1300. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 27 March [1807]

1300. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 27 March [1807] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

By this time I conclude you are out of office, [1]  – & a letter will be no trespass on your time. – That I am against any indulgence to the Catholicks you know, – but I am not on that account (& setting all personal considerations aside) the less sorry for this mischievous change of ministry. I cannot persuade myself that the ostensible cause can be the real one; it may have been used as a pretext by those who influence the King, or he may have made it a pretext himself to gratify his resentment against for the Abolition of the Slave T & for the projected reforms. What a precedent – a ministry changed without any wish for the change having been expressed either by the parliament or the country; but who on the contrary were strong almost beyond example in both; – from the mere exertion of the prerogative, the mere will of & pleasure of the Sovereign, who chuses to put in their place men of tried & convicted incapacity, with an old woman at their head! [2]  – Such a ministry cannot long support itself – I doubt whether it can command a majority, & if it dissolves parliament doubt whether it can form a new one in its interests.

Looking at your administration in the way in which History will look at it – that is at those things only which will produce permanent effect – these are the Limited Service Bill & the Abolition, [3]  – two measures the best which I have seen, or shall live to see. And if you loved the memory of Pitt [4]  as little as I do, it would give you pleasure to xxx perceive xxx it xxx now placed beyond a doubt, that he cared nothing about the abolition while Lord Grenville  [5]  had the business at heart; – & at heart he will have it to his comfort on his death bed. I half suspect that this is the measure which the King will not forgive.

The only thing which can make you unpopular with the country is the business of Sir Home Popham, [6]  in which it seems to me you were decidedly right. His conduct has been very mischievous. The more I know of South America the more I am convinced that our policy is to seperate it from Spain, but not to attempt its conquest. Any such attempt can only end eventually in defeat – & shame, – tho it may send home dollars at first. & give the existing ministry that patronage which is the game they play for. This subject will occupy the concluding chapter of my Brazil & Paraguay. [7]  – You perhaps know whether Sir Homes expedition prevents any more extensive scheme – I suspect it did, & that thus the business of that mission to Lisbon was frustrated. There was something ungracious in the way of receiving the intelligence that the Cape was captured – which is probably to be imputed to Lord St Vincent [8]  – one of the worst men living. – Except this there is no point upon which the late ministry are not popular. And tho any indulgence to the Catholicks cannot be more deprecated by the Bishops than it is by me, on this subject I believe Coleridge is the only friend I have who thinks with me, & all the talking & thinking people are on your side. If there be a cry of no Popery it will be confined to the mob.

My mind has been made up to a settled residence in this place. It became necessary from some arrangements of Coleridges, that I should either quit the house soon, or resolve upon abiding in it: & having neither inclination nor means for a … removal I resolved to stay. Accordingly, after living three years & a half in a house half-finished & half furnished, we are now endeavouring to get as many comforts about us as are within our reach. I have sent for my books which are to come by sea: stocked the garden with currant bushes & such like fruits, & am about to plant a hedge round it, put in a few shrubs & flowers – & make the whole as ornamental & as convenient as I can. And unless I ever go to settle in Lisbon, few things could excite a wish in me ever to remove from hence. once in two years I purpose visiting London. – The distance is an evil but not a material one – especially if I xxx have any friends to halt with on the way. – The main objection to this place will be removed when my books arrive, which are a very respectable collection. – the greater part being my Uncles. Society I do not want – of this I can speak from experience, & sure I am that I should be less happy with a coach & four in London than I am when rowing my own boat upon Derwentwater. And when you have it in your power again, let the one thing which you seek for me be the xxx title of Historiographer [9]  with a decent pension, if 300£ it would satisfy my wishes – if 400 I should be rich. I have no worldly ambition – a man who lives so much in the past, & for the future – can have none. – it can not be long before a new reign or a plainer fit of insanity will bring you in again. These men without either talents, character or hereditary influence cannot long maintain their posts upon the single ground of the Kings favour. When you are in, do not form higher wishes for me than I have for myself, I am in that state of life to which it has pleased God to call me – for which I was formed, in which I am contented: nor is it likely that I could be in any other so usefully, so worthily, or so happily employed. If what I now receive should in the future come from the Treasury [10]  – I shall not then have any serious wish for any change of fortune – nor would this be one if you were [wea]lthier – what more is necessary I get, hardly enough it is true, but still in my own way; and it is not impossible but that some day or other, one of my books may by some accident hit the fashion of the day, & by a rapid sale place me in comparative affluence. I must be a second time cut off, if I do not still inherit an independence: & if after all, I should go out of the world as poor a man as I am at this present, the moment it comes to be ‘poor Southey’ – my name becomes a provision for my wife & children, even tho I had not that reliance upon individual friendship which experience makes me feel. – I do not know under what circumstances I could have more reason to be happy, – & that I am so is your doing –

God bless you my dear Wynn

R Southey

March 27


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 71–72 [in part]; Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 441–444. BACK

[1] The so-called Ministry of All the Talents, of which Wynn was part, broke up in March 1807. BACK

[2] The new Prime Minister was William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738–1809; DNB). BACK

[3] By the first of these measures the government of which Wynn was a member limited the term for which soldiers could enlist; the second was passed into law in March 1807. BACK

[4] William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806. BACK

[5] Prime Minister from 1806 to 1807. BACK

[6] Sir Home Riggs Popham (1762–1820; DNB), naval officer. Popham was the commander-in-chief of the expedition which took the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope for Britain in 1806. He then sailed his squadron across the Atlantic and occupied Buenos Aires—an occupation Britain proved unable to maintain, despite sending a second, reinforcing expedition, against the hostility of the inhabitants. Popham was reprimanded for acting without proper authority. BACK

[7] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810 and did not take this form. BACK

[8] John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent (1735–1823; DNB), former First Lord of the Admiralty (until 1804) and, from 1806 until the Grenville ministry fell, Commander of the Channel fleet. In 1806 St Vincent had gone to Lisbon on a diplomatic mission to arrange the evacuation of the Portuguese royal family to Brazil in the event of Portugal’s invasion by Napoleonic forces, and to discuss British aid. BACK

[9] The post of Historiographer Royal was held, until his death, by Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB). Southey was unsuccessful in his bid to succeed Dutens. BACK

[10] Wynn succeeded, before he left office, in arranging that the pension he paid Southey from his personal funds was replaced by a government pension. BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)