1676. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 September 1809

1676. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 September 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

My quest of the Derwentwater stewardship is at an end. I effectually secured Lord Lonsdales interest, but it appears from Lord Mulgraves [1]  letters that the place required experience which I do not possess, & application which I would not for any possible emolument bestow. You perhaps may suppose as Ellis & Canning seem to do, & as Lord Lonsdale does, that this reply of Lord Mulgrave means only that that he wants the place for somebody else, – but it tallies precisely with the result of Bedfords enquiries, & thereupon I am satisfied. I am told that if Canning has any influence in disposing of Dutens’s situation when he dies that I shall certainly succeed him. [2]  – there is no harm in having got thus far.

Meantime I have found out a place of Historiographer elsewhere with an exact salary, & that too not liable to the same unmerciful deductions. Ballantyne offers me 400£ a year to write the historical part of his Edinb. Ann. Register, in execution of which the person xx whom he had originally engaged has woefully disappointed him. [3]  I have engaged <undertaken> for the first volume., – after which he will see how my style of thinking & writing suit his purpose, & I shall better be able to calculate the expence of time. The very little which I have yet done interests me enough in doing it to induce a belief that sweet remuneration will tempt me to continue it hereafter. I write with thorough freedom, equally aloof from all parties, – & I suppose the manner in which I shall speak of some of the ministerial measures would hardly go down with xx my Scotch employers, [4]  were it not rendered delectable by the heavier censure past upon the Foxites, [5]  & the peace-party. Of this I am sure that the perfect fairness & right English spirit in which it is written will do more for the book in the way of establishing its reputation & thereby its sale than any other course which could be pursued. How far it may be prudent in me is another question, but – blessed be God for it, I have never yet weighed consequences in the balance with conscience.

Frere will be defended in the Quarterly by Ellis. – I assuredly could & would have justified him had it been entrusted to me. As for Sir J Moore there needs no censure upon him, – part of the history of his retreat I have written [6]  – while waiting for other materials, – & the plain narrative itself is the severest condemnation which could be declared pronounced. It was well for him that he died in battle.

See how literature is managed as a trade in this country. Ballantyne – & I suppose Scott is his main adviser – project this Register, – they circulate a prospectus, & some thousand copies are xxx bespoken. He offers ten guineas a sheet to authors; – goes to somebody for the historical part on which he is aware that the character of the book must rest, gets a bad script, – & in the middle of August has to look for another writer – when the work is to appear in January! – It is in vain to represent to him that the person to whom he applies next is utterly unprepared for the task, & has all his materials to seek, – his answer is that every body would be in the same predicament, so here am I at four months notice to furnish what he estimates at 30 close octavo sheets! – but I have protested against being compelled to consider the subject matter beyond what it will bear, & this is left at my discretion. And I am to receive more for this than for all the poems which I have written! –

My first volume of Brazil draws near its close. [7]  432 pages are printed, & I have only one more chapter to transcribe, – to arrange the additional notes, & put together the Bibliographical Appendix. – I am very far from feeling any dislike to other xxx employments, – on the contrary they amuse & interest me sufficiently, – so much so, – that had I no greater subject, I should xxxx write more of this nature for mere pleasure than I now do for mere money. Still there is a far greater satisfaction in working upon a worthy subject, & if ever I step into the shoes of that old Frenchman with a salary adequate to my expenditure I shall take leave of the Trade.

Duppa is in these regions of the North, he is at Durham today – dining I suppose with my brother, & when he has made his visit to Sir J Swinburne [8]  we hope he will find his way here. Rickman would have been here at this time, but his fathers death has delayed & may possibly prevent his coming. I wish for him much, as there is no man living in whose company I take more pleasure nor from whom I derive more improvement.

The third Quarterly has two articles of mine – that on the S Sea Missions – & Ld Valentia. [9]  A reviewal of Holmes’s American Annals has been postponed, [10]  – it is a good book. I am to review Joel Barlow’s refaccionamiento of his Vision of Columbus [11]  – about which I can make an amusing article – & also to write upon Methodism. [12] 

God bless you




* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M P/ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831; DNB): a diplomatist and politician who was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1807. BACK

[2] Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB), a French Protestant, held the post of Historiographer Royal until his death on 23 May 1812. Southey’s campaign for the post proved unsuccessful and it went to James Stanier Clarke (c. 1765–1834; DNB). BACK

[3] Either the poet and translator William Steward Rose (1775–1843; DNB) or his brother the diplomatist George Henry Rose (1770–1855; DNB). Their father was the Pittite loyalist MP George Rose (1744–1818; DNB). BACK

[4] The Edinburgh Annual Register, which was published by the Scottish publishers John and James Ballantyne. BACK

[5] Whigs with a political allegiance to Charles James Fox. BACK

[6] Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), Scottish General with a long and varied military career. He was also MP for Lanark Burghs 1784–1790. After the controversial Convention of Cintra (1808), Moore was given the command of the British troops in the Iberian peninsula. He was fatally wounded at the Battle of Corunna on 16 January 1809. For Southey’s account, see Edinburgh Annual Register for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 442–459. Although he praised many of Moore’s personal qualities, Southey suggested that he was not ‘equal to the difficulties of his situation’ (458). BACK

[7] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[8] John Edward Swinburne, 6th Baronet (1762–1860), whose family estate was in Capheaton, Northumberland. BACK

[9] Southey reviewed in the Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809): Transactions of the Missionary Society in the South Sea Islands, 24–61; George Annesley, Viscount Valentia (1770–1844), Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, and the Red Sea, Abyssinia and Egypt in the Years 1802, 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806 (1809), 88–126. BACK

[10] Southey reviewed Abiel Holmes (1763–1837), American Annals; or, a Chronological History of America, from its Discovery in 1492 to 1806 in the Quarterly Review, 2 (November 1809), 319–337. BACK

[11] The American writer and politician, Joel Barlow (1754–1812) published The Columbiad. A Poem, in England in 1809. It was a revised version of his Vision of Columbus published in 1787. Southey did not review this work for the Quarterly. BACK

[12] Southey’s review of [James Sedgwick (1775–1851; DNB)], Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching. By a Barrister (1809), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 480–514. BACK

People mentioned