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332. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 8 July 1798 ⁠* 

Westbury. Sunday 8th July – 98

My dear Wynn

Your letters have all reached me safely; & this is the earliest possible answer to the last enquiring one. I ought to have acknowledged the receipt of that with the draft – but you know not how busy I have been in revolutionizing the house.

I have Bootes Suit at Law, [1]  & after reading it find it a book to be referred to, & not to be remembered; for to recollect so many formulæ, so little differing from each other, can only be attained by much practice, unless indeed a man were gifted with the verbal memory of Jedediah Buxton. [2]  The book points out much that wants reform in the practice. the man would do much good who should be the Reformer of English law.

I shall take your advice respecting Milton; − it may I think be doubted whether a poet (allowing him enough previous knowledge of the best authors) would most improve himself by studying the best writers, or reading the obscure ones. I speak of epic writers. I read ten books of the Italia Liberata when at Norwich, & Trissino taught me very clearly what ought to be avoided in epic poetry. [3]  it is astonishing how servilely these fellows imitate the established writers. The great advantage of Madocs story is that the whole & all its parts are unlike any thing before it. Every incident appears to me original.

Who is this Welshman about to publish the MS.S.? will he be blockhead enough to print them without translations − for the Magazine gives no intimation on this head. [4]  If such be his intention, the scheme will drop. I am much interested in its being carried into execution.

Did you ever see Percys translation of a Chinese novel? [5]  it is very extraordinary that such a book should have lain nearly 40 years on the booksellers shelves in such obscurity. it is worth a dozen such books as Sir G. Stauntons. [6]  the British Critic [7]  has the merit of making it known.

A very good work has passed thro my hands called a Series of Plays exemplifying the effects of the stronger passions. the author (whoever he may be) bids fair to become an honour to English literature. [8] 

What is become of Dapple the light-horseman? [9] 

God bless you.

yrs truly

Robert Southey.


Notes

* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 167–168. BACK

[1] Richard Boote (d. 1782), An Historical Treatise of an Action or Suit at Law (1766). BACK

[2] Jedediah Buxton (1707–1772; DNB) was renowned for his abilities at mental arithmetic. BACK

[3] Gian Giorgio Trissino (1478–1550), Italia Liberata dai Goti (1547–1548). BACK

[4] Monthly Magazine, 5 (June 1798), 445 had announced ‘that a gentleman, a native of Wales, has generously resolved to publish, at his own expence, all the antient Welsh manuscripts’. The ‘gentleman’ was Owen Jones (1741–1814), a wealthy, Welsh-born, London furrier and antiquarian. The result was The Myvyrian Archaiology (1801–1807). It did not include translations from the Welsh. Southey used it in the notes to Madoc (1805). BACK

[5] Thomas Percy (1729–1811; DNB), Hau Kiou Choann or The Pleasing History (1761). BACK

[6] George Staunton, 1st Baronet (1737–1801; DNB), An Authentic Account of the Earl of Macartney’s Embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China (1797). BACK

[7] British Critic, 10 (October 1797), 373 n.* had urged that Percy’s novel be republished. BACK

[8] Joanna Baillie (1762–1851; DNB), A Series of Plays In Which it is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions (1798). BACK

[9] ‘Dapple’ (a nickname for Bedford derived from that of Sancho Panza’s ass in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616), Don Quixote (1605–1615)) had joined a company of volunteer cavalry, probably the Light Horse Volunteers of London and Westminster. BACK

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August 2011