3237. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 27 January 1819

3237. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 27 January 1819 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

The cause of my wishing to ascertain whether I was disqualified for voting at an election, either by my pension or office, [1]  was simply this. Brougham has placed these counties in a state of permanent warfare, upon a scheme originally devised by Lord Stanhope for the benefit of the county of Kent. [2]  Both parties are buying up freeholds, [3]  – & being asked to give my assistance in this way, I xxxx promised so to do when I might have 100£ which I could invest vest in Westmoreland land. [4]  – <But> The opportunity occurred too soon. And as I could not be ready with the money during the xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx thinking xxxxxxx letter sent Grosvenor Bedford xxxx xx would xxxxxxx the xxxxxxx I had xxxxxxxxxxx I did not chuse to accept a loan for that time for two valid reasons; – the one, an apprehension that the money, for which I should have stood indebted to one with whom I am intimate enough to allow of such a transaction, might have in reality been adv[MS missing] from a different quarter, [5]  & therefore in case an election had occurred before it was repaid have exposed me to an unpleasant feeling in tendering x my vote: – the other, a determination never to eng enter into an engagement which it may be difficult or perhaps impos inconvenient for me to fulfill, if I can possibly help it. For the greater part of my yearly expences must still be supplied by the years labour, & is therefore wholly contingent upon the continuance of health, eye sight & the use of my faculties, – either of which may fail me at any moment.

It appears to me that you rather undervalue your own weight in Parliament, & do not perhaps see the state of the board so well as a looker on. The great pieces are cleared off, & you may come in like a Castle toward the end of the game. It appears to me that the question of the Criminal Law cannot long be evaded; – that Ministers will not take it into their own hands as they ought to do, because they never have courage enough or foresight enough to anticipate the public feeling & thereby to direct it: but that they would be glad to see it in your hands, rather than in those of a thick-&-thin oppositionist, to whom it would give xx popularity at their expence; & by whom it certainly <will> be taken up, if no better person steps forward. – Among the things to be desired, one I think is – that transportation should always be for life, & the gradation of punishment be measured by the term for which the convict was to be employed in public works. – I wish too, seeing the constant increase of crimes, that from among the numbers <of soldiers> &c whom we have discharged, a strong patrole had been formed, who might have retained as much of their discipline as would have been convenient, & been subjected to the civil power. They would have been better employed in preventing robberies & murders, – than in committing them. – which in too many instances will be the alternative.

I know not what has possessed Gifford & Murray to postpone, or set aside my paper upon the Copy–right question; [6]  – the bill of fare indicates three or four subjects which had certainly no very imperative claims for preference, & one would have supposed Murray might have had some regard to his own interests in the x question. – There is nothing of mine in the number, & will be very little hereafter, if I can by any means avoid it.


I need not say how much it gratified me to see the manner in which you were spoken of by Canning the other day. [7]  And this is an indication, at least of more weight & character than you give yourself credit for. – That the Criminal Laws will undergo some alteration, & the Prison discipline a thorough reform is I think certain. (It is odd enough that in the Ed. Register I should have wished to have our prisons placed under the superintendence of the Quakers [8] .) But there remains a much more Herculean task, – which is to clear away the rubbish of law, – xxx for in truth the pedantry & chicanery & the insufferable delays & vexations & expence of law, are among the great evils of existing society, – I had almost said the greatest. – One of the projects to which I look forward in the summer is that of taking up my old friend Espriella, & putting together the hints & materials which have occurred to me during the last ten years. [9]  That character gives me the same license as a mask would do.

Did I send you the opening of Oliver Newman [10]  in a small square size, so as to lie within the compass of a common frank? – or in the half–quartain form? – in whichever shape it was, you shall have the whole in sequence as it proceeds. I am only in the third book, – the desire of finishing my Brazil [11]  is so strong upon me that I scarcely dream of any thing else, now that the end is in sight. – Has any thing been done about looking for the Welsh Indians? [12]  I must confess that the more I know of the country, the less likely it appears does the chance of discovering them appear. If a savage has at any time been met with who spoke Welsh, I should be inclined to suspect that he was a Welshman who had turned savage. I dare say There are always deserters from civilization among them. French – English & Yankee – & why not know now & then a stray Welshman?

The Spaniards have published begun to publish a history of their late war, by a Committee of Officers at Madrid. I have a French translation of the first volume, [13]  – & it appears to be exceedingly good. – Two odd circumstances relating to myself lead me to mention it now. They boast of their materials & give a list of them, – in which list my history appears – before it is written. [14]  – In the body of the work they adapt an observation from the E An. Register, – & speak of the Author as un journaliste Anglais aussi connu par l’elegance de son style, que par la justesse de ses apercus et l’independence de ses idees. – And the note upon this passage refers to Edinbourg Review premier volume, premiere partie. [15]  – I suspect that the reference is right in the original, & that the French translator has boldly made a conjectural emendation. But putting l’elegance out of the question – the praise is worth having. – This work will be of great advantage to me. – I

God bless you


Keswick. 27 Jany. 1819.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P/ Whitehall/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] FREE/ 1819
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 118–121. BACK

[1] Southey was not disqualified from voting through holding a public office, or a pension. Only specific categories of office-holders could not vote, most importantly Post Office employees, Stamp officers and customs and revenue officers (until this disqualification was removed in 1868). BACK

[2] When the poll closed for the 1818 Westmorland Election, confirming that Brougham had not been elected, a meeting of Brougham’s friends in the yard of Appleby Castle endorsed resolutions forming a ‘Grand Association to Secure the Independence of Westmorland and Cumberland’, i.e. to work to promote future Whig candidates. Southey attributes this idea to the radical, Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope (1753–1816; DNB), who had helped organise a county association in Kent in 1780 to promote reform and petition parliament. BACK

[3] In county elections only those owning land worth 40 shillings per annum could vote. It was normal in hotly contested elections, as at that in Westmorland in 1818, for candidates to attempt to obtain freeholds for known supporters. BACK

[4] This was Wordsworth’s plan to buy the Ivy How estate in Little Langdale and divide the land into parcels of 40 shilling freeholds for pro-Lowther voters. BACK

[5] Wordsworth had offered to loan Southey his share of the purchase money for the Ivy How estate, but Southey feared the money really came from the Earl of Lonsdale and this would in effect buy his vote. BACK

[6] Quarterly Review, 19 (July 1818) was published on 2 February 1819. Southey’s ‘Inquiry into the Copyright Act’, Quarterly Review, 21 (January 1819), 196–213, was delayed. BACK

[7] When the House of Commons assembled on 14 January 1819 for the first time since the General Election of 1818, its first duty was to re-elect The Speaker, Charles Manners-Sutton (1780–1845; DNB), who had defeated Wynn for the post in 1817. Canning paid a generous tribute to Wynn, stating The Speaker had been ‘elected to the chair of this House, after a contest with a gentleman, to be put in competition with whom is no disparagement, but a high credit to any man, be his character what it may.’ It must be doubtful whether this tribute, or Southey drawing attention to it, made Wynn feel any better about having lost out to Manners-Sutton. BACK

[8] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 359: ‘Place our prisons under the superintendence of the Quakers, and they will be made schools of reform and industry which will do honour, not only to our age and country, but even to our nature.’ At this time the Quaker Elizabeth Fry (1780–1845; DNB) was coming to increasing prominence in the campaign for prison reform. BACK

[9] Southey did not write a sequel to his Letters from England: By Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella (1807). BACK

[10] Southey’s unfinished epic, set in New England. The completed sections were published after Southey’s death in Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 1–90. Southey had sent the opening section in his letter to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 11 October 1816, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Five, Letter 2851. BACK

[11] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[12] Southey had been forced to add a note to the 4th edition of Madoc, 2 vols (London, 1815), I, p. viii, casting doubt on his initial assertion that the descendants of twelfth-century Welsh settlers would be found in America: ‘That country has now been fully explored, and wherever Madoc may have settled, it is now certain that no Welsh Indians are to be found upon any branches of the Missouri.’ BACK

[13] Histoire de la Guerre d’Espagne contre Napoleon Buonaparte, Par une Commission d’Officiers de Toutes Armes Établie a Madrid, Auprès de S. Ex. Le Ministre de la Guerre; Traduite de l’Espanol, Avec Notes et Éclaircissemens (1818). BACK

[14] Histoire de la Guerre d’Espagne contre Napoleon Buonaparte, Par une Commission d’Officiers de Toutes Armes Établie a Madrid, Auprès de S. Ex. Le Ministre de la Guerre; Traduite de l’Espanol, Avec Notes et Éclaircissemens (Paris, 1818), p. 374: ‘The history of the late war in Spain and Portugal, by Robert Southey.’ Southey had not yet written his History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[15] Histoire de la Guerre d’Espagne contre Napoleon Buonaparte, Par une Commission d’Officiers de Toutes Armes Établie a Madrid, Auprès de S. Ex. Le Ministre de la Guerre; Traduite de l’Espanol, Avec Notes et Éclaircissemens (Paris, 1818), p. 265: ‘an English writer, known for the elegance of his style, the justice of his insights and the independence of his ideas.’ The book had misattributed Southey’s writings to the Edinburgh Review, rather than to the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)