3574. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 2 December 1820

3574. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 2 December 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 2 Dec. 1820.

My dear Wynn

I received the MS.S. yesterday. [1]  As far as I have looked at it, it seems to relate to a single process of very little consequence except to the poor people concerned in it, & as they got off with the gallies, it is probable they met with nothing more than their deserts; – offences of opinion not being punished in that way.

Your last letter crossed one of mine upon the road. I do not partake your disgust at both parties; [2]  my feeling towards the one is that which one has for an honest and upright General or Admiral who commits a fatal error in judgement, – towards the other I will not trust myself to say what it is, farther than that I have never read of any faction in any age or country, acting in more basely & wickedly than the present race of Whigs. Verily they will have their reward if a Bellum Servile [3]  should break forth; – if it should be averted, or quelled at the first explosion, then they will escape with no other punishment than that of lasting infamy, which they seem incapable of feeling. I hardly thought it possible to think worse of them than I did twelve months ago. A worse symptom is the cowardice that has shown itself among better men. It is in vain to disguise from ourselves the real situation of the country. A revolution is effected. We are under the tyranny of the Press & the Mob. The popular opinion is thoroughly corrupted from Thursoe to Penzance, – & the fidelity of the troops is more than doubtful. [4]  Nevertheless I doubt not that a vigorous minister might save the country. But the age of the Cecils [5]  is over.

You see Scotts house has been attacked, – the very last man whom I <should> have thought in danger from his own neighbours. [6]  The first thing, or one of the first things needful, is a short code of xxx laws relating to mobs, & this might be done without difficulty. Mere imprisonment is not punishment sufficient for being taken in a mob, corporal punishment should be added, & in all aggravated cases transportation; – & imprisonment ought always to imply hard work, & prison diet, – wholesome but unpalatable. – With regard to the Press <sedition> you were one of the persons who would only consent to banishment upon a second conviction: [7]  – had it been enacted for the first, of what a set of incendiaries should we by this time have been rid, supposing that the same verdicts had been found which tho probably not in all instances, they would in many, & I believe in most. My dear Wynn if you & I outlive the storm, we shall outlive the liberty of the Press, & God grant that we may have no greater loss to regret. If the Press triumphs we know there is an end of its liberty; – it perishes then like the scorpion when for once he makes a good use of his sting by striking it into his own head. If on the other hand we are to escape from the imminent danger of a Jacquerie, it must be by controuling this engine of mischief, the most powerful that ever was brought into action x against the well being of society.

I believe I told you that I have begun some dialogues, taking for my motto these words from St Bernard Respice, aspice, prospice. [8]  I wish you were near enough to see them in progress & to talk over some of the topics. But if the fates permit I will come one of these days to a christening at Llangedwin (not sooner) that we may finish the journey which we began in 1801. [9]  – & perhaps the series will not be finished before that day comes, for I travel at a tortoise pace.

God bless you my dear Wynn

yrs most affectionately



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

[1] William Shipley (1778–1820), MP for St Mawes 1807, 1812–1813 and Flint Boroughs 1807–1812, husband of Wynn’s sister, Charlotte Williams Wynn (1773–1819), had fled his debtors for Majorca and offered to provide Southey with a manuscript history of the Inquisition in Majorca. BACK

[2] Under extreme pressure from George IV, the Cabinet had reluctantly agreed to introduce a Bill of Pains and Penalties into the House of Lords to deprive the King’s wife, Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), of the title of Queen and to dissolve her marriage to the King. On the Third Reading of the Bill on 10 November 1820, the government majority was only nine votes and it seemed very unlikely the Bill could pass the House of Commons. Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, therefore had announced the Bill would be withdrawn. BACK

[3] Literally a ‘slave war’ – a war of the poor against the rich. BACK

[4] A battalion of the 3rd Regiment of Guards in King’s Mews had mutinied on 15 June 1820, complaining of poor conditions. Queen Caroline was reported to be very popular in Guards Regiments. BACK

[5] William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (1520–1598; DNB), Secretary of State 1558–1572, Lord High Treasurer 1572–1598; and his younger son, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury (1563–1612; DNB), Secretary of State 1590–1612. BACK

[6] A letter appeared in the Courier, 30 November 1820, dated ‘Selkirk, Nov. 14’. It claimed that during the celebrations of Queen Caroline’s victory, Walter Scott’s house at Abbotsford was attacked and the windows and doors destroyed. The letter was a hoax. BACK

[7] The Cabinet had introduced its ‘Six Acts’ to suppress radical agitation in November 1819; among them was a new Criminal Libel Bill to increase the penalties for seditious and blasphemous libel. BACK

[8] ‘Look to the past, the present, the future’, words attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153). These words did appear on the title page [unpaginated] of vol. 1 of Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols (London, 1829). BACK

[9] A tour of North Wales to visit the sites mentioned in Southey’s Madoc (1805). BACK

People mentioned

Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Abbotsford (mentioned 1 time)