3617. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 26 January [1821]

3617. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 26 January [1821]⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I am glad to find that we agree so well about the Constitutional Society. [1]  One means of keeping the Press within tolerable bounds has frequently occurred to me; it is that printers & booksellers should be licensed, & lose their license upon conviction for libel. They are the only body of tradesmen who have a class of avowed rascals belonging to them, fellows that live by such arts of piracy as the law cannot reach, publishing catchpenny works under false names (Robert Southy to wit) [2]  & trading in obscenity, blasphemy & treason. And this is so notorious, that I think such a scheme might be effected, if there are not more weightier objections in it than I have yet perceived.

As for the present administration of the laws it is such as to make law itself contemptible. Carlisle [3]  enjoys the liberty of the press while he is under sentence in confinement! He signs his name to what he publishes, & yet in the eye of the law that is not sufficient to bring home to him the fact of the publication. Now surely when a man thus publicly avows his act & deed, it would be very reasonable that he should brought to trial for it, & convicted, unless he could prove upon trial either that he was not the author, or that xx he was altogether innocent of the publication – things which an innocent man could find no difficulty in proving.

You are in full enjoyment of Pandemonium [4]  at this time. I wish most heartily you were in power, tho it is not wishing you upon a bed of roses. But I am sure you would not be wanting in decision or in courage, & that these qualities in the ministers would presently alter the face of affairs.

There is a French translation of Roderic just published, & a Notice* sur M. Southy prefixed, [5]  concerning which Bedford will tell you a good story. – I shall be richly bespattered with abuse when my hexameters [6]  appear, both for the metre & for the subject. No matter I am used to it, – & whoever reads the poem thro will be used to the metre also. You shall soon have more of Oliver Newman. [7] 

God bless you


Keswick 26 Jany.

*It is somewhat remarkable that in all the Notices concerning me which have gone abroad, among the lies & exaggerations with which they have are filled, & the facts which have got abroad one knows not how, – your name should never have appeared? I have an intention of leaving my own memoirs as a post-obit for my family. Whenever it is effected (& it is begun) [8]  you shall see them, before the perusal becomes painful.


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

[1] The Constitutional Association (1821–1822), which issued pro-government propaganda and endeavoured to secure the conviction of radical journalists for libel. BACK

[2] Authentic Memoirs of Our Late Venerable and Beloved Monarch, George the Third … by Robert Southy, Esq. (1820), a publication that tried to pass itself off as being by Southey. BACK

[3] Richard Carlile (1770–1843; DNB), radical publisher and newspaper editor, was jailed for three years on 16 November 1819 for blasphemy and seditious libel, but continued to publish his newspaper, The Republican, from prison. BACK

[4] The capital of Hell in John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), Paradise Lost (1667) and Southey’s term for the House of Commons, which began sitting again on 23 January 1821. BACK

[5] ‘Notice sur M. Southey’, Pierre Hippolyte Amillet de Sagrie (1785–1830). Roderic, Dernier Roi des Goths (Paris, 1821), pp. xix–xxviii, no. 2700 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. For the story, see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 January 1821, Letter 3616. BACK

[6] A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[7] Southey’s unfinished epic set in New England. A fragment was published posthumously in Oliver Newman: a New-England Tale (Unfinished): with Other Poetical Remains by the Late Robert Southey (London, 1845), pp. 1–90. BACK

[8] The series of autobiographical letters to John May, the first of which was sent on 26 July 1820, Letter 3514. The letters were published in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 1–157. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)