3335. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 22 July 1819

3335. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 22 July 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 22. July. 1819

My dear Wynn

I give you joy of your escape from late hours in the H. C. & a summer in London, [1]  – I congratulate you upon exchanging gas lights for the moon & stars, & the pavement of Whitehall for your noble terraces, – which I never can think of without pleasure, because they are beautiful in themselves, & carry one back to old times: – any thing which does this, does one good. Were I to build a mansion with the means of Lord Lonsdale or Lord Grosvenor, [2]  I would certainly make hanging gardens if the ground permitted it. They have a character of grandeur & of permanence, – without which nothing can be truly grand. And they are fine even in decay.

I will come to you for a day or two on my way to town, about the beginning of December. This will be a flying visit, – but one of these summers – or autumns, – I should like dearly to finish the projected circuit with you, which Mr Curry cut short in the year 1801 when he sent for the most unfit man in the world to be his Secretary, – having nothing whatever for him to do. And many years must not be suffered to go by, – the <my> next birthday will be the forty fifth, – & every year will take something from the inclination to move, & perhaps also from the power of enjoyment.

You give me the first intimation of Lord Byrons attack. – He is welcome to all the gratification & all the credit which he may derive from it. [3]  There is an old remedy for the bite of a scorpion, – that of setting your foot upon the venomous reptile, & binding it upon the wound. [4]  – But I am not ambitious of distinguishing myself in this way. When I replied to Wm Smith, [5]  the slander derived an importance from the place <assembly> in which it was uttered, & I paid that respect to the place which I never should have done to the person. And then My letter to Brougham [6]  as far as it went, was written, with, at least as much vigour, as any thing that I ever produced in prose, – & had it been filled up & finished I believe it would have been I was prepared to fill it up, & finish it in the same strain. But I was easily persuaded to lay it aside, & return to my own quiet researches among the Jesuits & the wilds of South America. [7]  – Any body may attack me with impunity. I am better employed than in resenting offences which do me no hurt.

I was not disappointed with Crabbes Tales. [8]  He is a decided mannerist, – but so are all original writers – in all ages. Nor is it possible for a poet to avoid it if he writes much in the same key, & upon the same class of subjects. – Crabbes poems will have a great & lasting value as pictures of domestic life, – elucidating the moral history of these times, – times which must hold a most conspicuous place in history. He knows his own powers, & never aims above his reach. In this age when the public are greedy for novelties, & abundantly supplied with them, an author may easily commit the error of giving them too much of the same kind of thing. But this will not be thought a fault hereafter, where the kind is good, x or the thing good of its kind.

If I have been at all successful in endeavouring to avoid the appearance of mannerism it is because I have been aware of the danger, – & when the character of the poem would permit, have for that reason, cast it in a different metre from its predecessors. I speak of my long poems – the minora [9]  you know are to be regarded as flocce–nocce-nihili pili. [10]  And for this reason, if I should ever begin another poem of any length (which is very unlikely) I believe I should write it in hexameters, – which I am perfectly certain xxx I could write with success. [11]  But if I live to finish Oliver Newman, [12]  the Tale of Paraguay, [13]  & a desultory poem in blank verse [14]  (as yet without a title & with nothing but the beginning written) – it will be as much as I can hope to do, perhaps more than I ought to expect. You shall have a portion of Oliver N by tomorrows post, sans fail.

Peter Roberts [15]  is a great loss. I begin almost to despair of ever seeing more of the Mabinogion. [16]  And yet if some competent Welshman could be found to edite it carefully, with as literal a version as possible, – I am sure it might be made worth his while, by a subscription, – printing a small edition at a high price, – 200 perhaps at £5 – 5. – I myself would gladly subscribe at that price per volume for such an edition of the whole of your genuine Remains in prose & verse. – Till some such collection is made the “Gentleman of Wales” [17]  ought to be prohibited from wearing a leek; – aye & interdicted from toasted cheese also. Your Bards would have met with better usage if they had been Scotchmen.

I shall be very glad to see the Stowe Catalogue – & the Second vol. of the Scriptores. [18]  – As soon as I get them I will do my best in the Review. [19]  Just now I am upon a curious paper to introduce the Braybrooke institution, – taking Fosbrookes British Monachism for my heading. [20]  I know the history of Monachism & the Monastic Orders well, – better than I know most things. And had I attained that Summum Bonum [21]  of which you speak in P Roberts’s case, I should ere this have produced an elaborate work upon that subject instead of consuming so large a portion of my time in writing for Reviews.

Shall we see some Legislatorial Attornies sent to Newgate next sessions? Or will the likely conviction of Sir Ch. Wolseley & Harrison the Dissenting Minister, [22]  damp the appetite for rebellion, which is at present so sharp set? – I heard the other day of a Rider explaining at one of the Inns in this town how well the starving manufacturers at Manchester might be settled by parcelling out the Chatsworth Estate among them. – The Saving Banks [23]  will certainly prove a strong bulwark for property in general. And a great deal may be expected from a good system of colonization: – but it must necessarily be a long while before a good system can be formed, (having no experience to guide us, – for we have no knowledge how these things were managed by the Ancients) – & a long while also before the people can enter into it. But that a regular & regulated emigration must become a part of our political system, is as certain as that nature xxx shows us the necessity in every bee hive.

Davison [24]  who wrote on the Poor Laws will be here on Monday. He has just taken a wife, – having written himself first into a good living in Lincolnshire given him by Ld Liverpool, – & then into a better from the Bp of Durham, [25]  which has saved him from dying by inches of the fen poison.

God bless you


If you like to see great poetical powers misapplied & distorted in monstrous efforts, send for a little volume called “Night a descriptive poem”. [26]  – It is anonymous – but the author is a manufacturer (an Iron worker I believe) at Rotherham, & his name Elliott, – one of my curmudgeons, – according to Dr Ash’s explanation of the word. [27] 


* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 354–357. BACK

[1] Parliament had risen for the summer recess on 13 July 1819. BACK

[2] Robert Grosvenor, 2nd Earl Grosvenor (1767–1845; DNB), fabulously wealthy landowner. BACK

[3] The first two cantos of Byron’s Don Juan (1819–1824) were published anonymously on 15 July 1819. The ‘Dedication’, which attacked Southey and others, was suppressed. It soon became very well known, though it was not published until 1833. BACK

[4] Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), II, p. 599, noting the story in Richard Chandler (1737–1810; DNB), Travels in Greece, or an Account of a Tour Made at the Expense of the Society of Dilettanti, 2 vols (London, 1817), II, p. 147, no. 643 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[5] A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M. P. (1817). BACK

[6] Southey’s riposte to Brougham’s reported attack on him from the hustings at Appleby on 30 June 1818 was not finished; part of it was published as a ‘Postscript’ to the second edition of Carmen Triumphale (London, 1821), pp. 45–53. BACK

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

[8] George Crabbe (1754–1832; DNB), Tales of the Hall (1819), no. 755 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] ‘smaller’, as in Southey’s collected Minor Poems (1815). BACK

[10] A nonsense word, meaning ‘unimportant’. BACK

[11] Southey’s A Vision of Judgement (1821) was written in hexameters. BACK

[12] 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. The poem used the irregular, unrhymed metre employed in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[13] A Tale of Paraguay (1825), in Spenserian stanzas. BACK

[14] Southey began, but did not finish, a poem entitled ‘Consolation’ on the death of his son, Herbert. Sections were published after his death as ‘Fragmentary Thoughts Occasioned by his Son’s Death’, in Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 93–95, and ‘Additional Fragment, Occasioned by the Death of his Son’, Poetical Works of Robert Southey. Complete in One Volume (London, 1850), p. 815. BACK

[15] Peter Roberts (1760–1819; DNB), clergyman, Welsh antiquary and biblical scholar. BACK

[16] A series of medieval Welsh tales, using earlier oral traditions. No complete version was published until 1838–1845. BACK

[17] Wynn was closely involved in efforts to found a society of Welshmen based in London that would promote Welsh historical research. These activities eventually led to the re-foundation of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion in 1820. BACK

[18] Charles O’Conor (1764–1828; DNB), Rerum Hibernicarum Scriptores Veteres, 4 vols (1814–1826), no. 2112 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. O’Conor was a priest from a well-known family of Irish scholars. His book was an edition of some of the Irish manuscripts in the library at Stowe, where he worked as chaplain to Mary, Marchioness of Buckinghamshire (d. 1812), the sister-in-law of Wynn’s uncle, Lord Grenville. O’Conor also edited Bibliotheca MS. Stowensis. A Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Stowe Library, 2 vols (1818–1819). BACK

[19] The Quarterly Review. Southey did not write an article on these publications. BACK

[20] Southey’s review of Thomas Fosbrooke (1770–1842; DNB), British Monachism; or, Manners and Customs of the Monks and Nuns of England (1817), Quarterly Review, 22 (July 1819), 59–102. Lady Isabella Lettice King (1772–1845; DNB) founded the Ladies’ Association at Bailbrook House, near Bath, in June 1816. It provided a home for orphaned gentlewomen with no income and was duly praised by Southey in his article in Quarterly Review, 22 (July 1819), 96–101. Southey planned, but did not write, a ‘History of the Monastic Orders’. BACK

[21] ‘the highest good’. BACK

[22] Sir Charles Wolseley, 7th Baronet (1769–1846; DNB), radical politician. A public meeting in Birmingham on 12 July 1819 elected him ‘legislatorial attorney and representative’ for the town and urged other unrepresented towns and cities to similarly elect their own representatives to the House of Commons. In April 1820 Wolseley was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment for sedition and conspiracy for a speech he had given at Stockport on 28 June 1819. Joseph Harrison (c. 1779–1848), Minister at the Windmill Street Chapel, Stockport, and schoolmaster, was also convicted for his part in the Stockport meeting. BACK

[23] The Savings Bank movement, offering interest on small cash deposits, had spread rapidly after its foundation at Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, in 1810. BACK

[24] John Davison (1777–1834; DNB), clergyman and author of Considerations on the Poor Laws (1817). He had been made Vicar of Sutterton, Cambridgeshire, a Crown living, in 1817 and then Rector of Washington, Co. Durham, in 1818. He married Mary Thorp (dates unknown), daughter of Robert Thorp (dates unknown), a lawyer in Alnwick, on 20 July 1819. BACK

[25] Shute Barrington (1734–1826; DNB), Bishop of Durham 1791–1826. BACK

[26] Ebenezer Elliott, Night, A Descriptive Poem (1818). BACK

[27] John Ash (c. 1724–1779; DNB), New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1775), famously (and erroneously) defined this word as meaning ‘unknown correspondent’. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)