3673. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 18 April [1821]

3673. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 18 April [1821] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

To my great surprize I have lately met with proof positive that Siphilis was known by its French name as the prevailing pest of the age, before the discovery of America, & that it had taken the Greek Professor at Salamanca by the nose, four years before Columbus sailed on his first voyage. [1]  – It is quite unaccountable how the passage which states this should have escaped notice, & yet if it had been noticed, the controversy upon that subject must have been xxx decided. I found it in the Epistles of Peter Martyr (of Angleria) [2]  – one of the many books in Robertsons catalogue, [3]  of which he made little or no use, referring to them only, instead of reading them.

Do you know that Cobbett has recommended me for execution, [4]  – as one of the first acts of the Radical Government?

As a set off to this, certain Journeymen who propose to better their own condition by adopting the practicable part of Owens plan quote a stanza in their Report from one of my Odes, as ‘worthy to be written in diamonds.”! [5] 

God bless you


18 April.


* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, p. 226. BACK

[1] Arias Barbosa (c. 1465/70–1540), Portuguese scholar and Professor of Greek at the University of Salamanca 1495–1530. Christopher Columbus (1450/1–1506), Italian explorer, was commissioned by the Spanish crown to sail west across the Atlantic in 1492; he discovered America rather than Asia. Southey had been collecting information that seemed to disprove the view that syphilis had an American origin; see Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 8 April 1821, Letter 3666. BACK

[2] Peter Martyr d’Anghiera (1457–1526), Opus Epistolarum (Amsterdam, 1670), p. 34, no. 1902 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] William Robertson (1721–1793; DNB), History of America (1788), no. 2456 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Opus Epistolarum (1670) is listed in the book’s ‘Catalogue of Spanish books and Manuscripts’. Southey was habitually dismissive of Robertson’s work. BACK

[4] Possibly a reference to the following passage by Cobbett: ‘When my two-penny trash was ringing throughout the nation, in spite of Stewart, Walter, William Gifford and Southey, these ruffians called for dungeons to answer me with. Are not daggers as good logic as dungeons? Aye, and more manly logic too, because the use of them exposes the killers to danger; whereas the dungeon-logicians entrench themselves safely behind an army’, Cobbett’s Political Register, 35 (4 September 1819), 92. BACK

[5] Report of the Committee appointed at a Meeting of Journeymen, Chiefly Printers, to Take into Consideration Certain Propositions, Submitted to them by Mr George Mudie, Having for their Object a System of Social Arrangement, Calculated to Effect Essential Improvements in the Condition of the Working Classes, and of Society at Large (1821), quoting the 11th stanza of Southey’s ‘Ode, Written in December, 1814’, published in Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 235. The Report was based on plans put forward by the journalist George Mudie (b. 1788) to form a community exemplifying the principles of Robert Owen (1771–1858; DNB), manager and owner of the mills and model community at New Lanark in Scotland 1799–1825. Such a community was briefly formed in East London 1821–1822. BACK

People mentioned

Cobbett, William (1763–1835) (mentioned 1 time)