1214. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [started before, and continued on] 3 September 1806

1214. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [started before, and continued on] 3 September 1806 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

How heartily I congratulate you upon the tidings communicated in your last. [1]  You would better understand if you could see the hundred ways with <in> which I play the fool to amuse <delight> my daughter & myself at the same time. You have a new pleasure in store, which no man knows any thing about till he feels it. – My young one is not expected till the end of next month, yet I strongly suspect that xx xxx the arrival will be sooner, & should not be surprised at it any day or any hour. [2] 

Is there any truth in the reports about the Prince of Brazils removal? [3]  If the thing were as probable as it is desirable I should heartily rejoice, & even be better pleased with the prospect of visiting S. America than Portugal.

Walter Scott suppressed the most obnox violent stanzas of his songs, tho they were sung in full force. [4]  I am a little surprized at him, – not at the opinions themselves, but at the ungracious avowal of them. Scotts politics were always of a xxxxx <true> fire – & – faggot kind, but he ought not to have insulted an administration which had behaved so handsomely to him, – & if the bird had been in the bush instead of in the hand, I suspect he would not have done it. – The House of Commons should stigmatise Lord M. by some explanatory Law, to show that they do not acquiesce in such an acquittal. [5] 

The mention of Banks is by Duppa. [6]  he understands these things, & I do not. I have just finished an account of Joanna Southcott, which, if you are not well informed upon the subject – will surprize you. [7]  You will hardly credit believe that such blasphemies should be tolerated, or such credulity be found in England at this time. It would be a fit thing to ship her & a ship load of her disciples off for Botany Bay.

The Palmerin has taken me in for more work than I expected. [8]  Its descriptions are all mutilated, the xx costumes more curious customs always omitted & the whole so diluted with wordy amplifications & long speeches that the English Romance is nearly as long again as the Portugueze. – good evidence for the originality of the latter. I shall insert all the omissions which are of the slightest value, & cut out as much of the rigmarolery as possible. If it sells I will then print Primaleon, which precedes it in the family series, & is a better Romance, [9]  tho now of less celebrity, for Palmerin has a certain degree of fame, founded upon the praise in D Quixote, which I shall take care to print <insert> in the advertisement. [10] 

Did I tell you that I had seen Mrs Dickson? [11]  – we met at the Windermere boat race – where Curwen [12]  dines with as many gentlemen as chuse to give half-a guinea for the vilest ordinary dinner that ever baulked an appetite, – & then gets praised in the newspaper for his hospitality.


This letter has lain a long while unfinished. We have had the measles in the house, & little Edith is just safe thro them, tho by no means recovered from their effects. You have had a letter from Lord H – to acknowledge my letter of thanks [13]  – a supererogation of civility on his part. In mine I pointed out to him the Walking Picture of the Castle of Otranto [14]  in the Jerusalem of Lope. [15]  Eight years ago I got the poem from Dr Williams Library in Redcross Street, [16]  & analysed it – this will turn to some account now, first in reviewing his book [17]  & secondly as I will put the analysis in some order – versify the extracts & xxx insert it in Longmans new Magazine, [18]  – into which I think of emptying a whole bundle of unemployed notes in the shape of scraps, – having them at hand it is as well to get paid for them first & use them afterwards. Did I tell you that Thalaba has been printed piecemeal in an American newspaper? Probably the first time that so long a poem ever made its appearance in such a shape. – If small profits answered as well to authors as Mr Lackington [19]  says they do to booksellers, certainly I ought to be in the way of making a good fortune –

A waterspout has fallen lately within five miles of us on the Ambleside road. The people here call it with more propriety a burst. A thunder cloud discharged its waters upon this end of Hellvellyn, & before rain enough had fallen in the valley to make the house eaves drop, the torrent came rushing down the gills in Legberthwaite [20]  with force & fury – to use the very language in which one of the inhabitants described it to me. You may xxxxxxx form some notion of its force when I tell you that it has covered the fields with gravel & stones – that the water crost the road (about two hundred yards at least from the foot of the mountain, with such power as to bear down twelve yards of a x wall five feet in length clean from the ground, & scatter the stones twenty & thirty yards off over the field. We had three such bursts last year, neither of them so destructive as this – & till last year there had not been only one forsince the great one fifty nine years ago – of which you may read in all the books about Cumberland.

We have had a sick house. Tom was seized with an ague as soon as he came. It did him this service, that it enabled him – indeed obliged him – to decline an appointment to a sloop of war that came after him – a berth by no means desirable, nor indeed respectable for one of his standing. I was obliged to put off Grosvenor – & sorely unwilling to do it – but I hope & expect that he will come in October.

God bless you


Wednesday Sept 3. 1806


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 427–429.
Dating note: Southey states before dating at the bottom of the letter that it ‘has lain a long while unfinished’. BACK

[1] Mary Wynn was expecting her first child; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [started before, and continued on] 17 September 1806, Letter 1216. BACK

[2] Herbert, the Southeys’ first son, was born 11 October 1806. BACK

[3] This did not happen until 29 November 1807, when, as the French invaded Portugal, a British squadron under the command of Sir William Sidney Smith (1764–1840; DNB) escorted the Portuguese Prince Regent, John VI (the Duke of Braganza) (1767–1826), and the Queen, his mother, across the Atlantic. The Portuguese monarchy then ruled from Brazil. BACK

[4] As well as longer works of poetry, Scott composed shorter ballads based on Border traditions, and had just published Ballads and Lyrical Pieces, a collection of patriotic Scottish ballads and songs. BACK

[5] Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742–1811; DNB), Secretary of State for War 1794–1801 and First Lord of the Admiralty from 1804. During 1802–1805, Melville’s use of public funds while Treasurer of the Admiralty (1782–1800), was investigated by a Royal Commission. After its report, on 9 April 1805, Melville was censured in the House of Commons for allowing Alexander Trotter (dates unknown), the naval paymaster, to misuse public funds. Melville resigned and impeachment proceedings were commenced against him. His trial opened on 29 April 1806, attracting a great deal of public interest, but by 12 June Melville had been acquitted of nearly all the charges. BACK

[6] Thomas Banks (1735–1805; DNB), a sculptor who is discussed in Duppa’s contribution to Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807), Letter 23. BACK

[7] An account of the millenarian prophet and writer, Joanna Southcott, is given in Letter 70 of Letters from England. BACK

[8] Southey published an English translation of Palmerin of England, by Francisco Moraes in 4 volumes in 1807. BACK

[9] The cycle of romance stories of Palmerin d’Oliva, emperor of Constantinople, his sons, Palmendos and Primaleon, and grandson, Palmerin of England. Primaleon was the second book in the series, written by an anonymous Spanish author (probably Francisco Vázquez; dates unknown) and published in 1516. It was translated from the French by Anthony Munday (bap. 1560–1633; DNB), between 1595 and 1619. Its popularity can be established from the fact that ten Spanish editions were published between 1512 and 1588. Palmerin de Inglaterra by Francisco Moraes Cabral (1547) is the fourth book in the series. BACK

[10] In Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616), The History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote, trans. Tobias Smollett (1721–1771; DNB), 6 vols (London, 1792), a priest praises the stylistic clarity of Palmerin of England, describing it as a unique work that is to be esteemed for two reasons ‘first, because, it is in itself excellent; and secondly, because it is said to have been composed by an ingenious king of Portugal’ (I, p. 46). BACK

[11] Untraced. BACK

[12] John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB), Workington landowner and MP for Carlisle, lived at Belle Isle on Windermere. BACK

[13] For Southey’s letter to Lord Holland; see Southey to Lord Holland, 10 August 1806, Letter 1209. BACK

[14] In Horace Walpole’s (4th Earl of Orford; 1717–1797; DNB) Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto (London, 1764) a figure in a painting walks out of the frame (pp. 19–20). BACK

[15] Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (1562–1635), La Jerusalém Conquistada (1609), Canto I. BACK

[16] Dr Williams’ library, London, was established by a bequest from the dissenting minister, Daniel Williams (c.1643–1716; DNB). BACK

[17] Southey reviewed Henry Richard Fox, 3rd Lord Holland, Some Account of the Life and Writings of Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (1806), in the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807), 397–411. BACK

[18] The short-lived Athenaeum, A Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information (1807–1809), published by Longman. BACK

[19] Either James Lackington (1746–1815), bookseller and publisher, or his cousin George Lackington (1777–1844), who took over the publishing firm of Lackington, Allen & Co. after James Lackington’s retirement in 1798. BACK

[20] Legburthwaite is a village southeast of Keswick and north of Thirlmere, in the Lake District. BACK

Places mentioned

Ambleside (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)