hope to succeed him as Historiographer Royal was unfulfilled. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)