3664. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 6 April 1821

3664. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 6 April 1821⁠* 

My dear Wynn

The inclosed refuses an Invitation to dine on the 3d May with the Lit: Fund: Soc. For the good reason that I intend to dine in Cumberland on that day; – & a request to write verses for the said dinner, for the equally good reason that I am too busy, & have no talent for occasional poetry. [1] 

Another reason not less decisive might have been added, if I had not borne in mind that the least which is said is the soonest mended, – a maxim which I impress upon my children when they hurt themselves in infancy, as a charm to stop them crying. That reason is that I if I write Satire, there are few subjects on which I would lay <on> the Lash with so much severity as this worshipful Society which while it lauds itself as a Joint Stock Company of Patronage, does in fact nothing more than relieve literary pauperism by donations of five & of ten pounds, – which just serves to purchase a reprieve from the spunging house, or the parish, [2]  – & to prolong the process of starving.

I could say much more upon this subject, & upon the sort of Society which would really be beneficial to Literature & to the community. Whatever Dr Johnson may have said, the Booksellers are not the best patrons of literature. [3]  They must consider solely what is likely to sell, not what deserves to be printed. The scheme for an Academy [4]  which has been published is ridiculous; but Academies are not in themselves bad things. In other countries they have done a great deal; & there is a great deal to be done in this, which will never be done without one –

How much depends upon Austria [5]  at this moment! A liberal policy might do wonders now, – but the race of statesmen is extinct. With evil on all sides, one has nothing to hope for – except tranquillity, – & that sort of melioration arising from the spirit of the age, which was going on every till the French Revolution brought on an age of blood.

God bless you

RS

6 April. 1821.


Notes

* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 246–247. BACK

[1] The Royal Literary Fund, established in 1790 to aid British writers in financial difficulties. It received a Royal Charter in 1818. Much of the charity’s money came from its annual fundraising dinner, which was held on 10 May 1821. The ‘conviviality of the Meeting was sustained with unabated spirit till near midnight’, Morning Post, 11 May 1821. Southey neither attended the dinner nor wrote any verses for the occasion. BACK

[2] A sponging house was a place where debtors were temporarily confined to try and arrange a settlement with their creditors; if they failed to do so they were usually taken to court and then debtors’ prison. ‘The parish’ was poor relief, available from parish ratepayers. Southey’s view of the Royal Literary Fund was not a recent one. He had previously attacked its ‘despicable ostentation of patronage’ in his review of Isaac D’Israeli, Calamities of Authors; Including some Inquiries Respecting their Moral and Literary Characters (1812), Quarterly Review, 8 (September 1812), 93–114 (109). BACK

[3] A saying often attributed to Samuel Johnson (1709–1784; DNB). BACK

[4] The Royal Society of Literature, founded in 1820. Southey had proposed that the government establish an academy to provide employment for literary men and benefit individual and national interests in his review of Isaac D’Israeli, Calamities of Authors; Including some Inquiries Respecting their Moral and Literary Characters (1812), Quarterly Review, 8 (September 1812), 113–114. BACK

[5] Austria had sent an army to crush the liberal revolution in Naples in March 1821. BACK

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