1484. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [July 1808]

1484. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [July 1808] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

Colonel Shipleys Mort Arthur [1]  never went out of my possession, & hardly out of my sight. The extract which I made from the Preface myself, & positively certain I am that it could not possibly have received any injury in Rickmans house. I have somewhere about half the Mort Arthur in that same edition, – which was lent out long ago & whether I shall ever be able to recover it is somewhat doubtful, – but if that be the case, & the leaf which is missing in Colonel Shipleys happens to be in it, I will very gladly supply the defect in his, – my own fragment being fit for nothing else, but doing such a good office.

Two causes will prevent me from falling into the fault against which you caution me. a conviction that I am in danger of it, – & the necessity there is for compressing as much as possible, xxx to gain room. Unluckily the History of Brazil [2]  with which I must begin gives me no opportunity of committing this fault – <it does> not conmence till an age when all beauty of costume was over.

The claim of eleven copies is very oppressive, & your plan for meeting it is the best possible. If it be persisted in, move that the several libraries entitled to these copies be on their part bound to print catalogues – to one of which every person paying his tax of these said copies, shall be entitled on demand, – this, & some new regulations for making the books there accessible, would be of service to literature. [3]  – I do not see the force of your reasons against the entail of copy-right in the family of the author. Annotators might always make their terms with the proprietors: & if they could not the example of Warton Upton & Douce [4]  might advantageously be followed. Is it not certain that those works which are known to be, or estimated to be the best in the language, have xxx lain in obscurity for a longer time, than ever this enlarged term which the new bill purposes to allow us? look for instance at Hartley on Man: [5]  a book scarcely heard of till it had been published forty years. – As for myself I think I have devised a method of eluding the laws of copyright, – so as to give my family the whole term which the law is pleased to allow, – & that is by the simple plan of never publishing another poem while I live, – but writing on as sedulously as I can, & leaving them for posthumous publication. They will then become valuable.

I have more hope from Spain than you seem to feel. You will see in the Review of Semples Travels what I said upon that subject twelve months ago. [6]  It has long been my opinion that if we ever lived to see the deliverance of Europe, Spain was the country in which it would begin, & this I thought, because in no other country does there exist so strong a feeling of patrotism & notional pride. As for our Ministry – & especially as for our War Office, – oh my dear Wynn what a lucky thing it was for the Spaniards that Bonaparte kidnapped their government for them! – Spain will deliver herself by her own right arm, – the spirit of liberty has broken out; – nothing else could possibly check the power of France, & it is not alone the power of France that can extinguish it. – I lose all patience at hearing Whitbread talk of peace. [7]  That man has drank his own rascally porter so long, that there is not a drop of <unadulterated> honest English blood left in his veins.

If your mountain & mine could be bought a little nearer together, I should not have much scruple as to what became of the flat country that seperates them. Roscoes pamphlets have damned one party in Liverpool & the other party damned themselves for the love of General Tarleton & the Slave Trade. [8] 

You shall soon have Kehama [9]  in sequence as it proceeds – It has been much altered since Bedfords sheets were transcribed, – & a good deal of rhyme inserted, – For this last fortnight I have been confined by a severe catarrh, – to call it a cold could not express the severity of this disease with me. I am still suffering from it, – but hope it is abating. Yours has been a more serious attack – & I hope you have not travelled too soon after it.

God bless you


The Cid will be ready in about three weeks – but I have not yet got the translations which Frere promised me. [10] 


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr. M. P./ Acton/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D (undated letters). ALS; 4p.
Dating note: From the internal evidence of Southey’s catarrh attack and his progress with the Chronicle of the Cid which was published in 1808. BACK

[1] Lt. Colonel William Shipley (1778–1820; DNB), a neighbour of Wynn’s in north Wales, married Wynn’s sister Charlotte in 1806. He owned a rare printing of Sir Thomas Malory (1415/18–1471; DNB), Morte d’Arthur, probably through his father William Davies Shipley (1745–1826; DNB). BACK

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

[3] Southey is discussing Wynn’s participation in parliamentary debates, during June 1808, concerning a Bill for the further encouragement of Learning in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, by securing to the Libraries of the Universities, and other public libraries, copies of all newly-printed books, and books reprinted with additions, and by further securing the copies and copyright of printed Books to the authors of such books, or their assigns, for a time to be limited. BACK

[4] Three editors of other poets’ works: Thomas Warton (1728–1790; DNB) published Observations on the Faerie Queene of Spenser in 1754 and a History of English Poetry, finishing three volumes (1774, 1777, 1781). The fragment of a fourth volume was issued in 1790. A revised edition in four volumes was published in 1824, incorporating annotations and other material by Francis Douce. Douce published Illustrations of Shakespeare, and of Ancient Manners in 1807. John Upton (1707–1760; DNB), Warton’s friend, edited and annotated Arrian’s Epictetus in two volumes (1739–1741); and made a new edition, with glossary and notes, of Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1758) (DNB). BACK

[5] David Hartley (1705–1757; DNB), Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations (1749). BACK

[6] Annual Review for 1807, 6 (1808), 118–130. BACK

[7] Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB), brewer, Whig politician and advocate of a negotiated peace with Napoleon. BACK

[8] Roscoe’s Considerations on the Causes and Consequences of the Present War (February 1808) and Remarks on the Proposals Made to Great Britain for Opening Negotiations for Peace in the Year 1807 (1808). These pamphlets were answered by A Letter to W. Roscoe, Containing Strictures on His Late Publication Entitled ‘Considerations on the Causes, Objects and Consequences of the Present War’ (1808) and A Review of Mr. Roscoe’s Considerations on the Causes of the Present War, and the Expediency of a Peace with France (1808). General Sir Banastre Tarleton, 1st Baronet (1754–1833; DNB) was MP for Liverpool from 1790–1812 and an opponent of the campaign to abolish the slave trade. BACK

[9] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[10] 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

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