811. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 23 July 1803]

811. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 23 July 1803] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

You give me very great pleasure by saying you would gladly assist me in the legal department [1]  if you thought yourself equal to the task – for that ‘if’ will be no insurmountable obstacle (do you remember poor Bunbury & your theme upon Pride?)

Old law is no uninteresting study – it is too closely connected with the history of manners. I shall go thro the laws of Ina [2]  (if as I think, they have been printed) & make a compendium of them. it will be a good preliminary study to the Codigo Gothico [3]  which I have been so long expecting from Madrid – the Partidas, [4]  & the various codes that have sprung from the same Gothic root, the root of all that is valuable in European policy. to Hoel Dha [5]  I must do the same propter Madocum [6]  – & I rather expect some interesting result from a comparison of Celtic with Gothic jurisprudence. you know that, maugre Madoc, my prejudices are all Gothic, & that I bless the Romans first & the Saxons for redeeming the Britons from the original sin of carrotty hair – red freckled faces more broad than long, & brains of the same flat character.

Now as for being equal to the task – I should feel myself quite equal to stating out of Glanvil, [7]  Fleta [8]  &c what was the law in their time – but to know what has been lopt away & what is overgrown by young shoots, that is beyond me. but it certainly is in your power. Crede quod habeas et habes. [9]  if you will read them as a lawyer, I shall, in pure book gluttony, look thro them for whatever is not law– & if any thing should escape us, it will hardly pass thro Turners sieve who will go thro them in his plan of going on with the history of England.

I thought you would like the plan of the Bibliotheca. it has made me quite happy in the future tense, & given a present value to all stray reading. all the dormant capital of knowledge in my cerebrum & cerebellum is about to be made productive. & my old stall gleanings seem to be sprouting out like potatoe-rinds, into an uncalculated return.

What became of the library of the Chandos family? [10]  Warton [11]  had heard that it contained a copy of the Antiocheis of Joseph of Exeter [12]  – which poem – if that copy do not exist – is lost. I would give one of my ears to recover it.


Your sisters [13]  correct me well. I meant the song to the old recitative sort of tune – like the song of Gregory Gubbins in the Battle of Hexham [14] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr. M.P./ To R Southey/ Worcester/ Worcester/ Bristol
Postmark: BRISTOL/ JUL 25 1803
Endorsement: July 23/ 1803
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 320-321 [where it is dated [23 July 1803]].
Dating note: Dated from the postmark and endorsement. BACK

[1] Southey had asked Wynn to assist him with the ‘Bibliotheca Britannica’, a plan for a chronological account of literature written in Britain, which the prospective publishers Longman and Rees abandoned in August 1803. BACK

[2] Ine, King of Wessex 688-726. He issued a code of laws in 694. This code was first translated in Aylett Sammes (1636-1679; DNB), Britannia Antiqua Illustrata (1676), no. 2405 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] The Visigothic Code of laws, promulgated in 642 and 654 and translated into Spanish in the 13th century. BACK

[4] The Siete Partidas (1265), a centrally important code of Spanish law. BACK

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

[6] The Latin translates as ‘For the sake of Madoc’. BACK

[7] 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

[8] Fleta (fl. 1290-1300; DNB), name used to designate the author of a Latin treatise on common law. BACK

[9] The Latin translates as ‘Believe that you have it, and you have it’. BACK

[10] The Dukedom of Chandos became extinct in 1789, but much of the family library had been sold in 1747. BACK

[11] Thomas Warton (1728-1790), The History of English Poetry, 4 vols (London, 1774-1781), I, pp. 150-154, deals with the Antiocheis but does not mention its location. BACK

[12] Joseph of Exeter (fl. 1180-1194; DNB), Antiocheis, an epic poem on the Third Crusade, of which only a fragment survives. BACK

[13] Wynn’s sisters Charlotte (d. 1819), Henrietta (d. 1854), and Frances (d. 1857). BACK

[14] Gubbins was a character in George Colman, the younger (1762-1836; DNB), The Battle of Hexham (1789). Southey probably means Gubbins’s song ‘What’s a valiant hero?’; see Songs, Choruses, &c. in The Battle of Hexham; or, Days of Old (London, 1789), pp. 5-7. BACK

People mentioned