791. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [early June 1803]

791. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [early June 1803] ⁠* 

The Taxers [1]  are indeed trimmers, & for the most part well laid on but malt should have been spared – & the advance on low-priced teas will be very unpopular – for tea is in fact the main comfort & single luxury of the poor. a pernicious one I believe – but still the beast should be humoured as much as possible when so heavy a load is to be laid on him. A tax might well be laid upon all finer articles of dress, such as are peculiar to the better class. sixpence per yard upon superfine cloths or in that proportion – fine muslins, fine linens – fine printed cottons. a light tax would not injure the manufacture, & would be exceedingly productive – for these latter articles are 20 or 30 per cent cheaper than they were 20 years ago. A stamp duty of one penny in the shilling upon all new books – except bibles &c & school books. to last only during the war. this would be very productive. the single Cyclopædia [2]  now publishing would pay £900 a year. upon Reviews & Magazines it should be doubled or trebled, because these have another source of profit – they get half a guinea for every advertisement on their covers. tooth brushes six pence each – to be stamped in the handle. this would be equal to a poll tax upon all above the rank of labourers. scented soaps – I think I could enumerate as many fit objects of taxation as would raise between one & two million. If you were Chancellor of the Exchequer I would set my head to work for you & make all the calculations.

I did not expect ever to feel any uncomfortable interest in public affairs again but the conduct of France quite vexes & irritates me & I could shake hands with Mr Wyndham. [3]  France must suffer by war, or she will war on to all eternity. I would follow that rascally Corsicans [4]  mode of levying contributions, & demand money & stores from every unprotected town along the coasts of France & Italy. defensive war will not do. it offers no hope, & would break the spirit of the nation.

If they take Hamburgh, the money of the Hamburghers should come here – not go to Paris. batter it about the ears of the French army. if Spain go to war (which if possible should be avoided, for Spain is not hostile in its feelings towards England & is a more formidable enemy than people are aware of – her gun boats in spite of Gibralter actually commanding the Straights against all merchant vessels) – if Spain be forced into the war any body except Sir James Pulteney [5]  may take Ferrol & we may have more Kts of Cales. [6]  But if we dream of expeditions to Spanish America they must be mere Buccaneering visits – conquests there are impossible. look at the beautiful map & see how wonderfully the coast is peopled.

I know not what to wish about ministers. these men lack talents & yet I cannot help liking them by comparison. they have brought back the old temper of Englishmen. there was a cruelty in the old administration – which seems to have proceeded more from the Duke of Portland [7]  than any one else. the whole conduct about Despards [8]  conviction won the confidence of the country. I should be afraid of the old ministry. there is an Anti Gallican spirit abroad. most violent in those who were the most hostile to the last war. their return to place would check this, & the people & the ministry would again become suspicious of each other. Yet it must be felt by every body that even as Fox [9]  was the Prophet at the beginning of the war, so was Lord Grenville [10]  at the Peace. Your Uncles [11]  speeches in the Commons have been very admirable. his character stands very high.

Your brother [12]  is very fortunate to obtain what his rank & education entitle him to, so soon. he has had uncommon advantages in training, & will probably have enough to do. For, if there be any faith in nations, of which I confess I have great doubts – Germany must take a part in this great quarrel.

I am disappointed that you do not like Urraca [13]  – for all else who have seen it have been very much struck by it. you shall soon have K Ramiro. [14]  it is <not> worth troubling you with the proofs to save the Publishers the postage. they are now hurrying the Book [15]  because of this poetical version, [16]  which I am very desirous to see. Alas poor Amadis! this damned Bonaparte has made such a boderation in the world that nobody will think any thing of him! – & that ought to be taken into consideration by his Majestys Ministers when they lay on my income tax. [17] 

God bless you –


Should Portugal be in earnest in resisting France & Spain with the help of England it can as well do it now as it has <done> heretofore. the march from France to Portugal is very long & thro a country alway scantily stocked. 600 miles is a heavy distance under such inconveniences.

Lisbon is supplied with corn by sea for 33 weeks in the year. this is accurate information, & this is the main defence of the city against the French, for the mouth of the Tagus is easily commanded, & so the city is starved.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr. M.P./ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmark: [partial] 1803
Endorsement: June 7/ 1803
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 313-315.
Dating note: The endorsement indicates that the letter was received by Wynn on 7 June; the letter’s contents indicate it was written before that sent to Wynn of [5 June 1803]. BACK

[1] The first Budget since the renewal of the war against France. Amongst the new taxes were a 2s. per bushel increase in the malt tax and a 15% duty on poorer quality tea (better quality tea was taxed at 45%). BACK

[2] Rees’s Cyclopaedia, 45 vols (1802-1820), edited by Abraham Rees (1743-1825; DNB). BACK

[3] William Windham (1750-1810; DNB), Secretary at War 1794-1801 and opponent of the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. BACK

[4] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[5] Sir James Murray Pulteney (c. 1755-1811; DNB), Lieutenant-General who led the unsuccessful assault on the Spanish port of Ferrol in August 1800. BACK

[6] Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1565-1601; DNB), led the successful assault on Cadiz in 1596. He dubbed several of his young officers ‘knights of Cales’. BACK

[7] William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738-1809; DNB), Prime Minister 1783, 1807-1809 and Home Secretary 1794-1801. BACK

[8] Edward Despard (1751-1803; DNB), convicted and executed for High Treason after being accused of plotting a revolution in 1802. BACK

[9] Charles James Fox (1749-1806; DNB), Whig leader who opposed the war with France. BACK

[10] William Grenville, Lord Grenville (1759-1834; DNB), Foreign Secretary 1791-1801, Prime Minister 1806-1807. BACK

[11] Thomas Grenville (1755-1846; DNB), MP 1779-1784, 1790-1810, 1813-1818, noted bibliophile and opponent of the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. BACK

[12] Sir Henry Watkin Williams Wynn (1783-1856; DNB), diplomat who was appointed envoy-extraordinary to Saxony 1803-1806. BACK

[13] ‘Queen Urraca, And The Five Martyrs Of Morocco’, Morning Post, 1 September 1803. BACK

[14] ‘King Ramiro’, Morning Post, 9 September 1803. BACK

[15] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[16] William Stewart Rose (1775-1843; DNB), Amadis de Gaul, a Poem in Three Books, Freely Translated from the First Part of the French Version of Nicholas de Herberay, Sieur des Essars, with Notes by William Stewart Rose (1803). BACK

[17] The Budget of 1803 had also reimposed income tax. BACK