3422. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 18 January 1820

3422. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 18 January 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 18 Jany. 1820.

My dear Wynn

The inclosed is to accept an offer of some peninsular papers which are in General Taylors possession. [1] 

I have two things to tell you, both sufficiently remarkable. – Lord Bathurst [2]  supposing that I had a son growing up, called on Croker lately, to offer me a Writership for him. I never saw Lord B. nor have I any indirect acquaintance with him. The intended kindness therefore is the xxx greater.

A curious charge has been bequeathed me; – the papers of a man who destroyed himself on the first day of this year, – wholly I believe from the misery occasioned by a state of utter unbelief. – I never saw him but once. Last year he wrote me two anonymous letters soliciting me to accept this charge. I supposed him from what he said to be in the last stage of some mortal disease, & wrote to him under that persuasion. And I rather imagined that the religious character of my second reply [3]  had offended him, – for I heard nothing more, – till last week there came a letter from an acquaintance of mine telling me his name, – his fate, – & that the papers were deposited by the Suicide himself the day before he executed his fatal purpose, – to await my directions. – I have reason to believe that, with all proper respect to the dead as well as to the living, a most melancholy but instructive lesson may be deduced from them. – His letters are beautiful compositions, – & he was a man of the strictest & most consciencious virtue!

The inquest jury pronounced him insane, [4]  – which perhaps they would not have been done, had they seen the paper which he addressed to them. That cruel law [5]  should be repealed, – & I wish you would take the credit of repealing it. It is in every point of view barbarous. A particular prayer for cases of this kind should be added to our burial service: to be used in place of those parts that express a sure & certain hope for the dead. [6] 

God bless you



* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, pp. 9–11. BACK

[1] Major-General Sir Herbert Taylor (1775–1839; DNB), whose varied career included spells as Private Secretary to George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) in 1805–1812 and Queen Charlotte (1744–1818; DNB) in 1812–1818, as well as being MP for New Windsor 1820–1823 and Military Secretary 1820–1827. The offer of the use of his papers had come through Edward Hawke Locker, who felt they might help with Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832); see Southey to Edward Hawke Locker, 1 January 1820, Letter 3411. BACK

[2] Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst (1762–1834; DNB), Secretary of State for War and the Colonies 1812–1827. A ‘writer’ was a junior administrator in the East India Company. The only way to gain such a post was through patronage – usually nomination by one of the company’s directors. BACK

[3] Southey to Elton Hamond, 2 March 1819, Letter 3256. BACK

[4] The Coroner’s jury on 4 January 1820 declared Hamond insane. BACK

[5] Suicides were buried at night without religious rites and usually at a crossroads; this practice ended with the Burial of Suicide Act (1823). BACK

[6] The ‘Order for the Burial of the Dead’ in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer (1662) noted the ‘sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life’ of the deceased. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)