808. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 18 July [1803]

808. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 18 July [1803] ⁠* 

I saw more & did more in London than I had expected. Westminster Abbey! – was it not a fine chance for a man who was but a fortnight in town to see Westminster Abbey on fire [1]  & get into the Church & see the ruin! indeed it was a noble sight. the stone roof so completely safe, & nothing injured that was worth any thing more than the mere £Sd. & price of labour – & the choir full of smoking ruins, & the light coming in from the roof. Dapple & I both swore in the church for pure vexation that it had not happened a dozen years ago.

Elmsley is married. [2]  so Longman told me.

I have agreed with Longman & Rees to take the management of a Bibliotheca Britannica, which by chronological arrangement will become a history of our literature – by biography, criticism & connecting chapter may be made a very amusing book as well as a most important work of reference. the whole plan & arrangement is to be mine, & also the choice of associates. it is to be published in parts like the Cyclopædia. [3]  two to a volume, in 4to – 40 lines in a page, 800 pages in a volume. the terms 150 £ per volume to me as Editor. for writing 4 guineas per sheet, 5 where the materials are in any language besides English. the first part we talk of as to be ready by Xmas 1804. [4]  & I am seeking a house near Richmond to be at hand.

for helpmates I am well provided at first. Turner for Saxon & Welch. Carlisle for the early surgery. Capt Burney for navigation & the connected sciences. Coleridge (I trust) for the schoolmen. Rickman for help in all things & for some very difficult branches. he will take Roger Bacon [5]  in the first part. I want a Lawyer – an antiquarian enough to go thro Bracton [6]  Fleta [7]  Glanvil [8]  &c, & proficient enough to show xx in what manner they bear upon the present system. theology too is another branch that requires a temperate & able hand. I have written to Elmsley to ask him if he will character our Greek & Latin scholars from Sir John Cheke. [9] 

If you travel in your gig I wish you would put the Laws of Howel Dha [10]  into it when you come move hitherward. I have not read that book enough for Madoc, & this is a fine opportunity when I shall be paid for making a summary of them it. Moreover by going thro that collection & the laws of Ina [11]  I shall be the better enabled to attack the Gothic Code when I get it from Madrid. – your Welsh MSS I hope will be catalogued in time for me to arrange them in their chronological order: Heber tells me George Ellis is learning Welsh. it will be a disgrace to your country if the Saxons are to conquer the literature as well as the land. I saw the Ubiquitarian in town. he praised xxx Amadis [12]  very compendiously – “I need not tell you we are all very much pleased with your manner of translating.” that circle have it very much in their power to set the fashion for a book – & if they should make Amadis sell better than Thalaba [13]  it will help me to some money & my biographer to a good anecdote.

God bless you.


Monday July 18.



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr. M.P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Postmark: BRISTOL/ JUL 18 1803
Endorsement: July 18 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. 318-320. BACK

[1] There was a fire in the roof of Westminster Abbey on 9 July 1803. BACK

[2] Longman was wrong: Peter Elmsley never married. BACK

[3] The Cyclopaedia: or An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences was an encyclopaedia first published in 1728, and much expanded and republished throughout the eighteenth century, especially by Abraham Rees (1743-1825; DNB), The New Cyclopaedia, 45 vols (1802-1820). BACK

[4] The project was abandoned by Longman and Rees in August 1803. BACK

[5] Roger Bacon (c. 1214-c. 1292; DNB), philosopher and Franciscan friar. BACK

[6] Henry of Bracton (d. 1268; DNB), believed to be the author of the 13th-14th-century legal treatise De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae. BACK

[7] Fleta (fl. 1290-1300; DNB), name used to designate the author of a Latin treatise on common law which updated and abridged Henry of Bracton’s work. BACK

[8] Ranulf de Glanville (c. 1120-1190; DNB), reputed author of Tractatus de Legibus et Consuetudinibus Regni Anglie (c. 1187-1189), a manual on royal judicial procedure. BACK

[9] Sir John Cheke (1514-1557; DNB), humanist, royal tutor and administrator. BACK

[10] William Wotton (1666-1727; DNB), Cyfreithjeu Hywel Dda (1730), used in the notes to Madoc (1805). BACK

[11] Ine, King of Wessex 688-726. He issued a code of laws in 694. BACK

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

[13] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

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