516. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, [1] May [1800]

516. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, [1] May [1800] ⁠* 

May day. Thursday. Lisbon.

Here then we are thank God! alive & recovering from dreadfull sickness. I never suffered so much at sea, & Edith was worse than I was. we scarcely ate or slept at all. but the passage was very fine & short. five days & a half brought us to our port; with light winds the whole of the way. the way was not however without alarms. on Monday morning between five & six the Captain [1]  was awakened with tidings that a Cutter [2]  was bearing down upon us, with English colours indeed, but apparently a French vessel. we made a signal which was not answered, we fired a gun, she did the same, & preparations were made for action. We had another Lisbon packet in company, mounting six guns – our own force was ten, the Cutter was a match & more for both, but we did not expect to be taken. – you may imagine Ediths terror, awakened on a sick bed – disturbed, I should have said, with these tidings! the Captain advised me to cov surround her with mattrasses in the cabin, but she would not believe herself in safety there; x I lodged her in the cockpit & took my station on the quarter deck with a musket. – how I felt I can hardly tell – the hurry of the scene – the sight of grape shot – bar shot & the other ingenious implements of this sort – the novelty of my fighting – made an undistinguishable mixture of feelings. I was going to fight without any one motive but that of taking my share in the business. my cloaths were of no adequate value to the risk – & they were insured; & if I had had the power choice I certainly should far rather have entered Coruña as a prisoner than have proceeded to Lisbon – because four hundred miles land travelling would have been infinitely pleasanter than the continued voyage. the Cutter bore down between us – I saw the smoke from her matches wer were so near – & not a man on board had the least idea but than an immediate action was to take place. We hailed her – she answered in broken English & passed on. “tis over! cried somebody. not yet – said the Captain – & we expected she was coming round us or about to attack our comrade vessel. She was English however, manned chiefly from Guernsey, & this explained her frenchified language. you will easily imagine that my sensations at thus ending the business were very definable – one honest simple joy – that I was in a whole skin! I laid the musket in the chest with considerably more pleasure than when I took it out. I am glad this took place – it has shown me what it is to prepare for action.

Four years absence from Lisbon have given every thing the varnish of novelty – & yet this with the revival of old associations makes me pleased with every thing. my Uncle – poor Manuel [3]  too is as happy as man could <can> be to see me once more – here he stands at breakfast & talks of his meeting us at Villa Franca – & what we saw at this place & at that – & hopes that wherever I go in this country he may go with me. It even amused me to renew my acquaintance with the fleas, who opened the campaign immediately on the arrival of a foreigner. We landed yesterday, about ten in the morning, & took possession of our house the same night. our house is very small & thoroughly Portuguese, little rooms all doors & windows, odd but well calculated for coolness. from one window we have a most magnificent view over the river, Almada Hill, & the opposite shores of Alentejo, bounded by hills about the half-mountain height of Malvern –. the bed room is of a good size. in this climate seperate beds are necessary. I did not know this till I saw two prepared. – to day is a busy day – we are arranging away our things – & seeing visitors. these visits must all be returned – then ends the ceremony – & then I may chuse retirement. I hurry over my letters for the sake of feeling leisure to begin my employments. the voyage by depriving me of all rest & leaving me too giddy to sleep well, will with the help of the fleas break me in well for early rising. the work before me is almost of terrifying labour. folio after folio to be gutted – & the immense mass of collateral knowledge which is indispensable. but I have leisure, & inclination – Edith who has been looking half her time out of window, has just seen – “really a decent looking woman.” this will show you what cattle the passers-by must be. she has found out that there are no middle aged women here – & it is true – like their climate it is only summer & winter. their heavy cloaks of thick woollen like horsemen coats in England, amuse her in this weather – as much as her clear muslin would amuse them in an English winter. but the most ridiculous thing is a substitute for a close-stool up in the garret – it is so high that I am obliged to sit like a boy just breeched with my feet resting upon the cross-bar between its legs. not a drain or sink in the house! all all goes into the street – but especial care will I take to have it laid at my neighbours door. tis a damned Portugueze trick & xxx tis but their due to give them the filth they oblige me to make.

Thalaba [4]  will soon be finished. Rickman is my plenipotentiary with the booksellers for this. pray send me your plays [5]  – direct them to the Revd Herbert Hill. Chaplain to the British forces. Lisbon. to the care of Capt Yescombe. Falmouth. Yescombe is very friendly & will bring them cost free. my Uncles name will carry them ashore unexamined. the inner paper may bear my name. – I got your letter [6]  at Falmouth. your fleaing Croft [7]  may do good by preventing the matter from being forgotten. for the Anthology [8]  – I am willing to weigh all your objections. here I shall have no time for trifles. Thalaba finished all my poetry instead of being wasted in rivulets & ditches shall flow into the great Madoc-Missisippi river. [9]  I have with me your volume – Lyrical Ballads Burns & Gebir. [10]  read Gebir again – he grows upon me.

My Uncles Library is admirably stocked with foreign books. the collections he has of Portugueze chronicles & books connected with that single subject could not be purchased here for less than forty pounds. my plan is this – immediately to go thro the chronicles in order & thus make a skeleton of the narrative. the timbers put together, the house may be furnished at leisure. it will be a great work, & worthy of all labour. [11]  – I am interrupted momently by visitors – like the fleas, infesting a new comer! Ediths spirits are mending – a handfull of roses has just made her forgive the stink of Lisbon – & the green peas, the ranges &c &c with are reconciling her to a country for which Nature has done so much. we are transported into your Midsummer – your most luxuriant midsummer – plague upon that heart-stop that has reminded me that this is a voyage of prescription as well as of pleasure, but I will get well & you must join us & return with us over the Pyrennes – & a little of the Dream must be fullfilled! – God bless you. write to me & some long letters – & send me your Christobell & your Three Graves, & finish them on purpose to send them. [12]  Ediths love – I reach a long arm & shake hands with you across the seas.


Robert Southey.


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ Mr Coleridge/ <at Mr Pools>/ Stokes Croft/ <Stowey>/ Bristol/ <Somersetshire>/ Single
Stamped: LISBON
Postmark: BRISTOL/ MAY 17 1800
MS: Hispanic Society of America, New York. ALS; 4p. (c).
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 61–65 [in part]. BACK

[1] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765–1803), Captain of the Falmouth Packet. BACK

[2] HMS Endymion, a British frigate. BACK

[3] Manuel Mambrino (dates unknown), a Spanish servant from Oviedo who worked for Herbert Hill. Mambrino had accompanied Southey on some of his travels in Spain and Portugal in 1795–1796. BACK

[4] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[5] Probably The Piccolomini, or the First Part of Wallenstein, a Drama in Five Acts. Translated from the German of Frederick Schiller by S. T. Coleridge (1800) and The Death of Wallenstein. A Tragedy in Five Acts. Translated from the German of Frederick Schiller by S. T. Coleridge (1800). BACK

[6] Coleridge’s letter of [10] April 1800, E.L. Griggs, The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), I, pp. 585–586. BACK

[7] Coleridge had offered to intervene in Southey’s public argument with Herbert Croft over Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB), by giving Croft ‘a scourging that shall flea him’ (E.L. Griggs, The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), I, p. 585); see Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, [c. 20 April 1800], Letter 514. BACK

[8] Probably the proposed, but unexecuted, third volume of the Annual Anthology. Coleridge had contributed to the second volume, published in 1800. BACK

[9] Southey’s Welsh-American revisionist epic Madoc was not published until 1805. BACK

[10] Coleridge, Poems (1797); Coleridge and Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads (1798); an unidentified edition of Robert Burns (1759–1796; DNB); and Walter Savage Landor, Gebir (1798). BACK

[11] Southey never completed his planned ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[12] Coleridge finished neither ‘Christabel’ (published in 1816) nor ‘The Three Graves’ (published in 1809). BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 5 times)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 4 times)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)