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361. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 17 December 1798 ⁠* 

Monday. Dec 17. 98.

My dear Wynn

I have been about & about writing these many days, but my daily walk takes up so inconvenient a portion of my day that I find the rest short enough for its calls. you do not know the comfort of slipping eight miles thro the mire for the mere purpose of exercise with no other end or object & in all weathers. since my return I have been very unwell & still am indisposed enough to be very punctual in following advice.

The Lyrical Ballads are by Coleridge & Wordsworth. [1]  The Night[MS torn], the Dungeon, the Foster Mothers Tale, & the long ballad of the Old [MS torn]er are all that were written by Coleridge. the ballad I think nonsense, the nightingale tolerable. the other two are pieces of his tragedy. for Wordsworths poems the last pleases me best, [2]  & tho the Idiot boy is sadly dilated it is very well done. I reviewed them two months ago. [3] 

I mentioned to Cottle what Lewis [4]  wished about my Ballads, for the copyright is his. he referred it entirely to me, but seemed convinced that to let them be printed elsewhere would injure the sale materially. I thought so too, so he must not have the Old Woman. [5]  in my next I will send you the wood cut, [6]  the Devil is done as well as if the Pious Painter [7]  had made the drawing from the life. I have altered the trepidation stanza, it is better tho not good, “And the choristers song that late was so strong, Grew a quaver of consternation. They did not try Benvenuto Cellinis’ [8]  dæmonifuge, a recipe of in which Martin Luther seemd to have confidence, for I find it recorded in the Colloquia or Table Talk of that great Reformer, (a book which by the by was translated in consequence of a miracle). [9]  that he was of opinion the best way to drive away the Devil (& grievously was Martin Luther beset by the Devil) was to make fun of him & mob him, & annoy him with jokes, one of which jokes Martin Luther has left for the benefit of posterity — Oh ho Devil! I have bewrayed my breeches — dost thou not smell me? [10] 

Did you ever see the book? it shows him to be either as great as a fanatic or rogue as the Romish Saints whom he so execrates. however there are some good things in it. among the rest an g[MS torn] of certain strange children called Killcrops whom I shall [MS torn] day balladize perhaps. [11]  A Killcrop is the child of the Devil, either laid as a changeling in the cradle, or begotten by the Nix which is Lewis’s Water King, [12]  only the Nix does not kill young women. but a Killcrop resembles other children in every thing except its appetite — for he sucks his mother dry & all the nurses that comes to him & moreover eats as much as two threshers. Martin Luther saw one, a boy of twelve years old, & so confident was the Old Reformer that he was a Killcrop, that he wrote to the Prince of Anhalt whose subject the boy was, to say that if he was Prince in that country, he would have the Killcrop thrown into the river. but as the Prince did not take the hint, Martin Luther desired the ostensible parents to pray to God to remove the Devil, & they did so, & so xx in two years the Killcrop died.

Sundry other things doth Martin Luther relate concerning the Devil, pleasant to read & profitable to know that we {may} beware of his cunning.

He has a story of a Succubus like your origin of the Mortimer. [13]  I have planned a very ugly ballad upon the known [MS torn] that the Devil walks in dead bodies. [14] 

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ C. W. Williams Wynn Esqr. M.P./ 5 Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmarks: FREE/ DE/ 18/ 98; B/ DE/ 18/ 98
Endorsements: Dec 17/ 98; Mr Wynn
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. 176–178. BACK

[1] Lyrical Ballads, With a Few Other Poems (1798). BACK

[2] ‘Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798’. BACK

[3] Critical Review, 24 (October 1798), 232–234. BACK

[4] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818; DNB) was probably collecting ballads for his Tales of Wonder (1801). BACK

[5] ‘A Ballad, Shewing How an Old Woman Rode Double, and Who Rode Before Her’, published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]–160. BACK

[6] A woodcut illustrating ‘A Ballad, Shewing How an Old Woman Rode Double, and Who Rode Before Her’ appeared in Poems (Bristol, 1799), p. [143]. BACK

[7] Southey’s ‘The Pious Painter: A Catholic Story’ was published in the Morning Post, 2 November 1798. In the poem, the painter makes a picture of the Devil. BACK

[8] Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571), Italian artist. BACK

[9] Martin Luther (1483–1546), German religious reformer. His Dris Martini Lutheri Colloquia Mensalia: or, Dr. Martin Luther’s Divine Discourses at his Table … Translated by Henrie Bell (1652) was published posthumously. The story of the miraculous survival of the book and its translation is recorded in ‘Captain Henrie Bell’s Narrative’, unpaginated. BACK

[10] Dris Martini Lutheri Colloquia Mensalia (London, 1652), p. 381. BACK

[11] Dris Martini Lutheri Colloquia Mensalia (London, 1652), p. 387. Joseph Cottle published a ballad on this subject in Southey’s Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 151–160. BACK

[12] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818: DNB), ‘The Water King. A Danish Ballad’ in The Monk, 3 vols (London, 1796), III, pp. 17–20. BACK

[13] Dris Martini Lutheri Colloquia Mensalia (London, 1652), pp. 386–387. Wynn’s tale of ‘the origin of the Mortimer’ may have been a legend that the Mortimer family, powerful landowners on the English-Welsh Borders in the medieval era, were descended from a succubus. BACK

[14] Southey does not seem to have written this ballad. BACK

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August 2011