549. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [October 1800]

549. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [October 1800] ⁠* 

The Siamese make the happiness of the blessed to consist in impassibility – in the enjoyment of deep repose, interrupted by no thought or feeling, – only with the consciousness of existence. the agitation which the receipt of letters in a far country occasions has half converted me to the wish of dozing away eternity with Sommono-Codom in the ever-blessed state of Nireupan. [1]  it wakes xx <xxx> & startles, – & fevers me for the day. You have given me something to dream of – but my dreams take a wild course & instead of haranguing Sir Ts Strange [2]  – shake Strachey by the hand, & return home thro Delhi [3]  & by old Persepolis & Ispahan & Bagdad. I would willingly go to India – & make a fortune there & come home to enjoy it, – but I would rather live in a Welsh cottage, & fill the largest room with books – & enjoy the summer of life – as blessed be God! I have enjoyed the spring. but there is a winter – & must be a harvest time, – & if crops grow faster at Madras – & if the climate be certain – why a wish to see the Hindoos & old Brahma [4]  might tempt me to –. I have stopt there. the recollection of one friend & of another has come upon me – each would miss me – & I should miss all. & for what? to make thousands insteads of the hundreds which England promises. I have no ambition to rise in the world. – intellectual rank satisfies my pride – & the object of life is happiness. – The climate of the East would probably suit me – but how it would blight & blast the mental powers, & the better feelings to pass so large a portion of existence in the only society possible there – among men with whom I have nothing in common but language & the wants of nature! – you see how the pros & cons are battling it –. & for “hard & unremitting fag” [5]  – that would likelier fit me for Moorfields [6]  than Madras. the instrument is out of tune – I have lost ground of late. a journey to Alcobaca & Batalha [7]  will shake me into order, & I purpose soon to set out on a jackass.

But of India I can talk & think in England – England – the land of intellect & morality – my own dear country where I grew up & where I would be set down – which I should perhaps want heart to quit for a long absence. & feeling <it [MS illegible]> everlasting absence – unless with a new Madoc to a new world – Of Walenstein you say what I should have said, except that I like Coleridges version of [MS torn] song very much – & Charles Lambs as little. [8]  None of Schillers [9]  plays has pleased me so much & it does <not> excite wonder & impatience & agitation like the Robbers – nor does it mangle the feelings as the Minister did: but instead – a calm & constant interest – the pleasure which results from a satisfied judgement. there is great dramatic truth in all the characters. less so in Max [10]  – (curse his monosyllable name!) than in the others. the scene in the last act with Gordon is exquisite – & the repetitions of the old mans name by Wallenstein (P. 141. 142) [11]  uncommonly fine. – The plays are too good to be popular. Of Queen Mary [12]  you shall soon have news, – & I shall stimulate myself to an exertion which I almost fear; by the determination of sending you act by act as written. – You mistake the groundwork of the fancied Romance – it is the old Persian mythology – the two principles of Zoroaster [13]  – a system rich in all food for poetry. the character a son of the Great King – by one of his thousand wives, & an Athenian slave – who takes the Prince home & marries him to his daughter. – & this is all – the seed will germinate by & by. for a Hindoo tale [14]  I have set another seed. there is a singular absurdity in that system – prayers and penance have a sterling – not a relative, value. they are actual coin for which the Gods are obliged to sell their gifts even to the wicked: & thus have they often given such power to the Penitents as they are called, as to endanger themselves. now one of these Penitents would I take, & set him on an enterprize to get at the Amortam [15]  – the food of immortality – & an injured Paria [16]  should meet him, just as he had arrived at the place where it was kept – & immortalize him in a more natural way. –

One Poet has already tried his fortune in India. Camõens. he left Portugal with the bitter phrase of Scipio on his lips Ingrata Terra non possidebis ossa mea! [17]  – yet in the land of promise which he had reached – he lay down “by the water of Babylon & wept at remembering the Sion he had left.” [18]  Camões went to make a fortune – & he brought back – the Lusiad. I suspect that my fate would be more likely to resemble the Portugals, than that of Sir William Jones. [19] 

You speak of Dauncey [20]  – Once I saw him – calling on Mrs Dolignon, he & his wife only were at home. he received me with much courtesy – & when he accompanied me to the door requested that the distance of my lodgings (twas when we were at Newington) – might excuse him from calling on me. his visit I had neither expected nor wished – but the apology somewhat hurt me. I had been in that very house – almost a child of the family. – the next time I passed along the street – the name was gone from the door & the house to be lett. I had lost all traces – they knew where I was. but I should not <have> repeated my visit – the coldness of a stranger never hurts me – I am sometimes ice myself – & may chill him who comes in contact – but Mrs Dolignon had been to me almost as a mother, & at this moment sure I am that neither of her children can feel for her a deeper affection. – Here is a letter drawing to its close – & all that it contains might as well have been written in England. so let it be – it is pleasant to live for an hour in old recollections, & forget that all around me is foreign.

Of the concluding books of Thalaba [21]  the ninth is, I think, rich in poetry – & the description of Khawla filling herself with the Devil, among the most powerful lines I have ever written. the value of the tenth B. does not appear till its close. that it turns upon an equivocation is no fault. Apollo [22]  has quibbled upon occasions more important & Crœsus & Pyrrhus may excuse me. [23]  from the speech of the Simorg to the actual descent into the Domdaniel all is new written, & the new lines may possibly reach you before the old ones. those in the eleventh you will like – they excite that calm & unagitating expectation which is perhaps the pleasantest state of mind that poetry can occasion. In the 12th the object of the new lines was to connect the overthrow of the Domdaniel with some obvious good, & not let Thalaba work so wholly in obscurity. The other Books are all corrected, & in some of them passages of some length are inserted. Should you wish to see the copy designed for the Press it will be within your reach. Rickman is my agent with the Booksellers & he lodges at 33 Southampton Buildings, chancery Lane, where a note from you may in five minutes reach him.

I wish your brother [24]  as actual King of Wales – & according to the story God in xxxxxxx remainder – would set some of his subjects at work. [MS obscured] Taliessin, [25]  xx xx you Welshmen ought for the honour of the old country & the [MS obscured] language <tongue> to rescue your Bards from what may be a very ancient & mellifluous language, xxx & what is certainly but which is too ugly & too difficult ever to tempt a learner.

Stanier Clarke [26]  who is about the Progress of Naval Discovery has applied to me for assistance here. not I think in a civil way. he writes a letter to his booksellers [27] containing queries to any “literary character” in Portugal– “who will no doubt contribute his assistance with all the spirit of a liberal scholar.” now instead of thus writing thro his booksellers, he ought upon learning my address from them to have written immediately himself. his queries give me no high idea of his talents some of them are too unimportant to deserve to cross the Bay, & others of such consequence that he ought to have crossed it himself. xxxx xx xxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxxx xx xxx xxxxxxx xxxxx, xxxxx xx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxx he wants to know the dates of all the Editions of Camões. His Prospectus talks too much about Patronage to please me, – & I almost suspect that a man capable of making a good scientific work upon such a subject – would be less anxious to make a puppy-book. [28]  – The Disease rages dreadfully at Seville. by our last accounts 25,000 are sick – & the average daily deaths amount to 250. it will be miraculous if Lisbon escapes. I have just room for the Contents of Thalaba.

1. The Exterpation.

2. The Education <Incantation>

3. The Education

4. The Conversation

5. The Expiation

6. The Preservation

7. The Temptation

8. The Peregrination

9. The Salvation

10. The Explanation

11. The Navigation

12. The Consummation [29] 


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn
Endorsement: Oct 1800
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. AL; 4p.
Previously published: Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 125–129. BACK

[1] Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 40–42 contains Southey’s notes on the Siamese god, Sommona-Codom. Nireupan equated to the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. BACK

[2] Sir Thomas Strange (1756–1841; DNB), President of the Madras Court, 1798–1817. BACK

[3] Southey inserts a footnote: ‘& “that was to day” is very bad. the conclusion fails – but surely the first [MS torn] is well done.’ BACK

[4] The Hindu god of creation. BACK

[5] Probably a quotation from Wynn’s letter to Southey, which has not survived. BACK

[6] The site in London of the Bedlam Hospital for the insane. BACK

[7] The Monasteries of Alcobaca and Batalha were enormous royal foundations of the 12th and 14th centuries, respectively. BACK

[8] The Piccolomini, or the First Part of Wallenstein, a Drama in Five Acts. Translated from the German of Frederick Schiller by S. T. Coleridge (London, 1800), p. 89 contained Coleridge’s prose version of Thekla’s song, and Charles Lamb’s verse translation. BACK

[9] Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805), German playwright; author of The Robbers (1781), and Intrigue and Love (1784) which was translated into English as The Minister (1796). BACK

[10] Max Piccolomini, one of the central characters in Coleridge’s translation of Wallenstein (1800). BACK

[11] The Death of Wallenstein. A Tragedy in Five Acts. Translated from the German of Frederick Schiller by S. T. Coleridge (1800), pp. 141–142. BACK

[12] Southey’s planned play, set in the time of Mary I (1516–1558; reigned 1553–1558; DNB). Southey’s original sketch of the play is dated ‘Westbury, April 1799’, but some further notes are dated ‘Cintra, October 10, 1800’; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 190–192. BACK

[13] Zoroaster (11th/10th centuries BC), Prophet of Zoroastrianism, the state religion in Persia until the 7th century. It was believed in Europe to be based on the opposition between Ahura Mazda, the supreme being, and Ahriman, the destructive principle. For Southey’s idea for his unexecuted ‘romance’, see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 128. BACK

[14] This is Southey’s first mention of the idea that would eventually become The Curse of Kehama (1810); see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 12–15. BACK

[15] Amrit, the drink of the gods in Hindu mythology. BACK

[16] A member of one of the castes that Hinduism has traditionally regarded as untouchable. BACK

[17] Luis Vaz de Camões (1524–1580), Portuguese poet, author of The Lusiad (1572). In a letter from India, published in 1598, Camões had quoted this Latin phrase, which translates as ‘Ungrateful land, you shall not have my bones’. It was first attributed to Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (235–183 BC). BACK

[18] A translation of Camões’s song, ‘Babylon and Sion’ (c. 1552), lines 1–2. BACK

[19] Sir William Jones (1746–1794; DNB), Oriental scholar and Puisne Judge to the Supreme Court of Bengal. BACK

[20] Philip Dauncey (d. 1819), a lawyer who had a distinguished career, becoming Treasurer of Gray’s Inn and a King’s Counsel. He was married to one of the daughters of Mrs Dolignon, in whose house at Theobalds in Hertfordshire Southey had spent much time as a boy. The visit that caused Southey such offence must have taken place in 1797, when he was lodging in Stoke Newington. BACK

[21] The Islamic romance Thalaba the Destroyer, published in 1801. BACK

[22] Greek god who inspired the cryptic oracle at Delphi. BACK

[23] Croesus (595–547 BC; King of Lydia 560–547 BC) and Pyrrhus (319–272 BC; King of Epirus 306–302 BC, 297–272 BC); both received ambiguous answers from the oracle at Delphi when they asked about the wisdom of embarking on wars. BACK

[24] Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 5th baronet (1772–1840). The family traced its origins back to the 9th-century Princes of Wales and was so powerful that the head of the family was known as ‘Prince in Wales’. BACK

[25] Taliesin (6th century) Welsh bard. BACK

[26] James Stanier Clarke (1765–1834; DNB), clergyman, social climber, domestic chaplain to George IV (1762–1830; Prince Regent 1810–1820; reigned 1820–1830; DNB) and author of The Progress of Maritime Discovery (1803). BACK

[27] Stanier Clarke had contacted Southey via Cadell and Davies. The letter does not survive; see Southey to Charles Danvers, [27 October 1800], Letter 552. BACK

[28] Stanier Clarke’s ‘Prospectus’ to his proposed new book. When completed, The Progress of Maritime Discovery (1803) contained a lavish dedication to Clarek’s patron, the future George IV. BACK

[29] 1. The Extirpation ... Consummation: written at right-angles to the main text of the letter. These titles for individual books were not used in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

People mentioned

Dolignon, Elizabeth (d. 1802) (mentioned 2 times)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Cadell, Thomas (1773–1836) (mentioned 1 time)
Strachey, George (1776–1849) (mentioned 1 time)