3536. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 8 October [1820]

3536. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 8 October [1820] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

The Wiltshire Bennets bill [1]  empowers the Magistrates when they apprehend a riot to swear in every man whom they think proper to call upon as a special constable. By this means many a man may be made to act against a mob who would otherwise be engaged in it, & with common prudence a strong civil force may be collected whenever it is wanted. This which would at all times have been useful, appears to me of great importance now, when the military can no longer be trusted.

If you succeed in founding a Keltic Professorship, [2]  as I hope you may, do not commit the error of making the appointment for three or four years, which is the case with the Saxon Professorship, [3]  & makes the thing of no use. Your meetings & societies are x useful, & much to the honour of those who bring them into fashion. I hope you will make Sharon Turner an honorary member, if it were only for his Vindication of the Bards. [4]  He deserves some special mark of honour as the first person who resorted to the Welsh remains for the purpose of elucidating our early history. The man who has extracted most from them, wild as he sometimes runs, is Davies of Olveston. [5]  My old acquaintance William Owen I perceive is metamorphosed into Owen Pugh, & the Welsh critics extol his translation of the Paradise Lost into Welsh verse. [6]  If it be a good translation, it is certainly a miraculous one, for of this I am perfectly sure that William Owen, who was of Joanna Southcotes four & twenty elders, is as incapable of understanding the original as I am of understanding the translation.

This detestable business of the Queen, [7]  among other evils excludes foreign news from the newspapers, at a time when it is peculiarly interesting. The Spaniards proceed more suo, [8]  slowly, but surely, in their revolutionary career. [9]  I see they have abolished the mayorazgos, – which I suppose may best be rendered entails; & thereby cut the roots of their nobility. [10]  Such nobility, & such dynasties as those in Sp. & P. are not to be regretted for their own sakes; if we looked to their deserts we might say they have cumbered the earth too long. But they never could have received their death blow at a more inauspicious time. In Spain I expect, sooner or later, a civil war, & of the most inveterate character. The peasantry will stand by the church, & I very much doubt whether a majority of the soldiers will not take the same side; – on the other side, there will be authority, talents, activity & the press; & both parties will be enough in the right, to prosecute the war with conscientious virulence, & think it their duty to exterminate each other. I do not think there will be any such struggle in Portugal: – but there may probably be a separation from Brazil, which will leave the country helpless. [11]  And if the revolution extends to Brazil, as may reasonably be apprehended, that country will be split into as many republics as there may be successful adventurers to place themselves at the head of a sufficient number of bandits to call themselves an army. – Look where we will, I see nothing but evil aspects. Yet I am less alarmed at the home prospect than those persons with whom I converse or correspond. I think that the length of the to which the business must be protracted, will tire that beast the people; – that the men of property who do are not actually aiming at a revolution, will be afraid of one & bestir themselves in time; – that many persons who were at first deluded have been convinced that the Queen is guilty, as much by her conduct during the inquiry as by the evidence, & perhaps more so; – & if these considerations do not suffice to dispel any gloomy apprehensions – I fly to the good old saying God’s above, & rest upon them there as in a strong hold. This I think certain that the license of the press will not continue much longer. For Government must restrain it; or be destroyed; & in case of its destr the Press should triumph & effect its object, we know that the first act of a Revolutionary Government will be to bind it in fetters of iron. I believe there will not be a free press in Europe twenty years hence.

Barry Cornwall, [12]  whose name is Procter, breakfasted with me about a fortnight ago. I think there is more power & more feeling in his poetry than you seem to allow. But his dramatic verse is feeble & ill –constructed; & how far he may be capable of constructing a drama remains to be proved. No opinion can be formed from such fragments as he has produced. He is a modest man, of infirm health, & of a mind which seems to have gone thro much more wear & tear of feeling, than of thought.

God bless you


Keswick Oct 8


* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] CW Williams Wynn Esqre M.P./ Llangedwin/ near/ Oswestry/ <Welshpool>
Stamped: [illegible]
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] John Benett (1773–1852), MP for Wiltshire 1819–1832, MP for South Wiltshire 1832–1852. He had been one of the leading figures in supporting the Appointment of Special Constables Act (1820), which increased the powers of local Justices of the Peace to recruit special constables at times of civil disorder. BACK

[2] Wynn had a central role in re-founding the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion in June 1820, a society of London-based Welshmen interested in the history of Wales; Southey later became an honorary member of the Society. However, they did not succeed in founding a professorship in Celtic studies. BACK

[3] The Rawlinsonian Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford, established in 1795. BACK

[4] Sharon Turner’s A Vindication of the Genuineness of the Ancient British Poems of Aneurin, Taliesin, Llywarch Hen, and Merdhin, with Specimens of the Poems (1803), no. 2776 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Turner’s History of the Anglo–Saxons (1799–1805) also made use of Welsh sources to construct early British history, no. 2838 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Turner was made a member of the Cymmrodorion, and later served on its council. BACK

[5] Edward Davies (1756–1831; DNB), Curate of Olveston, Gloucestershire and author of Celtic Researches, on the Origin, Traditions, & Language, of the Ancient Britons (1804) and The Mythology and Rites of the British Druids (1809), nos 796–797 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[6] William Owen added ‘Pughe’ to his name in 1806 when he inherited the Denbighshire estate of a distant relative. His Coll Gwynfa (1819) was a translation of John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), Paradise Lost (1667). BACK

[7] Under extreme pressure from George IV, the Cabinet had reluctantly agreed to introduce a Bill of Pains and Penalties into the House of Lords to deprive the King’s wife, Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), of the title of Queen, and to dissolve her marriage to the King. On the Third Reading of the Bill on 10 November 1820, the government majority was only nine votes and it seemed very unlikely the Bill could pass the House of Commons. Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, therefore announced the Bill would be withdrawn. BACK

[8] ‘In their own manner’. BACK

[9] An army mutiny in Spain in January 1820 led to the restoration of the Constitution of 1812 in March 1820, and the election of a Cortes. BACK

[10] Spain possessed a system whereby certain landed estates (often associated with titles of nobility) could not be divided or sold and had to be passed in their entirety to the landholder’s eldest son; it was abrogated by the Ley Desvinculadora (1820). BACK

[11] A Liberal revolution in Portugal in August 1820 led to the election of a Cortes and demands for the monarchy to return from Brazil, where it had fled in 1807–1808. This process led to the separation of Portugal and Brazil in 1822, though Brazil did not become a republic, or split into separate states. BACK

[12] Bryan Procter (1787–1874; DNB), who wrote under the name ‘Barry Cornwall’. His Dramatic Scenes and Other Poems (1819), no. 617 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library (a presentation copy), won some admirers, and his play, Mirandola, was performed at Covent Garden in 1821. BACK

People mentioned

Pughe, William Owen (1759–1835) (mentioned 2 times)
Southcott, Joanna (1750–1814) (mentioned 1 time)
Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)