1075. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [started before and continued on 22 June 1805]

1075. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [started before and continued on 22 June 1805] ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

It is long since you have written to me – & I on my part have long been silent, having nothing to say but complaints of N Easters & sore eyes. If indeed you wanted a question of Spanish law in the thirteenth century decided, – or any news of the first siege of Dio, [1]  I could supply you with excellent information, – but for all that relates to the present race of men, I have never any thing to communicate except of Egomet ipse, I byself I.

The main news concerning that personage is this. My brother has taken some prizes which he expects will yield him a thousand pounds. by great <good> fortune they were sent into St Vincents & so escaped the Rochefort squadron. [2]  Now as soon as he remits this sum for me to dispose of, it is my intention to borrow 350£ of it, for the purpose of removing & furnishing a house near London. So that if no unlucky accident turn up I may reasonably expect to get my books together & feel settled before the winter is over.

Madoc is doing well. x rather more than half the edition are sold, which is much for so heavy a volume. [3]  The sale will of course flag now, till the world shall have settled what they please to think of the poem. – & if the reviews favour it the remainder will be in a fair way. In fact books are now so dear that they are becoming rather articles of fashionable furniture than any thing else. they who buy them do not read them, & they who read them do not buy them. I have seen a Wiltshire clothier who gives his bookseller no other instructions than the dimensions of his shelves – & have just heard of a Liverpool merchant who is fitting up a library, & has told his bibliopole to send him Shakespere & Milton & Pope, & if any of those fellows should publish any thing new to let him have it immediately. – If Madoc obtain any celebrity its size & cost will recommend it among these gentry – libros consumere nati, – born to buy quartos & help the revenue.

Do you know if Elmsley had a copy sent him? I wish to know if he has received it, – but do not wish him to think that I looked for any letter of matter-of-course compliment in acknowledgement.

You were right in your suspicious dislike of the introductory lines. The Ille Ego is thought arrogant, [4]  – as my self-accusing presence would been have <been> thought mock modesty. For this I care little. It is saying no more in fact than if I had said Author of so & so in the title page, – & moreover it is not amiss that critics who will find fault with something should have these straws to catch at. I learn this from Sharp – whom Elmsley knows – who brings me very favourable reports of its general effect, which is – he says, far greater than I could have supposed.

Dapple gets on well with the Specimens, [5]  except that he does not correct the press well. I have given him a hint of this & trust he will profit by xx it. Rickman tells me that by your help Horace has got an appointment at the Museum. If he has apartments also, this may be of use to me inasmuch as it would be pleasanter to work by his fire than in a cold reading room.

Turner has sent me his last volume [6]  but it has not yet reached me. I shall urge him to add to what he has already done a history of Wales, which with Owens help he could do thoroughly. [7]  – This London Institution [8]  is likely to supply the place of an Academy. Sharp has had much to do with the establishment, – & perhaps remotely I may have had something, having conversed last year with him upon the necessity of some association for publishing such extensive national works as booksellers will not undertake & individuals cannot. Such as the Scriptores Rer. Britan.  [9]  – Saxon Archaeologia &c &c. Coleridge will be applied to to lecture on Belles Lettres. Some such application will perhaps be made to me one day or other. Indeed a hint to that effect was given me from the Royal Institution [10]  last year. My mind is made up to reject any such invitation, because I have neither the requisites nor the wish to be a public orator, – because I can make myself known enough without any such act. – & lastly because it is <not> impossible that better things may one day be within my reach, to which it might perhaps be rather an obstacle than otherwise. – On removing to London I shall take once more the plan of the Bibliotheca into consideration, & calculate whether or no it be advisable to drop all other ways & means & put my sholder to that. [11]  At any rate this will probably be my last year of reviewing, – the time which one years portion of such work occupies would be enough to translate a whole romance or write half such a poem as Thalaba. [12] 

Saturday –

Your letter has got the start of mine. – I believe I told you that both Lord & Lady Holland had left invitations for me with my Uncle to Holland House, & xxxxx that he had offerd the use of his Spanish collection. Did Fox mention to you that I had sent him a copy of Madoc? – I did so because Sharp desired me to do so, who knows Fox, – & I prefaced it with a note as short as could be & as respectful as ought to be. [13]  – I am much gratified by what you tell me of the poems reception, – there was a strong & long fit of [MS torn] upon me about the time of its coming out. I suspected a want of interest in the first part, & a want of everywhere of such ornament as the public are apt to look for & have been taught to admire. And still I cannot help feeling that the whole poem looks like the work of an older man, – that all xxx <its> lights are evening sunshine. This would be ominous if it did not proceed from the nature of the story xxx& the key in which it is pitched, xxxx <which> was done many years since, before Thalaba was written or thought of.

God bless you. I must not forget to express Toms thanks for the offer you made him, when he was out of employ. [14]  Letters are so long in reaching a cruising frigate that I have but just received his acknowledgement. – xxx happily he was never in want & as you see he is now beginning to lay by. Sir S Hoods [15]  removal is a great evil to him, for he was sure of promotion had he continued in the command. Harry is with me for the summer. Next year he will be be-Doctored. The best thing that could then happen for him would be to travel with some person who wants an agreable companion able to bleed, physic & set bones upon occasion.

God bless you



* Address: C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ JUN25/ 1805
MS: National Library of Wales MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 329–332 [in part].
Dating note: Dating from postmark and Southey’s date of ‘Saturday’. The Saturday before 25 June was 22 June in 1805. BACK

[1] The Siege of Diu in Gujurat, India (1509) occurred when a combined fleet of Turkey, Egypt, Venice, the Republic of Ragusa (now known as Dubrovnik) and the Sultan of Gujarat, Mahmud Begada (reigned 1458–1511), attempted to capture the city, then held by the Portuguese. The attempt failed. BACK

[2] It was customary for naval officers to be allotted a share of the value of ships and cargo captured in armed conflict, and Southey was concerned that Thomas would lose his prize money from Spanish ships taken by HMS Amelia in December 1804. His fears were exacerbated by the fact that in mid-1805 a squadron of French ships commanded by Contre-Admiral Zacharie Allemand (1762–1828) and based at Rochefort, slipped past the British blockade to harass British ships in the Atlantic and West Indies. BACK

[3] Madoc (1805) was published as a quarto edition, costing 2 guineas. BACK

[4] Meaning ‘I the man’, Southey is referring to the exordium to Madoc, published as:

Come, listen to a tale of times of old!
Come, for ye know me! I am he who sung
The Maid of Arc; I am he who framed
Of Thalaba the wild & wonderous song.
Come, listen to my lay, & ye shall hear
How Madoc from the shores of Britain spread
The adventurous sail, explored the ocean ways,
And quelled Barbarian power, & overthrew
The bloody altars of idolatry,
And planted in its fanes triumphantly
The Cross of Christ. Come, listen to my lay.
See Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II, p. 8. BACK

[5] Southey’s and Bedford’s jointly-edited anthology, Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). BACK

[6] The fourth volume of Sharon Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799–1805). BACK

[7] Turner wrote instead a History of England (1814–1829). BACK

[8] The London Institution for the Improvement of Science and Literature (founded in 1806), offered education in arts and sciences and was open to those excluded by virtue of their religion from Oxford and Cambridge. BACK

[9] Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores: Or, Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages was eventually published under government auspices in a series of volumes from 1858–1964. BACK

[10] The Royal Institution was founded in March 1799. BACK

[11] Southey’s projected ‘Bibliotheca Britannica’ was not written. The work appeared in 1824 under the editorship of Robert Watt. BACK

[12] Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer, published in 1801. BACK

[13] This has not survived. BACK

[14] Wynn had offered Thomas Southey £50; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 26 December 1804, Letter 1008. BACK

[15] Commodore (later Vice-Admiral) Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet (1762–1814; DNB), who was in command of the fleet in which Thomas Southey served, until early 1805. BACK