1457. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 6 May 1808]

1457. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 6 May 1808] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

If Peter Elmsley had not lived so far from town that we were four hours on the way to his house, & as long in returning, you & I should scarcely have seen each other during my long absence from home. This is always the case when I visit London. In the endless hurry & fatigue which it is impossible to avoid, I scarcely ever see my friends, except in large parties, which is almost as bad as [illegible word] seeing them at all; & even in that way I have no opportunity of falling <in> with you. My head too was always full of what I had just done, or what I had next to do: always weary, always in haste, always restless, & with a sense of discomfort produced by the detestable composition of fog, smoke & pulverized horse dung which serves the Londoner for an atmosphere. – I can truly say that the pleasantest minute I past in the capital, was when I seated myself in the stage coach to depart from it. I spent four days with Mr T. Southey at Taunton. He behaved as well as is in his nature to do, & gave me a 25£, – for him an act of great liberality. He walked me over fields in which I could neither feel nor feign an interest, & showed me the plan of an estate in Devonshire for which he had just paid 7,000£, & made five per cent by the purchase. I left him in good humour with me & generally am much in his good graces, – but what hold can there be upon the good will of a man who is growing fond of money, & who by shunning all better society lays himself open to the artifices of low flatterers – just as his brother did before him. Whatever expectations there may be from him have more reference to my children than to me, for he is not yet sixty, & never was there a haler man of his age – my head has more grey hairs in it than his.

Lord Somerville [1]  is selling his estates, & by all that I can learn is doing this in my wrong. How can I ascertain this? I am Cannon Southey’s heir at law, [2]  – & if the last decision be what you supposed it to be, these estates devolve to me in default of issue male from the present heir. The truth is that I know nothing about the matter, & were I to say care nothing about it, it would not be far from the truth. This too concerns my children more than me, – my worldly wealth will be no hindrance to me when I appear at Heaven’s gate: - if it <should> be a turnpike gate it will be well if I have enough to pay Peter for letting me through.

The warm weather after so long a winter began on May day, & I can not xxxx keep within doors, but it draws me like an insect from its hole. – we have launched our boat, & made our first voyage.

I did not see you after I had seen Frere, who promised to let me print some translations of his from parts of the old poem of the Cid [3]  – wonderful translations they are, & will increase the value of the book very considerably, as well as aid the sale of it. – The xxxx dearth of paper put a stop to every thing – I can put nothing to press while it continues at its present enormous price, & Heaven knows when it will be abated. No material abatement can take place till the old state of commerce is restored.

Is there any hope of seeing you in Cumberland this year? – Now that my Uncle is settled in Herefordshire I shall be more likely to pay you occasional visits in Wales, for my way to him will be thro Shrewsbury. Will you direct the enclosed to him the [MS obscured] Herbert Hill, Staunton upon Wye, Hereford.

You urged me not to go see Horne Tooke. [4]  Had it been prest upon me to go I should probably have gone, because nothing could be so unpleasant to me as to have it supposed that I was afraid of visiting him. For this reason I did not promise you to the contrary. But because of your wishes I kept out of the way of the person with whom the thing would have been arranged – or to speak more accurately did not get in his way. Any gratification I might have felt in seeing so remarkable a man was willingly given up, – but I could not bear to have it supposed that I am bound with a treasury chain, & must not go beyond my tether. Independent as relates to money, it is not possible that I shall ever be, – but blessed be God this dependence brings with it no other curse to me than a few worldly cares. – without which I should not have my share of evil in the world. It is too late in the day for me to walk in trammels: & I never shall xx xxx learn to consider whether <in what light> what I say or do may appear to others – till after it is done. I believe too that you overrated the importance of a thing which in itself ha is of none. To strike off my pension would be making me of consequence, & my life for it no body in power ever thinks about me or my pension. Why should they? I think nothing about them, & have literally more to do with any times than xx my own. The worst offence I commit is probably that of when I receive my quarter – & swear at the deduction instead of being thankful for the net sum.

God bless you



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ London
Postmark: FREE/ 6 MY 6/1808
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), I, pp. 371–374 [misdated 1806]. BACK

[1] Southey’s distant relation by marriage John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB) had lost a case concerning John Southey’s estate, which passed to Thomas Southey. BACK

[2] Cannon Southey (dates unknown), the son of John Southey and the heiress Mary Cannon. BACK

[3] John Hookham 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

[4] John Horne Tooke (1736–1812; DNB), the political radical and etymologist, tried for treason in 1794. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Staunton on Wye (mentioned 1 time)