3459. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 28 March 1820

3459. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 28 March 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 28 March. 1820

My dear Wynn

I have deferred writing from day to day, in expectation of seeing your re–election announced; but the first tidings of it, is by your frank this day received. [1]  – If your brother-in–laws disease was what I supposed mine to be, death would necessarily have been instantaneous. [2]  Adhæsions, I believe, always produce a lingering disease, & kill the sufferer piecemeal.

My departure has been delayed by various causes, among which a certain degree of indolence, & a certain propensity to be doing something else (as Peter says) [3]  have had their share. It is necessary to reprint the first vol. of my Brazil [4]  to make up 170 sets, which would otherwise be lost. I have been correcting it, from materials which have come either to hand or to light, since its publication; & am still at this work. Cogent reasons render it necessary that I should prepare some thing for the QR. [5]  before I depart. And I have wasted much time upon this unlucky Carmen Funebre, [6]  which remains unfinished, tho in a fair way of being soon compleated. But whether I shall publish it is rather a matter of doubt; upon which I care little or nothing myself, & am therefore in a good state for following advice. The objections t are that it will be a day after the fair, – & possibly, (which is xxxxx of more weight) that the subject is too solemn to be treated of in a strain of fiction, however solemn the strain. When I suspect that such an objection is likely to be made, that very suspicion seems to prove that there would be grounds for it. With regard to the measure <metre>, I have certainly, in my own judgement, succeeded; & produced a measure of great variety & power, & beauty.

My present purpose is to begin my journey on Monday 17 April, & if I effect this I shall have a chance of seeing you if it be only for a day; but even one whole day at Llangedwin would be worth all the fragments which there is a chance of getting in the broken & bustling society of London. Let us see – the 18th to Liverpool, 19th to Chester & as much farther as the opportunity of stages may permit. On the 20th I could reach you, & this I should like particularly to do, for the sake of seeing the children, [7]  – in case you should not take them to town.

On the other leaf I transcribe for you Shadwells [8]  opinion, which is as unfavourable as possible. Twice have I been deprived by the caprice of testators of what the course of law would have given me; [9]  & now a legal decision takes away interferes & takes away what it was the intention of a testator to have given. However I had not sufficient expectation to feel any disappointment

Wesley [10]  will be published the week after next. There remain only two sheets of notes & the title to print.

God bless you


Your Opinion is requested, Whether as Heir at Law to Cannon Southey, or under his Will, Mr Robert Southey can claim now any interest in the premises therein mentioned, John Southey Somerville having died without issue, & without having suffered a Recovery. [11] 


“The Pedigree is not stated, but I collect from the case that Mr R. S. is not the heir of John Southey Somerville.

On the death of the testator, according to the certificate of the Judges of the Kings Bench, [12]  the Equitable freehold & inheritance of the freehold Estates descended in progression on Mary Lethbridge, [13]  & from her to John S. Somerville. His heir therefore is now entitled, & not the Heirs of the Testator.

The same Rule is applicable to the Copyhold Estates, supposing they were descendible like freehold. As Heir to the Testator, Mr R. S. cannot have any interest in the Leaseholds, tho as one of the Testators next of kin he may have some interest in them. But in order to determine that the pedigree must be stated.


* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Wynn was (as usual) returned unopposed for Montgomeryshire on 17 March 1820 in the general election. BACK

[2] Thomas Cunliffe (d. 1820), the youngest brother of Wynn’s wife, had died suddenly on 22 March 1820, while a student at Christ Church, Oxford. In 1799–1800 Southey had feared he was suffering from heart disease. BACK

[3] John Gibson Lockhart, Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk, 3 vols (Edinburgh, 1819), I, p. 35, no. 2223 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[4] The second edition of the first volume only of the History of Brazil (1810–1819) was published in 1822. BACK

[5] Southey’s review of The Works of the Reverend William Huntington, S. S. Minister of the Gospel, at Providence Chapel, Gray’s Inn Lane, Completed to the Close of the Year 1806 (1811) in Quarterly Review, 24 (January 1821), 462–510. BACK

[6] A Vision of Judgement (1821), on the death of George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB). This had occurred on 29 January 1820. The poem was written in hexameters. BACK

[7] The Wynns had a growing family of five daughters: Charlotte (1807–1869), Mary (1808–1869), Harriet (1812–1878), Emma (1814–1824) and Sidney (1818–1867); and one son, Watkin (1816–1832). Their final child was Charles (1822–1896). BACK

[8] Sir Lancelot Shadwell (1779–1850; DNB), eminent barrister in the Court of Chancery, specialising in real estate law. He had been one of Southey’s counsel in his action to try and stop the publication of Wat Tyler (1817). He had delivered a legal opinion on John Cannon Southey’s (d. 1768) fantastically complex will, which gave Southey some hope of inheriting property at Fitzhead after the death of his third cousin, and John Cannon Southey’s heir, John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB). BACK

[9] Southey inherited nothing on the deaths of his childless uncles, John Southey (d, 1806) and Thomas Southey (d. 1811). BACK

[10] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[11] A method of conveying real estate from one party to another. The person wishing to dispose of their land allowed an action to be brought against them by the person to whom they wished to transfer the estate – an action in whose success they colluded, using long-established legal procedures. The person conveying the land was then said to have ‘suffered a recovery’. Presumably, Lord Somerville had not engaged in this process to pass on his estates to his heirs, primarily his half-brother, Mark Somerville, 16th Lord Somerville (1784–1842), who was unconnected to the Southeys. Despite its bizarre rituals, ‘common recovery’ served an important purpose in allowing the holders of entailed estates to dispose of land they were not legally allowed to sell. BACK

[12] Charles Durnford (1759–1807) and Edward Hyde East (1764–1847; DNB), Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Court of King’s Bench, from Michaelmas Term, 26th George III to Trinity Term, 40th George III, 8 vols (London, 1817), VI, pp. 213–216, reporting the case of John Southey Somerville v. Mary Lethbridge and seven others, 27 January 1795. BACK

[13] Mary Southey (1704–1789), the younger sister of John Cannon Southey, married Christopher Lethbridge (1685–1746), and was the grandmother of John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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