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

2305. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 20 September 1813 ⁠* 

Streatham. Sept 20. 1813

My dear Wynn

I was in Bedfords office when your letter arrived; its intelligence was certainly a disappointment, tho I felt it somewhat less than Dapple who does not know by experience how little the real happiness which fathers derive from their children is affected by such things. [1]  I saw also your letter about the Laurel, & you will not be sorry to hear how compleatly I had acted in conformity with your xxx opinion.

Pyes [2]  death was announced a day or two before my departure from Keswick, & at the time I thought it so probable that the not-very-desirable succession might be offered me, as to bestow a little serious thought upon the subject, as well as a jest or two. On my arrival in town Bedford came to my brothers to meet me at breakfast, – told me that Croker had spoken with him about it & he with Gifford; – that they supposed the onus of the office would be dropt, or if it were not that I might so execute it as to give it a new character, & that as detur digniori  [3]  was the maxim upon which the thing was likely to be bestowed, they thought it would become me to accept it: – my business however, at xx whatever might be my determination, was to call without delay at the Admiralty, thank C. for what was certainly intended well, & learn how the matter stood.

Accordingly I called on Croker. He had spoken to the Prince & the Prince observing that I had written “some good things in favour of the Spaniards” said the office should be given me. You will admire the reason; – & infer from it that I ought to have been made historiographer because I had written Madoc. [4]  Presently Croker meets Ld Liverpool & tells him what has past: Ld L. expressed his sorrow that he had not known it a day sooner, for he & the Marquess of Hertford had consulted together upon whom the vacant honour could most properly be bestowed. – Scott was the greatest poet of the day, & to Scott therefore they had written to offer it. The Prince was displeased at this; he, he said, ought to have been consulted, it was his pleasure that I should have it & have it I should. Upon this Croker represented that he was Scotts friend as well as mine, that Scott & I were upon friendly terms; & for the sake of all three he requested that the business might rest where it was.

Thus it stood when I made my first call at the Admiralty. I more than half suspected that Scott would decline the offer, & my own mind was made up before this suspicion was verified. The manner in which Scott declined it was the handsomest possible: nothing could be more friendly to me, or more honourable to himself. [5]  I then wrote to Croker saying that as for writing odes, like exercises, the time was past when I could do such things either with readiness or propriety; that unless I could do credit to the office, the office could do none to me; but that if it were understood this idle form was to be dropt & I were left on great public events to attempt to commemorate them in verse, or not, as the spirit moved, in that case I should willingly accept the situation as a mark of honourable distinction, which it would then become. [6]  How to effect this I left to him, as of course it was not for me to dictate terms to the Prince. This was a fortnight ago. He wrote to the Marquess of H. signifying the Prince’s pleasure that I should be appointed if the Marquess was so pleased & I suppose the signature is all that is now wanted. – It will be suggested to the Prince that a good opportunity is offered for dropping a silly custom, because during the Kings illness [7]  it has been suspended; – & that to dispense with it entirely will be for his credit as well as for mine.

Be this as it may, the light in which I now look at this business makes me very sincerely thankful for such a wind-fall. The salary paltry in itself: but it will nearly if not entirely cover a life-insurance for £3000, & to this purpose, the moment the appointment is confirmed I mean to appropriate it. I am already insured for £1000 & this A provision will thus be made for my family, sufficient with the produce of what I shall leave behind me, in addition to the value which to place them in respectable, if not in easy circumstances. My disposition is too happy a one for me ever to have felt any fears upon this subject, – I shall nevertheless feel a deep pleasure when this intention is effected, & the object secured.

Direct to me here. I shall remain in & about x town between four & five weeks longer.

God bless you

Yrs very affectionately

Robert Southey.


Notes

* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ Llangedwin/ Oswestry
Postmark: 7o’Clock/ SP 21/ 1813 NT; [2 further illegible postmarks]
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), IV, pp.41-42 [in part]. BACK

[1] Wynn’s letter had announced the birth of a daughter, but as her name is not recorded, presumably she died young. Wynn had three living daughters, but his only son, Watkin, had died young in 1811. BACK

[2] Henry James Pye (1745–1813; DNB), Southey’s predecessor as Poet Laureate. He died on 11 August 1813. BACK

[3] ‘Let it be given to the more worthy’. BACK

[4] Madoc (1805). Southey had unsuccessfully canvassed for the post of Historiographer Royal in 1812. BACK

[5] See Scott’s letter of 1 September [1813], telling Southey that he had declined the Poet Laureateship and instead recommended him to Croker. He also cautioned ‘I am uncertain if you will like it, for the laurel has certainly been tarnished by some of its wearers, and as at present managed, its duties are inconvenient and somewhat liable to ridicule’, H. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Walter Scott, 1787–1832, 12, vols (London, 1932–1937), III, pp. 335–336. BACK

[6] See Southey to John Wilson Croker, [4 September 1813], Letter 2298. BACK

[7] George III (1738–1820; DNB). His illness had returned in late October 1810, and a regency declared on 7 February 1811. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013