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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1006. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 18 December 1804 ⁠* 

Tuesday 18. Dec. 1804.

Dear Wynn

I have letters from my brother thank God – which tho of a very unpleasant nature still were very acceptable. in consequence of a quarrel with his Captain [1]  he has been brought to a Court Martial for disobedience of orders, neglect of duty & contempt of his commanding officer. the two first charges were not proved. the last was that is he was convicted of having replied when charged with being off deck &c – ‘I beg you pardon Sir, I must contradict you.’ – & for this sentenced to be dismissed the ship. Commodore Hood [2]  wished the matter not to be brought to trial, & said that if Tom would make a satisfactory apology he would have the order for trial cancelled. Tom therefore wrote a humbler letter than either his temper liked or the strict justice of the case warranted, but the Captain replied nothing but a full confession of all the charges could be satisfactory. – The day on which he wrote he had breakfasted with the Commodore to whom he applied for an appointment. Sir A. very properly answered ‘my doing that before I have read the minutes, for only the sentence has been sent me yet, will be prejudging the case. if you incline to wait till I have read them I will then let you know.’ the trial was at Antigua – this took place at Barbadoes. Tom therefore forewent the only opportunity of returning to England in a Kings ship that will offer till April, relying on this as the minutes are more in his favour than the sentence, & probably Sir A Hood is disposed to befriend him for the from the remembrance of his brother. [3]  – Good however comes out of evil. this prevented him from being in the affair with the Lilly, & the Lieutenant who went in his stead fell! [4]  An effectual consolation were the matter worse than it is.

At any other time this would have given me much uneasiness, for of course it will injure him. the merits of these things never can be looked into, & it is a rare instance of good fortune that Captain Hoods brother should happen be the Commander on that station – else he might have reviewed the minutes by the sentence – as I do many a book by the first page. but unless he be speedily appointed he cannot afford to wait in a country where money is of so little value that the very negro beggars will hardly accept of copper. his finances he told me would last six weeks, before which period the minutes would arrive. the letter was nine weeks on its way – & I shall look very anxiously for another. – Tom is as good an officer & as brave a man – to use one of his {own} phrases, as ever stept between stem & stern – but as he would be the kindest creature in the world to those below him I fear he has more honesty than prudence in his dealings with his superiors. The constitution of the navy like every thing else has undergone a great alteration, & he is a sailor of the old mould which is now out of fashion.

So much for that. you would probably see the fact in the papers – or else perhaps I should not have mentioned it. – I am not only very fond of my brother – but very proud of him, & have a strong hope in my heart that if he lives I shall have good reason for that pride. Dapple I know is very fond {proud} of his brother xxx – such an elegant young man he calls him. I do’nt think however in this case that there is a tear in my own eye.

Have you seen the vignette with the shield? if not I will send you it & the ship also in my next. I expect the other two this week. Your eaglets to be sure are as ugly as need be – but the whole groupe is in excellent good taste. [5]  Thank you for the note. Owen has sent me the Hirlas [6]  – & I hope the whole will now speedily be done.

If Wilkes comes in {my} way [7]  I will fall foul of the passage you remark – & also come to you for Elmsleys case [8]  – but most likely the book will not travel to Keswick. I am in the middle of my work – just going to f attack your favourite Society whom I shall belabour. [9]  but in most cases my articles will lower their tone of criticism, which was in sometimes unnecessarily severe – not that the books did not deserve it – but it was needless to trample on the dead; & to ridicule a book which of itself was sure to pale only to give pain to the author. I have had some compunction with regard to Clarkes book, [10]  & am resolved for the future rather to be dull than ill-natured {malevolent}. the pleasure of saying a good thing is but a bad motive for doing an ill natured one.

Thank you too for the stockings – very acceptable they are in the cold country which is fit only for white bears & yellow foxes. Yet I wish you could see these our mountains half covered as they are with snow & reflecting such colours xxx under the flying clouds! –

This pestilence is a fearful visitation. [11]  it is got to Faro where I know some very good people – one good old man in particular whom I dare say it will bring down with sorrow to the grave. I was his guest there – & you know not how much the horror is increased by knowing the scene of the calamity. [12]  Lisbon must inevitably have its turn. I shall beseech my Uncle to fly in time & give up all hope of seeing the South of Europe {myself} till the Destroying Angel shall have stayed his hand. those countries will be half dispeopled. –

How is your Uncle? [13]  I knew nothing of his accident but for a jest upon it in the Morning Herald [14]  – & politics have been so conveniently jostled that I & those who think & feel with me, have now a great interest in his well doing.

I had a wish to edit Sir P. Sidneys [15]  works – for the sake of having them set forth handsomely as they deserve, & proposed to write a Life – an Essay on the Arcadia [16]  – which would have been a history of Romance – & another on his metres, in which I should have exemplified them all upon the principle of accent instead of quantity. Heber & Longman thought it would not do as the book was so common. I think otherwise, the books sell not because they are good but because they are handsome furniture, & if his works were handsomely printed the name would see them – but Artaxerxes (ie Longimanus) has the voice potential. [17] 

John Southey has bought a large estate near Lyme, & is building upon it. for whom? – if it were for me how I should like to give direction for the library! – his buying land looks rather well, & is well should he die intestate. I shall send him Madoc – at the risk of his cursing me for fooling away my time in writing verses. Every body sees the vanity of all pursuits – except their own

God bless you –



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Captain (later Admiral) Henry Heathcote (1777–1851), in command of HMS Galatea 1803–1805. BACK

[2] Commodore (later Vice-Admiral) Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet (1762–1814; DNB), in command of the fleet in which Thomas Southey served. BACK

[3] Captain Alexander Hood (1758–1798) died of a wound to the thigh sustained when his ship HMS Mars engaged the French ship Hercule off the coast of Brittany. Nearly 400 men, and both captains, died in the fight. Tom, who was on board the Mars, was wounded. BACK

[4] On 14 August 1804, the boats of Thomas Southey’s ship HMS Galatea made an unsuccessful attempt to cut out the French privateer General Ernouf (formerly the British sloop of war Lilly) lying at the Saintes near Guadeloupe. Of the 90 men sent on the mission 65 were killed or wounded. Southey had suspected that his brother was among the dead, having read in the newspapers that the first lieutenant had been killed. Thomas had been placed under arrest and it was his replacement on the raid, Lieutenant Charles Hayman (d. 1804), who died. BACK

[5] Southey is referring to the illustrations for Madoc. Eaglets were among the heraldic devices to be included on the engraving of Wynn’s shield for the titlepage of Madoc (1805). The image of Madoc’s ship was not published. BACK

[6] Southey based a song in Madoc (1805) upon the medieval Welsh poem ‘Hirlas’ (Madoc, Part 1, Book 10, lines 49–82). In a note to the text, Southey thanked William Owen Pughe for supplying him with a literal translation of ‘this remarkable poem’, adding that his own version would have ‘stood very differently had I seen this literal version before it was printed. I had written from the faithless paraphrase of Evans’. The ‘paraphrase’ was ‘A Poem composed by Owain Cyveiliog, prince of Powys, entitled by him HIRLAS from a large drinking horn so called, used at feasts in his palace’, in Evan Evans (1731–1788; DNB), Specimens of the Poetry of the Antient Welsh Bards (London, 1764), pp. 7–13. BACK

[7] Southey is anticipating being sent for review Letters from the Year 1774 to the Year 1796 of J. Wilkes, Esq. to his Daughter ... With a Collection of his Miscellaneous Poems, edited by William Rough (1804). This work was reviewed in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 529–542. Southey is not credited with writing it in Kenneth Curry, ‘Southey’s Contributions to the Annual Review’, Bulletin of Bibliography and Dramatic Index, 16 (September–December 1939), 195–197. BACK

[8] The edition of Thucydides Graece et Latinae (1804) by Southey’s and Wynn’s mutual friend Peter Elmsley was reviewed in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 331. Southey is not credited with writing this review. BACK

[9] Southey reviewed Part the First of An Address to the Public from the Society for the Suppression of Vice, Instituted, in London, 1802, Setting Forth, with a List of the Members, the Utility and Necessity of such an Institution, and its Claim to Public Support (1803) in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 225–231. BACK

[10] Southey reviewed James Stanier Clarke’s (1766–1834; DNB) 1804 edition of the poem by William Falconer (1732–1769), The Shipwreck (1762), in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 577–580. BACK

[11] Yellow fever was epidemic in Iberia in 1804, and killed an estimated 60% of Gibraltar’s population. BACK

[12] John Lempriere (dates unknown), British consul at Faro, Portugal. Southey stayed with him in April 1801. BACK

[13] William Wyndham, Baron Grenville, who had come into government in May 1804. BACK

[14] The Morning Herald had joked earlier in December about Grenville’s hurting his leg. The injury, a ruptured tendon, was bad enough for him to come to London to see a surgeon. He had recovered by the New Year. BACK

[15] Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586): poet, courtier, diplomat and soldier. BACK

[16] The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1590). For Southey’s proposal; see Southey to Longmans and Rees, 11 November 1804, Letter 989. BACK

[17] Artaxeres was Southey’s nickname for Longman, after the Persian emperor Artaxerxes I (also named Longimanus), who reigned 465–424 BC. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013