729. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19 October 1802 ⁠* 

Bishop Taylor says of Heaven “– a blessed Country where an enemy never entered, & from whence a friend never went away”. [1]  – One has heard of all sorts of heavens – from xx the all bodily enjoyment of Mohammeds [2]  paradise – to the rest & impassibility of Sommono-Codon [3]  – but that last part of the old Bishops sentence gives me the most heavenly picture of all. you I believe are not acquainted with the old Bishop – except by name. but you who can forgive poor Wilds [4]  madness for his genius will not object to the trouble of going thro some dullness to find the finest passages of eloquence in our language. If you will read Jeremy Taylor – I am sure you will thank me for recommending him. His Holy Living & Dying [5]  – is a book common enough. I rather prefer his Sermons. – Now if my letter be inspected at any of your Bureaus I trow Messrs Inspectors will find a very innocent beginning. –

I envy you not so much for seeing the Lion [6]  & the pictures & the statues – as for the delight of overhauling a booksellers shop at Paris, where I presume you will find time to soil your fingers with venerable dust. I will risque a very humble commission. there is a French epic upon Charles Martels [7]  defeat of the Saracens – by Boissat – or Boissard [8]  – if my recollection be right. – & there are two poems upon Charlemagne the one by Courtin – I know not the author of the other.  [9]  Should you see these they are such little books that however small your portmanteau they would not crowd it – so insignificant that they will be the waste paper price – & not sixpennyworth of duty rascally duty as it is; – & I dare swear as worthless – that if you do not find them – I do not care. only I have so fine a family of the sort that I should like the whole of the breed.

You did not mention whether the Cid [10]  had reached you – but it has long been sent. for the Bishop [11]  I have written this interpolation – because your sisters [12]  drawing put me in the humour –

He ran against a shooting star
So fast for fear did he sail
And he singed the beard of Athendius
Against a Comets tail

And he passd between the horns of the Moon
With the Bishop on his back –
And there was an Eclipse that night
That was not in the Almanack.

I am glad to hear of Stracheys well-doing. the feelings that make him querulous are the price he has paid for it – & to be querulous is not necessarily the same as to be unhappy. I cannot tell why men like to be pitied – for pity proceeds from superiority. Strachey is at a distance from his friends that is true – but can a man live any where so long & not have made new friends –? If he were a married man there would be an end of his complaints! I wish our East Indian Governors would afford their countenance to the Missions that are now struggling there for existence. I have {been} reading over [13]  & thinking over the subject – surely an important one – & my hopes & wishes for the future fate of my fellow kind xxxx with {rest} upon the base of Xtianity.

It is possible that you may x see St Pierre [14]  at Paris. if you should – ask him if he ever received a Joan of Arc which I sent him on its first publication. there is only one other man of letters there whom I have the slightest curiosity to see – & that is Chateaubriand [15]  – the author of Atala. my taste has been always right English – & I grow more John-Bullish every time I look into a newspaper. notwithstanding this I am actually ashamed to see the way in which Denons book [16]  has been reviewed here in the Gentlemans Magazine – & the rascally manner in which they attempt to discredit one of the best works which we have seen for many a long year. Old Vincent is at the hieroglyphics [17] Rickman has seen him & talked with him about it heard him talk very eagerly about it, but not very acutely. I like the old boys sermon [18]  which Rickman franked down to me. – he did not use me well – but I have been in good humour with him ever since he wrote about public schools.

My little girl has taught me some new feelings – I have learnt to see beauty in that total absence of all thought & all feeling in an infants face, as soon as there is good matter in town she is to be inoculated for the cow pox – I begin to think Dr Jenner [19]  has not been rewarded as he deserves – neither that the sum was not enough for such a discovery – nor for a great nation to bestow.

Now were you in England & that the M.P. would cover the sin – I would not write a line farther – having in truth nothing to say – & quite enough to do – but {to send} a blank page thro a foreign office were committing a huge trespass. De meipso [20]  then for the uppermost subject. I have transcribed two parts of my Moorish chapter [21]  – the few who have seen it think it good – & it satisfies me. the other two parts of this period are sketched – one is the effect of the superstitions of the Spaniard – how they assisted them in recovering their country – the other will be the picture of their manners – & here come in the history of Bernardo del Carpio [22]  – of the Infantes of Lara [23]  – & lastly the Cid. the whole will be about an hundred pages – no disproportionate length of preliminaries. A palace requires a portico. – the life of St Francisco [24]  is arrived at its chrysalis state – & will soon come into butterfly beauty. for the previous history of the Spanish church I must wait till I procure the Spanish Councils. but my head is hatching a chapter upon the monachism from the period when it was caught in Egypt – down to the ripening of the Cistercian order under S. Bernard. [25]  flowers of popery. – the cucumbers which I have heaped together so much dung to produce. by Xmas I shall have as much as a first volume ready to show you – for my attachment to the work grows as the work itself – & moreover there is a spur in the thought that when all is done that can be done here – I shall see Lisbon once again – & mount my Mule for another thousand miles in Portugal. if you could see how foggy this weather is at this minute, you would not wonder that I am ready to grumble with this climate.

I am afraid that my Uncles business will call me into Herefordshire about Xmas. shall you then be any where within reach?

God bless you.

R S.


October 19. Kingsdown. 1802


Notes

* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ Lincolns Inn/ London/ to be forwarded
Postmark: BRISTOL/ OCT 19 1802
Endorsement: Oct. 19 1802/ Mr Wynn
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 206-209 [misdated 19 December 1802]. BACK

[1] Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667; DNB), Bishop of Down and Connor 1660-1667, XXVIII Sermons Preached at Golden Grove (London, 1651), p. 144. BACK

[2] Muhammad (570-632), Prophet of Islam. BACK

[3] A Siamese deity, Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 40-42. BACK

[4] Wild’s identity is unclear. Possibly Robert Wild (1615/16-1679; DNB), nonconformist minister and satirical poet. BACK

[5] Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living (1650) and Holy Dying (1651). BACK

[6] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[7] Charles Martel (c. 688-741), Frankish leader who defeated a Muslim army at the Battle of Tours in 732. BACK

[8] The French poets Pierre de Boissat (1603-1662) and Jean-Jacques Boissard (1528-1602). Boissat’s fragmentary epic ‘Martellus’ was published in his Opuscula Latina (n.d.). BACK

[9] Charlemagne (742-814, King of the Franks 768-814, Holy Roman Emperor 800-814). Nicolas Courtin (fl 1666-1687) wrote two poems on Charlemagne, Charlemagne ou le Retablissement de l’Empire Romain (1666) and Charlemagne Penitent (1687). The other author was probably Louis Le Laboureur (c. 1615-1679), Charlemagne (1664). BACK

[10] Southey had transcribed for Wynn a range of material relating to Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar (c. 1040-1099), a Castilian aristocrat and military commander, whose exploits were the subject of numerous poems and tales. Southey’s English translation and compilation of three of these sources was published in 1808 as The Chronicle of the Cid. BACK

[11] ‘A True Ballad Of A Pope’, Morning Post, 4 February 1803. BACK

[12] Wynn’s sisters Charlotte (d. 1819), Henrietta (d. 1854), and Frances (d. 1857). BACK

[13] Periodical Accounts relative to the Baptist Missionary Society, for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen (1800); reviewed by Southey in Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 207-218. BACK

[14] Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737-1814), author of Paul et Virginie (1788). BACK

[15] Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), author of Atala (1801). BACK

[16] Dominque Vivant, Baron de Denon (1747-1825), Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte (1802). The Gentleman’s Magazine, 72 (September 1802), 833-841 and (October 1802), 929-934, described it as over-priced and ‘pregnant with French affectation and conceit’ (934). BACK

[17] Vincent’s study of hieroglyphics was connected to his interest in ancient geography and commerce, and contributed to his two-part The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (1800-1805). BACK

[18] William Vincent, A Defence of Public Education (1801) had robustly refuted allegations about the lack of religious education in public schools. BACK

[19] Edward Jenner (1749-1823; DNB), surgeon and pioneer of smallpox vaccination. He received a parliamentary grant of £10,000 in 1802 in recognition of the fact that he had made his findings freely available. BACK

[20] The Latin translates as ‘concerning myself’. BACK

[21] An early section of Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[22] Bernardo del Carpio was a legendary hero of medieval Spain. BACK

[23] The Infantes of Lara were seven princes who, in an early medieval legend, were murdered by their uncle. Their heads were served up on a platter to their father. BACK

[24] St Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226), founder of the Franciscan Order. BACK

[25] St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), founder of the Cistercian Order. BACK

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August 2011