3401. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 11 December 1819

3401. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 11 December 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 11 Dec. 1819.

My dear Wynn

You are a happy man who can enjoy the business as well as the leisure of life, & carry with you temper & talents as well suited to the House of Commons, as to the retirement of Llangedwin. To one at a distance from the political Cockpit the times are more in & the measures of Government are more interesting than the debates. For <the> days are past when the speeches of Opposition might be read with pleasure & advantage by those who differed from the speakers in opinion & disapproved their conduct. Nothing is now left but the gall & bitterness of faction: instead of logic & eloquence you have personalities & calumny, & the place of argument is supplied by the hardihood which advances again & again the same shameless misrepresentations. We shall not appear a very wise people in the eyes of posterity. For what absurdity can be greater than that of sacrificing the very end & purpose of law to the formalities of law! The case of Sherwin [1]  is a pregnant instance – here is a fellow publishing the most direct excitations of to assassination & rebellion, openly, week after week, & with his name to every paper: & yet we are told it is impossible to bring the crime home to him! There are fifty instances of the same kind, wherein the guilt of the offender is notorious & is not even attempted to be denied, & yet he entrenches himself in quibbles & technicalities & bids defiance to justice. If this be not propter legem, legis perdere causas [2]  I know not what is.

I am satisfied with the measures of government as far as they go, [3]  & think the Ministry right in not suspending the H. Corpus, – that would only have put off a crisis which will become dangerous the longer it is delayed. The restrictions upon the press indeed are not worth much; but we may judge from the clamour opposition which is made to them, what a clamour would have been raised against more efficient acts.

I have a good deal to say upon the prospects of society. Whether the present ferment may subside without an explosion, or not, there are great & increasing difficulties before us, to the extent & magnitude of which I cannot shut my eyes. A strong government, a wise administration & a flourishing trade might enable us to overcome them, to attain a state of prosperity, & place things in such a train as might promise to render that prosperity durable. But we have neither of these, nor any hope, nor any chance at present of obtaining them. These are uncomfortable thoughts. – Enough of them therefore for the present.

I have not heard immediately from Turner concerning my contingencies upon Ld Somervilles death; [4]  – but from other quarters I gather that his Lordship did all he could to defeat them, & as of course he had good legal advice for what he was doing, it is most likely that he has been succesful. If it should prove so, the chance has never entered enough into my thoughts, for me to feel it as a disappointment: nor indeed would I, as far as myself am concerned, xx consent to purchase the whole property, at the cost of anxiety which a chancery suit would induce.

At this time of year I am left altogether without any interruption from without. There is no chance of seeing even a stray visitor, & I am as busy & as comfortable, as a silkworm who is working upon his cone & has just shut himself in from the external world. I am reviewing Coxes Marlborough, [5]  – with much interest in the subject, – so much indeed that I should be very well pleased to take it up upon a larger scale, & expand it into a regular life, which might be a companion to that of Nelson. My evenings are given to Wesley, [6]  – with which I am proceeding faster than the printer, & somewhat the more rapidly, because I am within sight of the end. As soon as this the Peninsular War [7]  will become my main object, & I shall pursue it steadily till it xxx & not take any hand off till it is carried fairly thro the press. As soon as Wesley & Marlborough are done, & another paper for the QR. of which the New Churches serves as the are the theme [8]  I shall start for the south, xxx & be about two months in & near London. And then I must accept Bunburys invitation, [9]  for the purpose of of seeing his papers. I may perhaps defer my departure a few weeks for the sake of a more favourable season, – & leave home at the end of February or the beginning of March, with the intention of returning in May. For I shall have a great deal to do with xxx official papers in London.

Not a line of O Newman [10]  have I written since your last packet. – your godson goes on well – thank God.

God bless you my dear Wynn

Yrs affectionately



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 14 DE 14/ 1819
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 162–165. BACK

[1] William Sherwin (dates unknown), a radical printer and publisher, shielded himself from prosecution by using others to run his bookshop and periodical, Sherwin’s Weekly Political Register (1817–1819). BACK

[2] ‘To lose legal cases on account of the law’. BACK

[3] The government had introduced the ‘Six Acts’ to suppress radical agitation, including a new Criminal Libel Act. Habeas corpus was the legal principle that prevented imprisonment without trial; it had been suspended in 1817–1818. BACK

[4] 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

[5] Southey’s 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. He did not turn the review into a companion volume for his Life of Nelson (1813). BACK

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

[7] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[8] 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. BACK

[9] Sir Henry Bunbury had asked Southey to visit him so that he could show Southey papers that might help with the History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). 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

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