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

2364. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 January 1814 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

One of our poets says A dram of sweet is worth a pound of sour, [1]  – which if it be not good poetry is sound practical wisdom. I assure you you have gone far towards reconciling me to the Carmen by praising the Dutch stanza, – of which I had conceived the only qualification to be that it was as flat as the country of which it treated, as dead as the water of the ditches, & as heavy astern as the inhabitants. [2]  How often have I had occasion to remember the old apologia of the Painter who hung up his picture for public criticism! – The conclusion also Laus Deo! [3]  Has found favour in your eyes.

I have added three stanzas to the five which were struck out, & made them into a whole, which is gone, sine nomine, [4]  to the Courier; where if the Editor [5]  is not afraid of calling murder & tyranny by their proper names you will be likely to see it sooner than if I were to transcribe the excerpts. The new stanzas are the 1st second & seventh: & there has been some little alteration to the 3d & 4th to fit them into their new place. [6] 

There was another stanza which I would have expunged myself, because it spoke with bitterness of those “who deemed that Spain

Would bow her neck before the Intruders throne, [7] 

& which I should have been sorry to have had {it} applied in a manner to have wounded you: its direction being against the Edinburgh Review. Upon this point your remarks have in no degree expected {affected} my opinion, either as to the propriety of the attack itself, or of the place for it. However rash I may be you will I think allow that my disposition is sufficiently placable; – but it would be absurd to suppose that I should ever receive anything but impertinence & hostility from that quarter. I continued upon courteous terms with Jeffrey till that rascally attack upon the Register in which he recommended it for prosecution. – I speak of it as his tho Brougham wrote the passage, – for he made it his own. [8]  I know these men feel the scourge, – & they shall fear me as well as hate me. As for the retaliation of which you are apprehensive do you suppose my dear Wynn, that one who has never feard to speak his opinions sincerely can have any fear of being confronted with himself his former self? – I was a republican. I should be so still if I thought we were advanced enough in civilization for such a form of society: & the more my feelings, my judgement, my old prejudices might xxx incline me that way, the deeper of a would necessarily be my hatred of Buonaparte. Do you know that the Anti Jacobine treats my life of Nelson as infected with the leaven of Jacobinism? [9] 

If I were conscious of having been at any time swayed in the profession of my opinions by private or interested motives, then indeed might I fear what malice could do against me. True it is that I am a Pensioner [10]  & also Poet Laureat. I owe the pension to you, the Laurel to the Spaniards. Whether the former has prevented me from speaking as I felt upon the measures of Government when I thought myself called upon to speak at all, let my volumes of the Register [11]  bear witness. – What a poor hand does Perry [12]  make in the Chronicle when he sets at the Carmen! Bad as it is I was half tempted to think well of it upon seeing so pityful a criticism. And if he comes to his promised parallelisms with my Inscriptions he will not be more fortunate. [13]  The Whigs who attack me for celebrating our victories in Spain ought to expunge from the list of their toasts the Cause that which gives the Cause of Liberty all the World over. The Inscriptions are for the Battles we have won, & the Towns we have xx x retaken, & epitaphs for those who have fallen, – that is for as many of them as I know can find any thing about, whose rank or ability distinguished them. In my next I will send you some specimens. – Just now I am out of spirits – we have a house full of sickness. My eldest girl has had a slight attack of scarlet fever; – it has been very slight, – but if it should spread, the others may not have the disease so favourably. And in her it has been immediately succeeded by a spurious croupe which this Nova Zemblaish weather has made endemic. Three of my children have it at this moment, & tho I believe & have every reason to believe that it is a trifling complaint, still it is so like what is xxx dreadfully dangerous, that I cannot feel at ease.

You & I are on the way to a coalition in politics, if the Catholic question were not in the way, & x Dr Drumdevil or whatever his name may be, with the rest of the Paddies who speak out, may in time make us agree also upon that. [14] 

God bless you

RS.

Jany 15. 1814.


Notes

* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
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. 56–58 [in part]. BACK

[1] Edmund Spenser (1552–1599; DNB), The Faerie Queene (1590–1596), Canto 3, stanza 30, line 4. BACK

[2] Southey’s first official poem as Poet Laureate, published as Carmen Triumphale in a quarto of 30 pages on 1 January 1814. Stanza 17 dealt with the Netherlands. BACK

[3] ‘Praise be to god’. BACK

[4] i.e. anonymously. BACK

[5] Either Daniel Stuart, owner of the Courier, or his associate Thomas George Street (fl. 1796–1827). BACK

[6] Carmen Triumphale was much altered prior to publication. Five stanzas were considered by Croker and Rickman to be inflammatory and were deleted from the published version. Southey incorporated them into a new poem, ‘Ode Written During the Negotiations with Bonaparte’, published in the Courier, 3 February 1814. BACK

[7] This did not appear in any published versions of Carmen Triumphale. BACK

[8] A long aside (attributed by Southey to Brougham) in the Edinburgh Review, 18 (August 1811), 420–423n, had questioned whether the ‘virulent personal abuse … levelled at the most respectable members of the Legislature’ in the Edinburgh Annual Register was in breach of Parliamentary privilege and hinted that action against the author and publishers might be taken. If it had, Southey, who had written the offending articles, would have been summoned to attend parliament by the serjeant-at-arms (i.e. the chief law enforcement office in the Houses of Parliament). In the event, the Edinburgh Review’s suggestion was not taken up. BACK

[9] Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, 45 (July 1813), 83–84: the review of the Life of Nelson (1813) had condemned Southey’s sneering references to the ‘“anti-jacobin war”‘ against revolutionary France, reminded readers of his early radicalism and noted ‘So difficult is it to eradicate Jacobinical principles and prejudices, when they have once taken root in the mind!’. BACK

[10] Wynn had arranged for Southey to receive a government pension in 1807. BACK

[11] The Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[12] James Perry (1756–1821; DNB), owner and editor of the Morning Chronicle, which had severely criticised Southey’s Carmen Triumphale on 8 January 1814. BACK

[13] Southey’s ‘Inscriptions Triumphal and Sepulchral, recording the acts of the British army in the Peninsula’ had been recently advertised as ‘nearly ready for publication’ (e.g. in European Magazine, 65 (January 1814), 77). However, the promised volume did not appear and only 18 of the proposed 30 inscriptions were written. BACK

[14] Thomas Dromgoole (d. 1824x9?; DNB), Irish doctor and member of the Catholic Board, who vigorously opposed any concessions by Catholics in order to achieve full civil equality. Widely lampooned as ‘Dr Drumsnuffle’. BACK

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August 2013