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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1125. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 24 November 1805 ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

I beg leave to present you with all my right & title to a turtle – but you must look sharp after it. Tom has shipped one on board the Aberdeen, Capt Cummings [1]  – for London in this present convoy & some Gentleman passenger has undertaken to take see it on board the coach for Keswick. – I have been laughing this half hour at the excellent & seaman like absurdity of sending me a turtle, – till it occurred to me that it might be worth your looking after, if it be not eat by the way. [2] 

Poor Lord Proby’s common place book has been gutted of what little it contained & given to my brother – who I believe you know is in the Amelia. [3]  It contained some remarks concerning Surinam & its government, anecdotes of cruelty towards the slaves there, & an attempt to disprove one of the propositions in Euclid. [4]  The purser cut these out & gave Tom the blank book. My brother says of him that he was a very different man in the Amelia from what he had been in the Danae, & that the recollection of his former severities disturbed him in his dying on his death bed. [5]  He was made too young, but had ripened into what a man & a Sea Captain should be. – I thought this worth telling you, in case you might wish to get these papers for Lord Carysfort if they have not been destroyed, tho for my own part I would rather destroy such freshening remembrances of grief than seek for them.

Tom enquires your direction as if he had a design upon you with another turtle. Poor fellow he has been very unlucky in the Amelia doing nothing for eight months, & catching nothing but the yellow fever. Government ought to augment the pay upon foreign stations for, in the West Indies it is not equal to the rest: I can learn nothing satisfactory about the disputed prize money. [6]  He hears that he is to have two thirds. Rickman hears that it is to be only one sixth – & the Courier silenced me by a positive affirmation that the sailors were to have the whole as usual. [7]  If this was a lie – which is very likely, it was a lie by authority; & ministry are ashamed to avow x a measure so unpopular

I mean to tell the Cids story more at length & publish it in a little volume with erudite notes some of the Ballads about him &c. [8]  Twill bring me fifty pounds by the sale of an edition, & some credit, & be better alone than in the Introduction – for my History [9]  must be cleared of extraneous matter for the sake of reducing its bulk.

The Specimens can only make two volumes I conceive. [10]  Bedfords delay has been very provoking. It has cost me much vexation & the loss of a years sale – but it serves me right. One fortnight of my own labour in London would have done what he has been eighteen months {about} & not done yet. & after all I see plainly that I must be at the expence & trouble of a journey to town to finish it myself. I did not put it into his hand one tenth part so much for my own convenience as for the sake of giving him some employment in the hope of curing his uncomfortable disease of having nothing to do.

God bless you


Nov. 24. Monday.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr. M. P./ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmark: FREE/ NOV 28/ 1805
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D
Dating note: Southey has dated the letter incorrectly as ‘‘Monday’’ as 24 November 1805 was a Sunday. BACK

[1] Unidentified. BACK

[2] The turtle died in quarantine; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 1–5 January 1806, Letter 1140. BACK

[3] William Allen Proby, Lord Proby (1779–1804) was the 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 1804 at Surinam, from yellow fever. Wynn had asked Southey if his brother, who was currently serving on the Amelia, could recover any of Proby’s papers for his family and friends; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 7 December 1805, Letter 1130. BACK

[4] Euclid (fl. 300 BC) the Greek mathematician who established the principles of geometry. BACK

[5] Proby had been captain of HMS Danae (formerly the French frigate, Vaillante, which was captured in 1798). In March 1800, under Proby’s command, her crew mutinied, took control of the ship and handed it over to the French. BACK

[6] In December 1804, the naval ship HMS Amelia, of which Thomas Southey was a lieutenant, had captured the Spanish brig Isabella and the ship Conception, both laden with wine and brandy, and the ship Commerce, laden with cotton. It was customary for naval officers to be allotted a share of the value of ships and cargo captured in armed conflict, but in this case the prize money was contested because the ships were captured before war was officially declared. BACK

[7] Southey took up his brother’s cause to have his share of the prize money reinstated and The Courier published a paragraph supporting the sailors’ claim to the prize-money on Saturday 24 August 1805. This was followed by a longer defence of their position in The Courier on 31 August 1805 under the title ‘Indemnification to the Spanish Merchants’. A ‘reply from a Spanish merchant’ appeared in The Courier for 6 September 1805. Southey’s response, that the prize money was being withheld from the sailors in a measure that was ‘impolitic, ungenerous and unjust’ was published in The Courier of 25 September 1805, p. 2. This was refuted by an editorial article in The Courier of 28 September 1805, where it was stated that there was no truth in Southey’s assertion. BACK

[8] Southey’s Chronicle of the Cid was published in 1808. BACK

[9] Southey’s projected, but never completed, ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[10] Southey’s and Bedford’s jointly edited anthology, Specimens of the Later English Poets was published in three volumes by Longman in 1807. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013