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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 1: 1791-1797, Edited By Lynda Pratt

195. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [26 January 1797] ⁠* 


I differ from you concerning La Fayette. [1]  on what pretext is he confined but as the prisoner of the allies? he cannot be supposed the prisoner of the Emperor individually. therefore instead of seeing any impropriety in the interference of England, I think for its own honor this country should wash its hands of so infamous a transaction. La Fayette is not amenable to the Emperor for aught he may have done. I am glad to see the French are opening their eyes to his conduct. how did you like Mr Wyndhams speech [2]  upon this subject?

“Mary” is a bad poem [3]  — but it is generally liked. it has been selected as a favorite by Dr Beddoes — a hypercritic of the Darwin [4]  school, who writes bad verses himself, & of course criticises every body all others severely.

Si el sabio no aprueba, malo!
Si el necio aplaude, peor! [5] 

I begin to think that our opinions upon poetry are not consonant. I am no friend to the harmony with which we have been cloyed since the days of Pope. [6]  Churchill [7]  is too rough: but there is a medium, & I am on the side of Bowles versus Reviewers: [8]  who by the by are in general a set of stupid fellows. Coleridge has the Monk to review for the Critical [9]  — & I am somewhat curious to see how he will handle Lewis. I am engaged when in town to write for the Analytical & should very much like to begin by dissecting Ambrosio. I do not think the Monk can be praised too highly, or blamed too severely.

I wish Bob would insert a review of my writing in the British Critic. there a it is upon a strange poem with still stranger notes, written by a man of brilliant genius & polishd manners who is deranged. it is easy to imply this without doing it in such terms as would wound his feelings. the book is “the Hurricane a Theosophical & Western Eclogue by William Gilbert.”  [10]  Gilbert has been called to the bar. he was clerk to the House of Commons at Antigua, & came to England as Counsel on a celebrated cause in the annals of Military Law. I know him & pity him —

where a sight shall Sorrow find
Sad as the ruins of the human mind!  [11] 

My book is done. [12]  & I wait only to get your copies hot pressed to dispatch them. I was obliged to cancel two complete sheets — such blunders did they make in my absence.

to night I return to Bristol to visit the only friend I have there. you know that now I do not rashly use the word. we are going to see the skeletons of which you may have seen some account in the papers — you may expect a true & particular account. [13] 

I am about to send a Joan of Arc to St Pierre. [14]  you know he earnestly recommends the subject — for a drama [MS torn] there is a communication by means of Remnant [15]  [MS torn]German bookseller to Hambro — Rotterdam — & [MS obscured] Paris — & a present from one literary man to another does not come within the penalties of the Traitrous Correspondence bill. [16] 

farewell.

R Sou[MS torn]


Notes

* Address: [MS torn] W Williams Wynn Esqr/ No 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London/ Single
Stamped: BATH
Postmark: [partial] BJ/ 30/ 97
Endorsement: Southey/ Jan 26/ 1797
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 119–20.
Dating note: The letter is dated from the endorsement; the postmark suggests a date before c. 30 January 1797. BACK

[1] Marie-Paul-Joseph-Roch-Gilbert Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (1757–1834), French general and politician. He was an active supporter of the American side in the War of Independence, but took a moderate position during the French Revolution and eventually fled to Austria, where he was imprisoned. BACK

[2] William Windham (1750–1810; DNB), Secretary of War, 1794–1801, declared in the House of Commons on 16 December 1796 that La Fayette’s imprisonment was not a matter for the British government. BACK

[3] Southey’s ballad ‘Mary’ was published in his Poems (1797). BACK

[4] Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802; DNB). BACK

[5] A poem by Tomás de Iriarte (1750–1791), translated by Southey as ‘The Dancing Bear’. Southey’s version of these lines appeared in his Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (London, 1797), p. 551, as ‘Bad is the censure of the wise/ The Blockhead’s praise is worse’. BACK

[6] Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB). BACK

[7] Charles Churchill (1732–1764; DNB). BACK

[8] Negative assessments of the versification and language of William Lisle Bowles (1762–1850; DNB), Hope, An Allegorical Sketch on Recovering Slowly from Sickness (1796) had appeared in the Critical Review, 19 (January 1797), 235–236, and the British Critic, 9 (January 1797), 190–191. BACK

[9] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818; DNB), author of the controversial The Monk (1796), which Samuel Taylor Coleridge reviewed in the Critical Review, 19 (February 1797), 194–200. BACK

[10] William Gilbert’s The Hurricane had been published in 1796. BACK

[11] An adaptation of William Lisle Bowles, Verses on the Benevolent Institution of the Philanthropic Society (Bath, 1790), p. 16. Southey had previously used these lines as an epigraph to the four ‘Botany-Bay Eclogues’ published in his Poems (1797). BACK

[12] Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[13] For Southey’s account of the skeletons found in 1797 at Aveline’s Hole in the Mendip Hills, near Burrington Combe, see his letter to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 28 January 1797 (Letter 196) and to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 29 January [1797] (Letter 197). BACK

[14] Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814), author of Paul et Virginie (1788) and Etudes de la Nature (1784). BACK

[15] James Remnant (fl. 1790s) a bookseller in High Holborn, who specialised in German books. BACK

[16] The Traitorous Correspondence Act of 1793 was designed to prevent British citizens from aiding France in any way. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009