517. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 1 May 1800

517. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 1 May 1800 ⁠* 

Letter 1

Lisbon. Thursday, May 1. 1800.

My dear T.

I parted from you at Liskeard with a heavy heart. The thought of on seeing you upon the way was a pleasure to look on to when we took our departure from Bristol, but having left you we had taken leave of the last friend before our voyage. Falmouth was not a place to exhilirate me. We were in the room where I met poor L. on my former journey: he was the last person with whom I shook hands in England, as I was stepping into the boat to embark, – & the first news on my return. when within three hours I expected to have seen him been welcomed by him was that he was in his grave. Few persons bear about with them a more continual feeling of the uncertainty of life, its changes & its chances – than I do. Well! well! – I bear with me the faith also, that tho we should never meet again in this world, we shall all meet in a better.

Thanks to the Zephyrs Capt Yescombe [1]  was still in the harbour. I went on board, chose our births, past the custom-house, & then endeavoured to make poor Time as easy as he could be upon the rack of expectation. Six days we watched the weathercock & for sighed for North-Easters. I walked on the beach, caught soldier-crabs, & watched <loitered to admire> the sea-anemonies in their ever-varying shapes of beauty: read Gebir [2]  & wrote <half a book of> Thalaba. [3]  There was a sight on the Monday, but the rain fxx kept me within doors, six boys eat hot pap for a hat, & six men jumped in sacks for a similar prize; in the evening there was an assembly & the best dancer was a man with a wooden leg. A short account of six days, – if however I were to add the Bill you would find it a long one.

We embarked at four on Thursday afternoon. As we sailed out of the harbour the ships there & the shore seemed to swim before my sight like a vision. Light winds & favourable, but we went before the wind, & my poor inside being obliged to shift every minute with the centre of gravity, was soon in a state of insurrection. There is a pleasure in extracting matter of jest from discomfort & bodily pain; – a wholesome habit when it extends no farther, but a deadly one if it be encouraged when the heart is sore. I lay in my birth, – which always put reminded me of a coffin whenever I got into it, – & when any one came near me with enquiries, uttered some quaint phrase or crooked pun in answer, & growld in unison with the intestinal grumbling which might have answered for me. I was not however without some day dreams of delight even here, & it will not be long before you will be introduced to the Garden which during these hours I laid out amid the snow, & irrigated with streams of fire.

On Sunday we saw a homeward bound convoy, & were chased seventy miles by the Frigate which was with it, – luckily in our course. Monday brought with it an adventure of greater alarm; about six in the morning I heard some one awaken the Captain with news that a cutter was bearing down upon us. She carried English colours, but did not answer our signals. we fired a gun, she returned it, little doubt was entertained but that she was French, & we made ready for action. Another Packet was in company with us, carrying six guns, we had ten, – the cutter had fourteen, & I saw the matches smoaking as she came near. We hailed her, she answerd in broken English, & past us as if to attack us on the other side, or begin with the other Packet. There was a frigate in the distance, – we asked what ship it was, – & they answered again in <no person one could tell> what they said in reply, but I thought they said the Vendemiain. It was the Endymion, & the man who spoke was a Guernsey man. I laid replaced my musquet in the chest right willingly, & was particularly pleased all the rest of the day with having legs & arms, & feeling a head upon my shoulders. Presently the Endymion sent a boat to board us, – <it was a morning of business & bustle> the sun was shining, – we were all in good spirits, & you know the pleasure which it gives to idlers on bo at sea when any thing is going on, out of the common routine.

We saw the Berlings on Tuesday night. On Wednesday Edith & I went upon deck at five o clock, – we were off the rock, & the sun seemed to rest upon it for a moment as he rose behind. Mafra was visible, presently we could distinguish the height of Cintra, & the Penha Convent. the wind blew fresh & we <were> near enough the shore to see the silver dust of the breakers, & the sea-birds xx-xxx sporting over them in flocks. A pilot boat came off to us, its great sail seemed to be as unmanageable as an umbrella in a storm, sometimes it was dipt half over in the water, & it flapt all ways like a womans petticoat in a high wind. We past the church & light-house of Nossa Senhora da Guia, the convent of S. Antonio with a few trees about it, & the town of Cascaes. Houses were now scattered in clusters all along the shore; – the want of trees in the landscape was scarcely perceived, so delightful was the sight of land, & so chearful does every thing look under a southern sun.

Our fellow travellers  [4]  was much amused by the numberless windmills which stood in regiments upon all the hills. A large building he supposed to be an inn, & could see the sign, & the great gate way for the stage coaches – the glass enabled him to find out that it was a convent door, with a cross before it. An absence of four years had freshened every thing <object> to my own sight, & perhaps there is even a greater delight in recollecting these things than in first beholding them. It is not possible to conceive a more magnificent scene than the entrance of the Tagus, & the gradual appearance of the beautiful city upon its banks.

The Portugueze say of their capital

Quem naō ha visto Lisboa,
Naō ha visto cousa boa.

‘He who has not seen Lisbon has not seen a fine thing.’ They talk of its seven hills for the sake of likening it to Rome, but if Rome had stood upon fourteen, the similitude would have been nearer the truth. It is indeed a sight exceeding all that it has ever been my fortune to behold in beauty & richness & grandeur. Convents & Quintas, gray olive yards, green orange-groves & greener vineyards, . . . the shore more populous every moment as we advanced & finer buildings opening upon us, – the river bright as the blue sky which illuminated it swarming with boats of every size & shape, with sails of every imaginable variety, innumerable ships riding at anchor, far as the eye could reach, & the city extending along the shore, & covering the hills to the farthest point of sight.

We soon perceived –– [5]  coming to meet us, & before the Packet could anchor he was on board. Under his sanction we past the fort where all strangers must now pass thro <undergo> a strict examination, & be vouched for by some settler. This is occasioned by their fear of the Irish Revolutionists whom our Government wished to have banished to this country. Nothing can be more groundless than this fear. but when an American minister demurred as to affording these men an asylum, it is not to be wonderd that the Portugeuze government should refuse to receive them. [6]  They might safely have been received: – some of the Leaders would soon have found their way to France, the only place which is profligate enough for them, – there are others to whom any country might gladly open her arms, virtuous & enlightened men, who have indeed erred grievously in their contracted <spirit of> patriotism, but <who have acted> however erringly, from the purest motives. For such sedition as theirs change of climate is an effectual cure, & any where but <except> in Ireland they would be among the best & most valuable members of society. The alarm here was occasioned by the arrival of one of the secret directory, Counsellor Sampson. [7]  He landed at Porto, & after having resided there a month was taken up <apprehended>, brought to Lisbon, & confined at Belem. Some of his countrymen requested permission to visit him, you may visit him, was the answer, but if you do you must be content to stay with him. He was sent to Hamburgh, & it was in consequence of this affair that their troublesome reputations have been establishd. The nephew of a British settler here was actually sent back in the ship which brought him out, .. because he was an Irishman.

Poor Ursula! [8]  every day did she mourn over me for weeks before my departure from Lisbon in 1796, & right glad should I have been to have heard her voice when we knocked at the door, & received her welcome. And Linda too the Linda black spaniel is dead. & the white cat is in the same catalogue, & the lame mare has been eaten by the wolves.† Four years have greatly altered Lisbon, & still more the little world in which I moved here. I ask, where is one? – dead. Another? removed to England. a third? at Madrid. a fourth? God knows where. The feeling which these things occasion comes like an electric shock. & passes away almost as suddenly <instantaneously> as it comes. Returning to a scene so distant & so different fills the mind more than novelty could do; it is like first waking from a deep sleep in ones own bed after a long long absence. My head is still giddy with the motion of the sea. the ground rocks under me, the houses reel, & I shall have <for some days> an earthquake of my own. for some days.


† <Insert> There were two cabbage trees in the yard behind my Uncles house, which when I left them were only of 12 years growth. One of them now overtops & half overshadows the house <roof>, – & the other has been felled lest its roots should pu throw the whole side of the house down. Vegetation makes quick work in this climate, . . & Time & Change make melancholy work every where.


* MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 23. AL; 5p. The letter was probably never sent, but was part of what Charles Cuthbert Southey describes as ‘some fragmentary preparations’ for an unexecuted sequel to Southey’s Letters Written During A Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 57–61 [undated; in part]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 75–79 [in part]. BACK

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

[2] Walter Savage Landor, Gebir (1798). BACK

[3] The Islamic romance Thalaba the Destroyer, completed in Portugal and published in 1801. BACK

[4] Rundell (first name and dates unknown) travelled to Portugal with Southey. He was possibly a member of a prominent Bath family of silversmiths, jewellers and surgeons. BACK

[5] Southey’s uncle, Herbert Hill. BACK

[6] After the failed risings in Leinster and Ulster in May and June 1798, the government had entered into a pact on 29 July 1798 with the imprisoned United Irish leaders. This required that the prisoners give full details of the movement but without implicating any individuals by name. In return they asked permission to emigrate. The United States refused to accept them and European war ruled out exile elsewhere. The prisoners were therefore sent by the British government to Fort George in Scotland on 19 March 1799 where they remained until 1802, when they were deported to Holland and set at liberty. BACK

[7] William Sampson (1764–1836; DNB), United Irishman and lawyer, exiled after the 1798 rising. Arrested at Oporto, 12 March 1799 and imprisoned in Lisbon. He eventually settled in the United States. BACK

[8] Ursula (d. 1797), Herbert Hill’s servant. BACK

People mentioned

Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 2 times)
Lovell, Robert (1771–1796) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)