446. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 14 October [1799]

446. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 14 October [1799] ⁠* 

The Hags Disaster [1] 


Oh I have lost my good Night Mare
That carried me safe & sound!
Oh I have lost my good Night Mare
That galloped the Welkin [2]  round!

For Sunday was a parish feast
And all the Church wardens were there,
And the Overseers upon the Poors Rates
Did make most glorious fare.

And there was turtle & venison too
And there was fowl & fish,
And pudding apoplectical
And gout in every dish.

How their chins did wag as they sat at meat
Was a merry sight to see,
But an Alderman he ate the most
Of all the company.

I watchd him as they carried him home
And laid him in his bed,
Ten Porters groand beneath his weight
As he were made of lead.

Oh I have lost my good night mare
That carried me safe & sound,
For the Alderman sleeps & she presses upon
His bellys monstrous round.

While on his back like a sow in a sack
The grunts but ill at ease,
In jolly & custard & codlin tart
The Mare is up to her knees.

The days & nights he yet has lain,
And no word utters he,
And a third shall come ere he can speak
Or the Mare again be free.

And thus the Hag that rides by night
Bewaild her cause of grief,
And her sister heard her piteous plaint
And hastened to her relief.

The Moon was bright & clear the night
And a stable door she shewd,
Where Robin Carriers favorite steed
In his stall well-littered stood.

And thus she bespoke the midnight hag,
Oh cease your lamentation!
For here is a horse that is big enough
To ride the whole corporation.

And you shall ride before, sister,
And I will ride behind,
And thro the welkin wide we’ll go
And we’ll outstrip the wind.

And I shall see my darling fiend
Who dwells beyond the sea,
His eyes of fire drop scalding tears
Of molten iron for me.

And I shall see my black cats ghost
That was wont to range the heath,
He died, poor thing! for very lack
Of paltry infants breath.

Now up they mount – the one before
And the other close behind,
And thro the welkin wide they go
And they outstrip the wind.

No mortal eye could follow them,
No tongue could tell their track,
And before the Sun had his course begun
The Hags & the Horse came back.

Loud crows the cock & Robin is up
For a thrifty lad is he,
And into the stable Robin is gone
His favourite steed to see.

His favourite steed he sees indeed
But ah! in piteous plight,
His flanks were beating too & fro
And his sides with foam were white.

Ah sure, some Witch has ridden thee,
Quoth Robin to his horse,
And over the mountains & over the sea
Has held her cursed course.

Ah I forgot to make thy stall
With magic charm secure,
Forgot to nail the rusty shoe
Against the stable door.

Would I could see Mother Jenkins now
For she has playd me this trick,
My vengeance the hideous hag should feel
At the end of this oaken stick!

Scarce had he spoke when on the ground
He saw two straws that lay,
They tumbled over & over again
As tho they had been at play.

And Robin took up in idle mood
The longest straw to bend,
And doubled it round like the link of a chain,
And fastened it end to end.

When straight he heard a voice without
Cry ‘Sister come away –
Ill luck & pain await thee here –
Ah Sister, do not stay!

And Robin stard like a stuck pig
Beneath the butchers knife,
And let the bended straw fall down,
And trembled for his life.

For the bended straw which Robin held –
Ah! wonderous tale to tell!
In accents to the voice replied
That spake distinct & well –

Sister I cannot follow thee –
Sister I cannot come –
For I am fast bound & my back is made round
And my nose * * * * [3] 

G. C. B.

hiatus valde lacrymabilis! [4] 

Christ Church Monday Oct. 14. My dear Wynn Yours of the 8th I have this morning received. with a few trifling alterations this would make an excellent ballad. it tickles me hugely.

God bless you.

yrs truly

R Southey.


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ Wynnstay/ Wrexham <Holywell>/ Denbighshire <Flintshire>
Postmark: [illegible]
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4819E. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] ‘The Hags Disaster’ is by Grosvenor Bedford. Southey considered including it in Annual Anthology (1799); see Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 2–3 August 1799, Letter 425. BACK

[2] An archaic term for the sky. BACK

[3] Oh I have lost ... ****: Verse written in double columns. BACK

[4] The Latin translates as ‘a truly lamentable gap’. BACK