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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

926. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 20 April 1804 ⁠* 

Dear Wynn

This comes to acknowledge yours from Chester – I have nothing else as yet to communicate.

I am transcribing the first part of Madoc, designing to leave it in London with the printers, [1]  & Dapple perhaps will correct the press for me & be omnipotent over commas semicolons & periods.

Politics are indeed become very interesting. I look with rather more apprehension to the enormous extent of our East Indian empire, & the sulky selfishness of our West Indian planters, than to any effects that invasion can produce, if indeed Bonaparte does design to invade us – & if he be permitted to live to carry his design into execution. Pichegru was probably murdered. it does not appear to me a practicable mode of suicide. one convulsive motion might have slipt the stick & loosened the handkerchief, & there was a motive for murdering him. [2]  if it was dangerous to execute the Duc d Enghein [3]  by day light, it would be still more dangerous to put to death publicly men who like Pichegru & Moreau have actually saved France. [4]  You remember telling me what P. said of poor Lord Camelford, [5]  & now they are both gone, so nearly at the same time, & both so strangely!

Has Mr Gander really been doing any thing more than all Embassadors are in the habit of doing? [6]  & why are the good people of England crying out that Government must clear themselves of all share in the conspiracy – when in all times, all Governments during war have labourd by such means to overthrow each other. Witness the whole reign of Elizabeth [7]  – & the whole period from the Revolution to 1745 – & the very practice of this very country during the last war. As for the assassination of Bonaparte being part of the plot – the plot was to overthrow his power, & if when you kickd him from his throne, his neck happened to break in the fall – that was a contingency. But the follies of public opinion form a perpetual comment upon the text of straining at a gnat & swallowing a Camel! [8] 

You know I have reviewed the despicable & detestable work of Malthus on Population. [9]  By some blunder of Arthur Aikins it has also been reviewed by Wm Taylor – & I am in hope his article may have supplanted mine [10]  – for in that case I will build upon the timbers, & make a little volume. In reviewing I have merely stuck to my text & demolished a heap of sophistry – but the subject as it relates to this country is of exceeding importance, & I feel that I could produce something upon it which should deserve to be remembered hereafter.

God bless you.

Yrs affectionately


April 20. 1804

I hope to be in London before the end of the month.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ APR 23/ 1804
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Madoc (1805), which Southey had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication, was in fact printed by James Ballantyne in Edinburgh. BACK

[2] Jean-Charles Pichegru (1761–1804): a French Revolutionary general, victor over the Austrians and British, who became a royalist. He planned a coup d’etat in 1797, was imprisoned, escaped to Britain in 1798, and returned to Paris in August 1803 to head an uprising against Napoleon Bonaparte. He was betrayed and arrested on 28 February 1804, and found strangled in prison on 5 April. BACK

[3] Louis Antoine Henri de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien (1772–21 March 1804): a Prince of the Blood, Enghien fought against the revolution from exile in Baden, just across the Rhine from France. In March 1804, suspecting him (erroneously) of involvement in Pichegru’s plot, Napoleon had him kidnapped and brought to Paris, where he was executed. BACK

[4] Jean Moreau (1763–1813), a French Revolutionary general, jailed on 15 February 1804 for his supposed involvement in Pichegru’s royalist plot against Napoleon’s life. BACK

[5] Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford (1775–10 March 1804), was the cousin of William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806. He served in the Royal Navy from an early age and his career was punctuated by acts of insubordination and violence, including the cold blooded killing of a fellow officer in a dispute about rank. An habitual duellist, Pitt died of a wound sustained on 7 March 1804 in a duel with a friend that both men felt bound by honour to fight. ‘P.’ has not been identified. BACK

[6] Unidentified. BACK

[7] Elizabeth I (1533–1603, Queen of England and Ireland 1558–1603; DNB). BACK

[8] Matthew, 23: 23, 24. BACK

[9] Southey reviewed Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the future improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 292–301. BACK

[10] The editor of the Annual Review, Arthur Aikin, published Southey’s rather than Taylor’s review. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013