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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1083. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 12 July 1805 ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

It is so very possible that I might by play writing get five hundred a year, with less labour than it now costs me to get one, that I do not in conscience think it a sufficient excuse xxxx either to others or to myself to say that I cannot write a good play, especially when a bad one will answer the main end as well. Lewis’s offer [1]  – for which I am very much obliged to him, would remove some very weighty objections, – the fretting vexations of a green-room negotiation, & the chance of hostility from some of those persons whose goose language is very inoffensive upon paper, but would be very mischievous when delivered viva voce at the theatre. I will therefore xxxx thankfully accept his offer, & seriously & resolutely set myself to work.

I have asked Elmsley to refer to Diodorus Siculus for me, for what is there said of a Pythoness who eloped with a young Thessalian. This may be connected with the Pythian games, & with the invasion of the temple by the Gauls or Persians, & worked up into a fine spectacle of Grecian costume. [2]  But my intention is to xxx work out three or four plans & send them to you. [3]  – Lewis understands the stage, & whichever you & he may think the most stage-worthy I will proceed upon. Something may be made of Pelayo tho it suits narration best. [4]  I have some crude notions about the Conquest of Lisbon from the Moors by help of English crusaders. – some about the battle of Aljubarrta if that name be not too outlandish. [5]  Perhaps something xxxxx may come of the old Days of Queen Mary, [6]  of which the first scene is written with some success. But there is an objection to the unskilful catastrophe, to the want of spectacle, & to the general subject by which some of the audience would be affected too strongly, & others not at all. Still I confess the subject is a favourite with me, & gives me a second-sight of some impressive & powerful scenes. However I will set to work in earnest, & send you the xxx xxxxxxx xxx xxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xx xxxxx xxx xxxxxxxx patterns, that you may choose to your own taste, – for, tho I will do my best, dramatic composition is not that in which I can excel. – xx you will not suspect me of undervaluing, or affecting to undervalue xx my own powers.

For this month past I have been miserably tormented with a cold which makes me as ugly & as uncomfortable as possible. Eyes & nose excoriated, & mouth infested with eruptions. This is the more provoking because my friend Danvers is come from the South, & while I show him the country I am prevented from enjoying it myself.

Thank you for the Articles of Impeachment. [7]  I hope much good will arise from this happy affair which seems to have opened the eyes of every body. Take you care that your confinement with the Committee does not do you mischief – you have been used to country air & exercise during the hot weather.

God bless you

RS

July 12. 1805.


Notes

* Address: C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmark: FREE/ JUL 15/ 1805
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 386–387. BACK

[1] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818; DNB): novelist and playwright, who Southey first met when they were both pupils at Westminster School. Lewis had suggested that Southey should write a play which he would promote at the Covent Garden Theatre to ensure it was well received; see Southey to Peter Elmsley, 10 July 1805, Letter 1081. BACK

[2] Diodorus Siculus (1st century AD), Greek historian, whose Bilbioteki, Book 16 contains the story of the Pythoness. The Pythia was the title given to the priestess of Apollo at Delphi, who was famous for her prophecies, uttered under the influence of vapours rising from the earth. The priestess was originally always a young virgin, but after Echecrates the Thessalian kidnapped and raped the incumbent, the priestess was always chosen from among old women. Because of its wealth and influence Delphi was a regular target for attack by Greece’s enemies, such as the Persians and Gauls. BACK

[3] Southey’s ideas for theatrical productions were a Greek drama, a dramatisation of Madoc, and a play set in the reign of Mary I (1516–1558, Queen of England 1553–1558; DNB); see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4th series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 190–192. BACK

[4] The story of Pelayo would become the subject-matter of Southey’s poem Roderick, The Last of the Goths, published by Longman in 1814. BACK

[5] The battle of Aljubarrota was fought between Portugal and Castile in 1385. BACK

[6] See note 3. BACK

[7] Southey is referring to the parliamentary investigation into the actions 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 while Treasurer of the Admiralty (1782–1800), was scrutinised by a Royal Commission. After its report, on 9 April 1805, Melville was censured in the House of Commons for allowing Alexander Trotter (dates unknown), the naval paymaster, to misuse public funds. Melville resigned and impeachment proceedings were commenced against him. The articles of impeachment were delivered to the House of Lords on 9 July 1805. BACK

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August 2013