1047. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 9 March 1805

1047. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 9 March 1805 ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

Frank for me the inclosed. – it is to an old servant of Miss Wordsworth, containing a small bank note. [1] 

I have read Scotts poem [2]  this evening, & like it much. It has the fault of mixed language which you mentioned & which I expected – & it has the same obscurity – or to speak more accurately the same want of perspicuousness as his Glenfinlas. [3]  I suspect that Scott did not write poetry oft enough when a boy, for he has little command of language. His vocabulary of the obsolete is ample – but in general his words march up stiffly like half trained recruits – neither a natural walk, nor a measured march of which practice has made natural. But I like his poem for it is poetry, & in a company of strangers I would not mention that it had any faults. – The xxx beginning of the story is too like Coleridges Christabell which he had seen. [4]  The very line Jesu Maria shield her well! – is caught from it. [5]  When you see the Christabell you will not doubt that Scott has imitated it – I do not think designedly – but the echo was in his ears – not for emulation – sed propter amorem. [6]  This only refers to the first stanza <beginning>, which you will perceive attributes more of magic to the Lady than seems in character with the rest of the story.

If the sale of Madoc should prove that I can afford to write poetry – Kehama will not be long unfinished. [7]  After lying fallow since the end of October I feel prolific propensities that way. I am not sure whether you have a copy of what is written or not. If not – tell me & the task of transcription will give me occasion to correct, & set me on the road. – the Edithling still seems well.

Perhaps my politics are of a more popular character than yours. But in such a case as this salt tax, I do think the out-of-doors sense should be taken, & petitions poured in. Do you know any thing of Giddy [8]  who spoke against it? He is a man of extraordinary abilities & what is most extraordinary – a man of philosophical pursuits & yet a miser!

My book ought to be delivered before this, upon the slowest calculation. I pray you compare the conscientious type of my notes with that of Scotts – & look in his title page at the cruelty with which he has actually split Paternoster Row. [9] 

God bless you.


Saturday March 9. 1805.


* Address: C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: [illegible]
Postmark: FREE/ MAR12/ 1805
MS: National Library of Wales MS 4812D. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 316–317 [in part]. BACK

[1] Peggy Marsh (dates unknown) was an old servant of William and Dorothy’s from the period when they lived at Alfoxden (1796–1799). Dorothy often sent her small sums of money. See Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journals, ed. Pamela Woof (Oxford, 1991), p. 238. BACK

[2] The Lay of the Last Minstrel: A Poem (1805). BACK

[3] Glenfinlas; or Lord Ronald’s Coronach (1803). BACK

[4] When Coleridge published ‘Christabel’, together with ‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘The Pains of Sleep’ in 1816, having recited it on many occasions since its composition in 1797–1800, he included a preface pointing to Scott’s borrowing, but acquitting him of plagiarism. BACK

[5] ‘Christabel’, Part 1, line 54; The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto 1, stanza 1, line 5. BACK

[6] Meaning ‘but on account of love’. BACK

[7] The Curse of Kehama was not published till 1810. BACK

[8] Davies Giddy (later Gilbert) (1767–1839; DNB), a Cornishman and friend of Humphry Davy, who succeeded Davy as President of the Royal Society. Giddy published on engineering and the history and literature of Cornwall. He was M.P. for Helston, in Cornwall, from 1804 to 1806, speaking against the bill to impose an additional duty upon salt in the debate of 19 February 1805. BACK

[9] Madoc (1805) and Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel were both printed by the Edinburgh firm of James Ballantyne. The title-page of Scott’s poem splits ‘Paternoster’ and ‘Row’ over the end of a line with a hyphen. BACK

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