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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1010. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 30 December 1804 ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

I thank you very truly for your offer respecting my brother. & have written to him to draw for the sum on Danvers. [1]  If he should get appointed soon enough to not to need it I know he will not draw; if he does I will apply to you as soon as his draft arrives. – poor Lord Proby! [2]  the first thing which struck me on reading his death in your letter – was the recollection why he was sent on that station, & indignation against Ld Vincent [3]  for transporting him there as a punishment for his vote. [4] It is a heavy calamity to his father! – in more superstitious days the dreadful mortality on board the Carysfort would have been thought ominous of this, two thirds of her crew died in ten days – including the Captain & most of the officers.

A. Aikin once proposed Constantine Palæologus [5]  to me as the subject of an epic poem, & we had an hours talk upon the story so that I am curious to see Miss Baillies tragedy. [6]  it will suit dramatic better than epic narration. What I felt was that the Greeks were so bad there & the Turks have been so bad ever since, that neither for the victors nor the vanquished could a worthy interest be raised. A dramatic writer would find this no obstacle, because his business is with individual character. I wish I could find an English story for a poem – it would make me feel like a cock on his own dung hill. many all the necessary or desirable knowledge would be so compleatly within my reach. Edmund Ironside, [7]  whom William Taylor recommends in the Annual Review is the best hero, [8]  but tho the event is of first rate importance, being no less than the amalgamation of the Danes & the Saxons, it is not of sufficient popular interest; no national story could be touched, – the poet must every where say Saxon – when all our associations belong to the words Englishman or Briton. I have great drawings of mind, as a mystic would say, towards King Arthur, if his history were not such a chaos; but if we take the Arthur of romance he is eclipsed by his own Knights – if the historical Arthur, [9]  his actions are of no consequential importance. Something might be made of the tale of Brutus [10]  were it not for that unhappy name which would always remind the reader of a greater hero than I could possibly create. besides the legend is not Welsh & will not coalesce with Welsh tradition & Bardic philosophy. – I am afraid there cannot be any worthier hero found for an English poem than Robin Hood. [11]  & that lowers the key too much. So I shall go on with Kehama. [12] 

I have not a poem which you have not seen, not having written a line for the last year except in Madoc which monopolized me. the last parcel of notes goes off tonight to the printer. if there be no delay on the road I suppose the whole may now be done in a fortnight, but it will take some time to get the sheets to London, & make them ready for delivery. Your eaglets I think look as well as such monsters can look. I have put them on Madocs shield so that they are strictly proper. [13]  the ship is to have its colours altered. [14]  the title page will be in classical black letter if such a term be allowable, like Duppas title page, drawn by Mr Tomkins, who is an amateur of Gothic kalography. [15]  it bids fair to be the handsomest I ever saw – x the writing was sent down to me before it went to the engraver. You shall have the other two vignettes when they are done.

One more week clears off my reviewing which is much less this year than it was last [16]  – I then turn hungrily to history [17] 

God bless you


Dec. 30. 1804.

I find they will not go in this sheet.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
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. 295–296. BACK

[1] See Southey to Thomas Southey, 26 December 1804, Letter 1008. BACK

[2] William Allen Proby, Lord Proby (1779–1804), eldest son of Sir John Joshua Proby 1st Earl of Carysfort (1751–1828; DNB). Proby was the captain of HMS Amelia, who, having been sent to the disease-ridden Leeward Islands station, died on 6 August at Surinam, from yellow fever. BACK

[3] Admiral of the Fleet John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent (1735–1823; DNB). BACK

[4] In Letter 1008 of this edition, dated 26 December 1804, Southey states that Proby ‘was sent to the West Indies by that old villain St Vincent because he voted against the ministry’. BACK

[5] Constantine Palaiologos (or Palaeologus) was the younger half-brother of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (1223–1282, reigned 1259–1282), who appointed him Caesar in 1259. He became a monk before his death in 1271. BACK

[6] Joanna Baillie (1762–1851; DNB), Constantine Paleologus, in Miscellaneous Plays (1804). BACK

[7] Edmund II, known as Edmund Ironside (d. 1016), king of England. BACK

[8] In Taylor’s review of the third volume of Sharon Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799–1805), he states that ‘the frank, the daring, the generous virtues of Edmund Ironside; the nationality and importance of his cause, fit him for a favourite hero’. See Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 220–223, 222. BACK

[9] Arthur (supp. fl. in or before 6th century), legendary warrior and supposed king of Britain (DNB). BACK

[10] Brutus, in legend the first king of Britain and great-grandson of Aeneas. BACK

[11] Southey did write a romance on this subject, but it was not until 1823 that he began drafting the verse, in collaboration with Caroline Bowles. The poem remained unfinished, and was published posthumously as a fragment in an edition by Bowles: Robin Hood: a Fragment by the Late Robert Southey and Caroline Southey, with other Fragments and Poems (1847). BACK

[12] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama was published in 1810. BACK

[13] 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). BACK

[14] The image of Madoc’s ship was not published. BACK

[15] Thomas Tomkins (1743–1816): writing-master and calligrapher who took commissions for decorative book titles of luxury publications. BACK

[16] Southey reviewed, in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805): John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB), An Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa, in the years 1797 and 1798, including Observations on the Geology & Geography, the Natural History ... and Sketches of the Various Tribes Surrounding the Cape of Good Hope, Vol. II (1804), 22–33; Robert Percival (1765–1826), An Account of the Cape of Good Hope (1804), 34–41; Daniel Mackinnen (1767–1830), A Tour Through the British West Indies, in the years 1802 and 1803 giving a Particular Account of the Bahama Islands (1804), 50–56; John Barrow, Travels in China: Containing Descriptions, Observations and Comparisons Made and Collected in the Course of a Short Residence at the Imperial Palace of Yuen-min-yuen, and on a Subsequent Journey from Pekin to Canton (1804), 69–83; Sir John Froissart’s Chronicles of England, France, and the Adjoining Countries, from the Latter Part of the Reign of Edward II to the Coronation of Henry IV, trans. Thomas Johnes (1748–1816; DNB) (1804), 189–194; George Heriot (1766–1844), The History of Canada, From its First Discovery: Comprehending an Account of the Original Establishment of the Colony of Louisiana, 194–197; 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), 225–231; Edward Ledwich (1738–1823), The Antiquities of Ireland (1804), 398–413; Original Correspondence of Jean Jacques Rousseau, with Mad. La Tour de Franqueville and M. Du Peyrou (1804), 485–488; Anna Seward, Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin, ... with Anecdotes of his Friends and Criticisms on his Writings (1804), 488–93; David Irving (1778–1850), The Lives of the Scotish Poets; with Preliminary Dissertations on the Literary History of Scotland and the Early Scotish Drama (1804), 493–499; Walter Scott, Sir Tristram: A Metrical Romance by Thomas of Ercildoune (1804), 555–563; Charles Abraham Elton (1778–1853), Poems (1804), 564–565; William Day (dates unknown), The Shepherd’s Boy: being Pastoral Tales (1804), 567–568; E. Warren (dates unknown), The Poet’s Day, or, Imagination’s Ramble (1804), 568; Cupid turned Volunteer: in a Series of Prints, Designed by her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth; and Engraved by W. N. Gardiner, B.A., with Poetical Illustrations by T. P [Thomas Park (1758/9–1834; DNB)] (1804), 568–580; Thomas Green Fessenden (1771–1837), Original Poems (1804), 571; John Blair Linn (1777–1805), The Powers of Genius (1801), 571; Thomas Clio Rickman (1761–1834; DNB), An Ode in Celebration of the Emancipation of the Blacks of Saint Domingo, November 29, 1803 (1804), 572; Robert Bloomfield, Good Tidings (1804), 574; William Robert Spencer (1770–1834; DNB), The Year of Sorrow (1804), 574–575; British Purity: or, the World we Live in. A Poetic Tale, of Two Centuries…By Lory Lucian and Jerry Juvenal, … Assisted by S. Scriblerus, etc. [pseud.] (1804), 575; William Falconer (1732–1769), The Shipwreck, (1804), ed., James Stanier Clarke (1766–1834; DNB), 577–580; William Tooke (1777–1863), ed., The Poetical Works of Charles Churchill: with Explanatory Notes and an Authentic Account of his Life, (1804), 580–585; J. Amphlett (dates unknown), Invasion: a Descriptive and Satirical Poem (1804), 585; Joseph Jefferson (1766–1824), Horae Poeticæ. Poems, Sacred, Moral and Descriptive (1804), 586–587; Alexander Campbell (1764–1824; DNB), The Grampians Desolate, a Poem in Six Books (1804), 587–591; William Crowe (bap. 1745, d. 1829; DNB), Lewesdon Hill (1804), 593–594; John Finlay (1782–1810), Wallace, or, The Vale of Ellerslie, and other Poems (1804), 594–596; Jessie Stewart (dates unknown), Ode to Dr. Thomas Percy (1804), 597; John Belfour (1768–1842), Fables on Subjects Connected with Literature. Imitated from the Spanish of Don Tomas de Yriarte (1804), 597–598; Transactions of the Missionary Society (1804), 621–634; Edward Davies (1756–1831; DNB), Celtic Researches, on the Origin, Traditions, & Language, of the Ancient Britons; with some Introductory Sketches, on Primitive Society (1804), 634–644; [Anon.] No Slaves - No Sugar: Containing New and Irresistible Arguments in Favour of the African Trade by a Liverpool Merchant (1804), 644–648; William Tennant (1758–1813), Indian Recreations, Consisting Chiefly of Strictures on the Domestic and Rural Economy of the Mahommedans and Hindoos (1803), 658–670; John Gardiner (fl. 1758–1792), Essays Literary, Political and Economical (1804), 670–674; Richard Duppa, Heads from the Fresco Pictures of Raffaele in the Vatican (1802), 918–923. BACK

[17] Southey’s projected ‘History of Portugal’, which was never completed. BACK

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August 2013