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336. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 21 July 1798 ⁠* 

Saturday. 21st July. 98.

My dear Wynn

Your request respecting your letters arrived too late. on settling my papers here they were destroyed. old papers of any kind give I am believe more pain than pleasure, when the circumstances they mention have ceased to exist – & many are even forgotten. I made a great blaze, & however cold my quires of poetry were before, there was certainly fire in them then. Stemmata quid faciunt [1]  went with the rest. it was an Auto da Fe & I burnt all that did not accord with my present poetical creed, like a good Catholic. of the relics of old times your drawing only was preserved.

I am glad you think an Union [2]  objectionable as it is, the best measure that can be taken as to Ireland, because I consider it as the best termination for both countries. Will not the cabal who have made the mischief oppose it? [3]  & if so a great weight would be thrown into the rebel scale. I do not think a seperation desirable for Ireland, tho many of the better Irish desire it, & for England, I should think it not impossible if Ireland were its enemy that France might one day be its conqueror. yet so detestable does the system carried on there appear to me, that I should almost rejoice to see the country delivered from its present yoke by any means.

As to a special pleader [4]  you will use your own judgement. that office will be best where most can be done in the least time. I do not think I can enter one before Xmas, as family reasons will prevent it – & I should be afraid of subjecting Ediths health to the air & the confinement of London before it were better established.

I cannot tell you how comfortable I feel the range of a house, after living so long in lodgings. it is of considerable advantage also to me, as I can have a room ready to enter at an early hour, & have for this last week work at ¼ after five as methodically as if xx an alarum clock had summoned me. during these hours thus gained, have I been travelling to Mathraval [5]  & heard the Hirlas song, & spent some little time with Rhys ap Gryffydh [6]  at Dinevawr “the great palace. [7]  the company however that has pleased me best has been that of the blind old Cynetha. [8]  Madoc has been speaking of his father with high praise to the Cynetha, not knowing him.

There were two brethren once, the old man replied,
Of royal line. they loved each other well,
And when the one was at his dying hour
It was a comfort to him that he left
So dear a brother, who would gladly pay
A fathers duties to his orphan boy.
And he did love the orphan, & the boy
With all a childs sincerity lovd him,
And learnt to call him father. So the years
Past on, till when the orphan reached the age
Of manhood, to the throne his Uncle came.
The young man claimd a fair inheritance,
His fathers lands; & mark what followd Prince!
At midnight he was seizd & to his eyes
The bxxk brazen plate was held! – he lookd around
His prison room for help. he only saw
The ruffian forms that to the red-hot brass
Forced his poor eyes, & held the open lids
Till the slow agony consumd the sense,
And when their hold relaxd, he would have given
The wealth of worlds so he could {might} then have seen
Their ruffian faces. – I am blind young Prince,
And I can tell how sweet a thing it is
To see the blessed light!
Must more be told?
What farther agonies he yet endured?
Or hast thou known the consummated crime
And heard Cynetha’s fate? [9] 

The part where Cynetha makes himself known is perhaps finer than this as the images are not painful.

The hours thus forced from sleep I think fairly belong to myself – & have made them unalienable from Madoc – like the sinking fund. [10]  But I suspect my poem will be done before the national debt is paid as I do not write one book & plan twenty. I think you would like what is done & the ways before me

Are so exceeding spacious & wyde,
And sprinkled with such sweet variety
Of all that pleasant is to eare or eye
That I – my tedious travel do forget thereby [11] 

God bless you

yrs affectionately

R. Southey.

The Vision [12]  will of course be the same size as the poem [13]  – to sell with it. I do not agree with you about the drunkenness lines. [14]  there are some before – I think page 334 [15]  that are lamentable in that way.


Notes

* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ C. W. Williams Wynn Esqr. Christ Church/ Oxford / Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmark: F/ JY/ 24/ 98
Endorsement: July 21 1798
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. 172–174. BACK

[1] Decimus Junius Juvenalis (fl. AD late 1st and early 2nd centuries), Satire 8, line 1. The Latin translates as ‘Of what value are pedigrees?’ BACK

[2] After the defeat of the 1798 rising intense discussions about the constitutional position of Ireland began in government circles. The Prime Minister, William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), favoured the abolition of the Irish Parliament and a formal Union between Ireland and Great Britain. BACK

[3] Irish government was in the hands of a small group of office-holders, most importantly, Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, (1769–1822; DNB), the Chief Secretary for Ireland 1797–1798; John Foster (1740–1828; DNB), Speaker of the Irish House of Commons 1785–1800; John Fitzgibbon, Earl of Clare (1749–1802; DNB), Lord Chancellor of Ireland 1789–1801; and John Beresford (1738–1805; DNB), Chief Commissioner of Revenue, 1780–1802. BACK

[4] Wynn was attempting to persuade Southey to become a Special Pleader, an expert in drafting ‘pleadings’ (the formal documents used in court). It was usual to practice as a Special Pleader before being called to the Bar. BACK

[5] The seat of the Welsh Princes of Powys, mid-Wales. BACK

[6] Rhys ap Gruffydh (1132–1197; DNB), ruler of the South Walian kingdom of Deheubarth. BACK

[7] Dinefwr or Dinas Vawr (the ‘great palace’) was the ancestral home of the rulers of Deheubarth; see William Warrington (1776?–1852), The History of Wales, In Nine Books (London, 1786), p. [151]. BACK

[8] In Southey’s Madoc (1805), Cynetha is a Welsh prince. The rightful ruler of Wales, he has been deposed, blinded and castrated by Madoc’s father Owen Gwynedd. BACK

[9] A revised version of these lines appeared in Robert Southey, Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 3, lines 110–136. BACK

[10] In theory, any surplus government revenue was meant to be used to reduce the national debt, but for most of the eighteenth century the money was diverted to other forms of expenditure. In 1786 the Prime Minister, William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), introduced legislation that ensured surplus revenue was inalienable and had to be used to repay the national debt. BACK

[11] An adaptation of Edmund Spenser (1552–1599; DNB), The Faerie Queene, Book 6, Proem 1, lines 3–7. BACK

[12] ‘The Vision of the Maid of Orleans’, a revised version of material originally in the ninth book of Joan of Arc, An Epic Poem (1796), appeared in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [1]–69. BACK

[13] The second edition of Joan of Arc, published earlier in 1798. BACK

[14] See Robert Southey, Joan of Arc, An Epic Poem (Bristol and London, 1796), p. 341. BACK

[15] Probably Robert Southey, Joan of Arc, An Epic Poem (Bristol and London, 1796), pp. 337–338. BACK

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August 2011