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

2682. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 December 1815 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I have so many things to say to you that I scarcely know where to begin. It was a great mortification that I could not make the circuit which I had proposed in my way home, & halt with you by the way; but the state of my daughters health kept us in a state of feverish disquietude, & for the time first time I felt how serious an evil it was to be at so great a distance from my own fire side. Happily the weather favoured us, the child grew better as we proceeded, & like a true mountaineer seemed to be revived as soon as the breath of the mountains reached her. We arrived safely without other accident than that of breaking down in the street at Nottingham, – the only accident which occurrd during the whole journey at home & abroad.

The infrequency of my letters my dear Wynn God knows is owing to no distaste, – the pressing employments of one who keeps pace with an increasing expenditure by temporary writings, the quantity which from necessity as well as inclination I have to read, & the multiplicity of letters which I have to write, are the sufficient causes. You do not know the number of letters which come to me from perfect strangers, who seem to think a Poet Laureat has as much patronage as a Lord Chancellor, both xxxxxx unfrequently xxx not unfrequently the writers remind me so strongly of xx my own younger days that I have given them the best advice I could with earnestness as well as sincerity, & xx more than once been thus led into an occasional correspondence. The Laureateship itself with me is no sinecure. I am at work in consequence of it at this time. Do not suppose that I mean to rival Walter Scott. My poem will be in a very different strain. It is in the sixlined stanza of Gualberto, [1]  & will consist of the “Proem”, the journey the field of Battle, the Lamentation (or some equivalent name) the reproof, & the xx Hymn for Victory. The Proem touching upon my return home & personal feelings will be obnoxious to the charge of egotism, – no matter, if it is called of, it must answer a useful purpose. The Lamentation will express a feeling concerning xx the state of affairs very similar to yours – & the Reproof instead of answering the particulara at which I shall strike home, will deal in generals, & hold out a picture of the hopes of mankind. I have written between 2 & 300 lines, & expect to satisfy myself. [2]  An artist who was of our party has made some views for me which I mean to have engraved, & the title will be La Belle Alliance. Thereby hangs a tale – which must be for your private ear. [3] 

I think you must have felt a wish as I did that the Battle should have borne the title, tho it was plain that once it had been named from Waterloo a word so English in its appearance would prevail. But there is a story connected with this.

My last paper in the Quarterly was written before I left England, & I corrected the proof sheets of the whole on my way thro London to the continent. [4]  On my return after an absence of six weeks to my surprize the number was still unpublished, tho this was the last article in it. I suspected that Murray had kept it back for the sake of getting from me what farther knowledge I might have acquired upon the spot, & tho not very well pleased at the supposition I nevertheless willingly proposed to xxx him to revise it before it should be worked off, & correct any error into which ignorance of the ground might possibly have led me. It was not however till I had been above a for nearly three weeks in London that I could procure the proofs, tho I repeatedly applied for them both to Murray & Gifford, & at last only the latter half of the article was sent me. With this I was satisfied as it contained the Waterloo part. Imagine my surprize & indignation at finding two huge interpolations placed so as totally to destroy the effect of a continuous narrative & compleatly spoil the composition. But this was a light objection to them: – for the object of the first was to deny in the most audacious & insolent terms that the Duke of Wellington had been surprized, & that of the second to deny in the same manner that any merit whatever was due to the Prussians in the victory!

My blood boiled in me. I wrote to Gifford in temperate but strong terms. [5]  I pointed out the folly & the falsehood in both instances, & advised him as he valued the character of the journal to cancel the xx most objectionable parts, & for the sake of the composition to throw such as might be retained without offence to the truth into to the bottom of the page. I went to Murray, & convinced him that the character of the Review was at stake, – from him & from G. I learnt not only what I knew from the first that this passage came from Croker, but what I certainly never could have suspected that it was the Dukes doing thro him, – that the delay in publication had been occasioned while their precious alterations were made at Paris, & the correspondence xxx took place between that city & Dublin, – in short that I had been chosen as a fit mouthpiece for conveying falsehood to the public thro an accredited channel. – You may guess what followed. I insisted upon having the xxxx xxxxx paper put into my hands, struck out their falsehoods, reinserted what had been expunged to make room for them, & carried my point with a high hand: whereby I shall not doubt have deserved & procured the ill-will & the respect both of the Duke & his friend. I saw Croker afterwards at his particular & repeated desire, after having declined an invitation to dine with. You will easily believe that he carefully avoided all reference to the subject, tho his conversation was often influenced by it, & that he behaved with the greatest possible civility.

One of the passages which I struck out was a sentence saying that the good sense of Europe had rejected the name of Belle Alliance for the battle as being xxx in some degree false. – I have since discovered that in the Dukes dispatches he underlined xxx the word Waterloo thus for the same mean motive.

It happens oddly enough that the Peasant who first guided me on my first visit to the field of Battle urgently requested that I would tell the people in England it ought not to be called Waterloo. – But I shall give in the notes to my poem such parts of my journal [6]  as relate to this place.

Morte Arthur after all is to come into the world with an introduction from me. [7]  John Lewis Goldsmid who was to edite it has decamped with another mans wife, [8]  leaving the Longmen & the subscribers in the lurch, [9]  they have applied to me & I am to have 200£ for writing a Preface & doing any thing more as may seem good to me. [10]  This is the greatest instance which I have yet felt of the money value of reputation. My bargain for Amadis [11]  was 100£ on the completion, & 50 when the edition (1000 in number) should all be sold. I hope & expect (if I keep my health) that this next year will set me fairly even with the world, & that afterwards I shall be able every year to lay by something. My greatest ambition desire is to have done with reviewing. Roderick is in the press for a fourth edition, [12]  & my other books feel the impulse which this has given them. Did I tell you that a Frenchman has stolen my History of Brazil? [13]  as soon as the book arrives from Brussels I mean to state the fact in a letter in the Courier, – the surest & speediest means of general circulation.

During my stay in London I scarcely ever went out of the circle of my private friends. – I dined in company with Mina [14]  & some other Liberalas, [15]  a set of men who (while I cannot but respect them as individuals & feel that under the like circumstances I myself should probably have felt & acted with them) do certainly justify Ferdinand, [16]  not in his capricious changes freaks of favour & disfavour but in the general & decided character of his measures. They are thorough Atheists & thorough Atheists, & would x go the full length of their principles, being I believe all of them – as is indeed the character of the nation, of the same iron mind as Cortes & Pizarro. [17]  Mina is a finer character, – young, & ardent, & speaking of his comrades with an affection which conciliates affection for himself.

I saw Frere also & had much interesting conversation with him. And this leads to another point connected with my History. [18]  Your friends were in power in 1806. [19]  There were transactions going on xx at that time between this country & Spain, the P of Peace [20]  having then a strong desire to xxxxxx throw off the yoke of France. Upon this subject I wish you would procure for me such information as may with propriety be given.

There is but one point in your letter in which I do not agree with you, & that regards the army, – the necessity of maintaining it appears to x me manifest, & the contingent danger imaginary. Our danger is not from that quarter. If we are to suffer from the army it will be by their taking part against the government (as in France) in aiding in a mob revolution. In my judgement we are leading this way insensibly to our rulers & to the main part of the people, – but I fear inevitably. The foundations of Government are undermined, – the props may last during your life time & mine, but I cannot conceal from myself xx a conviction that in no distant very distant day the whole fabric must fall! God grant that this ominous apprehension may prove false.

God bless you my dear Wynn

yrs affectionately


Keswick. 15 Dec. 1815.


* 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. 144–145 [in part]. BACK

[1] The ballad ‘St Juan Gualberto’, Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), 1–19. BACK

[2] The poem was The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). BACK

[3] Southey’s desire to name it the ‘Belle Alliance’ was due to his belief that it was more suited to verse (Southey to John Rickman, [c. 5 July 1815], Letter 2633), and that ‘the name of Waterloo was given to the battle by the Duke of Wellington in a spirit of the lowest & vilest jealousy’ (Southey to Thomas Southey, 17 December 1815, Letter 2684). BACK

[4] This and the following two paragraphs provide the fullest surviving account of the controversy surrounding Southey’s review of Eustache-Auguste Carel (1788–1836), Précis Historique de la Guerre d’Espagne et de Portugal, de 1808 à 1814 (1815); Jean Sarrazin (1770–1848), Histoire de la Guerre d’Espagne et de Portugal, de 1807 à 1814 (1814); General View of the Political State of France, and of the Government of Louis XVIII (1815); An Answer to the Calumniators of Louis XVIII (1815); Official Accounts of the Battle of Waterloo (1815); Lieutenant-General W. A. Scott (dates unknown), Battle of Waterloo (1815), Quarterly Review, 13 (July 1815), 448–526. See also Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 17 November 1815 (Letter 2670) and 6 December 1815 (Letter 2673), and Southey to John Murray, [22 November 1815] (Letter 2671). BACK

[5] This letter appears not to have survived. BACK

[6] The Journal was finally published as Journal of a Tour in the Netherlands in the Autumn of 1815 (1902). BACK

[7] Southey had long hoped to produce an edition of Sir Thomas Malory (1415/18–1471; DNB), Le Morte d’Arthur (1485) and even entered into an agreement with Longman. His proposed edition had been advertised in 1808; see, for example, The Literary Panorama, 3 (1808), col. 757, and Southey to John Rickman, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, [3 January 1808], Letter 1410. At one point, he had ceded the project to Walter Scott; see Southey to Richard Heber, 9 April 1811, Letter 1900. BACK

[8] John Louis Goldsmid (1789–1835). Goldsmid had left his wife, Louisa Boscawan (1782–1862), whom he had married in 1809. Goldsmid’s library was sold at auction on 11–15 December 1815, perhaps indicating financial woes; see A Catalogue of the Curious and Valuable Library of John Louis Goldsmid Esq. Containing a Most Rare Assemblage of Romances of Chivalry, Both Printed and Manuscript, Scarce Old Novels, and Facetiae, and Curious Books in Various Departments of Literature (1815). This included numerous examples of Arthuriana. BACK

[9] Longman had advertised and published a subscriptions list to Goldsmid’s edition of the Morte d’Arthur, complete with ‘an INTRODUCTION and NOTES, tending to elucidate the HISTORY and BIBLIOGRAPHY of the Work; as well as the FICTIONS OF THE ROUND TABLE CHIVALRY in general’, in a flyer at the back of Biblitheca Anglo-Poetica; or, A Descriptive Catalogue of a Rare and Rich Collection of Early English Poetry: In the Possession of Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown (1815). Southey was listed amongst the subscribers. BACK

[10] Southey’s The Birth, Lyf, and Actes of Kyng Arthur was published in 1817. BACK

[11] Southey’s translation Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[12] The fourth edition of Roderick, the Last of the Goths appeared in 1816. BACK

[13] Southey was considering writing a letter to the Courier to expose the plagiarism of his History of Brazil in Alphonse de Beauchamp (1769–1832), Histoire du Brésil (1815); see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 3 October 1815, Letter 2659. The letter was not written. BACK

[14] Either Francisco Javier de Mina (1789–1817), guerrilla leader in Navarre 1808–1810; or his uncle, General Espoz de Mina (1781–1836). Both had fled Spain after a failed rising in Pamplona on 25–26 September 1814. BACK

[15] i.e. exiled Spanish liberals. BACK

[16] Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808, 1813–1833). In 1814 he had abolished the liberal Constitution of 1812, arrested the leading liberals and restored the Inquisition. BACK

[17] The conquistadors Francisco Pizarro (c. 1470–1541) and Hernan Cortes (1485–1547). BACK

[18] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[19] The ‘Ministry of All the Talents’ (1806–1807), headed by Wynn’s uncle, Lord Grenville. BACK

[20] Manuel Francisco Domingo de Godoy y Alvarez de Faria (1767–1851), widely-known by his title Principe de la Paz (‘Prince of the Peace’). He was First Secretary (Prime Minister) of Spain 1792–1798 and its effective ruler 1801–1808. Godoy had negotiated an alliance with France in 1805. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013