538. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23 July[-before 23 August] 1800

538. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23 July[–before 23 August] 1800 ⁠* 

Cintra. July 23. 1800.

My dear Wynn

Your letter, or packet has, this morning reached me. but thro the Portugueze post office, like all other letters, & at the expence of half a moidore. do not imagine that half a moidore could have procured me an equal quantity of pleasure in any other way, but the people in office, in England, are ignorant of their how far their own privilege extends, & often make us pay a heavy double postage by franking their letters. the direction which I gave you to Captain Yescombe, [1]  Falmouth, covering my direction, will bring all parcels safely & without farther expence than carriage to Falmouth. Letters should go by the regular channel, unless a private hand can take them.

You must long ere this have received my second letter. [2]  I continue in comfortable health & spirits that cast a sunshine upon every thing. I pray you make peace, that I may return in the spring over the Pyrenees. the cause would certainly be good, & so would the effects. – I shall print the whole of Sir Herbert Crofts letter [3]  in the Chatterton & write rascal upon his forehead in very gentlemanly & legible letters, a mark which he shall carry, as Cain [4]  before him, thro all eternity. certainly I am not of the genus irritabile.

Thalaba is finished & I am correcting it. the concluding books you shall shortly receive. the Haleb description [5]  (which is accurate) was an insertion, & shall be an omission. giantly [6]  is not a coinage. it is sterling English of the old mint. I used it to avoid the sameness of sound in The giant tyrant, which <as> it stood at first. you object to “fools of the air”, [7]  & do not remember the elision. you object likewise to a licence which I claim as lawful, that of making two short syllables stand for one long one. the 8th book explains enough what Azrael [8]  had been doing. the previous uncertainty is well. the stork & nightingale [9]  are acknowledged errors. you will I trust find the Paradise a rich poetical picture – a proof that I can employ magnificence & luxury of language when I think them in place. the other faults you point out are remedied.

Thank you for George Stracheys letters. I shall enclose a letter <one> to him, xxxx <when next I write,> – the only mode of conveyance with which I am acquainted. George Strachey & I both of us were sent into the world with feelings likely little likely to push us forward in it. one overwhelming propensity has formed my destiny & marred all prospects of rank or wealth, but it has made me happy, & it will make me immortal – Strachey was when I was his shadow, [10]  was almost my counterpart, but his talents & feelings found no centre, & <therefore they> have been scattered. he will probably succeed in worldly prospects far better than I shall do, but he will not be so happy a man, & his genius will bring forth no fruits. I love him dearly, & I know he never can lose the instinctive attachment which led to our boyish intimacy. Yet Strachey shrunk from me in London. I met him at your rooms – he was the same immutable character – I walked home with him at night, our conversation was unreserved – & in silence & solitude I rejoiced even with tears that I <had> found xxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxx <again the friend that was lost>. from that time a hasty visit is all I saw of him. it was his indolence – I know he esteems me. Our former coolness, I remember among my follies. you were with me when I atoned for it by a voluntary letter, & you saw an answer such as I had reason to expect. I wrote again to him, a common young mans letter; he never answered it. the fact was I had the disease of epistolizing & he had not. – Our future intercourse cannot be much. by the time he returns to London I trust I shall have retired from it, & pitched my tent near the churchyard in which I shall be buried Of the E. Indies I know not enough to estimate the reason & reasonableness of his dislike. were I single it is a country which would tempt me, as offering the shortest & most certain way to wealth, & many curious objects of literary pursuit. About the language S. is right. it is a baboon jargon not worth learning: but were I there I would get the Vedans, [11]  & get them translated. it is rather disgraceful that the most important acquisition of Oriental learning should have been given us by a Frenchman. but Anquetil du Perron [12]  was certainly a far more usefull & meritorious Orientalist than Sir Wm Jones, [13]  who disgraced himself by enviously abusing him. latterly Sir Williams works are the dreams of dotage. I have some distant view of manufacturing a Hindoo romance, wild as Thalaba: & a nearer one of a Persian story of which see the germ of vitality. I take the system of the Zendavesta for my mythology, & introduce the powers of Darkness persecuting a Persian, one of the hundred & fifty sons of the Great King: every evil they inflict, becomes the cause of developing in him some virtue which his prosperity had smothered. an Athenian captive is a prominent character – & the whole warfare of the Evil Power ends in exulting a Persian Prince into a Citizen of Athens. I pray you be Greek enough to like that catastrophe, & forget France when you think of Attic republicanism.

I have written no line of Poetry here except the four books of Thalaba, nor shall I till they are corrected & sent off, & my mind compleatly delivered of that subject. some credit may be expected from the poem, & if the Booksellers will not give me 100 £ for a 4to edition of 500 copies – or 140 for a pocket one of 1000: why they shall not have the poem. [14] 

I long to see the face of a friend, & hunger after the bread & butter comforts & green fields of England. yet do I feel so strongly the effects of climate – & I am now sweating in my shirt while I write, in the coolness of Cintra, a darkened room, & a wet floor – yet so much better do I like the climate & feel it, that I certainly wish my lot could be cast somewhere in the south of Europe. the spot I am in is the most beautifull I have ever seen or imagined – I ride a jack ass – a fine lazy way of travelling – you have even a boy to beat old dapple when he is slow. I eat oranges figs & delicious pears. drink Colaras wine – a sort of half way excellence between Port & Claret. read all I can lay my hands on – dream of poem after poem & play after play, take a sesta of two hours, & am as happy as if life was but one everlasting today, & that tomorrow was not to be provided for.

Here is a long letter about myself & not a word about Portugal. my next shall be a brimming sheet of anecdotes. Sir Herberts hue & cry is as if a convicted pickpocket should charge the Constable with an assault for taking him up. it is not unlikely that some of my friends in England may take him in hand.

I am sorry Strachey is so disgusted with India, tho I cannot wish he were otherwise. from all accounts an English East Indian is a very bad animal. they have adopted by force the luxury of the country & its tyranny & pride by choice – a man who feels & thinks must be in solitude there. yet the comfort is that your wages are certain – so many years of toil for such a fortune at last. Is a young man wise who devotes the best years of his life to such a speculation. – alas if he is than am I a pitiable blockhead but to me the fable of the ant & grasshopper [15]  has long appeared a bad one. the ant hoards & hoards for a season in which he is torpid – the grasshopper – there is one singing merrily among the canes – God bless him! I wish you could see one with his wings & his vermilion legs. God bless you. write often & let me have a very long letter upon short paper, as postage is by weight. remember me to Elmsley. & pray pull Bedfords ears till I hear him bray – I wish my burro boy could get at him


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] ’To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ 5. Stone Buildings /Lincolns Inn/ London <Chester Circuit>
Stamped: LISBON
Postmark: FOREIGN OFFICE/ AU/ 23
Endorsements: Augt 23d; July 23 1800
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. AL; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 94–98 [in part]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 103–104 [in part]. BACK

[1] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765–1803), Captain of the packet, King George, which sailed between Falmouth and Lisbon. BACK

[2] Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [8]–15 June 1800, Letter 530. BACK

[3] Herbert Croft, Chatterton and ‘Love and Madness’. A letter from Denmark to Mr. Nichols, Editor of the Gentleman’s Magazine, where it appeared in February, March and April 1800; Respecting an Unprovoked Attack, made upon the Writer during his Absence from England (1800). BACK

[4] Genesis 4: 1–16. Cain murdered his brother Abel and was banished from Eden. However, God put a mark on Cain’s forehead so that nobody should kill him. BACK

[5] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 6, line 338 mentions the city of Haleb. In the manuscript copy of Thalaba sent to Wynn (National Library of Wales, MS 1487A) this is followed by six lines of description of the city, omitted in the published version. BACK

[6] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 5, line 307. BACK

[7] Southey inserts a note: ‘I had written at first fowls of Heaven – but Heaven occurs a few lines above – but the line is wholly altered this day. 26 July.’ i.e. corrections Southey made to Thalaba during composition. BACK

[8] Azrael, the archangel of death in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[9] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 5, line 153; Book 6, line 264. BACK

[10] At Westminster School Strachey was ‘substance’ to Southey’s ‘shadow’ and thus responsible for teaching him the customs and rules of the school. BACK

[11] The Vedas, the sacred texts of Hinduism. BACK

[12] Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil Du Perron (1731–1805), Zend-Avesta (1771), a translation into French of some of the key sacred writings of Zoroastrianism. BACK

[13] The British orientalist Sir William Jones (1746–1794; DNB) claimed that du Perron had been duped and had accepted a collection of forgeries as the ancient text of the Zend-Avesta. BACK

[14] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was published in octavo, or pocket, form. Southey received £115 for 1,000 copies. BACK

[15] A fable by Aesop: the grasshopper sings all summer and then starves in winter, while the ant works hard to store up provisions and so survives. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 2 times)