3527. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 16 August 1820

3527. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 16 August 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 16 Aug. 1820

My dear Wynn

It seems very strange that the Duke of Gloucester [1]  should give you information of any projects or intentions of mine. The state of the case is this. Mrs Hastings being very desirous that a life of her husband should be written & a selection made from his papers, [2]  consulted Sir George Dallas [3]  about it, & he proposed Sir James Macintosh [4]  as a person of distinguished talents, high reputation, & conversant with Indian affairs. – tho there might be an objection to him as being possibly disposed to think with Mr Fox on that, as on other subjects. Mrs Hastings however desired that enquiry might be made whether I would undertake it, because she knew what her husbands opinion of me had been, & that he would have preferred me for such a task to any other person. Sir G. D. spoke to Murray, & two or three days only before I left town Murray asked me the question. I saw at once that the splendour of the subject, – the extent & variety of matter which it included, & in what manner it might be arranged: & having a vague knowledge of the leading facts of Hastings life, but a great admiration of his talents, & of all that I had heard of him in his private character, & believing that moreover that he been vilely persecuted, I expressed a willingness to the business. My place in the Mail was taken at this time, & all my arrangements made accordingly. On the morning of my departure Murray went with me to Sir G Dallas’s. There I learnt that the materials were as ample as could be desired, – the most important being a journal which kept by Hastings, I believe, from the time when he first went to India. Sir G. afterwards called at my brothers & left word written on his card that Mrs H. wished particularly to see me the next day – but this could not be – for I had engagements at Birmingham, & was to meet my Aunt Southey there on her way from Taunton. So there the matter ended, – except that Murray has sent me down a parcel of books for preliminary reading, & that I hold myself engaged to it as soon as the Hist: of the War [5]  is compleated.

I have no fear of the labour, & none of any difficulty in writing with perfect integrity: if indeed I had any such apprehension I would at once decline the task. It is a noble subject, – & admits of in perfection of that ornamental relief which is always delightful to meet with, & which I delight in introducing. – If it extends to two quartos (as I suppose it will) I shall have two thousand guineas. – If things go on quietly & I live & do well, there is a fair prospect of my realizing five thousand pounds in the next five years.

I am as little fond of prophesying evil as you are, – mine indeed is a chearful nature, & I hardly know what it is to despond. With regard to the present crisis [6]  my best ground of hope indeed is not of the pleasantest kind, – it being simply this that xx things must be worse before they can be better, – & that the sooner the abscess breaks the more strength will there be in the constitution to struggle thro the disease. We are already under the tyranny of the Press, – & that tyranny must inevitably destroy itself, – the question how much or how little evil we must go thro before that good end is arrived at is a momentous question <concern> to the present generation. We must hope the best, & do the best we can. In the present filthy business I have only to wait the event; & I shall be glad if the storm breaks while you are far from the sphere of its action for something as bad as Lord G Gordons riots [7]  may reasonably be expected. Bennet (the Wilts. B.) bill [8]  which passed thro both Houses without a single observation on either side, & perhaps was hardly known to the Ministers, certainly not thought of by them, may prove the salvation of the Government

Your godson, thank God, thrives as we could wish, – totters about with sufficient confidence & strength, articulates half words, & makes himself perfectly [MS missing] by the help of looks & gestures. He is as fine & hopeful a boy [MS missing]gs as your Watkin, [9]  & there is no saying more.

I saw Shadwell [10]  after leaving you. The Court of Kings Bench gave Ld Somerville full possession of the estates, in direct opposition to the testators intention. [11]  Had he died intestate I should still have succeeded to the Southey estates which remain unsold as his heir at law, – but he has willed them away. So be it. I can do without them. There would be a decent provision for my family were I to die this night; – a few years would enable me to make it a good one.

God bless you



* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ Barmouth/ Merionethshire/ <Llewyston/ Caxx Office>
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298; BARMOUTH/ 226
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. 202–205. BACK

[1] Prince William Frederick, 2nd Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1776–1834; DNB). BACK

[2] Warren Hastings (1732–1818; DNB), Governor-General of Bengal 1773–1785; his second wife was Anna Maria Apollonia [Marian] Chapuset (1747–1837; DNB). Southey did not write Hastings’s biography. See Southey to John Murray, 10 July 1820, Letter 3509 for details of the proposal that he should write this work. BACK

[3] Sir George Dallas, 1st Baronet (1758–1833), poet, and friend and supporter of Warren Hastings. BACK

[4] Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832; DNB), Whig politician, historian and Recorder of Bombay 1804–1811. Charles James Fox had been an opponent of Warren Hastings. BACK

[5] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[6] Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), the estranged wife of George IV, had returned to England on 5 June 1820. Her arrival and the series of events that followed, as attempts were made to deprive her of the title of Queen and to dissolve her marriage to the King, made her a figurehead for radicals, and also triggered public protests in her support. BACK

[7] Lord George Gordon (1751–1793; DNB); his anti-Catholic activities inspired the Gordon Riots of 1780, in which nearly 300 people were killed. BACK

[8] John Benett (1773–1852), MP for Wiltshire 1819–1832, MP for South Wiltshire 1832–1852. He had been one of the leading figures in supporting the Appointment of Special Constables Act (1820), which increased the powers of local Justices of the Peace to recruit special constables at times of civil disorder. BACK

[9] Watkin Williams Wynn (1816–1832), at this time Wynn’s only son. BACK

[10] Sir Lancelot Shadwell (1779–1850; DNB), eminent barrister in the Court of Chancery, specializing in real estate law. He had been one of Southey’s counsels in his attempt to 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); see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 28 March 1820, Letter 3459. BACK

[11] 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

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