1107. Robert Southey to Charles Watkins Williams Wynn, [September 1805]

1107. Robert Southey to Charles Watkins Williams Wynn, [September 1805] ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

I have just received a very flattering letter from Ld Carysfort. [1]  when he comes to Wynnstay have the goodness to say how much I am gratified by his praise, & how gladly I expect his promised animadversions.

What think you of these meditated alterations in Madoc? – to try the Hirlas & the other songs in lyrical measures. [2]  to alter that attack upon the women [3]  – which is the worst part of the xxxxxx poem & make Erillyab put Amalahta to death with her own hand – or order his death. [4]  lastly to rewrite the two concluding sections at any rate, & insert some new catastrophe, to be produced by the agency of Madoc himself & not by a providential interference. At present the interest is transferred to Yuhidthiton, which is a great & grievous fault. Moreover – shall I or shall I not sprinkle the poem with similies? [5] 

Llewelyn’s history [6]  is so rapidly related by Warrington [7]  that every thing is left to invention. I have a dim sort of second sight of some dramatic situations. Emma’s character may be made striking, & in some degree original – as a woman bound to her husband by no tie but duty, but acknowledging the whole force of that tie. the historical facts you know – that David & his son by Emma many years after Llewelyn had recovered Mona [8]  were slain by him in battle. [9]  this son at my time would be an infant, – Llewelyn from the impulse of his own heart should spare him, – & for Emmas sake should spare David also, – a catastrophe which might be made sufficiently impressive. Perhaps by way of filling up the action the first wife of Llewelyn may be introduced – as knowing and aiding all his plan. Tangwystl is her barbarous name. [10]  time must ripen these crude ideas which cannot be forced; & perhaps I may even go thro with the Days of Queen Mary first, if merely to bring my hand in. [11] 

But first of all I have a weary weight of business to get thro. more reviewing than in any former year – & not a line yet written – besides Don Manuel, [12]  – who is quite as necessary an ally to me this winter, as the Emperor Alexander is to his Majesty. [13]  I am at present reading the new edition of Bruce very carefully with the double object of reviewing it, & of collecting therefrom whatever is needful for my History. [14]  Todds Spenser is on my reviewing shelf. [15]  You know I had proposed to edit Spenser myself – what a different book should I have made! – & I may yet live to make this the amusement of old age an age when I shall may neither have power nor inclination for things of greater exertion. [16] 

To reviewing then & to the Spaniards I go tooth and nail without loss of time. My Scotch trip will be the only interruption – if it take place – for Elmsleys long delay since his last letter xxxx half induces me to suppose some business stands in his way.

I have got a paragraph into the Courier – & sent off another at more length. What is the law respecting prizes? or is it merely matter of custom? & is there is any reason why ships detained before the declaration of war should not follow the same rule as ships detained afterwards? – [17] 

You have heard me say that a spy was sent down some years ago to watch Coleridge & Wordsworth at Stowey, – who got drunk at the alehouse & blabbed. – Ld Somerville [18]  told Walter Scott that he was the means of sending him – ‘of having them lookd after’ – were his words. [19]  he was then legacy-hunting after John Southeys fortune, so that the thing was not quite so absurd as it appeared to be. Scott told this to Wordsworth.

God bless you.



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esq.r M. P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D (undated letters). ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 400–401.
Dating note: Dating according to Curry. BACK

[1] John Joshua Proby, 1st Earl of Carysfort (1751–1828; DNB): judge, diplomat, Whig politician and poet, who was the author of Dramatic and Narrative Poems (1810). He was a fellow pupil of Southey’s at Westminster School. BACK

[2] See Madoc (1805), Part 1, ‘Madoc in Wales’, Book 2, lines 142–167; Book 10, lines 42–110; Book 11, lines 98–160. The alterations were not made. BACK

[3] Madoc (1805), Part 2, Book 16. BACK

[4] Erillyab, Queen of the Hoaman tribe in Madoc (1805); Amalahta, her son, disloyal to her. The alterations were not made. BACK

[5] The poem ends with Yuhidthiton, the remaining leader of the defeated and chastened Aztecas, leading his people into exile, rather than with Madoc, the Welsh colonist, presiding over a new American civilisation. These alterations were not incorporated. For an account of Madoc’s publication history, see the editor’s introduction to Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II. BACK

[6] Llewelyn ‘the Great’ (c. 1173–1240; DNB), Prince of Gwynedd and effective ruler of Wales in his later years. BACK

[7] William Warrington (1735–1827), The History of Wales (1788). BACK

[8] The isle of Anglesey. BACK

[9] Dafydd (in English, David) (d. 1203; DNB), was the son of Owen Gwynedd (1100–1170, Prince of Gwynedd 1137–1170; DNB). At Owain’s death, the territory of Gwynedd was divided between several of the brothers; Dafydd gradually brought it all under his rule. When the sons of Henry II (1133–1189; King of England 1154–1189; DNB) went to war against their father, Dafydd supported Henry, which was probably the reason for his marriage in 1174 to the English king’s illegitimate half-sister Emma of Anjou (b. c. 1138). Dafydd was imprisoned by Llewelyn in 1197 and then driven out by him in 1203, dying in the same year. His son, Owain (d. 1212; DNB) was also overthrown by Llewelyn. BACK

[10] Tangwystl Goch (c. 1168–1203/9). BACK

[11] Southey is discussing his projected plays, one a dramatisation of Madoc, the other set in the reign of Mary I (1516–1558, Queen of England 1553–1558; DNB); see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 190–192. BACK

[12] Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella: Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[13] Alexander I (1777–1825; King of Russia 1801–1825) was one of the coalition members with George III (1738–1820, King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) against the French in the Napoleonic wars. BACK

[14] Southey reviewed James Bruce (1730–1794; DNB), Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in the Years 1768–73 (2nd edn, 1804–5) in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 2–16. His ‘History of Portugal’ was never completed. BACK

[15] Southey reviewed Henry John Todd (bap. 1763, d. 1845; DNB), The Works of Edmund Spenser (1805) in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 544–555. BACK

[16] Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590–1596) was included in Southey’s Select Works of the British Poets, from Chaucer to Jonson (London, 1831), pp. 233–514. BACK

[17] In December 1804, the naval ship HMS Amelia, of which Tom Southey was a lieutenant, had captured the Spanish brig Isabella and the ship Conception, both laden with wine and brandy, and the ship Commerce, laden with cotton. It was customary for naval officers to be allotted a share of the value of ships and cargo captured in armed conflict, but in this case the prize money was contested because the ships were captured before war was officially declared. Southey contributed a paragraph to The Courier of Saturday 24 August 1805, arguing that the sailors deserved to receive the money. This was followed by a longer defence of their position in The Courier on 31 August 1805 under the title ‘Indemnification to the Spanish Merchants’. BACK

[18] Southey’s distant relation by marriage, John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB). BACK

[19] Coleridge relates the episode in Biographia Literaria, making light of it in order to downplay his reputation of having been a Jacobin. See S. T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. James Engell and Walter Jackson Bate, 2 vols (London and Princeton NJ, 1983), I, pp. 193–197. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Stowey (mentioned 1 time)