2084. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 25 April 1812

2084. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 25 April 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 25. 1812.

My dear Wynn

I should be much obliged to you if you would purchase for me, when you happen to meet with it in a catalogue – Gregory of Tours. [1]  This author is likely to be of more service to me than any other in affording hints of costume for Pelayo, [2]  – the single point in which the story subject is xxxxxxx deficient.

I was sorry to see that Perceval contradicted that story of the soldier at Taunton as altogether false. [3]  When Brougham asserts any thing roundly in the house it is likely to prove just as veracious as his statements in the Edinburgh Review. This however happened to be true. – The story itself in a physical point of view is one of the most extraordinary upon record. He The fellow certainly puzzled every medical man who saw him, – & one of the Taunton surgeons is a man thoroughly scientific & of very uncommon powers of mind. [4]  I was at Taunton at the time, heard every particular, & saw the surgeon who scalped it him. [5]  A North American Indian could not have stood the test better. He baffled every trial which could be made. – The fact had nothing x more to do with the subject under debate than that it showed the fellow wanted his discharge, & chose a most extraordinary way to obtain it.

I am glad to see this subject taken up, – & yet in the hands of Cobbett  [6]  & Burdett it is manifest for what purpose it is brought forward. What a blindness it is in the Ministry that they will never purchase popularity by doing good when it is so easily to done be done, & thus disarming their opponents of the only weapon which makes them dangerous! – It is absurd to deny the existence of gross & scandalous tyranny in the navy: “Here comes one of those men who will one day blow up the British navy! said Sir Alex. Ball [7]  xxxxx when Capn Corbett [8]  of the Africaine was announced to him – & in fact when that ship was taken – three years ago it was xxxxxxxxx <believed in the squadron> that the men did not slot their guns, – because they looked on to imprisonment as their only chance of escape from his intolerable cruelty.

Send the enclosed for me to the twopenny post.

God bless you



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark [partial]: 28 AP 28/ 1812
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 2p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] St Gregory of Tours (c. 538–594), historian and bishop. A copy of his Historiae Francorum (1561) was no. 1240 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, suggesting Wynn’s search was successful. BACK

[2] The early name for what became Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[3] In parliament on 15 April 1812, Burdett spoke to the issue of the flogging of soldiers. He cited the case of Phineas Adams, ‘who had undergone the most horrible torture, in order to get out of the army and out of the reach of the lash. [Burdett] … stated, that Adams, amongst other tortures, had endured that of pins thrusted up under his nails; that he had been scalped, and had his skull scraped’. In reply, Perceval had challenged the authenticity of these claims. A full account of the case was given in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.2 (1813), 159–160. Adams had pretended to be comatose to obtain his discharge from the army and even kept up the pretence when a surgeon operated on his skull. The case occurred in Taunton in June 1811. BACK

[5] Francis Welch (fl. 1810s-1850s), Surgeon to the Taunton and Somerset Hospital. BACK

[6] Cobbett’s Political Register, 21 (6 June 1812), cols 708–710. BACK

[7] Sir Alexander Ball (1756–1809; DNB), politician and naval officer. The anecdote was reported to Southey by Coleridge, who had worked as Ball’s secretary; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 May 1813, Letter 2264. BACK

[8] The naval captain Robert Corbet (d. 1810), whose brutality to his men was well known. In 1809 his crew brought a complaint against him for cruelty and oppression. Corbet demanded a court martial. This acquitted him of all charges except that of punishing his crew ‘with sticks of an improper size and such as are not usual in his majesty’s service’. He was reprimanded but allowed to resume command of his ship the Nereide and in spring 1810 he was given command of the Africaine, part of the fleet at the Cape of Good Hope station. The Africaine was captured by the French off Mauritius in October 1810. Corbet was killed in the action, along with 35 of his shipmates. It was widely, but falsely, rumoured that the Africaine’s crew had refused to fight, preferring death to victory under their captain. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)