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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

2030. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 February 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick Feby 4. 1812.

My dear Wynn

I have too long delayed to thank you for your Letter of the 3d November, & the manner in which you comment upon the intolerance of my last Annals. [1]  I readily admit that any thing written in a spirit of asperity is, generally speaking, imprudent, – & am by no means disposed to think that my own language towards Whitbread [2]  can be deemd an exception to the rule. All I can say is, that if the Spanish war had been as long past as the American one [3]  (when you say I should disapprove of such a manner of narration) – or as the siege of Troy, I should have written with just the same feeling. But the fact is, that in speaking of things which are long gone by, this liberty is allowd to the historian, – whereas if the contemporary annalist arrogates it, it is at his peril. – To the charge of want of compression I can better reply, – the volume is upon the same scale as its predecessor, & its bulk is only {owing} to the greater quantity of the matter which the year afforded. Jeffrey has xxxx censured it upon this score in a manner worthy of himself, [4]  especially after what passed about the former volume. [5]  Not dreaming that I was the author, he called upon Ballantyne a few days after its publication, (being the first time he had ever entered his shop) expressly to state his approbation of the manner in which the work was written, tho he said, he differed in many & indeed in most points from the writer. [6]  I believe the censure is one which implies a compliment to the work, – for it means that people wish to read the book, & yet do not wish to give so much time to it as its length requires. Now Annual Registers have hitherto not been read, – they are professedly works rather for reference than for reading, – & therefore the more minute they are the more {the better} they answer the purpose for which they are designed. If therefore he who reads the book now thinks it too long, – he who consults it ten year hence will not be disposed to censure it upon that score. – I am close at work upon 1810, & have this morning dispatched your honours speech upon the Bribery Bill. [7] 

I shall soon send you the Bell & Lancaster – reviewal in a seperate form, so altered & enlarged as to make it a compleat view of the history & nature of the New System. [8]  You speak of the controversy exactly as I thought of it before I understood in what the New System consists. What we are obliged to Lancaster for, is for having been the means of frightening the Bishops, who (except the B. of Durham [9]  indeed) would never have exerted themselves if they had not thus been compelled to it. Of L. himself all that I have heard inclines me to think very ill – the cry against him as a Quaker is absurd, but the argument against conducting the national schools on the no-principles which are manifestly equivalent to dissent is unanswerable. I cannot but think that the Church Establishment is from many concurrent causes in danger, & tho I differ from it in some weighty & essential points, I nevertheless regard its fall {destruction} as one of the greatest evils which could befall us. It is the fashion to ridicule the alliance between Church & State, – but if the one falls the nature of the alliance will speedily be seen by {in} the fate of the other.

You have convinced me about the matter of Privilege, [10]  concerning which I differd from you at the time. Are we as wide as ever respecting Spain, or do you begin to think that Buonaparte has provoked a contest in that country, which mighty as he is, & wretched as the cowards of the Spaniards are, it is yet beyond his power to terminate? I censure the conduct of the war on our part as strongly as you can do, in keeping that army in Sicily which might have saved Valencia now, & any place in Catalonia formerly, – which might in fact have turned the scale. – We want enterprize – a little more of the navy-spirit in the army. – I hope General Hills [11]  successes will teach it.

So Batavia has cost us John Leydens life [12]  – which was worth more than ten Batavias!

Have you any tidings of George Strachey? What a heavy price does that man pay for fortune who submits to so long a banishment for the sake of it!

This new Quarterly has two Articles of mine – the Inquisition, [13]  & Montgomerys Poems. [14]  – the latter ought to have some bitter remarks upon Jeffrey but I know not whether they have past the Censors office. I am about Sir G Mackenzies Travels, [15]  & the French Biography [16]  which Walsh reviewed for the Edinburgh. [17] 

God bless you

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ London
Postmark: FREE/ 8 FE 8/ 1812
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 249–251. BACK

[1] i.e. Southey’s contributions to the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809 (1811). BACK

[2] The radical MP Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB). For an example of Southey’s comments: ‘Mr Whitbread rose, as usual, to play the part of advocate for Buonaparte, and to revile the allies of England’, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 303. BACK

[3] The American War of Independence 1775–1783. BACK

[4] Edinburgh Review, 18 (August 1811), 391, suggested Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809 (1811) was ‘rather too long to be conveniently read through within the year’. BACK

[5] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810). BACK

[6] See Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 27 August 1810, Letter 1803. BACK

[7] A Bill to prevent bribery of voters and also the purchasing of parliamentary seats; see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.1 (1812), 229–231. BACK

[8] Southey’s defence of Bell’s system over Lancaster’s had appeared in the Quarterly Review, 6 (August 1811), 264–304. This formed the basis of his The Origin, Nature, and Object, of the New System of Education (1812). BACK

[9] Shute Barrington (1734–1826; DNB), Bishop of Durham 1791–1826. He had promoted both the inter-denominational Religious Tract Society (founded 1799) and the British and Foreign Bible Society (founded 1804). BACK

[10] Wynn had defended the right of the House of Commons to imprison those it decided had breached its privileges in his pamphlet Argument upon the jurisdiction of the House of Commons to commit, in cases of breach of privilege (1810). BACK

[11] The British commander Rowland Hill, 1st Viscount Hill (1772–1842; DNB). He had won a morale-boosting victory at Arroyo Molinos on 28 October 1811. BACK

[12] The poet and linguist John Leyden (1775–1811; DNB) was in Batavia to act as an interpreter with the British forces. He contracted fever and died on 28 August 1811. BACK

[13] The History of the Inquisitions; including the Secret Transactions of those Horrific Tribunals (1810); Letter upon the Mischievous Influence of the Spanish Inquisition as it actually exists in the Provinces under the Spanish Government. Translated from El Español, a periodical Spanish Journal published in London (1811); Narrativa da Perseguição de Hippolyto Joseph Da Costa Pereira Furtado de Mendonça, Natural da Colonia do Sacramento, no Rio-da-Prata, prezo e Processado em Lisboa pelo pretenso Crime de Fra-Maçon, ou Pedreiro Livre (1811), Quarterly Review, 6 (December 1811), 313–357. BACK

[14] James Montgomery, The West Indies, and other Poems (1810) and The Wanderer in Switzerland, and other Poems (1811), Quarterly Review, 6 (December 1811), 405–419. It contained (412–413) some ripostes to Jeffrey’s criticism of Montgomery in Edinburgh Review, 9 (January 1807), 347–354. BACK

[15] Sir George Steuart Mackenzie (1780–1848; DNB), Travels in the Island of Iceland, in the Summer of the Year 1810 (1811) and Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865; DNB), Journal of a Tour in Iceland, in the Summer of 1809 (1811), Quarterly Review, 7 (March 1812), 48–92. BACK

[16] Biographie Moderne: Lives of Remarkable Characters who have Distinguished themselves from the Commencement of the French Revolution to the Present Time (1811), Quarterly Review, 7 (June 1812), 412–438. BACK

[17] Robert Walsh (1772–1852; DNB). The 1807 French edition of Biographie Moderne had been reviewed in Edinburgh Review, 14 (April 1809), 211–243. BACK

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August 2013