1239. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 25 November 1806

1239. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 25 November 1806 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

When first I thought it probable that the court of Portugal would remove to Rio Janeiro [1]  I felt an inclination to follow them, which arose more from curiosity than from any wiser motive. On cooler reflection South America seems an unfit place for me. I should be afraid to carry my family to a country where none of the comforts of Europe are to be found, & few even of the decencies; & to go without them for any length of time, is out of the question. Books supply the want of society to me sufficiently. But how it would be where I should have neither, I cannot say. This however is comparatively of little importance, – amusement & occupation may be found everywhere by one who knows where to look for them. But my employments would be disturbed – it would be impossible to carry a library with me, there will be none there. – & to suspend my history for some years would be every way disadvantageous. – xxxx were I to die what I have done would be of little value, – as little as that of the materials of a great house compared to the finished building. I am not made of very lasting stuff – a warmer climate than this is certainly desirable for one who has a better chance of inheriting consumption than of succeeding to any other inheritance, – but perhaps the disorders to which Europeans are subject in a climate so totally different as that of S America from their own, the ignorance of the native physicians. & the inexperience of any of our own who might be there, more than counterbalance any advantage which could be derived from southern sunshine. I wish you would talk this over with Elmsley, – my present opinion is that unless I could go either to Portugal or Holland, it is better that I should remain in England, –but I will do whatever you may think best. You perhaps have an ambition for me which I do not feel for myself. I have no wish for any other rank in society than what literature can give me. Could I chuse my own fortune it should be to have the place of Historiographer created for me, [2]  with such a salary as would be adequate to my habits of life; I could then accumulate enough by my writings for my children

You may be sure that those lines upon John Southey shall never get into print or be seen by any but my nearest friends. [3]  The old man thanked God upon his deathbed that he had cut me off. His brother has succeeded to about 30,000£ which he is utterly incapable of enjoying. A few days after the funeral 250£ were paid him. What shall I do with this money? said he to his sister. I’ll tell you what to do with it was her reply; send it to the young men. He has done more than I expected. Tom & Harry went down to xx him; – he gave them 40 – to cloath themselves, & when Harry left him another ten for his journey. He has talked of offering me a house in Taunton which is his till the boy comes of age to whom that & the Dorsetshire estate has been left; but this is only talk I believe, & was not intended to reach me. If he should make the offer I should accept it, because somewhere I must go & that speedily. My books are spoiling at Bristol, [4]  – & if Adam supplants Abbot  [5]  as the Courier says, those which are at Rickmans will be unhoused, & what I shall do with them God knows. This house I have outgrown, & it will no longer hold us. Thomas Southeys offer therefore would be so seasonable that I would willingly risk the consequences of having him for my neighbour, utterly illiterate as he is; – but he will not make it. & I must look out for myself, tho as compleatly undetermined where to go as Adam & Eve when they were turned out, with this difference that the whole earth was theirs. & I have not a single spot in it.

Seal the inclosed with your great seal

God bless you

Nov. 25. 1806


* MS: National Library of Wales MS 4812D. AL; 3p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 429–431. BACK

[1] On 29 November 1807, 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

[2] The post of Historiographer Royal was held, until his death, by Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB). Despite Southey’s hopes. it was then given to James Stanier Clarke (1765?-1834; DNB). BACK

[3] See Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 17–18 October 1806, Letter 1228. BACK

[4] See Southey to Charles Danvers, 18 October 1806, Letter 1229. BACK

[5] William Adam (1751–1839; DNB), politician and advocate, did not replace Abbott as Speaker of the House of Commons. BACK