3409. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 24 December 1819

3409. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 24 December 1819⁠* 

My dear Wynn

You no doubt can tell me what I have no means of ascertaining here, – whether “the noble & elect Lady Huntingdon – was sister to the Earl of Ferrers who was hanged. She was daughter of Washington Earl of Ferrers & born in 1707. [1]  – A taint of insanity in the blood may I think fairly be presumed.

I am as yet no nearer the mark concerning my chance of a Chancery suit. But this seems clear, that if I am heir at law, my claim will be to the whole property, – if it was not in Lord Somervilles power to cut off that claim. It appears by the will that he was christened John Southey, which latter name he always thought proper to drop, tho he derived from it his best expectations at the time of his birth. [2] 

In reference to the opposition to the scheme of Banishment or Transportation, which is made on behalf of the booksellers, an observation of some consequence might be made relative to that trade. [3]  There are rogues in all trades, but I do not know any other trade in which a certain number of persons its members are rogues & blackguards by profession, continually on the watch to cheat the honourable booksellers by all the tricks of piracy, to deceive the ignorant public by sending out books under false names (Lord Byrons, Miss Edgeworths & Dr Moores have all been used thus) [4]  – & as at this time, living by the sale of obscenity, blasphemy, & treason. Now it is not more reasonable for Longman & Murray to object to an ignominious punishment being enacted against such fellows as these, as it would be for the Lord Chancellor & the Chief Justice to complain of the laws which set a knavish attorney in the pillory. As for the danger which they conceive to themselves, no bookseller ought to publish any thing of which he doubts whether it be libellous or not, – for if there be a doubt, it is plain that the thing ought not to be published. There is no chance, or possibility I might say, of the law affecting them in any other way, than by making them cautious.

The signal for a general insurrection was to be communicated understood by the Radicals at Carlisle, if the Manchester Mail did not arrive as usual on a certain day. [5]  This was borrowed from the Irish in their rebellion. [6]  The Magistrates were informed of this & prepared accordingly, – fellows enough were on the look out for the mail to evince the truth of the information which had been given. – In such a case as this, a stronger Government would have stopt the mail

Were you not amused at Broughams complaining of misrepresentation? - [7]  It reminds me of the Devil in an old Dialogue of mine between that Personage & St Anthony, complaining of having been how grievously he was calumniated & how ill he was used by a scandalous world. [8] 

A merry Christmas to you – & God bless you


Keswick 24. Dec. 1819.


* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ London/ <Llangedwin/ Oswestry>
Stamped: [partial] CK
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. 165–167. BACK

[1] Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707–1791; DNB), played a prominent role in the evangelical revival and founded her own denomination, the ‘Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion’. She was the daughter of Washington Shirley, 2nd Earl Ferrers (1677–1729). Laurence Ferrers, 4th Earl Ferrers (1720–1760; DNB) was hanged for murdering his steward; he was the first cousin, rather than the brother, of Selina Hastings. BACK

[2] 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). Southey was able to establish that he was John Cannon Southey’s heir at law, i.e. he was entitled to receive his real property if he was intestate. However, this did not help his case. BACK

[3] The Criminal Libel Act (1819) made banishment the punishment for a second offence and anyone breaching that sentence was to be transported for 14 years. The original version of the Bill had made transportation for seven years the punishment for a second offence and death the punishment of last resort. A petition against the Bill’s provisions by a group of London booksellers and printers was presented to the House of Commons on 15 December 1819. BACK

[4] Maria Edgeworth (1768–1849; DNB), Irish novelist; Dr John Moore (1729–1802; DNB), Scottish physician and writer. BACK

[5] Rumours of insurrection were widespread at this time. The Westmorland Gazette, 11 December 1819, reported of Carlisle: ‘It is probable, and indeed a well-known fact, that a considerable number of pikes have been introduced into this neighbourhood, from Lancashire, and have been distributed among such deluded men as are willing to use them, when occasion offers. A great many young trees have been lately cut down and carried away from several neighbouring plantations, for what purpose we leave the reader to guess. Nocturnal drilling is also going on with increased activity.’ BACK

[6] The Irish rebellion of 1798; the planned signal for the start of the revolt was the interception of all the mail coaches from Dublin. BACK

[7] This comment is rather obscure; it might refer to Brougham’s complaints in the House of Commons on 16 December 1819 about the hostility in the press towards those (like him) who believed that Britain was overpopulated and that this was a cause of distress. BACK

[8] Southey’s ‘Eclogue’, sent in a letter to William Taylor, 18 March 1799, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Two, Letter 391. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)