578. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 30 April 1801

578. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 30 April 1801 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

On my return from a long journey thro Alentejo & Algarve I found three letters from you. two scraps & the longer one in which you plead for the Catholic emancipation. [1]  the play [2]  is not mine, – & therefore for the poor authors sake ought to be publicly disavowed lest the Anti Jacobines [3]  damn it. be assured that whatever private or public gossip may say of my employment must be false, if you had not previously heard it from the very best authority. About Chatterton [4]  – nothing can be done here. I have only to print his collected works as soon as the numbers of subscribers justify me. less than 500 would not raise an adequate sum – & I do not believe the list as yet exceeds three. At present my idea is to dedicate it to Sir Herbert – briefly & calmly but with the utmost severity of which I am capable – in the language not of a pleader against him but of the Judge who authoritavely condemns. whatever I do you shall see & approve – this appears the best method. Of the Days of Queen Mary [5]  only the opening is written – & it stands – the History [6]  occupies me more – my heart & soul are in the work – I hope you will like the plain – compressed, unornamented style, in which I endeavour to unite strength & perspicuity. a little mannerism is not perhaps objectionable – at least the language of every classical author is peculiarly his own. labour I do not spare – if the work have but half the success of Gibbons [7]  or of Roscoes its profits will be important. I know that it shall be of more permanent reputation.

I cannot argue against toleration. yet is Popery in its nature so very damnable & destructive a system that I could not give a vote for its sufferance in England. I could no more permit the existence of a monastic establishment, than the human sacrifices of Mexican idolatry. you say forbid their endowment – but the great pillars of monkery are those orders that cannot be endowed – the whole family of Franciscans. you say they are bound by no law & may come out of their convents. but they are bound by their own law – by vows blasphemous to Almighty God, & treasonable to human nature & civil society. Of all Catholics the Irish are the most bigotted & bloody. here we know them. there is danger from the increase of Popery – your higher classes – your middle class are turning infidels – true. but look at the great body of the poor – with what a hunger & thirst for the marvellous they swallow every new dose of superstition. observe the growth of methodism – perhaps more nearly connected with popery than is generally imagined. I have reason to believe they have arrived at confession already. All I would prohibit should be the monastic institutions. educate their priests in England. tolerate the counter-poisons of Deism & Atheism – the great antidotes. these caustics are rooting out the cancer here & in Spain. they will indeed make a sore wound – but not a deadly one.

I have now travelled about a thousand miles in Portugal, & acquired a tolerably accurate knowledge of the greater part of the Kingdom. the northern provinces are yet unvisited. I wish much to remain another year – it would so compleatly suit my inclinations – health & pursuits – but my Mother is looking anxiously for my return & home I must go – if a man who has no fixed place of rest may use the word. I am in perfect health. for six months not one seizure – not one symptom has annoyed me. but I dread an English winter, & the worse blasts of an English spring. my stay may be from 4 to 6 weeks longer. sooner I cannot well depart – nor for the heats remain later – as to remove to Cintra would not be worth the expence & trouble. If there should be a Bristol bound ship I shall for oeconomy sake embark in it. the packet passage being now advanced to 20 guineas. On my return I shall soon leave Bristol to pass thro Wales to the Lakes, there to pass the Autumn & perhaps the winter. my Welsh abode & excursions you may regulate. the History will be my employments – to that I shall devote myself – relieving labour by the correction of Madoc [8]  – I have ample materials for a volume of letters upon this country – but no wish to publish them. they might produce me from 60 to 80 pounds – but the time subtracted from the greater employment would render it a bad speculation. for the same reason it will be more advantageous to wait for the slow profits of the great work than again to engage in reviewing – or write rhymes for the Morning Post. these are things for after consideration. a years labour will certainly fit a first quarto for the Press, & so far forward Madoc as to have it ready when wanted – but as Madoc must be my monument I am little anxious to erect it in my life time. The Hindu Romance – The Curse of Keradou– has matured into a very good & very extraordinary plan [9]  – which has become a favourite with me. when it will be embodied depends upon the success of Thalaba. In the passage you think obscure – The torch a broader blaze – the unpruned taper flares a longer flame [10]  – the verb applies to both. the syntax in Thalabas prayer is that of Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace [11]  – – let not thou  [12]  is the imperative or rather the intreating mood. I now am satisfied with the last books. the first is in my own judgement the worst of the poem as not enough connected. about the Xtian captive you are right – it ought to be a Turk [MS torn]tyr – & shall be so when I correct for another edition. [13] 

In my journeys I have literally seen & noted so much that I say nothing because there is so much to communicate. you shall see my journals [14]  & little recollection books when we meet. the state of the country is far worse than even I myself imagined. No person can possibly travel it without longing ardently to see a revolution. the very soil is ruined. any man who wants to turns another out of a farm has only to offer its needy Lord a years rent in advance, for they are all at rack-rent. of course no man can venture to improve land for a second years prospect. Cattle are very scarce. the English troops have almost exhausted them. I was lately at Faro – one of the most flourishing cities in Portugal & containing 20,000 inhabitants. the usual quantity of meat killed is one cow a week. rarely two. the week I was there an unprecedented circumstance occurred – one cow & two heifers of which <one> was killed lest it should die. nor must you think of English beef – these are lean cattle – gristle & bones. mutton they will not eat but sometimes buy it as goats flesh. beans – lupins – fish – these are the food of the people. I have never seen 300 head of cattle in the country. we are save from invasion. an army would be starved.

Frere [15]  is acting foolishly. he & the Consul [16]  are slighting the English merchants & establishing a little aristocracy with the quality – stranger – emigrants & corps diplomates. this is very absurd as it is their policy to hold this country in as high a situation as possible. – Exchange is as you imagine in favour of Portugal – but the cursed paper money more than counterbalances it. I will order the Bucellas & it shall be good. it must be kept in a warm place & you will perhaps wonder at the directions to leave the bung hole open.

We are again distressed by a newspaper account that my brother Tom has been wounded in the Danish action, [17]  – & no private accounts have reached us to say how. – I hope this may get him the promotion which he ought to have had for the Mars action. –

pray pray do not cag [18]  Horne Tooke [19]  for the sake of the debates

God bless you.

R S.

Thursday April 30. 1801.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: LISBON
Postmark: [partial] FOREIGN OFFICE
Endorsement: April 30 1801
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. 145-149; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 166-167 [in part]. BACK

[1] The government of William Pitt (1759-1806; Prime Minister 1783-1801, 1804-1806) had fallen because of the unwillingness of George III to accept the removal of civil disabilities from Roman Catholics. BACK

[2] Southey had been falsely credited with the authorship of a play; the play is unidentified. Wynn may have been reporting a rumour in oral, rather than print, circulation. BACK

[3] The Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, a monthly conservative periodical, which ran from 1798 to 1821. BACK

[4] Southey and Cottle’s plan to publish The Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803). BACK

[5] Southey’s plan for a play, set in the reign of Mary I (1516-1558, Queen of England 1553-1558), Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 190-192. BACK

[6] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[7] Edward Gibbon (1737-1794; DNB), History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788). BACK

[8] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799, but a revised edition was not published until 1805. BACK

[9] Southey’s plan for what became The Curse of Kehama (1810), Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 12-15. BACK

[10] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 12, lines 278-279. Southey changed the word ‘flares’ to ‘flames’, but reinstated ‘flares’ in the second edition of 1809. BACK

[11] Luke 2: 29. BACK

[12] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 12, line 13. BACK

[13] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 9, lines 616-653, tell the story of a red-haired Christian boy, who was tortured to death so that poison could be extracted from his body. Southey omitted the passage from the second edition of 1809. BACK

[14] Southey’s travel journals in Portugal were published in Adolfo Cabral, Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 15-61. BACK

[15] John Hookham Frere (1769-1846; DNB); educated at Eton, and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (BA 1792, MA 1795); MP for West Looe 1796-1802; envoy extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Portugal 1800-1802 and then to Spain 1802-1804, 1808-1809. Also a poet, he contributed parodies to the Anti-Jacobin 1797-1798. BACK

[16] Charles Arbuthnot (1767-1850; DNB), Tory diplomat and politician, Consul and Charge d’Affaires in Portugal 1800-1801. BACK

[17] A British fleet had destroyed the Danish fleet at Copenhagen on 2 April 1801. Tom Southey was a Lieutenant on the Beltona in this action and was listed as wounded, e.g. in Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 19 April 1801. Southey hoped that his brother would be promoted to Captain – a role he felt that Tom Southey should have been given after his actions in the battle between the Mars and L’Hercule on 21 April 1798. In fact, Tom Southey did not become a Captain until 1811. BACK

[18] Westminster School slang, meaning to annoy or irritate. BACK

[19] John Horne Tooke (1736-1812; DNB), leading British radical, acquitted of High Treason in 1794. On 16 February 1801 he had taken his seat in the new House of Commons, ironically for the pocket borough of Old Sarum. But the legality of his election was immediately challenged by some MPs, who claimed that, as an Anglican clergyman, Horne Tooke was ineligible to sit in the Commons. A select committee was appointed to look into the matter and the government rushed new legislation through Parliament on 19 May 1801, confirming that ordained priests could not be elected as MPs. BACK

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)