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

272. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [12 November 1797] ⁠* 

Sunday. Bath.

My dear Wynn

All the blunders concerning Coke [1]  will soon be over I hope, my letter to Wynnstay, & what I have this day written to Sancho will explain them — & the book will soon be here I suppose.

For my little poem in the Magazine.  [2]  Philips [3]  had been some year & half importuning me for my name, & I did not like the appearance of pride in refusing it. the piece pleased me. look at the word very as there used again — it occurs twice — & you will find that in the last place it is used as an adjective, & no other word could so well supply it. in the first — it scarcely — even to my own ear seems expletive “It was a very plain & simple tale. By the by I called it a plain tale — to which Philips or Aikin absurdly tacked on a syllable & made it ridiculous — plaintive! it was written at Burton — the mere recital of what happened near our lodgings.

You will be surprized perhaps at hearing that Cowpers [4]  poem does not at all please me. you must have heard it in some moment when your mind was predisposed to be pleased, & the first impression has remained. indeed I think it — not above mediocrity — I cannot trace the Author of the Task in one line. I know that our tastes differ much in poetry. & yet I think you must like these lines by Charles Lamb. I believe you know his history — & the dreadful death of his mother.

Thou shouldst have longer lived, & to the grave
Have peacefully gone down in full old age.
Thy children would have tended thy gray hairs;
We might have sat, as we have often done,
By our fire side, & talkd whole nights away,
Old times, old friends & old events recalling,
With many a circumstance of trivial note,
To memory dear & of importance grown.
How shall we tell them in a strangers ear!

A wayward son oft times was I to thee,
And yet in all our little bickerings
Domestic jars, there was I know not what
Of tender feeling, that were ill exchanged
For this worlds chilling friendships, & their smiles
Familiar, whom the heart calls strangers still.

A heavy lot hath he, most wretched man,
Who lives the last of all his family.
He looks around him, & his eye discerns
The face of the stranger, & his heart is sick.
Man of the World, what canst thou do for him?
Wealth is a burthen which he could not bear,
Mirth a strange crime the which he dares not act,
And generous wines x no cordial to his soul.
For wounds like his Christ is the only cure.
Go — preach thou to him of a world to come,
Where friends shall meet & know each others face
Say less than this, — & say it to the winds. [5] 

———

I am aware of the danger of studying simplicity of language. but you will find in my blank verse a fullness of phrase when the subject requires it. these lines may instance

it was a goodly sight
To see the embattled pomp, as with the step
Of stateliness the barbed steeds came on,
To see the pennons rolling their long waves
Before the gale, & banners broad & bright
Tossing their blazonry, & high-plumed Chiefs
Vidames & Seneschalls & Chastellains,
Gay with their bucklers gorgeous heraldry
And silken surcoats on the buoyant wind
Billowing.  [6] 

God bless you. I come to London Monday the 20th.

yrs affectionately

R Southey.


Notes

* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn/ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: BATH
Postmarks: FR/ NO/ 13/ 97; NO/ 13/ 97
Endorsement: Nov, 13/ 1797
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 324–326 [in part; misdated 20 November 1797].
Dating note: 12 November was a Sunday in 1797, and therefore probably the day on which Southey wrote this letter. BACK

[1] Edward Coke (1552–1643; DNB), Commentarie upon Littleton (1628), the first part of his four part Institutes of the Laws of England (1628–1644). BACK

[2] ‘Hannah, a Plaintive Tale’ was published in the Monthly Magazine, 4 (October 1797), 287. From 1799, it was incorporated into Southey’s sequence of ‘English Eclogues’ and retitled ‘The Funeral’. BACK

[3] Sir Richard Phillips (1767–1840; DNB), author, publisher and proprietor of the Monthly Magazine. BACK

[4] William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB), whose works included The Task (1785). BACK

[5] Published as ‘Written Soon after the Preceding Poem’, in Charles Lamb and Charles Lloyd, Blank Verse (London, 1798), pp. 84–86. BACK

[6] These lines appeared in Joan of Arc, 2nd edn, 2 vols (Bristol, 1798), II, pp. 238–240. BACK

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March 2009