3384. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 7 November 1819

3384. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 7 November 1819⁠* 

Keswick 7 Nov. 1819

My dear Wynn

Your letter gives me some insight into a business of which I know very little. [1]  That I am issue male of C (John Southey was B) is as certain as that I am my Father’s son. & I believe that I am also Canon Southeys right heir. [2]  – unless the property happens to be in that part of Taunton Dean which would give it to my poor brother Edward by the Borough English tenure that prevails there. [3]  The letter which I inclose for your sign manual is upon this business, – my Aunt being the only historian of our family, & the last of her generation. She is very much pleased with a discovery that x her grandmother was related to Locke, & of the same name. [4] 

The Will in question was repeatedly litigated, & I know that Thomas Southey recovered by xxx law in right of John an equivalent for the plate & furniture at Fitzhead, which was devised to xx B & C & D (the three brothers) in case A succeeded to the Somerville title before he had issue male. [5]  Lord Somerville however sold the property, & John S. (a lawyer, & a man of no ordinary talents for business) said at the time he could not convey a good title with it.

I apprehend the question will be whether the remainder of a term of 99 years be worth contending for. It is however worth inquiring into. – And indeed it now occurs to me as not impossible that, not the Fitzhead lands alone, but the whole property may have been willed to C. Southeys right heirs in failure of Lord S’s issue. A little enquiry will make all plain, & it cannot be in better hands than Turners. This chance would be worth contending for, – the whole property is worth about 1000£ a year -

God bless you


I shall not set out till about the end of January, – that is when Wesley [6]  is off my hands & certain articles for the QR. – upon the New Churches, – & Coxes life of Marlborough. [7]  – The difference which a good succession would make to me in my way of life, would be that I should never more write a single line with a view to profit. – The difference which an event of this kind occasioned to a woman in this county is worth mentioning. [8]  She succeeded to 70,000£: – upon which she took to lump sugar instead of moist in her tea, & drank the tea out of a china tea-cup: – in every thing else retaining the same habits as in her former poverty. But the income tax made her perfectly unhappy whenever it became due.


* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] John Cannon Southey’s (d. 1768) fantastically complex will gave Southey some hope of inheriting property at Fitzhead in Somerset, following the death of Southey’s third cousin, and John Cannon Southey’s heir, John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB). BACK

[2] Southey was correct and he was John Cannon Southey’s heir at law, i.e. the person who has a right to inherit the real property of someone who dies intestate; but this fact did not help his claim on the Fitzhead estate. In this letter, ‘C’ is Southey’s father, Robert Southey, and ‘B’ is his uncle, John Southey. BACK

[3] ‘Borough English’ was the tradition in certain parts of England that the youngest male child inherited their parents’ property. Southey was correct in asserting that it prevailed in Taunton Deane. BACK

[4] Mary Southey’s grandmother (and Southey’s great-grandmother) was Anne Locke (b. 1675), who married Robert Southey (1670–1726). She was believed by Southey’s Aunt Mary to be a relative of the philosopher, John Locke (1632–1704; DNB), though the precise relationship was impossible to disentangle. BACK

[5] A judgment in the Court of Chancery, on 28 March 1807, in the case of Southey v. Lord Somerville, one of many legal actions arising from the will of John Cannon Southey, had decided that the money raised from the sale of the furniture and plate from the Fitzhead estate should be invested and that Thomas Southey should receive the interest from that money. It was not clear what would happen after his death. Southey is here using letters to refer to the people named in John Cannon Southey’s will: ‘A’ is Lord Somerville; and ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ are the three brothers Thomas, John and Robert Southey (respectively), Southey’s uncles and father. BACK

[6] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[7] Southey’s review of Benjamin Haydon, New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818) appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591; his review of William Coxe, Memoirs of John Duke of Marlborough, with his Original Correspondence; Collected from the Family Records at Blenheim, and Other Authentic Sources. Illustrated with Portraits, Maps, and Military Plans (1818–1819) appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (May 1820), 1–73. BACK

[8] Southey noted this story in Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 535, but without revealing the name of the lady, only that he had heard of the matter from a ‘Miss Grisdale’ – probably Caroline Grisdale (1782–1843), youngest daughter of Browne Grisdale (1750–1814), clergyman and Chancellor of the Diocese of Carlisle 1804–1814. BACK

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