1500. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [late August/early September 1808]

1500. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [late August/early September 1808] ⁠* 

Keswick, 1808.

My dear Wynn,

I have been for the last seven days incessantly at work upon my old volume of Letters, [1]  which it is thought proper to reprint at this time. By well weeding it, referring to the original journal, and hunting out local information, it is made into a respectable book, and one which future travellers will find useful. It will be printed in two small volumes, making the whole of my operas in that size twenty-two-a pretty regiment when in good uniform. It required some effort of prudential patience in me not to write to you two days ago, immediately upon the receipt of an epistle from Horse Campbell. The Equus Evangelizans (who sayeth that he hath no taste in poetry for anything above a tabernacle hymn?) has taken occasion from ‘Kirke White’s Remains’ [2]  to write and inquire of me whether I may not have suppressed some edifying papers, because they differed from my own sentiments. This, however, he has done with all possible civility, and it prefaces an attempt to convert me to the Calvinist faith, and an invitation to Shrewsbury. The letter is by no means a bad one: you know there was always a spice of shrewdness in the Horse, which gave a finer flavour to his absurdity. I give him full credit for sincerity, and had a gush of laughter upon discovering who the epistle came from, which was honestly worth five shillings, and would have been worth five guineas if you and Elmsley had been here to have participated in it.

Nothing makes me so melancholy as to ‘call over the names’ at Westminster. I tried to find out Combe in London, but he was not to be heard of at the Temple. It is about six years since I saw him. Both he and I have grown into men with as little change as possible in either and yet, after a few minutes, there was a dead weight upon me which was not to be shaken off. We met with the heartiness of old and thorough familiarity – something like a family feeling; but it was necessary to go back to school, for the moment we ceased to be schoolboys there was nothing in common between us. We had no common acquaintance or pursuit, and I feel that of all things in the world there is nothing more mortifying than to meet an old friend from whom you have had no weaning, and to find your friendship cut through at the root.

A Westminster man of our times, though I cannot for the life of me remember him, travelled with me from Liverpool – a Captain Murray. [3]  He was certainly of our time, and at the same boarding-house. He told me ––––– [4]  was a colonel in the army, and has served in Egypt, where he was just as much detested by the soldiers as he had been at school. His halter, therefore, has not yet got into the collection.

I prophesied about the Spaniards at Bedford’s to William Nicol [5]  and Bull Beresford, [6]  and Nicol has acknowledged me for a true prophet. It is indeed a scene unparalleled in history, and a more glorious one never has and never can be exhibited to the world. Landor (Gebir) is gone as a volunteer. I know not whether we ought to desire a renewal of the war in Germany or not. If North Germany could be roused, that would be something; but from Austria it seems to me that no good can be expected till its Government be cut up root and branch. A diversion there will give Bonaparte a pretext for abandoning Spain. He will beat the Austrians and freshen his popularity in France by so doing; the Spaniards will be tempted to cross the Pyrenees, and there they would probably meet with defeats of which I have no fear while they remain on the right side, even though their enemy were tenfold mightier than he is.

Mr. T. Southey’s conduct is literal madness beyond a doubt. My brother Tom, knowing nothing of his quarrel with his sister, called there on his way to Plymouth; he was with the haymakers, and had his back towards him when he approached. ‘How d’ye do, sir?’ says Tom; and ‘How d’ye do?’ he answered, without turning his face. ‘You seem very busy, sir.’ ‘Very busy.’ Not a word more; so that Tom could not avoid saying, ‘I think, sir, you don’t seem glad to see me.’ ‘I never desire to see any of the family.’ Tom then went to the house to look for his aunt, and heard from the servants that ‘he had used her worse than a dog,’ and turned her out of doors. She herself is a woman whose spirit has been long since broken down, and who would bear, and did bear, a great deal in the hope of serving us; and even now she begs me to say nothing which can offend him, because she thinks I am not quite out of his good graces. And I believe this very fear of making him displeased with me prevents her from coming here, as I have urgently requested her to do. It does not fall to every man’s lot to have had two such precious uncles. [7] 

I wish you a boy with all my heart: for myself, it will perfectly satisfy me if what I look for about the same time should prove a girl. The prospect of a large family gives me no uneasiness whatsoever. If it please God to let me go through the career which I have begun, they will be well provided for; and if it be His will to call me away, they will find friends, and I shall find that justice which is as seldom denied to the dead as it is granted to the living.

Can you procure for me Dick Adderley’s address? [8]  I should like to send him a copy of the ‘Cid,’ [9]  for the sake of sending a letter with it, and getting one from him. He had the best heart for an Irishman that I ever knew, and it grieves me that such a man should be so lost. There was another poor fellow in our remove whom I would have travelled far to have shaken by the hand, and that was poor O’Keefe; [10]  but he was blighted and blasted by adversity more than by imprudence. In fair weather and kindly sunshine he was one who would have flourished and brought forth fruit. I loved O’Keefe because I never saw that man whose tears of mirth or of compassion were so suddenly excited. There was a drunkenness of joy in his merriment which was catching, but when drunkenness was really superadded, it was madness, and then his ruin.

God help us! it is perilous travelling, when a man turns out of the broad turnpike way of the world; and yet night and morning do I thank God for leading me into the by-path which has brought me where I am. Oh, that you could at this moment see the moonlight upon Derwentwater, and the cloud in which the moon herself is hidden!

R. S.


* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 92–96.
Dating note: dating suggested by Curry in ‘Missing letters and missing names’. BACK

[1] Letters Written during a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797), which were reprinted in 1808 in an expanded form as Letters written during a Journey in Spain, and a Short Residence in Portugal. BACK

[2] The Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham (1807), which were edited by Southey. BACK

[3] Unidentified. BACK

[4] Unidentified. BACK

[5] William Nicol (d. c. 1855), publisher, and friend of Grosvenor Bedford’s. He was the son of George Nicol (1740?-1828), in whose publishing firm he became a partner in 1800. BACK

[6] Southey described this Westminster schoolmate thus in 1817: ‘A good natured worthy fellow, who was in the same remove with me, & expected to find himself with a competence after his fathers death. The father has an office <situation> in the Stamp Office & employed B. under him, – but he died worth nothing & B. needs some floatage of this kind, till he can commence practise as a Solicitor, for which he is preparing’. BACK

[7] The second uncle in question was John Southey. BACK

[8] Richard Boyle Adderley (dates unknown), a friend of Southey’s during his time at Westminster School, admitted 1785. BACK

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

[10] John Tottenham O’Keeffe (1775/76–1803), elder son of the dramatist John O’Keeffe of Dublin (1747–1833; DNB). O’Keeffe was a schoolboy at Westminster with Southey; in 1791 he went up to Trinity College Cambridge but transferred to Exeter College Oxford in 1798. He took his BA in 1801, was ordained, became a minister at Duke St Chapel, Westminster, and in 1803 gained a living in Jamaica, where he died three weeks after his arrival. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)