3204. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 November 1818

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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey, Part Five

3204. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 4 November 1818⁠* 

Keswick. 4 Nov. 1818.

My dear Wynn

Since I wrote to you at Boulogne, the greater part of my time has been consumed by interruptions of which I ought not to complain, seeing they must needs be beneficial to my health however they may be felt in the sum total of the years work. I have had for a guest the son of Hare Townsend, [1]  the father the while being on a visit to Sir F Burdett. There is some thing remarkable in the history of this family. Alderman Townsends wife [2]  was a compleat she-philosopher, a sort of animal much worse than a she-bear. Her housekeeper having broken her leg, she was exceedingly indignant at not being able to convince her that there was no thing as pain; & when the poor woman complained that the children disturbed her by playing in a room over her head, she insisted upon it that that was impossible, because it was the nature of sound to ascend, – & therefore she could not be disturbed unless they played in the room under her. This good Lady bred up her children as nearly as she could upon Rousseaus maxims, [3]  & was especially careful that they should receive no religious instruction whatever. Her daughter [4]  had nearly grown up before she ever entered a Church, & then she earnestly intreated a friend to take her there, from motives of curiosity. This daughter has become a truly religious woman. The son Hare Townsend has not departed from the way in which he was trained up: – but as he is not a xxx xxxxxxxxx hater of religion, – only an unbeliever in it, & has a good living in his gift, he chuses that his only son should take orders, – this living being the most convenient means of providing an immediate establishment for him!

Chauncey Townsend introduced himself to me about three years ago by sending me some poems, which for a youth of 17 were almost better than should be wished. He was then, having left Eton, with a relation of the same name [5]  (a son of the Traveller & Diluvian Townsend [6] ) who has the living of West Bromwich, & who, thro Chauncey minor had a brother of Kirke White for his curate. [7]  When he first proposed to visit me his father was thrown into a paroxysm of anger, – notwithstanding the mollia tempora fandi [8]  had been chosen for venturing to make the request: – but he suffered him to see me in London last year. He had formed a notion that I was a Methodist, & drank nothing but water; & I believe it raised me considerably in his estimation when Chauncy assured him that I seemed to enjoy wine as much as any man. – The approach of age has produced some of its salutary effects upon him; – he now advises his son never to attach himself to any party in politics, & regrets that he has done so himself; & he said to him lately (to his great surprize) that Sir F. Burdett cares much more for his own popularity than for the good of his country.

Dauncey has been here with his two daughters; – the remembrance of his wife to which his thoughts seem wedded, drew him towards me; [9]  & our intercourse, which brought with it recollections in which I had my share of pain, is likely to be renewed whenever opportunity may occur. I was very much pleased with him.

Wilberforce also has been here with all his household – & such a household! The principle of the family seems to be that provided the servants have faith, good works are not to be required {expected} from them, & the utter disorder which prevails in consequence is truly farcical. The old coachman would figure upon the stage, – upon making some complaint about the horses he told his master & mistress that since they had been in this country they had been so lake – & – river, – & – mountain – & – valley-mad that they had thought of nothing which they ought to think of. – I have seen nothing in such pell mell topsy turvy & chaotic confusion as Wilberforces apartments, since I used to see a certain breakfast table in Skeleton corner; [10]  – his wife [11]  sits in the midst of it like Patience on a monument, – & he frisks about, as if every vein in his body were filled with quicksilver. But withal there is such a constant hilarity in every look & motion, – such a sweetness in all his tones, – such a benignity in all his thoughts, words & actions, that all sense of xx {his} grotesque appearance is presently overcome, & you can feel nothing but love & admiration for xx a creature of so happy & blessed a nature.

A few words now concerning myself. It was my intention to have spent the Christmas in London, – But a very unexpected cause induces me to delay my journey. More than six years have elapsed since the birth of my youngest child; – x xxx xxx all thoughts of having another had naturally ceased, – in Feby or March however such an event may be looked for. [12]  – My spirits are more depressed by this than they ought to be: – but you may well imagine what reflections must arise. – I am now in my 45th year, & if my life should be prolonged, it is but too certain that I should never have heart again to undertake the duty which I once performed with such diligence & such delightful hope. – It is well for us that we are not permitted to chuse for ourselves. – One happy choice however I made when I betook myself to literature as my business in life. When I xxx have a heart at ease, there can be no greater delight than it affords me; – & when I put away sad thoughts & melancholy forebodings, there is no resource so certain.

I had two papers in the last QR. – Evelyn, & the Means of improving the People. [13]  You will not be sorry to hear that I have determined henceforth to employ less of my time in this way, upon a reasonable calculation that I shall lose nothing by devoting it to more congenial occupations. I have just resumed Oliver Newman, & am in the humour for proceeding with it steadily. [14]  – The first volume of Wesley is nearly finished, [15]  – this work will remunerate me rather by lasting reputation & the hope that it may do some good in the world, than by any immediate emolument. – 49 sheets of Brazil are printed, & five chapters more will compleat that long & most laborious undertaking. [16]  I then go to press with the peninsular war, which will be very much better for having been thus long delayed, inasmuch as it will have the advantage of so many more documents as have appeared & are appearing. [17]  My agreement for this work was that I should have 1000 guineas for two quarto volumes. It will unavoidably make three, & I think myself fully entitled to require an additional sum proportionate to the additional expence of time & labour. – My family would be reasonably provided for in case of my death, at this time, but I begin to be solicitous about making such a provision as should leave me at ease in my ways & means, if loss of health or any other calamity should render me incapable of that constant labour, from which while health & ability may last, I shall have no desire to shrink. When my next poem is finished I shall be able to do what it has never before been in my power, – to demand a sum for it.

God bless you my dear Wynn. Isabel has not forgotten the noise you made from the window. She reckons you regularly among her favourites, & often asks when you will come again?

yrs most affectionately.



* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 48123D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 315–318 [in part]. BACK

[1] Henry Hare Townsend (1765–1827), wealthy landowner and radical. BACK

[2] Henrietta Rosa Peregrina du Plessis (1745–1785), illegitimate daughter and heir of Henry Hare, 3rd Baron Coleraine (1693–1749; DNB). Her husband was James Townsend (1737–1787; DNB), elected Alderman of the City of London in 1769 and Lord Mayor 1772–1773, MP for West Looe 1767–1774, MP for Calne 1782–1787. James Townsend was an important supporter of John Wilkes (1725–1797; DNB) in his radical campaigns in 1769–1771. BACK

[3] Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), Swiss philosopher. Southey is probably referring to his book on education, Émile (1762), which contains some explicitly deist sections. BACK

[4] Henrietta Jemima Townsend (1764–1849). In 1790 she married Nicholas Owen Smythe Owen (d. 1804) of Condover in Shropshire. BACK

[5] Charles Townsend (1780–1865), Perpetual Curate of West Bromwich 1815–1836. BACK

[6] Joseph Townsend (1739–1816; DNB), author of A Journey Through Spain in the Years 1786 and 1787; with Particular Attention to the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Population, Taxes, and Revenue of that Country, 3 vols (London, 1791), II, pp. 89–90, argued that the distribution of rock formations was produced by a universal flood. BACK

[7] James White was Assistant Perpetual Curate at West Bromwich. BACK

[8] ‘Times favourable for speaking’. BACK

[9] Philip Dauncey (1759–1819), a barrister who became a King’s Counsel and Treasurer of Gray’s Inn. In 1794 he had married Marie Louisa Dolignon (1769–1804), a daughter of Southey’s childhood friend Elizabeth Dolignon. Philip Dauncey had two daughters: Louisa Dauncey, who married Robert Bill; and Mary Sophia Dauncey, who married, in 1826, John Henry Latham (c. 1796–1873), a West India merchant. BACK

[10] Wynn’s undergraduate rooms at Christ Church College, Oxford were adjacent to the Anatomy School, where dead bodies were brought in for study. BACK

[11] Barbara Wilberforce, née Spooner (1771–1847), had married William Wilberforce in 1797. The couple had six children. BACK

[12] Charles Cuthbert Southey was born on 24 February 1819. BACK

[13] Southey’s review of Memoirs, Illustrative of the Life and Writings of John Evelyn (1818) appeared in the Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 1–54, with ‘On the Means of Improving the People’, Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 79–118. BACK

[14] Southey did not finish this epic poem set in New England; what was completed was published posthumously in 1845. BACK

[15] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[16] Southey was preparing the final volume of his History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[17] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

Published @ RC

June 2016

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)