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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1134. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 18 December [1805] ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

I send the deed of conveyance to Coutts [1]  by this post.

We have had miserably cold weather here. I have been groaning for Portuguese sunshine & rejoicing to think that I am likely to enjoy it next December. [2] 

My notes when they are not of sober complection, are made in the quaintness of my heart & what I call quaint may doubtless by others be called pert or impertinent. The only question is whether they offend more persons than they please – for certain it is that what pleases one offends another. Coleridge used to beseech me not to put them at the bottom of the page, for he said he could not help laughing. But to say this was to praise the notes, & by putting them at the end I thought all objection obviated. However it is a thing to be considered. I had designed to give a statement of the evidence with Owens help in the next edition. [3]  The notes were very much abridged on account of the size of the book – in reprinting there will be no objection – if any passage occur to you which would be the better for elucidation just mention them, – a whole bundle of notes which were never used are on my shelf.

We are in daily & anxious expectation of Coleridges arrival. [4]  He is coming over land from Naples – & would be at Vienna about the same time as the French. – so that I am more uneasy than I chuse to let Mrs C. know.

I have not interest enough with London printers to get large paper copies for my own use. It was a privilege of special favour from a country printer x to whom my business was of xxxx importance. In London they would charge as much for striking off one copy in that size as for 250.

A Gentleman of the long robe in old times received forty broad pieces with a brief – he counted them over & saw – this is well – pugnabo fortiter. [5]  But add ten more & then – pugnabo fiftiter – I find this in Sir Roger L’Estrange. [6] 

To improve Madoc I ought to read Giraldus – as well the xxxx MSS as the printed works. [7]  You Welshmen ought to give us a compleat edition with the old map. [8]  – to know something more of Welsh hagiology: to read whatever of your chronicles are in Latin versions, & to see Pennant, Melangli & Aberfraw. [9]  All this I will do one of these days – but Heaven knows when. – The great fault in the poem is the transfer of interest in the last part from Madoc to Yuhidthiton. Would this be a better conclusion? Tez Tezozomoc encourages the kings idea of emigrating. he plots with Thalala to cut off Madoc & his chiefs at a conference, – meaning to kill Yuhidthiton also – but of this Thalala is ignorant. The meeting takes place in an Islet on the Lake, so that xxx the people are spectators in boats & can take no part. At the moment when they are about to execute their design the King perceives it & alarms Madoc – & takes his side – Thalala also saves the King – but Madoc is wounded in the arm, & Tezozomac dying himself tells him exultingly that he must die – for the weapon is poisoned. Madoc immediately heats his sword red hot upon the altar which has been prepared for the Aztecan rites – & cauterizes the wound. They then part in friendship – & the immediate catastrophe remains the same – only Thalala instead of finding his wife in Aztlan delivers her himself to Madoc. [10] 

You will see in the Annual [11]  some very able remarks upon this part of the story – showing that accidents can only be well introduced into a poem when machinery makes their purposes. xx the remark is true, & it does not answer the objection to say that Providence is implied. Tell me what you think of this conclusion in preference. The whole ceremonial of the Close of the Century may be retained if it be worth while, & made antecedent to the Lake fight.

One more question. Shall I spangle the poem with similies? I am so well convinced that the poem is good that I would spare no labour to make it better. Only I must make no alteration lightly.

God bless you


Dec. 18

I have written to Tom concerning poor Ld Proby’s papers. [12] 


* Address: To C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Dec. 18 1805
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Thomas Coutts (1735–1822; DNB), banker and head of the successful company Coutts & Co. BACK

[2] Southey’s projected visit to Portugal never took place. BACK

[3] Southey’s poem Madoc (1805), for which he had already sought the assistance of the Welsh antiquarian, William Owen Pughe. BACK

[4] Coleridge had been acting as Public Secretary to the British Civil Commissioner in Malta. Though due to return home, he did not arrive in England until August 1806. BACK

[5] Meaning ‘fight bravely’. BACK

[6] The anecdote, with its Latin/English pun, appears in Roger L’Estrange (1616–1704; DNB), Fables Of Aesop And Other Eminent Mythologists: With Morals and Reflections, 7th edn (London, 1724), p. 355. BACK

[7] Giraldus Cambrensis (c. 1146– c. 1223; DNB), or Gerald of Wales, produced poems, letters, lives of the saints, polemical works and treatises, amounting to about ten volumes in modern printed editions. The works Southey was most interested in for writing Madoc were: Itinerarium Cambriae (c.1191), and Descriptio Cambriae (c.1194). BACK

[8] Giraldus was supposed to have been responsible for a surviving schematic map of Europe based on a portion of a contemporary mappa mundi (DNB). BACK

[9] Places described in Madoc. BACK

[10] The poem ends with Yuhidthiton, the remaining leader of the defeated and chastened Aztecas, leading his people into exile, rather than with Madoc, the Welsh colonist, presiding over a new American civilisation. None of these proposed amendments were adopted in later editions. On the history of the poem’s drafting and revision, see the editor’s introduction to volume II of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004). BACK

[11] William Taylor reviewed Madoc in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 604–613. BACK

[12] 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 Thomas Southey 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

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Published @ RC

August 2013