3744. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 5 November 1821

3744. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 5 November 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 5. Nov. 1821

My dear Wynn

Ld Frederick Bentinck whom I met at Lowther, proffered his services in obtaining materials for me from Lord Hill, & from his brother. [1]  I have a letter from him to day. Lord Wm B. will supply all the information & documents in his power. But Lord Hill doubts whether he should be justified in so doing, as he acted the whole time in a subordinate capacity. – I suppose this is rather an excuse than a reason, perhaps he is afraid I might make some indiscrete use of his name.

The time will come when works of this kind will be written with the direct sanction & aid of Government, – as voyages of discovery are now. For myself I am glad that time is not come yet, as unquestionably I can write with much more freedom. But xx a notion has got abroad that something like this is the case. An Italian wrote to offer me a manuscript memorial of the Prince of the Peace [2]  in vindication of himself – as an important document for my history, – modestly asking 200 guineas for it. A son of Scarletts [3]  forwarded the proposal to me, & upon my expressing to him in reply my sense of its folly & extravagance, Young Scarlett said that he as well as his friend the Signor took it for granted Government would be at the whole expence of such a work. – The only thing I ever wished to ask of Government, if there had been a likelihood of obtaining it, was a set of their printed Records which I cannot afford to buy, & which I shall want for use. It was to you that I applied to know if the thing were feasible, – without the least suspicion that you were any way concerned. [4]  The answer is a good specimen of what Government can do to assist an historian in his studies.

I have printed 424 pages of my first volume, [5]  & it will be ready early in the spring. If the booksellers publish it before the whole is ready (which I suppose they will), Lord Hill will see whether the <book is of such a character as that he> would wish it to be as correct as possible in those parts wherein he is concerned. It is not of much consequence: for what was actually done, of course I know. And in reality I have documents in such abundance, that any additional ones will be of more trouble than real utility. It would be a matter of duty with me to examine all, & the additional information which I could now gain could not by possibility be worth a tythe of the time which it would cost. You will easily understand this. I have a dangerous love of detail, & a xxx desire of accuracy, which is much more expensive (both in materials & time) than I ought to afford.

My mornings at Lowther were spent among the books, chiefly with tracts of Charles the firsts age. [6]  There I found the Directory [7]  which I remember you told me once you had never seen & which I had long looked for. It is as the title imparts a mere directory, – telling the Preacher when he is to read, when to respond, when to pray & when to preach, – but setting down no form of words, leaving that to his discretion, – just as old Italian Comedians had the story of their drama given them, & were left to supply the dialogue themselves. – I found a great deal in this great collection of pamphletts which one might look for in vain whether in Rushworth or Whitelocke. [8] 

Murray will publish a Collection of our Historical Memoirs. [9]  You must talk to him about it. It should contain every thing which the intended Corpus does not, – a point upon which I can give him no information.

Barrow makes a great mistake in the QR, & upon a subject with which he ought to be well acquainted. [10]  The country between our possessions in S Africa & the Portugueze is not fertile as he represents it (except in one part) – & there are accounts enough of it in the history of Portugueze shipwrecks, which I wonder he should not have known. The number is I think a bad one. There is a sermon of Stillingfleets which might have been used with great advantage in the paper upon Hones wicked publication. [11]  The last article is ill–designed & clumsily executed. [12]  Hunts Tasso is reviewed by one of his friends – ergo. [13]  – The papers upon Italian literature in that review have all been empty & superficial.

While I was writing Thus far I had written when your letter arrived. For the first time Gifford has printed a paper of mine without mutilation & I am responsible for it as it stands, – with a single exception, not unworthy of notice. I had said that Hampden might have left behind him a name scarcely inferior to Washington, & he has most absurdly altered this to a memorable name! As if the name were not sufficiently memorable. [14] 

I am very much pleased with your remarks. The scale upon which I wrote precluded detail, – I had always to deal in xxx results & general views, & meant all that the words imply xx in saying that till the meeting of the Long Parliament, [15]  it would be difficult to say which party behaved worst & afforded most provocation & excuse to the other. Yet it is so likely that others should impute to want of candour what is solely owing to want of space, that I am very much inclined to extend the paper as I did with the Life of Nelson. [16] 

I will tell you what part you would have taken had you lived in those days. You would have acted with the Parliament to a certain point as Falkland [17]  did, you would then have given <transferred> your weight to the sinking scale, & died as he did, honourably & willingly in the Kings service.

About Laud [18]  I cannot altogether agree with you. His foresight must be admitted as some cause for his severity, for the end & aim of the Puritans was clearly foreseen [19]  as early as in Parker’s time. [20]  The temper and manners of the age take off much of the individual guilt in acts of cruelty. When he cut off ears, the Parliament bored tongues; and in his case, head and all were taken. [21]  The charge of Popery excited most hatred against him; and that was infamously false. And for all that he would have done in counteracting Calvinism, and restoring the beauty of public worship (which was also a prominent charge against him), he was in my judgment eminently meritorious. I found at Lowther a pamphlet of Burton’s concerning Laud’s execution; the spirit of it was truly devilish. [22] 

The “Parl. History” [23]  is a book which I must buy whenever I can afford it – if that should ever be the case. There are parts of our history upon which I am very imperfectly informed for want of it. But this is not the case with Charles’s reign, upon which I have read largely and carefully. The only character of those times upon which I can form no opinion, is Williams, the Lord Keeper and Archbishop. [24]  What is your opinion of him? How I should like to talk over these things with you again, as in old times! God bless you.


P.S. I have lately proposed to Wordsworth that we should institute a society for the suppression of albums.


* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. AL; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 280–284.
Note on MS: The final part of the manuscript (most of the penultimate paragraph, and all of the final paragraph and postscript) is missing; text for this is supplied by Warter. BACK

[1] Lord William Frederick Cavendish Bentinck (1781–1828), MP for Weobley 1816–1824, MP for Queenborough 1824–1826; on 16 September 1820 he married Lady Mary Lowther (d. 1863), daughter of the 1st Earl of Lonsdale. His brother who could help Southey with his History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832) was Lord William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck (1774–1839; DNB), who served in Spain before commanding British troops in Sicily 1811–1815. Rowland Hill, 1st Viscount Hill (1772–1840; DNB), was one of the most brilliant British commanders in the Peninsular War 1808–1813. BACK

[2] The letter was from Gaetano Bartorelli (dates unknown), offering for sale the memoirs of Manuel Godoy y Alvarez de Faria (1767–1851), Prime Minister of Spain 1792–1798. Godoy, who lived in exile in Rome 1812–1832, published his Memórias del Príncipe de la Paz in 1836 in Paris. Bartorelli suggested the memoirs would be of use for Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[3] James Scarlett, 1st Baron Abinger (1769–1844; DNB), eminent lawyer, MP for various seats 1819–1835, Attorney-General 1827–1828, 1829–1830, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer 1834–1844. Scarlett had three sons: Robert Scarlett, 2nd Baron Abinger (1794–1861), lawyer and MP for Norwich 1835–1838, MP for Horsham 1841–1844; General Sir James Yorke Scarlett (1799–1871; DNB); and Peter Campbell Scarlett (1804–1881), diplomat and Envoy Extraordinary to Brazil 1855–1858, Tuscany 1858–1859, Greece 1862–1864 and Mexico 1864–1867. BACK

[4] Wynn was one of the Commissioners on the Public Records of the Kingdom, a body periodically appointed since 1800 to look into the nation’s archives. He actively supported plans to publish collections of medieval records, as well as series like Statutes of the Realm (1810–1825). BACK

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

[6] Charles I (1600–1649; King of Great Britain 1625–1649; DNB). BACK

[7] The Directory for Public Worship (1645), which replaced the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1604) in churches under the Parliamentary regime. BACK

[8] John Rushworth (1612–1690; DNB), Historical Collections of Private Passages of State (1659–1721); Bulstrode Whitelocke (1605–1675; DNB), Memorials of the English Affairs: or, an Historical Account of what Passed from the Beginning of the Reign of King Charles I, to King Charles II, His Happy Restauration (1732), no. 2912 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] Murray did not proceed with this idea. BACK

[10] Sir John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB), review of Notes on the Cape of Good Hope, made during an Excursion in that Colony in the Year 1820 (1821), Quarterly Review, 25 (July 1821), 453–466 (466), published 17 October 1821. BACK

[11] Hugh James Rose (1795–1838; DNB), review of William Hone, The Apocryphal New Testament, being all the Gospels, Epistles, and Other Pieces Now Extant, Attributed in the First Four Centuries to Jesus Christ, His Apostles, and Their Companions, and not included in the New Testament by its Compilers. Translated from the Original Tongues, and Now First Collected into One Volume (1820), Quarterly Review, 25 (July 1821), 347–365. Edward Stillingfleet (1635–1699; DNB) was a latitudinarian Anglican theologian much admired by Southey. It is not clear which of his sermons Southey felt might be an effective response to Hone. One possibility was ‘Sermon XXII: An Ordination Sermon’ in Fifty Sermons Preached upon Several Occasions (London, 1707), pp. 361–376, where Stillingfleet argued that the agreement of the early churches on the Christian canon ‘hath been thought sufficient to bind all after-Ages to make no Alterations in it’ (374). BACK

[12] Richard Chevenix (1774–1830; DNB), review of De la Constitution de l’Angleterre (1819–1822), Quarterly Review, 25 (July 1821), 534–575. BACK

[13] Reginald Heber’s review (with William Gifford and an unknown collaborator) of John Higgs Hunt (1780–1859; DNB), Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, a Heroic Poem, with Notes and Occasional Illustrations (1818), Quarterly Review, 25 (July 1821), 426–437. BACK

[14] ‘Life of Cromwell’, Quarterly Review, 25 (July 1821), 279–347 (293), where Southey had intended to compare the Parliamentarian John Hampden (c. 1595–1643; DNB) to George Washington (1732–1799; President of the United States 1789–1797). BACK

[15] The Long Parliament first met on 3 November 1640. Southey had stated in his ‘Life of Cromwell’, Quarterly Review, 25 (July 1821), 287, that until that moment ‘an impartial observer would have found it difficult to satisfy himself whether the King and his ministers or the parliaments were the most reprehensible; or which party had given the greatest provocation, and thereby afforded most excuse for the conduct of the other.’ BACK

[16] Southey’s Life of Nelson (1813), an expansion of his article in Quarterly Review, 3 (February 1810), 218–262. BACK

[17] Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland (c. 1610–1643; DNB), author and politician, who switched sides from the Parliamentarians to the Royalists in mid-1641 and was killed at the Battle of Newbury on 20 September 1643. BACK

[18] William Laud (1573–1645; DNB), Archbishop of Canterbury 1633–1645. Laud was beheaded after parliament passed a Bill of Attainder against him. BACK

[19] MS ends here; text of the remaining section of the letter is supplied by Warter. BACK

[20] Matthew Parker (1504–1575; DNB), Archbishop of Canterbury 1559–1575. BACK

[21] Laud was instrumental in the charges in 1637 against three Puritan controversialists, who were sentenced to have their ears cut off: Henry Burton (1578–1648; DNB); William Prynne (1600–1669; DNB); and John Bastwick (1593–1654; DNB). The Quaker, James Nayler (1616–1660; DNB), was sentenced to have his tongue bored in 1656, following a conviction for blasphemy. BACK

[22] Henry Burton, The Grand Imposter Unmasked, or a Detection of the Notorious Hypocrisie and Desperate Impiety of the Late Archbishop (So Called) of Canterbury, Cunningly Couched in that Written Copy which he Read on the Scaffold (n.d.). BACK

[23] Parliamentary History of England. From the Norman Conquest, in 1066, To the Year, 1803 (1806–1820), a work in 36 volumes. Southey eventually acquired a copy and it became no. 2183 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[24] John Williams (1582–1650; DNB), Lord Keeper of the Great Seal 1621–1625 and Archbishop of York 1641–1650. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Lowther estate (mentioned 3 times)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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