874. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 23 December 1803]

874. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 23 December 1803] ⁠* 

I hoped to have sent you off the fair copy of Madoc as far as it is corrected by this Xmas but my poor eyes have not had strength for that kind of writing – & indeed I begin to fear that they are seriously weakened – for after any reading or writing, objects at the other end of the room become quite indistinct. I must therefore send you such parts as will bear detaching. The following will require pruning & retouching in its minor parts – but on the whole I think it will please you.

To Bardsey was the Lord of Ocean bound,
Bardsey the Holy Island, in whose soil
Did many a Chief & many a Saint repose,
His great progenitors. He mounts the skiff,
Her canvas swells before the breeze, the sea
Sings round her sparkling keel, & soon the Lord
Of Ocean treads the venerable shore.

There was not on that day a speck to stain
The azure Heaven. the blessed Sun alone
In unapproachable divinity
Careerd, rejoicing in his fields of light,
How beautiful beneath the bright blue sky
The billows heave! one glowing green expanse,
Save where along the bending line of shore
Such hue is thrown as when the peacocks neck
Assumes its proudest tint of amethyst
Imbathd in emerald glory. All the flocks
Of Ocean are abroad; like floating foam
The sea gulls rise & fall upon the waves;
With long protruded neck the cormorants
Wing their far flight aloft, & round & round
The plovers wheel & give their note of joy.
It was a day that sent into the heart
A summer feeling. Even the insect swarms,
From their dark nooks & coverts issued forth
For one day of existence more & joy,
The solitary primrose on the bank
Seemd now as tho it had no cause to mourn
Its bleak autumnal birth, – the Rocks & Shores
And everlasting Mountains had put on
The smile of that glad sunshine, they partook
The universal blessing.
To this Isle
Where his forefathers were consigned to dust
Did Madoc come in natural piety,
And therefore had he made his coming known,
Ordering a solemn service for their souls.
Therefore for this the church that day was drest;
For this the Abbot in his alb arrayd
At the high altar stood; for this infused
Sweet incense from the waving thuribule
Rose like a mist, & the grey brotherhood
Chanted the solemn mass. And now on high
Their mighty Mystery had been elevate,
And now around the graves the bretheren
In long array proceed; each in his hand,
Tall as the staff of some wayfaring man
Bears the brown taper, with their day-light flame
Dimming the chearful day. before the train
The cross is borne, where fashioned to the life
In shape & size & ghastly colouring
The aweful Image hangs – his face like death,
The side-wound streaming, his extended palms
Transpierced & lacerate with the bodys weight
His dead eyes open still. Next in its shrine
Of crystal, by the Abbot borne with awe
The mighty Mystery came, on either hand
Three Priests upheld above on silver wands
The purple pall. with holy water next
A father came therewith from hyssop branch
Sprinkling the graves, the while with one accord [1] 


I want some historical knowledge of this place to bring in here [2]  – such as who founded the convent there [3]  – & what Kings & Worthies were there buried. The Abbot in Madocs time was his brother Cadwallon [4]  – but Madoc having too many brothers already I have dropt them him. What is the Welsh name of Bardsey? [5]  for I have not Warrington here. [6] 

The solemn psalm of mercy all intoned.

Pure was the faith of Madoc, tho his mind
To all this pomp & solemn circumstance
Yielded a willing homage. but the place
Was holy, – the dead air that underneath
Those arches, never felt the healthy sun
Nor the free motion of the elements,
Chilly & damp imprest associate awe.
The sacred odours of the incense still
Floated; the day light & the taper flames
Commingled, dimming each, & each bedimmd,
And as the slow procession paced along,
Still to their hymn as if in symphony
The regular foot fall sounded, swelling now
Their voices in one chorus loud & deep
Rung oer the echoing-aisle, & when it ceased
The silence of that huge & sacred pile
Came on the heart. what wonder if the Prince
Yielded his homage now? the influences
Of that sweet autumn day made every sense
Alive to every impulse, & he stood
On his forefathers dust. ‘Father, quoth he,
When now the rites were ended, ‘far away
It hath been Madocs lot to pitch his tent
On other shores; there in a foreign land
Far from my fathers burial place must I
Be laid to rest, yet would I have my name
Be held with theirs in memory. I beseech you
Have this a yearly rite for evermore,
As I will leave endowment for the same,
And let me be remembered in the prayer.
The day shall be a holy day with me
While I do live; they who come after me
Will hold it holy; it will be a bond
Of love & brotherhood when all beside
Hath been dissolved, & the wide ocean rolls
Between my people & their mother isle
This shall be their communion; they shall send
In the lan same language the same prayer to Heaven,
And each remembering each in piety
Pray for each others welfare.
The old man
Partook that feeling & some pious tears
Fell down his aged cheek. ‘Kinsman & son
It shall be so, said he, & thou shalt be
Remembered in the prayer; nor then alone,
But till my sinking sands be quite run out,
This feeble voice shall from its solitude
Go up for thee to Heaven.
And now the Bell
Rung out its cheerful summons. to the Hall
The assembled brethren pass. the Serving men
Wait with white napkins & the ready ewer.
The place of honour to the prince is given,
The Abbots right-hand guest. the viands smoke,
The horn of ale goes round; & now the cates
Removed, – for days of festival reserved
Comes choicer beverage, clary, hippocras,
And mead mature that to the goblets brim
Sparkles & sings & smiles. It was a day
Of that allowable & temperate mirth
That leaves a joy for memory. Madoc told
His tale, & thus with question & reply
And cheerful intercourse from noon till nones
The brethren sate & when the quire <choir> was done
Renewed their converse till the vesper bell.

But then the Porter called Prince Madoc out
To speak with one, he said, who from the land
Had sought him, & required his private ear.
Madoc in the moonlight met him. in his hand
The stripling held an oar, & on his back
Like a broad shield the coracle was hung.
‘Uncle! he cried, & with a gush of tears
Sprang to the glad embrace.
O my brave boy!
Llewelyn! my dear boy! with stiffled voice
And interrupted utterance Madoc cried,
‘I knew not where to seek thee, nor how gain
This meeting, yet would I have left no means
Untried, to win thee to forsake this land
This poor unhappy country doomd to fall.
Wilt thou fo with me & partake my fate?

No. by my God! the high-hearted youth replied
It never shall be said Llewelyn left
His fathers murderer on his fathers throne!
I am the rightful King of this poor land
Go thou & wisely go – but I must stay
To save my people Madoc, – tell me Uncle
The story of thy fortunes – I can hear it
Here in the lonely isle, & at this hour
Nay, quoth Madoc, tell me first
Where are thy haunts & coverts, & what hope
Thou hast to bear thee up? why goest thou not
To Mathrafal? there would Cyveilioc give
A kinsmans welcome, - or at Dinevor
The guest of honour shouldst thou be with Rhys,
And he belike from David might obtain
Some recompense, tho poor.
What recompense?
Exclaimd Llewelyn – what hath he to give
But life for life? & what have I to claim
But vengeance & my father Yorwerths throne?
If with aught short of that my soul could rest,
Would I not thro the wide world follow thee
Dear Uncle - & fare with thee well or ill,
And show to thine old age the tenderness
[MS obscured] childhood found from thee! – what hopes I have
Let time display! have thou no fear for me –
My bed is made within the ocean waves
Of sea weeds & of sea fowls down composed,
I know the mountain dens & every hold
And fastness of the forest, – & I know
What troubles him by day & in his dreams
There’s many an honest heart in Gwyneth yet.
But tell me thine adventure – that will be
A joy to think of in long winter nights
When stormy billows make my lullaby.

So as they walkd along the moonlight shore
Did Madoc tell him all, & still he strove
By dwelling in that noble end & aim
That of his actions was the heart & life
To win him to his wish. it touchd the youth
And when the Prince had ceasd, he heavd a sigh
Long drawn & deep, as if regret were there.
No – no – he cried – that must not be! lo yonder
My native mountains, & how beautiful
They rest in the moonlight! I was nurst among <them>
They saw my sports in childhood, they have seen
My sorrows, they have saved me in the hour
Of danger. I have vowd that as they were
My cradle, they shall be my monument. –
But we shall meet again, & thou wilt find me
When next thou visitest thy native land,
King in Aberfraw.
Nevermore Llewelyn,
Madoc replied, shall I behold the shores
Of Britain, nor will ever tale of me
Reach the green Isle again, with fearful care
I chuse my little company, & leave
No traces of our path, where Violence
And bloody Zeal & bloodier Avarice
Might find their blasting way.
If it be so,
And so it should be, then the youth replied,
Thou wilt not know my fate – but this be sure
It shall not be inglorious. – I have in me
A hope from Heaven, give me thy blessing Uncle.

Llewelyn knelt upon the sand & clasp[MS obscured]
His knees, with lifted head & streaming eyes
Listening. he rose & fell on Madocs neck,
And claspd him with a silent agony,
Then launchd his coracle & took his way
A lonely traveller on the moonlight sea. [7] 


You might well wonder to receive such news [8]  of me by way of Bedford – but the truth is the circumstance itself was first so uncertain – & still so little a source of any pleasure to me that I had told nobody – when to my utter surprize Rickman congratulated me – Somebodys hope or guess had passd for assertion – & the assertion happened to be true. I cannot say that I rejoice at this. the last loss went so deep that I dread the repetition, a child that did not promise so much I could not love so well – & one that did would keep me in perpetual fear of a second deprival. It is better to forego delight than to risque tranquillity – but believe it that we are not permitted to chuse for ourselves.

I should have written to you sooner but besides my ordinary business I have been vexed & harassed by the misconduct of my both my younger brothers. – the one has been so idle that he has been obliged to quit his situation at Norwich & remove to Edinburgh twelve months sooner than was intended, & of course before any means had been taken to prepare for the expence. beside this he has been extravagant there, & the want of feeling which extravagance implies in his circumstance hurts me more than the want of prudence. The other boy never promised well – but I had by his own choice sent him to sea – & now his Aunt – who had once the impudence to write to you for money as if for my Mothers use – & who is actuated by the most demonic like madness that every cursed any human being – has persuaded him to quit the service & sold all his uniforms – & the boy who is not yet fifteen has been obtaining credit & taking up money in my name. These things are uppermost in my mind at present – & so[MS obscured]nt th[MS obscured] came – Although I should now I believe very few und[MS obscured]duc[MS obscured] have ever had so many [MS obscured] vexations as have fallen to my lot.

It is one comfort however that in spite of rain & snow & frost & thaw in endless alternation I am in good health – as good indeed as ever I enjoyed. My second crop of reviewing goes off to day, & I have only Ritsons Romances – the Essay on Population, a History of the Methodists, & another of the Missionary Society – to finish off my Annual work, [9]  unless another cargo should arrive. Coleridge has set off for Devonshire for change of climate – so that being completely out of all society – for Wordsworth is too far off to be accounted a neighbour, I am making a closer intimacy than ever with my books.

Prince William [10]  & the Liverpool people provoke me as much as Wyndham [11]  & Colonel Crawford. [12]  I do not think the French can escape our navy, & if they can I am sure they cannot escape the vengeance of the people of England. [13]  It is perfectly infamous to hear Wyndham compare English & French soldiers in the way he does. Coleridge does growl at him, & if he once begins to bark Mr W. will have his belly full of baiting –

God bless you



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: [illegible]
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4819E. ALS; 4p.
Dating note: Coleridge left for Devon on 20 December 1803 (he got only as far as Grasmere, where he was detained by ill-health and bad weather until 14 January 1804); the new cargo of reviewing Southey anticipates at the end of this letter arrived on 24 December 1803. Southey’s confirmation of Edith’s pregnancy in a letter to Charles Danvers, 23 December 1803 (Letter 872), suggests that this letter to Wynn was written at about the same time. The fragments of Madoc are, therefore, a Christmas gift to Wynn, Southey’s patron and dedicatee of the poem. BACK

[1] Pure was...one accord: Verse written in double columns. This section became, with some corrections, Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 13, lines 45-101. BACK

[2] Southey did not insert any more material at this point in Madoc (1805). BACK

[3] The first Abbot of Bardsey was St Cadfan (c. 530-590), a Breton nobleman who led a band of missionaries to west Wales. In legend, it was the burial place of no fewer than 20,000 saints. BACK

[4] Cadwallon ab Owain Gwynedd (dates unknown), Abbot of Bardsey c. 1169. BACK

[5] Ynys Enlli. BACK

[6] William Warrington (1735-1827), The History of Wales (1788), no. 2981 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] The solemn ... moonlight sea: Verse written in double columns. This section became, with some corrections, Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 13, lines 102-244. BACK

[8] Edith Southey was pregnant with her second child, Edith May Southey, who was born on 30 April 1804. BACK

[9] Southey reviewed the following in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804): Joseph Ritson (1752-1803; DNB), Ancient English Metrical Romances (1802), 515-533; Thomas Malthus (1766-1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population (1803), 292-301; William Myles (1756-1828), A Chronological History of the People Called Methodists (1803), 201-213; London Missionary Society, Transactions of the Missionary Society (1803), 189-201. BACK

[10] Prince William Frederick of Gloucester (1776-1834; DNB), nephew of George III. BACK

[11] William Windham (1750-1810; DNB), Secretary at War 1794-1801. BACK

[12] Robert Craufurd (1764-1806; DNB), MP for East Retford 1802-1812. He was later a prominent figure in the British army in the Peninsular War. BACK

[13] Southey is referring to differing points of view about how much emphasis to place on the Navy on the one hand, or the Volunteers on the other, in defending Britain from invasion. Prince William was a supporter of the Volunteers and Windham a noted sceptic. BACK

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