1438. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [March 1808]

1438. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [March 1808] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I congratulate you on the birth of a child, [1]  & will not condole with you because <tho> it is a daughter, because there are a thousand & one reasons why it is best that daughters should come first. You do not seem to have understood by my letter of annunciation that I should have left Keswick before your reply could x reach it. I have been nearly a month from home, – a few days Tom & I past at Liverpool seeing Roscoe, Rathbone, [2]  Shepherd [3]  &c – & had it been quite sure that we should have found you at no inconvenient season, perhaps I might have crost the river, – in which case had there come on a storm so as to endanger the ferry boat, I xxxx <could> not have prayed to the Lord to have Mersey upon me. – What a face of abomination you will make at that pundigrion!

We halted two days with Sir Ed. Littleton in Staffordshire, & then Tom & I parted, – he going to Bristol to put himself under the surgeons hand, – I to Lichfield, where I made a short stay with Miss Seward. Then I hastened to town, & here I have been since Monday week, packing up books – trampling over the streets of this vile city. As usual the atmosphere has provd a complete malaria to me. How indeed should it be otherwise, when it is a compound of fen-fog, chimney smoke, smuts & pulverised horse-dung! The little leisure I have is employed in blowing my nose with interludes of coughing.

My Uncle is trying to get some preferment in the place of that he has lost, & if Freres [4]  activity were equal to his good will he will have good chance of success. As it is, neither he xx I nor I have any sanguine hopes. – My own affairs are not in the pleasantest way. It cannot quite be said of me laudatur & alget, [5]  – but if I do not wholly give myself up to writing in reviews & magazines,& once more spinning verses for the newspaper it will very soon come to it. One edition of Espriella [6]  has sold, – it requires the sale of a second to balance my account with Longman, – & it is most likely that the second will sell. The small edition of Madoc [7]  has not yet paid its expences. – the quarto copies [8]  are waste paper. Palmerin [9]  has just paid. I have that, the Madoc (which will in time drop off) – & the yet unpublished Cid [10]  to look to for the supplies of the current year. – Whatever Brazil [11]  may produce is anticipated. – it will go to discharge a debt contracted for Harry during the last 7 years. [12]  – Do not xx <however> suppose that I am either out of humour with the world, or out of heart myself. The 200 £ a year which is necessary for my expenditure is within my reach – the Annual Review will yield me from 70 to 80; – the Athenaeum 30, – & I am solicited to become poet to the Courier at a guinea per week. [13]  This offer I have declined, xxxxxx & chuse rather to work by the piece, than trust to periodical exertion, which very probably it might not be in my power to command. Verses however for that respectable paper I shall assuredly soon begin to write, – for this efficient reason that it is the only way in which they will pay me for the paper on which they are written.

There is a buz of envy xxxx beginning against Walter Scott, & the world are looking for blemishes in Marmion as eagerly as they hunted for beauties in the Lay. [14]  The whole edition of 2000 was subscribed for among the booksellers, & they would have taken more could they have had them. .. yet unless I am much mistaken Scott has killed the goose which laid the golden eggs. The story is enough for a ballad & not for more, & the poet is made subservient to the antiquarian not the antiquarian to the poet. It has beautiful parts, – yet – before it appeared I thought within myself how glad I should be to write such a poem at half-price, – now that it has and I have seen it x no such wish remains.

I am afraid we shall miss each other. I stay a fortnight longer in town, then go down to Taunton to see if by any power of persuasion I can get some help for Harry out of Mr T. Southey, whom you may perceive I disown as uncle by that formal & right proper appellation. On my way back I shall be too homesick to halt anywhere, – even if I could spare the time. Come in the summer & see me in my glory, with my books about me & my three children, – & see how thoroughly happy a man can be who is satisfied with that the objects of pursuit which he has chosen are such as it becomes him to pursue.

God bless you.




* Address: To C W Williams Wynn Esqr M P./Wynnstay/ Wrexham.
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 80–82. BACK

[1] Her name is unknown, and she appears to have died young. BACK

[2] William Rathbone (1757–1809), a Liverpool ship-owner and merchant and a Quaker, who opposed the slave trade. BACK

[3] John Shepherd (1764–1836), the first Curator of the Liverpool Botanic Garden and friend of Roscoe. BACK

[4] J. H. Frere (1769–1846; DNB): poet, diplomat, Hispanist, Frere had parodied Southey’s radical ballads in ‘The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-grinder’ in the Antijacobin (1797). Three of Frere’s translations from the Poema del Cid were appended to Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid. Frere had been Britain’s ambassador to Portugal while Southey’s uncle had lived there; from 1808–1809 he was ambassador to Spain. BACK

[5] Meaning ‘honesty is praised, and left to starve’. BACK

[6] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). The second edition was published in 1808. BACK

[7] The second, duodecimo edition of Madoc (1807). BACK

[8] The first edition of Madoc (1805) was published by Longman in a luxurious quarto, costing two guineas. BACK

[9] Palmerin of England; by Francisco de Moraes. Corrected by Robert Southey from the Original Portugueze (1807). BACK

[10] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[11] Southey’s History of Brazil published in three volumes from 1810 to 1819. BACK

[12] The money had been borrowed from John May. BACK

[13] See Southey to Daniel Stuart, 27 November 1807, Letter 1383. BACK

[14] Marmion (1808) was the follow-up to the hugely popular Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805). BACK

People mentioned

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)