1802. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 17 August 1810

1802. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 17 August 1810 ⁠* 

Aug. 17. 1810.

Capt. Davy who is just returned with the Foudroyant from R Janeiro has been with me this morning, – he was a shipmate of Toms in the Royal George. [1]  He tells me that one main reason why the Prince [2]  wishes himself again in Portugal is his dread of thunder & lightning. Scarcely a night in summer passes without it, & when it is peculiarly violent he hides himself. – once he was found in an oven, his feet hanging out. Sir Sidney Smith [3]  advised him to fix his capital at St Pauls, thinking it safer than a maritime situation, – for tho the entrance of the Rio is admirably fortified an enemy might easily land behind the town & in that case Capt D. thinks it would fall with little or no resistance. The Prince has made himself unpopular & the people are very disaffected. On his arrival people were turned out of their houses to make room for the emigrants, & obliged to accept a fixed rent for them, – something like the price of beasts &c during an embargo, both in the justice of the valuation, & the exactness of payment. Gambier [4]  called upon a person whose house he wished to obtain, & asked himxx if he was disposed to let xxx <it>. No Sir, the Brazileiro replied, & I call upon you as an Englishman who know the nature of property, not to apply to Government for it. Of course Gambier assured him that no such intention was in his thoughts.

The nights at Rio are not hotter than the days Capt D. says. <Lord> Strangford he speaks very ill of. [5]  – thinking indeed of his talents, his veracity & his fitness for his situation just as you do. While he was making the Treaty [6]  Kantzon [7]  was his adviser, – of course Swedish interests were considered in it; & timely intelligence communicated to France. The Prince was so pleased with S Salvador’s x when he stopt there on his way, & with the reception which he found, that he would willingly have fixed his court there if his own inclinations had not been over ruled. He is said to be under not merely the absolute government, but even tyranny of his wife, [8]  & indeed if half the stories current at S Sebastians are true, she seems disposed to play the part of Princess Regent, & threatens to set him aside as incapable of managing public affairs. Sir Sidney is much regretted there, – the Prince was cajoled or frightened into signing a letter to request that he might be recalled, as being personally disagreable to him. These expressions were repeated to Sir S. by Canning at the time he was recalled, – he took the letter to the Prince, who burst into tears, & declared that he had signed he knew not what, certainly had never intended to convey so false an assertion to the English court, & bitterly repented of his signature. – (Unluckily Sir S. is as great a liar as Lord S. & no reliance can be placed upon any thing which rests upon the authority of either.) Certain however it is that he was in a situation where he might have been essentially useful, & which was just suited for him. He had a great ascendancy over the Prince, – opened a correspondence with the neighbouring Spanish Cabildos, & would have rendered great services both to England & Brazil, if he had been invested with double character of Embassador & Commander in Chief.

S Sebastians is as filthy as Lisbon, – the shambles are just to windward of the city, & send a pestilential odour thro it. Sir S. advised the removal of this nuisance, – & probably would have succeeded in his application but for his enemies – I have asked Capt Davy to dinner, & shall get from him all the information I can. – He repeats with great glee a saying of Chamberlaines that Ld Strangford has xxxxxxxx as an xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxxx <just talent enough for a country> attorney. [9]  Your friend Col. Burke [10]  is there as an accredited spy.

Among other articles sent out to the Rio on speculation was a large venture of skaits, – they went with a cargo of warm woollen cloths.

The native merchants cannot be very well pleased with their new competitors. A system of credit to which they had been unaccustomed was introduced by the English, which gave them so greatly the preference that many of the Brazilians gave over their business & retired into the country, – I hear a deplorable account of the lower classes who <are> eaten out with all the diseases appointed in the wise order of things to punish the laziness & vices of men. They attribute some of them to the water, or to the wind, – to any thing rather than to themselves. Yet how much is owing to themselves is plain from this circumstance, that numbers are crippled by the jiggers, [11]  which scarcely ever in our colonies affect any but the negroes.

The strangest thing which I have heard from Capt D. is that he saw a wild woman, kept in a cage, like a wild beast, in the Palace. She was one <of> a tribe whom he calls Botafogos, whom he describes as incorrigible cannibals, & untameable. He could give no other account than this, & that she was caught on the frontiers, & carried to the Capital as a curiosity. Something is wanting in the story, or he has mistaken an ape for a savage, – for if the Portugueze had supposed this creature capable of salvation, they would have been for christening instead of caging her. – The Prince is said to be less under the influence of the Priests than formerly. He has even been fond of asking some of the English officers whom he liked best whether they thought there was any use in his confessing. If this be true there will be no difficulty in finding an excuse for setting him aside, whenever it is wished.

The beef he says is execrable, & comes from such a distance that it is fourteen months on the road. This is hardly credible. The number of English at the Rio he heard estimated at 300, – the whole population at 80,000. He was at St Catarina, [12]  – the town is a wretched place, about the size of Keswick. – Burke went to Buenos Ayres, but was ordered by Liniers [13]  to leave it within a quarter of an hour.

The number of mulattos is not so great as in an English colony. I suppose the Tupi mixture [14]  scarcely produces any perceptible change of complection, & that the pure Portugueze breed darkens there as in Africa – for certainly a much greater mixture must have taken place there than in our islands. You have here as much as I can recollect of the days conversation. – I thought it better thus to minute it down than to forget it & then fancy it had been of more value than it is.


* Postmarks: 2 o’Clock/ 21 AUG/ 1810; [partial] 4 o’Clo/ AU/ 18
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. AL; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 199–202. BACK

[1] John Davie (1770–1825) had commanded HMS Foudroyant, an 80-gun third rate ship from January–May 1809. He was a Lieutenant on HMS Royal George, 1797–1800, with Tom Southey. BACK

[2] John VI (1767–1826), Prince Regent of Portugal 1799–1816, King of Portugal 1816–1826. BACK

[3] The naval officer Sir William Sidney Smith (1764–1840; DNB). In 1807–1808 he had assisted in the evacuation of the Portuguese royal family to Rio de Janeiro. BACK

[4] Sir James Gambier (1772–1845), Consul-General to Portugal, 1802–1808, Brazil 1808–1814 and the Netherlands 1814–1826. BACK

[5] During his time in Rio, Smith had attempted to raise a Portuguese-sponsored attack on the Spanish in Buenos Ayres. This had been done without the knowledge of Percy Clinton Sydney Smythe, 6th Viscount Strangford (1780–1855; DNB), British envoy-extraordinary to the Portuguese court 1806–1814. In August 1809 Smith was recalled to London and reprimanded. It was later alleged that much of the credit for good Anglo-Portuguese relations in this period belonged to Smith, rather than Strangford. BACK

[6] The treaty of alliance between Britain and Portugal of 19 February 1810. BACK

[7] Probably a reference to a member of the firm of Kantzon and co., Swedish merchants. BACK

[8] Princess Charlotte of Spain (1775–1830). BACK

[9] Henry Chamberlain (1773–1829), created 1st Baronet 1828, British consul in Rio de Janeiro and later Consul-General to Brazil 1816–1825. BACK

[10] Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Bourke (1777–1855; DNB), an Irish soldier who had taken part in the storming of Montevideo in 1807 and later organised a spy ring in Spain in 1812–1814. He was Governor of New South Wales, 1831–1837. BACK

[11] The chigoe flea, a parasitic flea, which usually attacks the foot. BACK

[12] The island of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil, now the site of the city of Florianopolis. BACK

[13] Jacques de Liniers, known as Santiago de Liniers y Bremond, 1st Count of Buenos Aires (1753–1810), Viceroy of the Rio de la Plata, 1807–1809. He led the resistance to the British expeditions to Argentina in 1806 and 1807. BACK

[14] The Tupi people were the main inhabitants of coastal Brazil when the Portuguese arrived in the early sixteenth century. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)