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298. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [25 March] 1798 ⁠* 

Lady day. 98

My dear Wynn

I thank you for your list of books. they shall come in succession after I have digested Coke, [1]  a tough dish, & not the more palatable for the notes that season it. I am however dieting upon it to some effect.

To what you say of marriage I reply not — because my own opinion inclines to yours, & the habit of arguing pro & con, tho perhaps it may be well for a lawyer, is calculated to produce a scepticism of mind, an unsettled state of mind, prejudicial to virtue & happiness.

Our Garden scheme [2]  is, I hope, advancing by this time it is probable that John May has seen you, & told you what Martin [3]  suggested. recollection made me smile when I wrote his name.

My book [4]  will soon be finished. I will send it you as soon as possible, & also, if you think it will be right, a copy for Richards. [5]  it will be civil as the large copies are not for sale, & it will be very handsome. [6] 

I heard of Martin Butt last week. he is a curate, & near the parsonage house on which his father wasted so much money. [7]  I shall probably see him in the summer, & pass some days in that neighbourhood.

I see that Lewis has castrated his Monk, greatly to his improvement. [8]  it was a good plan to make his book popular first, & decent afterwards. I think I have added a good motto to my second edition, on the back of the title page. it is from Erasmus. Ut homines, ita libros, indies seipsis meliores fieri oportet. [9] 

You will find a fine anecdote in my notes of the Irish, which will amuse you. a custom of leaving the right arm unchristened, that they might give a more deadly & ungracious blow with it — & then you know the Christian part had not to answer for the sin. [10] 

Who was it used to thank God for being born a man not a beast — a Greek not a barbarian? [11]  as a Hottentot I might have been very well contented — but indeed I am thankful I was not made an Irishman.

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

R Southey.


Notes

* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmarks: FREE MR/ 26/ 98; B/ MR/ 98
Endorsement: March 25 Lady day 1798
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Edward Coke (1552–1643; DNB), Institutes of the Laws of England (1628–1644). BACK

[2] John May and Southey’s plan for a convalescent hospital. BACK

[3] Probably Matthew Martin (1748–1838; DNB), secretary to the Society for Bettering the Condition and Improving the Comforts of the Poor. BACK

[4] Joan of Arc (1798). BACK

[5] Probably Sir Richard Richards (1752–1823; DNB), an eminent lawyer in Chancery. BACK

[6] Cottle printed larger copies of Southey’s works, to be distributed as gifts; see Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle [c. 18 May 1797], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part 1, Letter 217. BACK

[7] George Butt (1741–1795; DNB), the father of Southey’s schoolmate John Marten Butt, had incurred considerable expense building a new parsonage at Stanford, Worcestershire, where he was Rector. BACK

[8] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818; DNB) published a fourth, expurgated edition of his controversial novel in 1798, retitling it Ambrosio, or, The Monk. BACK

[9] The Latin translates as ‘Books are like people: they ought to improve on themselves day by day.’ It was used as an epigraph to Joan of Arc (1798) and is a quotation from the works of Desidirius Erasmus (c. 1476–1536), Dutch scholar. BACK

[10] Joan of Arc, 2 vols (Bristol, 1798), I, p. 153. BACK

[11] A saying attributed to various Greek philosophers, including Thales (624–546 BC), Socrates (469–399 BC) and Plato (428–348 BC). BACK

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August 2011