393. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 30 March 1799

393. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 30 March 1799 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

That a direct tax upon Income [1]  is the best possible mode of taxation has long appeared to me probable. in the present bill however I see great injustice & great absurdity. for instance − is it not absurd to make the man with 185 £ a year pay more than one pound a year more than him who has 184? cast your eye upon the latter part of the scale & you will see the same blunder at every jump. upon this scale 201 £ make a less neat income than 199. are not these schoolboy blunders? you talk of the deduction for children − it is too little – the man who has 60 £ a year & one child − is allowed sixpence a year for it. the tax certainly falls very heavy upon the rich, but the progression ceased too soon. ten per cent is too much to take from 200. it is acting upon the metaphor of Bishop Watson, [2]  <of> which, I have not charity enough to believe he could not himself see the absurdity. you remember Wakefields reply – all parts of the building may sink together – & the gentlemen up stairs still have their comfortable prospect – but where is the ground floor sunk to? [3]  – another fault is, a man is allowed a deduction for children – good. suppose he has ten for instance, he avoids half the tax. the father dies – the brother has to maintain the nine children – & he is allowed nothing while they live in the house with him. is it equitable to take the same proportion from one who supports a housefull of relations – & from a single unencumbered person? these things strike me as strange oversights in the framers of the bill, but all remediable.

The commercial objections to it are less easily removed. in the country it must happen that many a man has for his commissioner his principal creditor. every body knows how much business depends upon credit. where is the use of secresy in this case? the consequence is that to keep up credit – they over-rate their income. the revenue indeed profits by this – but it is grievous upon the individual.

Direct taxation was one of Turgots [4]  favourite schemes. it is open & fair & I should be glad to see all taxes commuted for it. they should not however make people sign a lie that they are willing to pay the money to help prosecute the war, in the next Dictionary the parliamentary meaning must be affixed to the word.

I shall be in town as late as possible in the term – on May day I believe, & shall stay over the vacation to keep the next. I expect to pass the greater part of the time at Cambridge.

I was sorry to hear a bad account of the Ancient Britons in Ireland [5]  – from an Irishman, a moderate man – a Unionist – & one whom I could not but credit. he did not say they had been bit by any of his countrymen – & yet accused them of all Irish enormities. perhaps it is the soil of the country or the climate that is in fault.

The Pneumatic Institution [6]  is just opened here. I am acquainted with the young man who manages it, & just know chemistry enough to comprehend his discoveries & glimpse their consequences. he possesses the most miraculous talents I ever met with or heard of, & will I think do more for medicine than any person who has ever gone before him.

I long to see North Wales & to become familiar with its scenery. the first sketch of Madoc, for I look upon as not much more, draws to its conclusion – & I may perhaps have the whole outline to show you in May. in the first books I have spoken of Snowden & Cader Idris – & that is all. careless & hasty as I am thought in my writings I would willingly go to Orleans to enable myself to describe its situation – & take the journey from Aberffraw to Mathrafal – thence to Dinevor & back to Aberffraw for the same purpose.

I wish these March winds were over. by day I feel nothing – a general relaxation – but at night every sound startles me. it has hung on me a long while & God knows when I shall shake it off.

God bless you

yrs affectionately

R Southey.

Saturday. March 30. 99.


* Address: To/ C W W Wynn Esqr M P –/ Chester Circuit
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ MAR 30 99; AP/ 2/ 99
Endorsement: March 30/ 99
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 182–183. BACK

[1] The budget of December 1798 had introduced income tax for the first time. It was paid on a sliding scale on incomes from £60pa to £200pa and at 10% on incomes over £200pa. BACK

[2] Richard Watson (1737–1816; DNB), Bishop of Llandaff, An Address to the People of Great Britain (London, 1798), p. 4. BACK

[3] Gilbert Wakefield, A Reply to Some Parts of the Bishop of Landaff’s Address to the People of Great Britain (London, 1798), p. 16. BACK

[4] The French economist and statesman Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, Baron de Laune (1727–1781). BACK

[5] Sir Watkin Williams Wynn (1772–1840), Wynn’s elder brother, had raised a home defence force in North East Wales, the Ancient British Fencible Cavalry, in 1794. The regiment served in Ireland in 1797–8 and gained an unsavoury reputation for its role in suppressing dissent and preparations for revolution. It also took part in several battles against the Wexford uprising in June 1798. BACK

[6] The Pneumatic Institute, Dowry Square, Bristol, founded by Thomas Beddoes. BACK

People mentioned

Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 1 time)