569. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 21 February 1801

569. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 21 February 1801 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

Your letter gave me the first detail of the great news. [1]  a passage of four days xxxx made it as fresh as possible & we are here cursing winds & water that we must wait a fortnight before another mail can reach us.

What will happen? the breach is made & this lath & plaister cannot long keep out the weather. Will the old administration be strong enough to force their plans upon the crown? possible. equally so that the art of alarming in which they were so proficient may now be turned successfully against them. Yet on this point, the whole body of opposition is with them, & the whole intellect of the country. I rather expect after more inefficient changes the establishment of opposition – & peace. the helm requires a strong hand.

Decidedly as my own principles lead to toleration I yet think in the sufferance of converts & proselytism it has been carried too far. you might as well let a fire burn or a pestilence spread, as suffer the propagation of popery. I hate & abhor it from the bottom of my soul. & the only antidote is poison – Voltaire & such writers cut up the wheat with the tares. the monastic establishments in England ought to be dissolved. as for the Priests, they will for the most part find their way into France. they who remain should not be suffered to recruit & would soon die away in peace. I half fear a breach of the Union [2]  – perhaps anxxother rebellion in that cursed country. alas – that earthquakes & volcanos cannot be inoculated!

I do not purpose returning till the year of my house-rent be compleat, & shall then leave Lisbon with regret. in spite of English house-comforts & the all-in-all happiness of living among old friends & familiar faces, xxx xxx of this climate so compleatly changes my whole animal being that I would exchange every thing for it. It is not Lisbon, – Italy or the South of Spain or of France would perhaps offer greater inducements if the possibility of a foreign settlement existed.

On my history [3]  no labour shall be spared. now I only heap marble x xxxx the edifice must be erected in England – but I must return again to the quarry. You will find my style plain & short & of condensed meaning. plain as a Doric building [4]  – & I trust of eternal durability. The notes will drain off all quaintness. I have no doubt of making a work by which I shall be honourably remembered. You shall see it, & Elmsly if he will take the trouble, before publication. Of profit I must not be sanguine, yet if it attain the reputation of Robertson – than whom it will not be worse, or of Roscoe & Gibbon [5]  than whom it will assuredly be better, it will procure me something more substantial than fame. – My price for Thalaba was for 1000 copies – 115 pounds. twelve copies being allowed me. the booksellers would have bargained for a quarto edition also, but it would have been illjudged to have glutted the public, & they at least delayed correction. the money is gone to settle my brother Henry with a Surgeon [6]  – & thus secure him a useful profession.

I expect in the ensuing winter to be ready with my first volume. to hurry it would be injudicious, & historic labour will be relieved by employing myself in correcting Madoc. [7]  my intention is therefore to journey thro North Wales next summer to the Lakes where Coleridge is settled, & to pass the autumn (their summer) there – for a Welsh map of the roads & what-to-be-seen you must be my director. perhaps too you might in another way assist Madoc, by pointing out what manners or superstition of the Welsh would look well in blank verse. much may have escaped me – & some necessarily must. Long as this poem (from the age of 14) [8]  has been in my head, & long as its sketch has now lain by me, I now look on at no very distant date to its publication, after an ample revision & recasting. you will see it & scrutinize it when corrected.

Leoline (the Welsh name is Llewellin & the Latinism is certainly non-descript) – & the Botch-Hayes Episode are gone down the bottomless pool, [9]  & Thalaba is now a whole & unembarrassed story. the introduction of Laila is not an episode – it is so connected with the murder of Hodeirah & the after actions of Thalaba as to be essentially part of the tale. Thalaba has certainly & inevitably the fault of Samson Agonistes [10]  – its parts might change place. but in a Romance epic laws may be dispensed with. its faults now are verbal, but such as it <is>, I know no poem which can claim a place between it & Orlando. [11]  Let it be weighed with the Oberon [12]  perhaps – were I to speak out – I should not dread a trial with Ariosto. <my> his proportion of ore to dross is greater. perhaps the Anti Jacobine criticasters may spark Thalaba; it is so utterly innocent of all good drift; it may pass by the world like Richard Cromwell [13]  notwithstanding the sweet savour of its [MS obscured] name. Do you know that they have caricatured me between Fox & Norfolk worshipping Bonaparte? [14]  poor me – at Lisbon – who have certainly molested nothing but Portugueze spiders! Amen! I am only afraid my company will be ashamed of me – one at least – he is too good for me – & upon my soul I think myself too good for the other.

The Spanish Ambassador [15]  truckled off for Madrid this morning – he is a bad imitation of a hogshead in make. All is alarm here – & I sweat in cursed cold weather for my books, creditors alas for many a six-&-thirty! We have two allies more faithful than Austria (the honest [MS torn] Paul the Magnanimous. [16]  Famine & the Yellow Fever but the American Gentleman is asleep till summer, & as for Famine she is as busy in England as here. I rejoice in the eventual effects of scarcity – the cultivation of the wastes. the population bills  [17]  you probably know to be Rickmans – for which he has long been soliciting Rose, [18]  & the management is his of course & compliment. it is of important utility.

Of the red wines I spoke in my last. Will you have Bucellas as it can be got? it should be kept rather in a garret than a cellar – a place dry & warm. but ample direction shall be sent with it. you may perhaps get old now, when so just an alarm prevails. new is better than none – because it will improve even in ideal value should Portugal be closed to England. its price will little if at all differ from Port or Lisbon – it is your vile taxes that make the expence. & by the by I must vent a monstrous curse against the duty upon foreign books – sixpence per pound weight if bound. it is abominable.

farewell & God bless you. – I am going next week on my journey – I have again drawn for 40 £. some statement is due to you. My price for Thalaba is gone – I had calculated on a surplus for myself – but there was a deficiency. books have cost me more than would be justifiable were they not a stock in trade & responsible debtors. my expences out run me – but the labour of a year at home will overtake them.

About Chatterton [19]  – my first job will be to send the edition to press as soon as the number of copies can be ascertained. I hope it may reach 750. for Sir Herbert I shall treat him with severe superiority, & chastise him with xxx unmerciful calmness. About the red haired Xtian [20]  in Thalaba – tis a Turk receipt for poison – but a Turk might have done less certainly. sus-per-col [21]  is a blunder of yours he being sus – the other way.

yrs affectionately

R Southey.

Feby. 21. 1801. Lisbon


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: LISBON
Postmark: FOREIGN OFFICE/ MR/ 14
Endorsement: Feb 21/ 1801
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 131-135; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 149-150 [in part]. BACK

[1] William Pitt (1759-1806, Prime Minister 1783-1801, 1804-1806; DNB) resigned as Prime Minister on 16 February 1801, mainly over the refusal of George III to agree to any measures to relieve the civil disabilities on Roman Catholics. The fall of his ministry was also expected to pave the way for peace with France. BACK

[2] The Union between Great Britain and Ireland, which came into effect on 1 January 1801. BACK

[3] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[4] Believed to be the earliest and plainest style of Greek architecture. BACK

[5] The well-known eighteenth-century historians William Robertson (1721-1793; DNB), William Roscoe and Edward Gibbon (1737-1794; DNB). BACK

[6] Philip Meadows Martineau (1752-1829), surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and a member of the Martineau family, prominent Unitarians in Norwich. BACK

[7] Southey had written a version of Madoc in 1797-1799. He revised it extensively in 1803-1804 and published the poem in 1805. BACK

[8] Southey had completed a prose outline of Madoc as early as 1789. BACK

[9] Central features of the early draft of Book 12 of Thalaba the Destroyer; see Southey to Wynn, 30-[31] December 1800, Letter 563. ‘Botch Hayes’ was Samuel Hayes (d. c. 1795), a master at Westminster School during Southey’s time there. He was renowned for being lax on discipline, so much so that Southey later recorded that pupils used to ‘stick his wig full of paper darts’. Hayes was also a writer of poems and sermons, and co-author of a tragedy, Eugenia (1766). BACK

[10] Samson Agonistes (1671), a tragic closet drama by John Milton (1608-1674; DNB). BACK

[11] Orlando Furioso (1532), by the Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533). BACK

[12] Christoph Wieland (1733-1813), German poet and author of Oberon (1780). BACK

[13] Richard Cromwell (1626-1712, Lord Protector 1658-1659; DNB) returned to England from exile in the 1680s and lived undisturbed under an assumed name. BACK

[14] Charles James Fox (1749-1806, Foreign Secretary 1782, 1783 and 1806; DNB) and Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk (1746-1815; DNB) were leaders of the opposition Whig group who wished to make peace with France, led by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). Southey appears to have been given the wrong information: no such caricature appeared in the Anti-Jacobin. BACK

[15] The Ambassador’s name is not recorded in contemporary reports; he left because Spain was about to declare war on Portugal. BACK

[16] Paul I (1754-1801, Tsar of Russia 1796-1801). BACK

[17] The Census Act became law on 31 December 1800 and authorised the first census of 1801. BACK

[18] George Rose (1744-1818), MP Launceston 1784-1790, Christ Church 1790-1818, Clerk of the Parliaments 1788-1801. BACK

[19] Southey and Cottle’s edition of the Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803). BACK

[20] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 9, lines 616-653, in which a red-haired Christian boy is sacrificed so that poison can be extracted from his dying body. BACK

[21] An abbreviation of ‘suspendatur per colum’, Latin for ‘let him be hanged by the neck’; the phrase was written in the calendar of attainted criminals against the name of someone convicted of a capital crime. The red-haired boy was hanged upside down, so he was ‘sus – the other way’. BACK

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