3088. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 8 March 1818

3088. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 8 March 1818⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I am sorry your Bill was lost, [1]  – and a little vexed, – because with so little zeal on the part of those who approved it, it might have been carried. This however is one of those reforms which is sure to be effected, if you persevere in bringing it forward. Our neighbours in Westmorland are already enjoying in rehearsal the blessings of a contested election. [2]  One of the best men in the county has been nearly killed by the Brougham mob & spits blood in consequence of the injury which he received. [3] Brougham’s probability of success arises from a cause which has xxx been widely operating over the whole of the kingdom, & ought to have been foreseen & proceeded against the great multiplication of xxxx freeholders by the enclosures, – forty shilling voters, [4]  – good part of whom are in that hopeful state that they would vote for Hone or Cobbett against Brougham, for the same reason which will make them vote for Brougham against Lowther. I am out of the circle of these petty politics, & should regard them with perfect indifference, if every symptom of the times did not indicate the same disease. Xxx Nevertheless I think the aspects on the whole are improving.

Is the publication of the Irish historians to be continued? – If it be not, – I shall look upon the death of the M. of Buckingham as the greatest loss that has been sustained in our times. [5]  If it were compleated as it is begun, it would vie with any undertaking of the kind. Ill as I can spare the time, & unfit as I am in many respects for the task, I am strongly inclined to give some account of it in the Q. Review, [6]  merely for the sake of calling the public attention to a work of such importance, & which is xx sure to be neglected without some such help: for this is the state of literature among us, – & a vile state it is. – If you were Minister (– xx I would give up the Catholic question [7]  for the sake of seeing you one –) I should be laying plans before you for national collections of this kind, & other works, which never can be performed without public assistance: in these things we are behind hand even with the Spaniards & Portugueze.

You would be amused to see my table overlaid with Methodism & Moravianism. I am going thro the whole set of the Arminian Magazine. [8]  This Life of Wesley [9]  is a more operose business than one who is not acquainted with my habits would suppose. – I am given to works of supererogation, & could do nothing to my own satisfaction if I did not take twice as much labour as any other person would bestow upon it. In this case it will be well bestowed, – I am treating of a curious part of history just at the right time, – & in as fair a temper as it could be possible to bring to such a subject. The materials are very copious & very curious, – & the plan so arranged as to relieve that monotony which you might perhaps apprehend.

I had a letter lately from Sir H. Bunbury, inviting me to Suffolk to look over his papers about the war. [10]  ––This invitation I must accept, – not as a matter of inclination, but of duty in my vocation; – so most probably if he can receive me at the fall of the leaf, I shall then move from home. His materials xxx will relate to the latter years of the war, I wait only for a French book which contains the details & official papers concerning the Imperial system of education. [11]  When this comes I shall finish the introductory chapter & go to press. The introduction describes the moral & political state of the Peninsula France & England. [12] 

I see no person during the winter except my own family, & for weeks together do not stir beyond my own garden; the kitchen clock is not more regular in its movements than my life, & scarcely more monotonous, – yet time never appeared to glide so swiftly. I have often said that live as long as we may, the first twenty years of life are the longest half. There are indications enough that I am on the downhill road, – an unwillingness to exertion of any kind is one – I fear that a decay of sight is another; – as yet however it only regards distant objects, – what is near I see as distinctly as ever.

God bless you my dear Wynn


K[MS torn] 8 March. 1818.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre MP/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 11 MR 11/ 1818
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] On 24 June 1817 Wynn had moved an Election Laws amendment bill, designed to make a number of reforms to the conduct of elections. It was rejected by the House of Lords. When he reintroduced it in 1818 it was defeated in the House of Commons on 2 March by 51 votes to 44. One reason for its defeat was opposition from some Whigs, who usually supported electoral reforms, but were annoyed that the Grenvillite group, headed by Wynn in the Commons, had formally separated from their Whig allies. Southey presumably did not know that one of the Bill’s keenest supporters was Brougham, who hoped that its clause to remove the provision that freeholders had to demonstrate their land was assessed for land tax would help his election campaign in Westmorland. BACK

[2] A general election was imminent, though the House of Commons was not dissolved until 10 June 1818. It was already clear, though, that there would be a contest in Westmorland, which was dominated by the Lowther family, who were supporters of the government – the two sitting MPs were the brothers Henry Lowther (1790–1867), MP for Westmorland 1812–1867 and William, Viscount Lowther (1787–1872), later 2nd Earl of Lonsdale and MP for Cockermouth 1808–1813, MP for Westmorland 1813–1831 and 1832–1841. So complete was the Lowthers’ dominance that the last contested election in Westmorland was in 1774. However, in January 1818, a committee of Whigs and smaller landowners had brought forward Henry Brougham to challenge the Lowthers – Brougham’s family home was Brougham Hall near Penrith and he could plausibly be presented as a local candidate. BACK

[3] The election canvas produced a good deal of violence, especially in Kendal. Southey may be referring to the injuries received on 21 February 1818 by John Fleming (c. 1769–1835) of Rayrigg Hall, Rector of Bootle 1814–1835. BACK

[4] Only owners of land worth 40 shillings per annum were entitled to vote in county elections. BACK

[5] Charles O’Conor (1764–1828; DNB), Rerum Hibernicarum Scriptores Veteres, 4 vols (1814–1826), no. 2112 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. This was an edition of some of the manuscripts in the library at Stowe. O’Conor was the chaplain of Mary, Marchioness of Buckinghamshire (d. 1812). Her husband, George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham (1753–1813; DNB), provided financial support for the project. BACK

[6] No review appeared in the Quarterly Review. BACK

[7] Wynn was in favour of full political rights for Catholics; Southey was opposed. BACK

[8] The Arminian Magazine (1778–1797), a monthly magazine edited by John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB) until his death and continued as the Methodist Magazine (1798–1822) and the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine (1822–1969). BACK

[9] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[10] Bunbury had been Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies 1809–1816. BACK

[11] Jean Baptist Germain Fabry (1770–1821), Le Génie de la Révolution Considéré dans l’Education ou Mémoires pour Servir a l’Histoire de l’Instruction Publique, Depuis 1789 jusqu’à Nos Jours (1817–1818). BACK

[12] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War, 3 vols (London, 1823–1832), I, pp. 3–62. BACK