144. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle [fragment], [possibly begun before 15 December 1795]

144. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle [fragment], [possibly begun before 15 December 1795] ⁠* 

Corunna, Dec. 15th, 1795.

Indeed my dear friend, it is strange that you are reading a letter from me at this time, and not an account of our Shipwreck. We left Falmouth on Tuesday mid-day; the wind was fair till the next night, so fair that we were within twelve hours’ sail of Corunna; it then turned round, blew a tempest, and continued so till the middle of Saturday. Our dead lights were up fifty hours, and I was in momentary expectation of death. You know what a situation this is. I forgot my sickness, and though I thought much of the next world, thought more of those at Bristol, who would daily expect letters; daily be disappointed, and at last learn from the newspapers, that the Lauzarotte had never been heard of.

Of all things it is most difficult to understand the optimism of this difference of language; the very beasts of the country do not understand English. Say ‘poor fellow’ to a dog, and he will probably bite you; the cat will come if you call her ‘Meeth-tha,’ but ‘puss’ is an outlandish phrase she has not been accustomed to; last night I went to supper to the fleas, and an excellent supper they made; and the cats serenaded me with their execrable Spanish: to lie all night in Bowling-Green Lane,  [1]  would be to enjoy the luxury of soft and smooth lying.

At sight of land a general shaving took place; no subject could be better for Bunbury, [2]  than a Packet cabin taken at such a moment. For me, I am as yet whiskered, for I would not venture to shave on board, and have had no razor on shore till this evening. Custom-house officers are more troublesome here than in England, I have however got every thing at last; you may form some idea of the weather we endured; thirty fowls over our head were drowned; the ducks got loose, and ran with a party of half naked Dutchmen into our cabin; ’twas a precious place, eight men lying on a shelf much like a coffin. Mr. Wahrendoff, [3]  a Swede, was the whole time with the bason close under his nose.

The bookseller’s shop was a great comfort; the Consul here has paid me particular attentions, and I am to pass to-morrow morning with him, when he will give me some directions concerning Spanish literature. He knows the chief literary men in England, and did know Brissot [4]  and Petion. [5]  Of the dramatic poet whom Coates’s [6]  friend Zimbernatt [7]  mentioned as rivalling Shakespeare, I hear nothing; that young Spaniard seems to exaggerate or rather to represent things like a warm hearted young man, who believes what he wishes. The father-in-law of Tallien [8]  is a banker, what you call a clever fellow; another word (says the most sensible man here) for a cheat; the court and the clergy mutually support each other, and their combined despotism is indeed dreadful, yet much is doing; Jardine is very active; he has forwarded the establishment of schools in the Asturias with his Spanish friends. Good night, they are going to supper. Oh, their foul oils and wines!

Tuesday morning. I have heard of hearts as hard as rocks, and stones, and adamants, but if ever I write upon a hard heart, my simile shall be as inflexible, as a bed in a Spanish Posada; we had beef steaks for supper last night, and a sad libel upon beef steaks they were. I wish you could see our room; a bed in an open recess, one just moved from the other corner. Raynsford [9]  packing his trunk; Maber shaving himself; tables and chairs; looking glass hung even too high for a Patagonian, the four evangelists, &c. &c. the floor beyond all filth, most filthy.

I have been detained two hours since I began to write, at the custom house. Mr. Cottle, if there be a custom house to pass through, to the infernal regions, all beyond must be, comparatively, tolerable. * * * * * * *


Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Joseph Cottle, Early Recollections of the late Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Previously published: Joseph Cottle, Early Recollections of the late Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 2 vols (London, 1837), II, pp. 3–6 [in part]. Republished, Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), pp. 191–93 [in part].
Dating note: The dating of this letter is based on Joseph Cottle’s, however it is possible that it was begun at a slightly earlier time and continued on Tuesday 15 December. BACK

[1] Cottle adds a footnote indicating that this was a name given by Southey to a wet, rocky path they had travelled along during an ill-fated expedition to Tintern Abbey in 1795. See Early Recollections, 2 vols (London, 1837), I, p. 46. BACK

[2] William Henry Bunbury (1750–1811; DNB), artist and caricaturist. Southey had been at school with his son Charles John Bunbury (1772–1798). BACK

[3] Unidentified. BACK

[4] Jacques Pierre Brissot (1754–1793), a leading Girondist, who was executed in October 1793. BACK

[5] Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve (1756–1794), writer, politician and Girondist, who committed suicide in 1794. BACK

[6] Possibly a reference to the actor Robert Coates (1772–1848; DNB). BACK

[7] Possibly a mistranscription by Joseph Cottle of ‘Gimbernatt’. If so, it probably refers either to the Spanish geologist Carlos de Gimbernat (1768–1834), or (though less likely) to his father, the physician Antonio de Gimbernat (1734–1816). BACK

[8] Francisco Cabarrús, Conde de Cabarrús (1752–1810), a banker. His daughter was married to the French politician Jean-Lambert Tallien (1767–1820), a Jacobin who had been instrumental in overthrowing Robespierre in 1794 and was prominent in the Convention (1794–1795). BACK

[9] Mr Raynsford (first name and dates unknown), a companion of Southey’s during some of his time in Spain and Portugal in 1795–1796. BACK

People mentioned

Maber, George Martin (d. 1844) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 1 time)
Jardine, Alexander (d. 1799) (mentioned 1 time)