1466. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 13 June 1808

1466. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 13 June 1808 ⁠* 

June 13. 1808.

Dear Coleridge,

I have the last census of Spain here, and perhaps you may like to give the Courier a statement of the population of the Northern Provinces, as taken in 1797, and published in 1801.

Males from the
Population. Age of 16 to 50.
Asturias – – – – – – 364,238 80,554
Galicia – – – – – – 1,142,630 225,454
These Provinces Alava – – – – – – 67,523 15,367
are what we Guipuzcoa – – – – – – 104,491 23,343
call Biscay. Vizcaya – – – – – – 111,436 25,801

These are the provinces which have asked assistance; but there is probably a French force at Ferrol, which may, for awhile, keep part of Galicia in awe. The people are a hardy race, and most of them good shots, because there are no game laws, plenty of game, and wolves in the country. Probably every man has his gun. One hardly dares indulge a hope; but if Europe is to be redeemed in our days, you know it has always been my opinion that the work of deliverance would begin in Spain. And now that its unhappy government has committed suicide, the Spaniards have got rid of their worst enemy.

This account of Lisbon, which has just reached me, may also fitly appear in the Courier, [1]  for the edification of Roscoe and such politicians: – ‘Every private family has a certain number of French officers and soldiers quartered upon them, who behave with their accustomed insolence and brutality. The ladies of one family very naturally, upon the intrusion of these unwelcome guests, retired to their own apartments, where they proposed remaining; but these civilised Frenchmen required their presence, and would admit of no excuse. Il faut que les dames viennent was the only reply which they made; [2]  and of course the women were compelled to be subject to their ribaldry and impertinence. Whole families of the middling class are seen begging at the corners of the streets; and women, who had till now borne an unblemished reputation, prostitute themselves publicly to gain wherewithal to buy bread. The soldiers and the flower of the peasantry are sent to recruit the French armies in distant parts.’ Nothing can exceed the misery and the despondency of the people.

Were I minister, I would send half the regular army without delay to Spain; the distance is nothing, – a week; would be but an average passage; and these seas are not like the German Ocean, where so many brave men have been sacrificed in useless expeditions during stormy seasons.

Of public affairs enough! We have had a bilious fever in the house, which was epidemic among the children of the place. Herbert has suffered severely from it; I thought we should lose him. The disease has reduced him very much, and left him in a state of great debility. Keswick is scarcely ever without some kind of infectious fever, generally among the children. When these things get into a dirty house, they hardly ever get out of it; and I attribute this more to the want of cleanliness than to the climate. But ague is beginning to re-appear, which had scarcely been heard of during the last generation; – this is the case over the whole kingdom, I believe. What put a stop to it then, or what brought it back now, is beyond the reach of our present knowledge. You love the science of physic; and Nature, who seems to have meant you for half a dozen different things when she made you, meant you for a physician among the rest. I will tell you, therefore, two odd peculiarities of my constitution; the slightest dose of laudanum acts upon me as an aperient; – if I am at any time exposed to the sun bareheaded for two minutes, I infallibly take cold. This probably shows how soon I should be subject to a stroke of the sun, and indicates the same over-susceptibility which the nitrous oxide did, a smaller dose affecting me than any other person who ever breathed it.

I have read that play of Calderon’s [3]  since my return: its story is precisely as you stated it, and in the story the wonder lies. Are we not apt to do with these things as naturalists do with insects? – put them in a microscope, and exclaim how beautiful! – how wonderful! – how grand! – when all the beauty and all the grandeur are owing to the magnifying medium? A shaping mind receives the story of the play and makes it terrific; – in Calderon it is extravagant. The machinery is certainly most extraordinary; and most extraordinary must the state of public opinion be, where such machinery could be received with the complacency of perfect faith, – as undoubtedly this was, and would be still in Spain.

At last I have got all my books about me, and right rich I am in them – above 4000 volumes. With your Germans, &c., there is probably no other house in the country which contains such a collection of foreign literature. My Cid will be published in about six weeks. Brazil is not yet gone to press, [4]  – the price of paper has deterred me; and yet there is little likelihood of any reduction, indeed no possibility, till the North is again open to us.

This is the moment for uniting Spain and Portugal; and the greater facility of doing this in a commonwealth than in a monarchy would be reason enough for preferring that form of government were there no other. Portugal loses something in importance and in feeling by being incorporated in the Spanish monarchy; it would preserve its old dignity by uniting in a federal republic, – a form which the circumstances of Spain more especially require, and its provincial difference of laws and dialects. Each province should have its own cortes, and the general congress meet at Madrid, – otherwise, that city would soon waste away. No nation has ever had a fairer opportunity for reforming its government and modelling it anew. But I dare say this wretched cabinet will be meddling too much in this, and too little in the desperate struggle which must be made; – that we shall send tardy and inefficient aid – enough to draw on a heavier French force, and. not enough to resist the additional force which it will occasion.

The crown, like the Ahrimanes of the earth, [5]  will sacrifice any thing rather than see the downfall of royalty.

That best of all good women, Mrs. Wilson, has borne the winter better than any former one since we have known her.

I am thinking about a poem upon Pelajo, the restorer of Spain. [6]  Do you wish to serve me? Puff Espriella, in the Courier, as the best guide to the lakes. [7]  All well. God bless you!



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 147–152. BACK

[1] This account does not appear to have been published in The Courier. BACK

[2] The French translates as ‘The ladies must come’. BACK

[3] Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681), La Devocion de la Cruz (1637), the plot of which turns on the miraculous imprint of the sign of the cross in the flesh of the hero and heroine –lovers – who are thereby identified as brother and sister. At the play’s close, the heroine undergoes an apotheosis, being lifted to heaven with the cross at whose foot she has taken shelter. Maria Gisbourne reported in 1820 that Coleridge had told her this was the play of Calderon’s that he had read; see Maria Gisborne & Edward E. Williams, Shelley’s Friends. Their Journals and Letters, ed. Frederick L. Jones (Norman, OK, 1951), p. 41. Southey’s library contained Calderon’s Autos Sacramentales Allegoricos y Historiales (1717). BACK

[4] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). The first volume of his History of Brazil was not published until 1810. BACK

[5] The fallen angels in Persian Zoroastrianism. Expelled from heaven, they lived on earth but, refusing to abandon their ambitions of rule and hurting the earth’s inhabitants out of spite, were sent to live between the earth and the stars. BACK

[6] This ‘thinking’ brought forth Roderick Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[7] Letter 41 of Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807) conducts the reader on a detailed tour of the area, including, innovatively, fellwalking. Southey’s request that Coleridge ‘puff Espriella’ does not appear to have been acted on. BACK

People mentioned

Roscoe, William (1753–1831) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Herbert (1806–1816) (mentioned 1 time)
Wilson, Molly (?–1820) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)