3040. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 20 November 1817

3040. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 20 November 1817 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

Since Bedford left me after his fraction of a visit I have with very little interruption kept close to my desk; having Heaven knows, heavy arrears of business upon my hands. I have composed a paper for the Quarterly upon Lope de Vega, with some translations, & a good deal of curious matter, tho perhaps it may have cost me more time than it is worth. [1]  This, however, goes to Mammon’s account. There is nothing else of mine in the number. I am thoroughly disgusted – as I daresay you are also, with the review of Lady Morgans book; [2]  I would rather have cut off my right hand than have written any thing so unmanly & so disgraceful; – & yet there are people who impute it to me, – perhaps as much from stupidity as malice. This is the evil of reviewing, – but the evil must be taken with the good in this, as in all things.

I am preparing to write upon the Report of the Poor Committee, & have prepared myself for it by good counsel. [3]  The Report is exceedingly able, – so also is Davison’s pamphlett, [4]  tho the scheme with which he concludes is very objectionable. He would abolish the poor rates at the end of ten years, – giving notice now, & making the abolition all at once. There is I think great reason to apprehend that whatever is done for getting rid of this cancer will be made a handle by the Cobbetts, Hunts, [5]  &c – & it will perhaps it will not be done without some partial riots; – but to do it at once, would ensure a general insurrection. A better plan is to limit the assessment & lessen it gradually, every year a tenth less than the last for ten years; this would leave at the end of that time about one third of the present assessment; – & then the fitness of a farther reduction might be considered. But I have a good deal to say upon this subject, & I hope to good effect. What a triumph it will be if the country can be eased of this burthen, – which otherwise must crush it!

We were, like everybody else, much shocked at the death of the Princess, [6]  & the more so because of the temper in which we were found by the intelligence. It so happened that our newspaper did not arrive that day. When I went down to tea, young Edith in the gaiety of her heart was expressing her impatience xx xxxx <to know the event> in the most playful & fantastic way, & indulging in this the more because of the quiet & thoughtful mood in which I came from my books. While I was smiling at her extravagance, & the rest of the family were laughing, Dr Bell came in, – who was then lodging in the town. He asked if we had heard the news, & began to relate it in a lower tone & more deliberate manner than usual: we did not however apprehend the worst, – his voice faltered in a slight degree when he came to it, – & poor Edith was instantly in tears. – There is a great deal of disgusting stuff in the Courier upon this occasion. [7]  It will not surprize me if we should hear ere long of a divorce, – in which case obsolete laws will be more talked of than they are in the abominable case of xx Thorntons. [8] 

In thinking over this unlucky event with a view to writing any thing upon the subject, I have almost resolved upon writing something in xxxxxx xxxxx of which the notion is taken from Boethius. [9]  Instead of his Philosophia I should introduce Sir Thomas More, [10]  & make the occasion serve to introduce a view of the present circumstances of society with the impending changes, as compared with the time of the Reformation. If I do this I shall not do it hastily, – but I am disposed to like the plan, as one in which some points of weighty consideration might be brought forward with much propriety.

Both my poems [11]  have stood still. Whenever I go on with them you shall have them as they proceed. In poetry I have long perceived that disuse induces disinclination; & if I live to finish these, it is very little likely that I shall ever begin another. My chief business at present is the last volume of Brazil, [12]  – when that is compleated I shall have a great work off my hands, & lose a great pleasure. The insurrection in Pernambuco [13]  has deprived me of one source of information. I was in communication with P. Joam Ribeiro, the Priest who killed himself.  [14]  He was one of the ablest men in Brazil, & of an excellent heart, but the pestilence of the age had infected him. Living in the midst of gross idolatry & knowing no other Christianity than the mummery in which he was a performer, he became an Atheist & having once engaged in Revolution would have gone on thro all its excesses. There was an intention of setting fire to the city, & butchering the royalists who were in confinement. Orders had been given to this effect – but Koster succeeded in making Joam Ribeiro feel what infamy this would bring upon him, – & this was the argument by which he was moved from his purpose. Koster has sent over details of the whole business. The two Brazilians with whom he was most intimate were Ribeiro & the Vicar of Hamaraca, [15]  who was shot at Bahia, having been secretary to the Revolutionary Government.

The man who has suffered at the for having been the head of this conspiracy at Lisbon [16]  is the representative of that Gomes Freyre who figures toward the end of my last volume. [17]  His grandfather (of the same name) [18]  was the chief instrument in the wicked affair of the Seven Reductions, & I dare say the Jesuits will appeal to the disgrace & destruction of the old & honourable family as a striking proof that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons. When I was first at Lisbon [19]  I saw Gomes Freyre review his own regiment: he had served in the Russian army, & had the reputation of being an excellent officer but of revolutionary principles. After the decided part which he took in favour of the French, he ought never to have been suffered to return to Portugal, – for if there was one traitor upon that occasion who deserved death more than another this was the man. – It xxxx xxxx is a mournful thing to see this blot upon a good name.

I have spoken to Nash about the sketch of Lowther, – & he will send it thro Grosvenor when you are both in town.

God bless you my dear Wynn


Keswick 20 Nov. 1817.


* Address: To/ CW Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ Llangedwin/ near/ Oswestry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 78–80. BACK

[1] Southey reviewed Lord Holland, Some Account of the Lives and Writings of Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, and Guillen de Castro (1817) in Quarterly Review, 18 (October 1817), 1–46. BACK

[2] Lady Morgan ( bap. 1783–1859; DNB), France (1817) was savagely reviewed in Quarterly Review, 17 (April 1817), 260–286, probably by John Wilson Croker and William Gifford. BACK

[3] The review of the Report of the House of Commons Select Committee to consider the Poor Laws (1817) in Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 259–308, was actually written mostly by John Rickman. BACK

[4] John Davison (1774–1834; DNB), clergyman and theologian. His Considerations on the Poor Laws (1817) was an influential tract against the existing poor laws. BACK

[5] Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (1773–1835; DNB), radical politician. BACK

[6] Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent, died on 6 November 1817 after giving birth to a still-born son the previous day. BACK

[7] Many national newspapers, including the Morning Chronicle, the Morning Post, The Times, the Courier and the Sun contained detailed reports of Princess Charlotte’s death and the medical care she received, going far beyond the material in official dispatches. BACK

[8] A rumoured divorce between the Prince Regent and the Princess of Wales, Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB). Such proceedings were very difficult and would require either: an annulment of the marriage under the Church of England’s canon law; or the Prince to sue his wife’s alleged lover for ‘criminal conversation’, followed by a trial in an ecclesiastical court and finally a private Act of Parliament if the Prince wished to marry again. The latter proceeding was certainly as arcane as that concerning Abraham Thornton (d. c. 1860). On 8 August 1817 he was found ‘not guilty’ by a jury at Warwick Assizes of the rape and murder of Mary Ashford on 27 May 1817. Her brother, William Ashford (d. 1867), launched a ‘criminal appeal’ (a medieval form of private prosecution) against Thornton, which was heard in London at the Court of King’s Bench on 17 November. Thornton pleaded ‘not guilty’ again and challenged his accuser, William Ashford, to trial by combat. A lengthy legal argument followed, but the Court found that the case against Thornton was not so overwhelming that he could be denied the right to trial by combat. As Ashford declined to fight him, Thornton was finally acquitted on 20 April 1818. The case led to the abolition in 1819 of both trial by combat and criminal appeals. BACK

[9] Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 480–525), De Consolatione Philosophiae, a dialogue between the author and the character of Lady Philosophy, consisting of both prose and verse. Southey’s idea eventually became Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829). BACK

[10] Sir Thomas More (1478–1535; DNB), Lord Chancellor 1529–1532 and humanist scholar, executed for opposing the Church of England’s break with the Papacy. BACK

[11] A Tale of Paraguay (1825) and the unfinished ‘Oliver Newman’. A fragment of the latter was published posthumously; see Oliver Newman: a New England Tale (Unfinished): with Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 1–92. BACK

[12] History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[13] An attempted revolution in the north-eastern Brazilian province of Pernambuco in 1817. BACK

[14] Joam Ribeiro Pessoa de Melo Montenegro (1766–1817), a priest who was a member of the provisional government set up by the revolutionaries in Pernambuco, 8 March–18 May 1817. He committed suicide in the town of Paulista after the defeat of the revolutionary forces and the fall of Recife, the provincial capital. BACK

[15] Pedro de Sousa Tenorio (1779–1817), Vicar of Vila Velha in Itamaraca. BACK

[16] Gomes Freire de Andrade (1757–1817), Portuguese general. He served in the Russian army in the Russo-Turkish war of 1787–1792. After the French invasion in 1807 he was a leading figure in the Lusitanian Legion, which served as part of the French Army 1808–1814. He was one of twelve people executed on 18 October 1817 for taking part in a conspiracy against the Portuguese monarchy. BACK

[17] History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), II, pp. 616–631 describes the suppression of the Beckman Revolt in Maranhao in 1685 by Gomes Freire de Andrade, Conde de Bobadela (1636–1702), Governor of Maranhao 1684–1687. BACK

[18] Gomes Freire de Andrade, Conde de Bobadela (1685–1763), Governor and Captain-General of Rio de Janeiro 1733–1763. He commanded the Portuguese and Spanish troops that defeated the Guarani troops in the Guarani war (or War of the Seven Reductions) in 1754–1756. Southey strongly sympathised with the Guarani, who refused to move from their lands when they were shifted from Spanish to Portuguese control by the Treaty of Madrid (1750). This Gomes Freire was the nephew of Gomes Freire (1636–1702); but he was not the grandfather of Gomes Freire (1757–1817). BACK

[19] Southey had first visited Lisbon in 1795–1796. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Lowther estate (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)