334. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 July [1798]

334. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 July [1798] ⁠* 

Sunday July 15th

My dear Wynn

If you hold your intention of visiting Ireland (a country which is about to experience the blessings of a regular government somewhat in the way Holland did under Philip 2nd −) [1]  can you not make your way thro Bristol? we have a spare bed room − & the most beautiful spots in this country are within a very easy walk.

I do not like your plea for the torture in Ireland. [2]  it is not a general one − & tho it may hold good possibly in some cases, it appears to me liable to the unanswerable objections against breaking infringing a general principle for a particular good. It has been carried too to its worst lengths in Ireland: not merely to compel a discovery of arms, but to compel them to discover the hiding places of accused persons. Hervey [3]  was found out in this manner. bad as the Irish are − & God knows I have a most evil opinion of the half-christened herd − I cannot but think the ruling party in Ireland worse. under whatever term it may be vieled, the torture has been to all intents introduced in that country. − there was a time when an Englishman if he saw the rack carried into his neighbours house, would have objected to it on the idea that it might soon come to his own: − but the excesses of the French have frightened us now & there is I wish there was no more danger of an utter despotism than there is of anarchy. Burleigh [4]  was wise when he said that England never could be undone but by a parliament.

Where was the Virgilian taste of your Etonian acquaintance [5]  when they complained that I had lopped off an excrescence from the poem? the Vision [6]  will soon go to the press − I have some additions making – enough to make it just large enough to put in boards. My Letters [7]  wait for the paper only. I correct them as they go to press, that is after much lopping off previously. the drawings come on but slowly — for Charles Fox (the author of Achmed Ardebeili, in whose hands the sketches are) is often sick & always slow. [8]  They will I trust be well done, Alken [9]  is to be the engraver, & we wish to have them as highly finished as the Welsh views in Sothebys blank verse book. [10]  Cottle has sold the edition of Joan of Arc [11]  to Longman the bookseller — (he did this as wanting ready money to enter the printing business, in which he is now a partner with Biggs x) this will be of service to the book. — you would hardly credit the little dirty tricks practised by the London booksellers to ruin country publications: Robinson [12]  has denied having any of my books whilst he had nearly an hundred on his shelf — & I have known other instances of the same conduct.

In settling papers which have been three or four years bundled up I found the inclosed drawing. [13]  I pray you observe the man who looks as if he had been cut down from the gallows, & just alighted on his legs before he fell farther. I need not point out the excellencies of the other figures. they may perhaps amuse you

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ C. W. Williams Wynn Esqr./ Christ Church/ Oxford
Stamped: BRISTOL
Endorsement: July 15 1798
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 170–172. BACK

[1] The attempted revolution by the United Irishmen which began on 23 May 1798 had largely been crushed by this time. Radicals in Britain remained intensely critical of the government’s use of executions, deportations and torture to punish the rebels and suppress dissent, and Southey is comparing the situation in Ireland with that of the Protestant Netherlands under the absolute rule of the Spanish Catholic Philip II (1527–1598; reigned 1556–1598). After a period of discontent and repression, in 1566–1572 the Netherlands successfully revolted against Spanish rule. BACK

[2] The British army had been engaged in a sustained campaign in Ireland since late 1796 to destroy arms held by those they identified as potential rebels. The declaration of martial law in March 1798 confirmed the army could use whatever methods it chose and these included torture. The best-known local method was ‘pitchcapping’ – forcing a helmet of boiling tar onto the head of the victim. BACK

[3] Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey (1762–1798; DNB), Protestant lawyer and one of the leaders of the Irish rising in Wexford. He was arrested on 26 May 1798 on the basis of information disclosed under torture by Anthony Perry (c. 1760–1798), a leader of the United Irishmen in Wexford. BACK

[4] William Cecil, Lord Burleigh (1521–1598, DNB). This saying has also been attributed to another Elizabethan statesman, Francis Bacon (1561–1626, DNB). BACK

[5] Unidentified. Presumably he was referring to the removal of Book 9 of the 1796 edition from Southey’s Joan of Arc (1798). This revision took Joan of Arc even further away from the pattern of Virgil’s (70–19 BC) epic, the Aeneid. BACK

[6] ‘The Vision of the Maid of Orleans’ was published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [1]–69. BACK

[7] The second edition of Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal appeared in 1799. BACK

[8] Southey’s plan for Charles Fox (1740?–1809; DNB) to illustrate the second edition of his Letters came to nothing. Fox’s ’Aks-i partaw. A Series of Poems, Containing the Plaints, Consolations, and Delights of Achmed Ardebeili, a Persian Exile had been published by Cottle in 1797. BACK

[9] Samuel Alken (1756–1815; DNB), specialised in aquatints and etchings of picturesque landscapes. BACK

[10] Samuel Alken’s engravings had appeared in William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), A Tour Through Parts of Wales, Sonnets, Odes, and Other Poems (1794). BACK

[11] The second edition of Joan of Arc, published in 1798. BACK

[12] The Robinsons were a dynasty of booksellers, printers and publishers, at this time headed by George Robinson II (d. 1801; DNB), George Robinson III (d. 1811; DNB) and John Robinson (1753–1813; DNB). In the mid 1790s, they had been part of a congerie with Cottle, and had sold Joan of Arc (1796) and Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal and Poems (1797). BACK

[13] The drawing has not survived. BACK

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