443. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 10 October 1799

443. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 10 October 1799 ⁠* 

Christ-Church. Hampshire. Oct 10. 99

My dear Wynn

We reached this place Tuesday night last. there is one advantage in the neighbourhood of the sea, that if we are about to have the world purified by a second deluge, there may be boats at hand. moreover Spithead is at no great distance & a first rate has as good accommodations as Noahs ark could have had.

I received an ugly piece of intelligence on my arrival here. casting an eye over the paper Edith saw that the Sylph brig (my brothers ship) was safely lodged in Ferrol harbour. [1]  whether there had been any previous action or not we do not know, & it will probably be long before any intelligence can reach us.

Almost I envy you your domestic feelings at Wynnstay. with the most domestic propensities & root-striking readiness, since my childhood I have never felt myself at home. still looking on to some settled dwelling place I have still been disappointed. here I am settling my mother, & we are now all hurry & discomfort. the moment I can at all endure confinement I will remove to London; at present I continue in the same state – well when in the use of great exercise, disordered by a days indolence.

I am anxious to see what reception one of the Series of Plays [2]  will meet with if brought on the stage. dramatic writing is very difficult. to make common tragedies or comedies is easy childsplay – I should find it easier to satisfy an audience than to satisfy myself. Our stage seems to have reached the very depth of degradation. it is impossible to sink below Pizarro. [3]  Kotzebues play might have passed as the worst possible, if Sheridan had not proved the possibility of making it worse. The London audience is a very good natured one. they will be pleased with any thing, whatever the manager chuses to provide, the dullness of sentimental comedy, the vulgarity of broad farce, the Lincolnshire-fen-flatness of Mr Whaleys tragedy [4]  – or the puppet show of Pizarro. all in their turn! this however is in my favour. In looking back upon the list of English plays it is astonishing among those that have obtained any celebrity to see how few deserve it. Shakespere stands above all other names. I never feel so proud of my country as when I remember that Milton & Shakespere were Englishmen, the two unequalable men. & Bacon & Newton in philosophy. [5]  & after these names we can equal the rest of the world. How comes it that Wales has produced no great man? we take Taliessin [6]  upon trust, probably much to his advantage but since play <they> learnt to speak English your countrymen have never said anything to be remembered.

did I tell you xx three months ago that I had finished the outline of Madoc? I much wish you to see it, & would send it if I could trust my only copy to the chance of carriage. here it lies unlookd at, till all the freshness of self-satisfaction be worn off, or transferrd to some younger birth, & then unsparingly to work. at present I like it so well that it has half put me out of humour with all my older writings. in my alteration I meant to have carried him to Florida, but the perusal of Sotos expedition [7]  there has convinced me that the Welsh would could not have succeeded in settling where the Spaniards attempted it in vain. so I now think of the banks of the Orinoco or Maragnon. Brazil, Paraguay, or El-dorado. with Mango Capac [8]  it is impossible even for a poet to identify him. at least without the sacrifice of all his companions – & I have not the heart to drown them.

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Direct Burton near

Ringwood. Hampshire.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ Wynnstay/ Wrexham/ Denbighshire
Postmark: E/ OCT 11/ 99
Endorsement: Oct 10 99
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), I, pp. 86–88. BACK

[1] It was widely reported in the British Press in early October 1799, e.g. St James’s Chronicle, 5 October 1799, that the brig, Sylph, on which Tom Southey was serving, had been captured and was at the Spanish port of Ferrol. BACK

[2] None of the plays published in Joanna Baillie (1762–1851; DNB), A Series of Plays: In Which it is Attempted to Delineate the Stonger Passions of the Mind (1798) were staged until De Montfort in 1800. BACK

[3] Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816; DNB), Pizarro (1799) was a huge success, performed 31 times at Drury Lane, London between 24 May and 29 June 1799. A combination of August von Kotzebue’s (1761–1819) Die Sonnenjungfrau (1788) and Die Spanier in Peru (1796), Sheridan’s play focused on the conquest of the Incan Empire by Francisco Pizarro (1471/6–1541). BACK

[4] Thomas Sedgwick Whalley (1746–1828; DNB), clergyman and poet, whose The Castle of Montval (1781) opened at Drury Lane on 23 April 1799 to a lukewarm response. BACK

[5] The scientists Francis Bacon (1561–1616; DNB) and Isaac Newton (1643–1727; DNB). BACK

[6] Sixth-century Welsh bard whose work is only known from the medieval Book of Taliesin. BACK

[7] Hernando de Soto (1496/7–1542) led a Spanish expedition which landed in Florida in 1539 and undertook a huge journey of exploration through the southern part of North America, without finding a suitable place for a settlement. BACK

[8] Legendary founder of the Inca state. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 1 time)