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

2516. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 December 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick 15 Dec. 1814

My dear Wynn

You must take the Old Ladys comfort in Shakespere respecting your daughter, [1]  – ‘tis a girl – promises boys hereafter”. [2]  There is yet time before you, & chance in your favour.

After the enquiries which you have made it is very clear that no such person as Greeton Evans is to be found; – the letter therefore must have been a trick, & never was a more witless one, for in what was the jest to end? The letter which I directed to the post office at Manchester was not called for, & came back to me in due course of time as having been unclaimed. The handwriting had certainly a female appearance, & the beginning of the letter had a turn of expression not much in character; – but in all the rest it was well done, & had {bore} a character of sincerity which shows at least xx some skill in the writer. [3] 

I trust you have received Roderick long ere this. According to the reports which reach me most persons are better satisfied with it than I am myself. A small edition is gone to press, & Longman apprehends that the quarto will be gone before this is ready. [4]  But as for any thing like a great sale & a fashionable reputation, I never look for it, & indeed am perfectly assured that no work of this character can possibly attain it.

Lord Byrons commendations are repeated to me from all quarters, – I regard them precisely as I did his condemnation of Madoc; – the one opinion just serves to show the worthlessness of the other. [5]  For tho if one of these poems be bad, it is quite impossible that the other can be good.

You will perhaps like to know what I am thinking of for my next essay. The New-England story for which the first memoranda were made in January 1811 is now formed into something like a plan, sufficient to begin upon, if I had more time to spare from more urgent employments. The chief personage is Oliver Newman, a son of Goffe the Regicide, & godson of Old Noll. [6]  He has x learnt the better parts of Quakerism from William Penn [7]  & acquired a higher character from Milton, [8]  & at the age of about 25, after his mothers death, sails for America to seek his father. On board the same ship there are Randolph, a man well known in the history of Massachusetts who was a keen hunter of the Regicides in America, [9]  & the wife & daughter of a fine old Cavalier, whom they are going to join in the country {to} which he having been totally neglected by Charles, [10]  has retired. The mother dies upon the voyage & leaves her daughter to Olivers protection, – & the poem will open with the funeral at sea.

Before the ship reaches Boston she is driven into Cape Cod, – where Oliver expends the greater part of his little money in redeeming an Indian woman & her xxx child from slavery, in order to restore her to her tribe.

Goffe married Whalleys daughter. [11]  Leverett the Governor of Massachusetts [12]  (an old Oliverian) had been attached to her before her marriage, & she to him. He is acquainted (x so he is believed to have been) with Goffes hiding place, & Oliver brings a letter to him. The scene that ensues xx explain the danger of N England from Philips War, then raging in its utmost violence, [13]  & the principles of Oliver, which appear somewhat Quixotic.

His first business is to deliver Elizabeth to her father. Proceeding there with the Indian woman & child they find a wounded Mohawk lying among a party of his dead countrymen. By a piece of savage policy Philip [14]  had waylaid & murderd a party of these Indians & left them unscalped that it might be believed the English had killed them, – & this being discovered by one who escaped with life, was one main cause of his own destruction. By this Mohawk Oliver remains till he no longer requires assistance. He then proceed to the womans tribe, who are in alliance with Philip, & his most powerful ally.

A renegade who lives among the savages accuses Oliver of being a spy, insults him & strikes him, which he bears with Quaker patience. And here he learns of the apparition of his father at Hatfield; whither he sets out. On the way he falls in with a party of the same tribe who are examining some booty which they have taken: they open a chest, & find in it a dead body, – which Oliver recognizes to be Whalleys, by the mutilated hand. [15] 

Goffe in his long captivity has become a thorough fanatic, & is not very well pleased with the quiet principles of his son. – Randolph on the voyage had suspected who this son might be by his christian name, & had thus by watching him had obtained a clue to Goffe’s hiding place. Stanley the old Cavalier is sent to apprehend him, & he finds father & son. Stanley however offers to let them go if Oliver will only declare that this person is not Goffe – which the Quaker will not do, & Randolph soon afterwards arriving identifies the Regicide.

On their way to the English settlement the Indians surprize them. Goffe & Stanley escape, Randolph & Oliver are taken. On being brought to the encampment the latter is recognized & welcomed, & the former condemned to the stake. Oliver obtains his life, they are then set at liberty & depart.

Goffe rallies some stragglers, makes head against the Indians & takes some prisoners, whom they are about to dispose of in the usual summary way, when Oliver appears, & obtains the disposal of them. He goes with them to the encampment, & Elizabeth is brought in by the renegade. Scenes ensue in the course of which Oliver drops his non-resisting principles & cuts down the renegade with a tomahawk to the great delight of the Indians. The latter part of the story has not yet clearly developed itself: this tribe makes peace thro Olivers influence, the Mohawk whom he saved comes at the head of his countrymen to join the English, Philip is killed, Randolph promises secresy respecting the father, & solicits a grant of lands for the son, which Leverett gladly bestows for his services. – Stanley gives him his daughter, & the story concludes with a wedding.

This is a rude outline, you will see however that it admits of some striking situations, & a good deal of historical & descriptive ornament. I dare not write immediately after Roderick in blank verse, because I should be in danger of repeating the same modes of expression. I incline therefore to the measure of Thalaba, [16]  – from which in the more dramatic parts I may pass into blank verse without any dissonance from the general character of the poem.

I know not whether or not to introduce your old countryman Roger Williams, [17]  me judice  [18]  the best of the Welshmen, who is entitled to much of that praise which has been lavished upon Wm Penn.

Have you seen Wordsworths poem? [19] 

God bless you

RS.


Notes

* 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. 386–390. BACK

[1] Wynn’s letter announced the birth of his fourth daughter, Emma (1814–1824). BACK

[2] Henry VIII, Act 5, scene 1, lines 165–166. BACK

[3] Southey had received a letter signed ‘Greeton Evans’ asking for advice on pursuing a literary career. For his reply, see Southey to Greeton Evans, 19 August 1814 (Letter 2470) and 20 August 1814 (Letter 2472). He had asked Wynn to assist in ensuring Evans received his answer; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19 August 1814, Letter 2471. BACK

[4] The second, duodecimo edition of Roderick, the Last of the Goths appeared in 1815. BACK

[5] Byron’s satirical remarks on Madoc (1805) were contained in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (London, 1809), pp. 9–10. Byron’s opinion of Roderick was encapsulated in a letter to Annabella Milbanke, 28 November 1814: ‘I think Southey’s Roderick as near perfection as poetry can be – which considering how I dislike that school I wonder at – however so it is – if he had never written anything else he might safely stake his fame upon the last of the Goths’, Lord Byron’s Letters and Journals, ed. Leslie A. Marchand, 13 vols (London, 1973–94), IV, p. 235. BACK

[6] ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at Southey’s death. In the poem, Newman was the godson of Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658; DNB) and the son of William Goffe (d. 1679?; DNB), Puritan, regicide and major general, who fled to New England in 1660 after he was excluded from the Act of Indemnity after the Restoration. BACK

[7] William Penn (1644–1718; DNB), Quaker leader and founder of Pennsylvania. BACK

[8] The poet and polemicist John Milton (1608–1674; DNB). BACK

[9] The colonial administrator Edward Randolph (bap. 1632, d. 1703; DNB), who, throughout his long and controversial career, was a tireless advocate of extending royal authority in the American colonies. He first visited New England in 1676. BACK

[10] Charles II (1630–1685; DNB), King of England, Scotland and Ireland, 1660–1685. BACK

[11] Frances (dates unknown), daughter of Edward Whalley (d. 1674/5; DNB), parliamentarian Major-General and regicide. He fled to New England with Goffe after the Restoration. BACK

[12] John Leverett (1616–1679; DNB). Leading figure in Massachusetts, where he was Major-General 1663–1673 and Governor 1673–1679. He had served in the Parliamentary army 1644–1648. BACK

[13] King Philip’s War, or Metacom’s Rebellion, 1675–1676. An armed conflict between English colonists and the native American inhabitants of New England. BACK

[14] Metacomet (c. 1639–1676), Sachem of the Wampanoag people. He used the name ‘Philip’ in dealing with the colonists in Massachusetts. BACK

[15] Whalley was wounded in the hand at the Battle of Dunbar (1650). BACK

[16] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[17] Roger Williams (c. 1606–1683; DNB), religious controversialist, advocate of toleration and founder of Providence, Rhode Island. He was a Londoner, though, rather than a Welshman. BACK

[18] ‘In my judgement’. BACK

[19] The Excursion (1814). BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013