Printer-friendly versionSend by email
The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1055. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 6 April 1805 ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

The King of Persia calls for a new edition of Joan of Arc. [1]  I must therefore weed out as many of its faults as I can, – & you can hardly conceive how wearisome a task this is – ‘flat & unprofitable’ [2]  in the most literal sense of the words. Had I a few books at hand & no other demands on my time – or worthier occupation, a good deal might be inserted, – but the books which would have been most useful – which are Godefroys Hist. of the Charles’s father & son [3]  – with the Journal de Paris [4]  – I once did not buy for prudential reasons – & have never recollected the opportunity without cursing myself for a fool. However I shall make an infinite number of minor amendments, & endeavour to get rid of as many peculiarities of phraseology & weak & watery parts as possible. The long-handed Bibliopoli requests that the Vision be appended to the second volume, [5]  & proposes to supply its place with the verses from my Letters – for the volume in which it now stands will go to press again in the autumn. provoking that all these copyrights are gone! – I do not like those said Letter verses well enough to transplant them. whenever they are taken out of their present place it will be to throw them away. But I think the Retrospect – the Rosamund & perhaps one or two other pieces from that obscure volume may be made tolerable by omissions – for I cannot patch them, – & may quietly fill up the gap. [6]  they will make a variety & be to the taste of many readers, – nor indeed do I my very Egomet-ipse-ship [7]  think them bad for what they are.

400 of Amadis remain on hand, 350 of Thalaba. [8]  It will be long before these, in which I have an interest, will bring me in anything, but they will go off in time. I am startled at the price of Madoc [9]  – not that it is dear compared with other books, but it is too much money, & I vehemently suspect that in consequence the sale will be just sufficient for the publisher not to lose anything – & for me not to gain any thing. [10]  What will be its critical reception I cannot anticipate – there is neither metre nor politics to offend any body, & it may pass free for any matter that it contains – unless, indeed, some wise acre should suspect me of favouring the Roman Catholic religion.

And this catch words leads me to the great political question. A Catholic establishment would be the best – perhaps the only – means of civilising Ireland. Jesuits & Benedictines, tho they would not enlighten the savages, would humanise them, & bring the country into cultivation. A petition that asked for this – saying plainly we are Papists & will be so, & this is the best thing that can be done for us & for you too, – such a petition I could support, considering what the present condition of Ireland is – how wretchedly it always has been governed – & and how hopeless the prospect is. But the present Petition is comparatively trifling in its object – & positively false in its assertions. the petitioners who have signed it, may possibly hold such tenets as they profess – but those are not the tenets of the Catholic church – never were & never can be. Their canons, their councils, their doctors all teach a different creed – so most certainly do the Irish clergy – always – since the downfall of the Culdees [11]  & the triumph of the Romanists, – the most superstitious of Europe.

You will laugh at me – but I believe there is more need to check Popery in England than to encourage it in Ireland. It was highly proper to let the emigrant monastics associate together here & live in their old customs – but it is not proper to let them continue their establishments, – nor proper that the children of protestant parents should be inveigled into nunneries. You will tell me their vows are not binding in England – but they are binding in foro conscientiæ [12]  – & believe me xxx whatever romances have related of the artifices of the Romish priesthood does not & cannot exceed the truth. This by God’s blessing I will one day prove irrefragably to the world. – The Protestant Dissenters will die away. destroy the test act [13]  & you kill them. they affect to appeal wholly to reason & bewilder themselves in the miserable snares of materialism – besides this creed is not reasonable – it is a vile mingle-mangle which a Catholic may well laugh at. But Catholicism, having survived the first flood of reformation – will stand – perhaps till the end of all things. It would yield either to a general spread of knowledge (which would require a totally new order of things) – or to the unrestrained attacks of infidelity, – which would be casting out Devils by Beelzebub the Prince of the Devils. But if it be tolerated here – if the old laws of prevention be suffered to sleep – it will gain ground, perhaps to a dangerous extent. You do not know what the zeal is, and what the power of an army of priests – having no interest whatever but that of their order. Were the country in a state of revolution I would vote against all religious establishments as contrary to the spirit of Xianity. As the country now is, & as the minds of men now are I would vote against Catholic emancipation, & frame new tests to shut out the Methodists.

You will not carry the question now. what you may do in the next reign, Heaven knows [14]  – Pray have you heard – if it may be mentioned without danger of leze-majesty – that a certain Personage has been backsliding like Solomon [15]  in his old years? – tempted by a chambermaid? – surely this is scandalum magnatum magnatissimum. [16] 

Coleridge is coming home full of Mediterranean polities. Oh for a vigorous administration – but that wish implies so much that Algernon Sidney suffered for less xxxxxxx direct high treason. [17]  – If I were not otherwise employed – almost I should like to write upon the duty & policy of introducing Xianity into our East Indian possessions –, only that it can be done better at the close of the Asiatic part of the History. [18]  Unless that policy be adopted I prophecy that by the year 2000 there will be more remains of the Portugueze than of the English Empire in the East. If I were Archbishop of Canterbury I would effect this & abolish the Slave Trade – lest the nature of our establishment seems to be to do no other good than that of preventing much mischief by standing in the way of a worse. & so as Elmsley said of Addingtons administration – I am for King Log. [19] 

Johnes thinks of translating Joinville – & Artaxerxes has asked my opinion of the proposal. I have replied that if the Froissart sells this would also, & that of the two authors Joinville is to my mind the most interesting. Johnes does not translate well, – but better than most persons would do because they would be for writing a style. [20] 


My brother Tom has had another escape. The Amelia has a new Captain who chose to water at St Kitts because his wife lived there, instead of at Dominica, the usual place. [21]  He wrote to me on Feb.y 10 – & was regretting the change on that very day the French were at the other island. [22]  – I should hope that the miserable mismanagement of our fleets would make a change in that department inevitable – especially after the history of Mr Trotter. [23]  – This W India business will keep me in anxiety. Tom has weathered the fever, & thinks he has been in great measure the means of clearing the ship of it. [24]  It was is the sure way of promotion – but now the Commodore will be superseded by Adxxxxmiral Cochrane [25]  & so ends that prospect. However if it please God still to preserve him I have no doubts of his getting on.

We go on badly in the East & badly in the West. You will see in the Review that I have been crying out for the Cape. [26]  We want a port in the Mediterranean just now – for if Gibraltar is to be besieged certainly Lisbon will be shut against us. [27]  Perhaps Ceuta could be taken by a coup-de-main [28]  – or Tangiers recovered. that coast of Africa is again becoming of importance. but above all things Egypt – Egypt [29]  – this country is strong enough to conquer & populous enough to colonize – conquest would make the war popular, & colonization secure the future prosperity of the country, & the eventual triumph of the English language over all others. it would amuse you to hear how ambitious of the honour of England & of the spread of her power I am grown become. If we had a King as ambitious as Napoleon he could not possibly find a privy counsellor more after his own heart. Heaven send us another minister & the Devil take this. [30]  How long is he to fool away the resources of the country! If I were superstitious I could believe that Providence meant to destroy us because it has infatuated us.

God bless you


April 6. 1805.


* Address: C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham Acton
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298; WREXHAM/ 202
MS: National Library of Wales MS 4812D and 4813D (fragments of the MS in both folders)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 322–325 [in part]. BACK

[1] The third edition of Joan of Arc was published by Longmans in 1806. For the alterations, see Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), I. BACK

[2] Hamlet, Act 1, scene 2, line 133. BACK

[3] Autre Histoire, d’un Autheur Inconnu, Contenant Partie du Regne du Mesme Charles VII Sçauoir Depuis l’an 1422. Iusques en 1429. Dans Laquelle se Voyent Diuerses Circonstances Curieuses ... sur tout de la Pucelle d’Orleans, du Surnom de Laquelle cette Histoire est Communement Appellée, ed. Denis Godefroy (1549–1622) in Jean Chartier (fl. 1558–1574), Histoire de Charles VII. Roy de France (1661). BACK

[4] Journal d’un Bourgeois de Paris, a chronicle of the reigns of Charles VI and Charles VII, written between 1405 and 1449. The best edition available was Mémoires pour Servir à l’Histoire de France et de Bourgogne, Contenant un Journal de Paris sous les Règnes de Charles VI et de Charles VII (1729). BACK

[5] The ‘Vision of the Maid of Orleans’, originally published in the second volume of Southey’s Poems (1799) was printed at the end of the third edition of Joan of Arc (1806). BACK

[6] In the new 1806 edition of the second volume of Poems (1799), Southey did not include any poems first published in his Letters Written during a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (Bristol, 1797), but did include two poems first published in Southey’s and Robert Lovell’s joint collection of Poems (1795), ‘The Retrospect’ and ‘To Hymen’. ‘Rosamund to Henry, written after she had taken the veil’ appeared in the 1795 volume but not in 1806. Other poems brought into the 1806 edition of Poems to make up for the removal of the ‘Vision’ were, ‘Translation of a Greek Ode on Astronomy, written for the prize at Cambridge, 1793’ (pp. 3–9); ‘To Hymen’ (pp. 25–39); ‘Remembrance’ (pp. 40–43); ‘To Recovery’ (pp. 49–51); ‘Youth and Age’ (pp. 52–53); ‘The Traveller’s Return’ (pp. 54–55); ‘Autumn’ (pp. 56–58); ‘The Destruction of Jerusalem’ (pp. 5 9–62); ‘The Spanish Armada’ (pp. 63–66); ‘St Bartholomew’s Day’ (pp. 67–69); ‘To a Bee’ (pp. 74–75); ‘Metrical Letter’, pp. 76–79. BACK

[7] Meaning ‘me-myself-I-ship’. BACK

[8] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803), and his poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[9] Madoc (1805) cost 2 guineas. BACK

[10] Sales of Madoc were modest. At the end of 1815 five copies of the first edition (of 500 copies) were still unsold. Southey’s profits from the first edition were: £3, 17s, 1d in 1805, and £22, 2s, 4½d, in 1806. BACK

[11] Ascetic Christian monastic and eremitical orders of Ireland and Britain which flourished from the eighth to the twelfth century, during which they were brought under Roman Catholic rule. BACK

[12] Meaning ‘before the tribunal of the conscience’. BACK

[13] The Test Acts, passed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, designated that all who hold public office, including those in universities, must swear allegiance to the monarch as head of the Church of England, and declare their disbelief in transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and the sacrifice of the mass. The Acts excluded Catholics but also many Protestant dissenters from office (although in practice dissenters were indemnified from the penalties incurred). BACK

[14] Catholic emancipation had been promised to the Irish by William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806. Pitt resigned in 1801 when King George III (1738–1820, King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) refused to sanction the measure, convinced it would violate his coronation oath. With Pitt back in power in 1805, emancipation remained an issue, although it was clear that no government could carry it against the King’s opposition. Emancipation was achieved in the next reign, of George IV (1762–1830, reigned 1820–1830; DNB) in 1829. BACK

[15] George III’s supposed interest in a chambermaid reminded Southey of the Old Testament king of Israel, Solomon, who developed a propensity for foreign princesses as wives and mistresses that led him away from his religious faith. BACK

[16] Meaning ‘the greatest of great scandals’. BACK

[17] Algernon Sidney (1623–1683; DNB), a republican opponent of the Stuart monarchs Charles I (1600–1649; King of Great Britain, 1625–1649; DNB) and Charles II (1630–1685, King of Great Britain 1660–1685; DNB), who also opposed the assumption of power over parliament by Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658, Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland 1653–1658; DNB). Sidney was executed after the text of his unpublished work Discourses Concerning Government was used as evidence of treason, the judge in the case declaring ‘scribere est agere’ (‘to write is to act’). BACK

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

[19] The government of the inactive Prime Minster Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844; DNB), came to an end in 1804. In Aesop’s (c. 620–564 BC) fable, frogs desiring a king ask Jove to send them a ruler. He sends a log. Finding that it does not move, they appeal for a different ruler. Jove sends a stork, which eats the frogs. BACK

[20] Thomas Johnes (1748–1816; DNB) translated 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 (1804) and the Memoirs of John Lord de Joinville, Grand Seneschal of Champagne Written by Himself (1807). BACK

[21] St Kitts and Dominica are part of the Leeward Islands group, in the West Indies, where Thomas Southey’s ship was serving. The ship’s captain was William Charles Fahie (1763–1833), a man born and raised in the West Indies. BACK

[22] Dominica, in British possession since 1763, was invaded by France early in 1805. The British retained possession and made the island a colony. BACK

[23] A reference to the censure by the House of Commons on 9 April 1805 of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742–1811; DNB), Secretary of State for War 1794–1801 and First Lord of the Admiralty from 1804. During 1802–1805, Melville’s use of public funds as Treasurer of the Admiralty (1782–1800), was investigated by a Royal Commission. It was found that he had allowed Alexander Trotter (dates unknown), the Naval Paymaster when he, Melville, was Treasurer of the Admiralty (1782–1800), to divert government funds to his personal accounts. Melville resigned and impeachment proceedings were commenced against him. BACK

[24] The disease-ridden Leeward Islands station had already accounted for the previous captain of the Amelia, William Allen Proby, Lord Proby (1779–1804), eldest son of Sir John Joshua Proby, 1st Earl of Carysfort (1751–1828; DNB), who died on 6 August 1804, from yellow fever. BACK

[25] Commodore (later Vice-Admiral) Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet (1762–1814; DNB), in command of the fleet in which Thomas Southey served, was replaced by Admiral Sir Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane (1758–1832; DNB). BACK

[26] Southey reviewed Sir 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), in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 22–34. BACK

[27] In the event, the victory of the British over the Spanish and French fleets at Trafalgar in October freed Gibraltar from the threat of blockade. Britain also held Malta as a Mediterranean base. BACK

[28] Britain did not take Ceuta, a Spanish town on the African side of the Straits of Gibraltar. BACK

[29] Neither Tangiers nor Egypt was conquered by Britain. BACK

[30] William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister from 1783–1801 and 1804–1806. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013