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

220. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 2 June 1797 ⁠* 

Friday June 2nd 1797

At Mr William Millers [1]  — Christ Church — Hampshire.

I do not know whether you were ever at this place. between this & Dover there certainly is not a quieter spot. there are not half a dozen lodgings here, — & I am as compleatly secluded as I can wish. the price of every thing is nearly doubled since the commencement of the war — but as this advance has been general, provisions &c bear the same xxxxx proportion as usual to their price in town.

We were one week at Southampton. Edith was very unwell — & when she recovered we were confined by bad weather — so that I saw little of the place. enough however not to like {it}. the road from Winchester thither is remarkably beautiful; so much so as to make the New forest about Lyndhurst & Lymington appear comparatively uninteresting. here we are in a very different country. I have no map — but I conceive that these flats extend communicate with the low parts of Somersetshire & extend quite across the island to the Channel. You must not however suppose the scenery here unpleasant. it is of a kind that I have not been accustomed to — & will furnish several hints to a very valuable xxx {department} in my pocket book, where I set down such of the appearances of nature as may be introduced with good effect in poetry. the country has no undulation of hill & dale — but the hills rise immediately from the plain, dark & bold. here is one of the finest churches in the Kingdom; a pile of ruins stands close to the church yard, & a very clear & rapid little stream washes one of the walls. a very rude — odd — massy ruin on an artificial eminence xxxx into stands above the other — & the whole forms a xxxx fine groupe. we are two miles from the beach — a longer walk than I could wish.

We know no human being here. — I never see a newspaper — & never think of one. we arrived here on last Wednesday night, & I now feel myself settled.

On the Wednesday Tuesday evening before I left town I met Mountague [2]  — who has chambers in the Square at Lincolns Inn. he asked me if I meant to go to a Special Pleader — & on my answer said if he could save me a hundred guineas — he should feel more than xx a hundred guineas worth of pleasure in doing so. you know I am a very awkward fellow at thanking any one — but I had knew most of his friends — & knew his character well, & so made a better hand than usual. I however am bridled & curbed & you have the reins.

With regard to what branch of the law I must follow — I would say something. You spoke of the common law as a nearer road to eminence I think; of chancery as equally advantageous. But is it not probable that in practising common law I may be called upon in criminal cases — to plead against the life of a man? if so — I should decidedly prefer chancery. I do not expect — I do not desire to be eminent. my only wish is to obtain enough to retire into the country — & that by means which I might look back upon without regret. But were I to be instrumental in bringing a murderer to the gallows — I should ever after feel that I had become a murderer myself.

I have not that quickness of mind necessary for cross examinations &c. no man is more easily disconcerted than myself. the right answer to an argument never occurs to me immediately. I always find it at last — but it comes too late. a blockhead who speaks boldly can baffle me. is not this of less consequence in chancery.

fare well. let me hear from you. are you M.P.? [3]  — in truth I hope not for Old Sarum.

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


Notes

* Address: C W W Wynn Esqr/ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Endorsement: Southey June 2/ 1797
Postmark: BJU/ 3/ 97
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections From the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 30–32. BACK

[1] William Miller (dates unknown) was Southey’s landlord during his stay in Christchurch in 1797. BACK

[2] Basil Montagu (1770–1851; DNB), lawyer and author, illegitimate son of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718–1792; DNB), and the actress Martha Ray (d. 1779; DNB). Montagu, like Southey, was a member of Gray’s Inn, and was called to the Bar in 1798. He was a friend of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and in 1795, Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, undertook the upbringing of his two-year-old son by his first wife. BACK

[3] Charles Watkin Williams Wynn was returned as a member for the notoriously rotten borough of Old Sarum on 29 July 1797. BACK

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March 2009