3362. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 13 October 1819

3362. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 13 October 1819⁠* 

My dear Wynn

My absence from home was longer than I had expected, – it reached into the seventh week. [1]  I went as far north as Fleet Mound [2]  & saw the wildest part of the Highlands, in crossing from Dingwall to Jeantown. If these roads, bridges & piers had been constructed in France instead of Scotland, – or if the Cal Canal had been one of Bonapartes [3]  works, our newspapers would have been full of their praises. I verily believe that no Government in modern times ever did half so much for the improvement of its dominions, as has been done in Scotland within the last fifteen years.

If Parliament should be convoked before Xmas, I shall not see you till we meet in town. But I doubt whether Ministers have courage to convoke it. [4]  Their miserable imbecillity, as you well know, is such, that they will make any concession, & risque any mischief <evil> to obtain a respite from the baiting which they undergo in the H of Commons. Xxx Never was there a time when we stood more in need of an efficient Minister, – & never was there a more irresolute head, nor a more disjointed administration, none of the members having any confidence in each other, nor in themselves, nor in the Regent. And as for the Opposition, it is plain that they would make common cause with the Devil himself, for the sake of annoying the Prince & embarrassing the Government. I know not which is most wonderful the blindness or the baseness of this besotted & suicidal party. But this I know, that should I ever be under the knife of the Radical Reformers, it would be some satisfaction to think how soon these abettors of all mischief would be in the same situation.

Whatever the process may be, I do not doubt that we shall lose part of our liberties in the upshot. The abuse of liberty has always been punished by its loss. This is the natural & just consequence. I would willingly submit at once to such restraints of the press as the times require, & give such powers to the Executive as could <might> enable it to meet & quell the danger. The laws as they are present interpreted serve only to protect those whom they ought to punish, & to intimidate those whom they ought to protect.

When I was at Lisbon in the year 1801 there was every human reason for expecting that the yellow fever would be communicated to that city from Cadiz, so violent was the contagion, & so absurdly inefficient all means that were taken for cutting it off. The people however ate drank & were merry, – & I among others, went on quietly with my usual pursuits, tho I never laid down at night, without thinking it likely that I should hear the plague had appeared among us in the morning. The present state of things reminds me of what my feelings were then. This danger also may pass away, & in spite of all appearances I cannot think it can be in the order of Providence that a country like this should be brought to ruin. But it is upon this persuasion that I rely, not upon the strength of the laws, the measures of the Government or the good sense of the people.

My third volume has been provokingly delayed owing to the loss of a proof sheet. I knew nothing of this during my absence. [5]  I shall be able to improve the book materially for a future edition, tho very possibly it may not be reprinted during my life. Be that as it may I shall carefully correct it, & insert much as much additional information as may come to my hands. I have just received one manuscript from Brazil, – & another which is said to be of considerable value, is on the way to me. [6] 

I am not surprized at the difficulty you find in forming a Welsh Committee in London. [7]  – The only qualified person whom I can call to mind is Rees, the booksellers brother, – who is a Unitarian Minister. Sharon Turner is either too much an invalid, or too much a hypochondriac to be capable of attendance. The difficulty about the publicans is comical enough, & not easily to be got over. In Portugal two of the first members of the Royal Academy [8]  were a Barber, & a man who kept a universal shop, more like a hucksters than any thing else, & these men associated at the Academy with nobles & Princes of the blood. But in Portugal a nobleman takes snuff with his servant, & plays at cards with him. You must make your Bishops & Judges patrons & presidents & get the work done without any more personal intercourse than they are liable to in the ordinary course of business. [9] 

I shall now be getting on with Oliver Newman. [10]  Some parts of this poem will have the same kind of interest for a New Englander that the first part of Madoc has for a Welshman, [11]  who is conversant with the history of this country. The fourth book in particular is of this kind – I allude in it to Roger Williams, [12]  who, take him for all in all, appears to me one of the greatest Worthies of Wales, – perhaps the greatest; & who by fair desert is really entitled to that high place in public opinion which William Penn [13]  has obtained rather by accident than by right.

Your godson is a fine creature, large enough & strong enough for one of the race of the Giants. The young ones [14]  remember your roaring well. Their elder sister is shot up, till she is as tall as her mother.

Mr Clive [15]  did not make his appearance. He probably heard at the Inn that I was absent. – I know not what is become of Bedford. – There is a paper of mine about the Catacombs in the last Quarterly, [16]  – & I have corrected for the next the proofs of one upon the Monastic Orders, written for the purpose of bringing forward Braybrook House at the end. [17] 

God bless you

Yrs affectionately


Keswick. 13 Oct. 1819.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P/ Welsh Pool
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 142–146. BACK

[1] Southey’s tour of Scotland lasted from 17 August until 1 October 1819. For his record of events, see Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (1929). BACK

[2] Fleet Mound was a massive causeway, commissioned in 1803, designed by Telford, and built between 1814–1816, to carry the road over Loch Fleet. It comprised an earthwork, and a bridge with self-regulating sluice gates that allowed the waters from the river to flow out, but prevented seawater from coming in. BACK

[3] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815). BACK

[4] Parliament did reconvene, on 23 November 1819, largely to pass the ‘Six Acts’ to suppress radical agitation. BACK

[5] The third and final volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). There was a second edition of the first volume only in 1822. BACK

[6] When the parcel containing the expected work arrived, Southey found it to be nothing more than another copy of Manoel Aires de Casal (1754–1821), Corografia Brazilica, ou Relação Historico-Geografica do Reino do Brazil (1817), no. 3252 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Koster had already sent Southey a paper on Para, probably by Thomaz Antonio Maciel Monteiro (1780–1847), Brazilian lawyer, later a member of the Supreme Court and 1st Baron Itamarca. BACK

[7] Wynn was closely involved in efforts to found a society of Welshmen based in London that would promote Welsh historical research. These activities eventually led to the re-foundation of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion in 1820. BACK

[8] The Portuguese Royal Academy of Sciences, founded in 1779. BACK

[9] Sir Watkin Williams Wynn became the first President of the re-founded Cymmrodorion in 1820 and George IV became its Patron. BACK

[10] Southey’s unfinished epic, set in New England. The completed sections were published after Southey’s death in Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 1–90. BACK

[11] ‘Madoc in Wales’, Madoc (1805). BACK

[12] Roger Williams (c. 1603–1683) was a Londoner, not a Welshman. He founded Providence Plantation in 1636 as a religiously tolerant community, advocated peaceful relations with native peoples and was an abolitionist. He was praised in ‘Oliver Newman’, Book 4, lines 722–731. BACK

[13] William Penn (1644–1718), Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania. BACK

[15] Sir Watkin Williams Wynn had married Lady Henrietta Antonia Clive (1786–1835), daughter of Edward Clive, 1st Earl of Powis (1754–1839; DNB) on 4 February 1817, thus connecting the Clive and Wynn Welsh political dynasties. Southey had been called on in his absence by Lady Henrietta’s brother, Hon. Robert Henry Clive (1789–1854), MP for Ludlow 1818–1832, MP for Shropshire South 1832–1854. Clive had spent much time travelling in Spain during the Peninsular War and wished to offer help to Southey with his History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[16] ‘Cemeteries and Catacombs of Paris’, Quarterly Review, 21 (April 1819), 359–398. BACK

[17] Lady Isabella Lettice King (1772–1845; DNB) founded the Ladies’ Association at Bailbrook House, near Bath, in June 1816. It provided a home for orphaned gentlewomen with no income and was duly praised by Southey in his review of Thomas Fosbrooke (1770–1842; DNB), British Monachism; or, Manners and Customs of the Monks and Nuns of England (1817), Quarterly Review, 22 (July 1819), 59–102 (96–101). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)