518. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 2 May 1800

518. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 2 May 1800 ⁠* 

Friday. May 2. 1800. Lisbon.

My dear Danvers

Here then we are. our safe & speedy passage & the alarms which we endured on the way I have detailed to my Mother who will show you the letter & spare me the needless tedium of telling the same tale again. – I have seen Dr Pitcairn [1]  this morning. he is a very pleasant intelligent man. I told him my case – he agreed in opinion with me & with others – thought me perfectly right in leaving England, as a total change of scene & associations was the only cure, & did not doubt that this country would quite restore me, provided I would allow it time & be in no hurry to return. this will suit my inclination as well as health. I am to drink wine, exercise myself much, take laudanum by <my> own discretion, & pass the summer at Cintra. Pitcairn conversed with me a long time, & I found him a clever, liberal man. he regretted his speedy departure as it would have given him much pleasure to have cultivated my acquaintance. I was instructed not to offer him a fee.

My Mother will tell you how we are settled. our woman servant comes this evening. I have not yet seen her. – she has been here, Maria Rosa, so fine! green satin sleeves – pink satin <jacket> body – powder – muslin petticoat – withall a good looking girl who has lived five years in one place. she is to do every thing except cooking – & that when Manuel [2]  is out of the way. her wages four moidores a year. the moidore is 27 shillings – or nearer 30 according to the present rate of exchange. she is above the common run of servants – to use her own phrase, she is not “one of those people who sleep upon a straw mattress” – & so she has a flock one. thus then our domestic arrangements are made.

I have drawn the plan of our apartments in my Mothers letters. we live in three little rooms, communicating with each other by double doors till this morning when I carried away the gates of Gaza. [3]  We inherit on Monday much of Dr Pitcairns furniture & conveniences – who goes in the next packet. this windfall, with the help of the carpenter who is to make me some swinging bookshelves, will tolerably set us up.

A mail coach has been lately established to Coimbra – 130 miles on the Porto road, to which place it is to run when the road is compleated. yes, a Mail Coach that goes eight miles an hour, – drawn by mules. my Uncle has been in it – it is a royal business & will fail from ill management. it is priced too high – as the fare &c for a single person amounting to as much as his expences in a chaise by himself. now this excludes the main body of travellers – the inferiour tradesman, those who now travel on mules or horses. – Paper money also is introduced here – a bad & clumsy business which I do not understand enough as yet to explain. all I know is this – that the government set the example of discounting it – & that about a fortnight since they paid their sailors in it at par. these men on exchanging the paper found themselves twenty per cent losers, & in consequence a slight riot ensued & they cried out Liberty & Bonaparte! this was soon quelled & the ringleaders secured. they have not however been punished. This paper currency has brought forth its usual child – forgery. a German of some respectability & talents, has been or will be executed for it, in England. [4] 

Danvers my meat, my wax candles – my fuel, my bread come from the public purse of England. my Uncles ratio is very large, & I am very conscientiously taking my share of the loaves & fishes, – eating out my last income tax, & a little of my friends. – the country here is delightful – such a sky! every thing in full leaf! – but the green peas are nearly over. – Our visitors are many of them pleasant – the women I mean – their manners are easy & of that frankness that invites familiarity even from a reserved stranger. Edith mends in spirits already.

I paid my visits this morning to the Envoy [5]  & the Consul [6]  whom I saw. to the Commissary [7]  who came to me last night, & who got my things on shore, & whose wife is a very nice woman – to the Commander in Chief [8]  – & Lord Somerville [9]  who claims relationship with me here, where he finds I am known. I have yet to call on the new American minister. [10]  We shall avoid all parties, & only visit a few families in a family way. Ten days will finish these ceremonials of seeing xxx receiving & returning visits – then I am at pleisure – & at work. I rise at five. this time has been employed in letter writing – a business laborious from the multitude which I cannot but write at first. Sunday the packet sails & I shall breathe a little. I will write by the next to Davy – tell him so & remember me to him – tell him I remember him with the earnestness which he a man feels in a foreign country when he thinks of a friend at home. if he would but knock space as well as matter out of the Universe, we might meet now.

In the midst of my sickness I thought of Thalaba & quo[MS torn] plan. it will now soon be finished. [11]  my time [MS torn] be regularly allotted out, & you will I trust see me return richly laden. the prospect of a Cintra summer delig[MS torn] a scene – such a home! its quiet – its leisure – huzza for Madoc! the gap will soon be filled up there. But the history [12]  is the great work – the mighty Pyramid labour – & I must to hew stones for the buildings.

I was wrong about the Cheese. my Uncle wants some – the mild toasting sort. my Mother will buy them, & Cottle repay her. pray tell her this, & let them be sent according to the direction which you have. Captain Yescombe [13]  was uncommonly attentive. he omitted no kindness which it lay in his power to show us, both at Falmouth & on the way. parcels consigned to him for my Uncle will be taken care, & safely stowed & carefully.

Of the fleas & muskitoes I say nothing – only Edith was rather surprized to see me fill the slop bason with the former at first. remember me to Cottle, & to Charles Fox. [14]  Edith is writing home. I also have written to Coleridge & directed to Bristol. the dizziness of the voyage has almost left me – I am growing sober & the world does not dance before my eyes so giddily. the change of scene has wonderfully improved me. my hair is in full curl & my spirits up to the top of the glass. our love to your Mother. if I could but remove your house xx & a very few persons – like the Chapel of Loretto I should have no wandering wishes Englandward. [15] 

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

I met a Bristol man to day whom I knew in infancy. Stephens of Wine Street [16]  – my fathers opposite neighbour. I was quite glad to see his ugly face.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers/ 9 St James’s Place/ Kingsdown/ Bristol/ Single
Stamped: LISBON
MS: British Library, Add MS 30928. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 83–86. BACK

[1] David Pitcairn (1749–1809; DNB), a London doctor who had gone to Portugal for his health. BACK

[2] 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

[3] Judges 14–16; Samson ripped out and carried off the gates of the Philistine city of Gaza. BACK

[4] Unidentified. BACK

[5] Robert Walpole (1736–1810), Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal 1772–1800. BACK

[6] Charles Arbuthnot (1767–1850; DNB), Consul and Charge d’Affaires in Portugal 1800–1801. Educated at Westminster School 1779–1784; a career diplomat, later a government Minister and confidante of the Duke of Wellington. BACK

[7] The Commissary’s name was Warden (first name and dates unknown). BACK

[8] Simon Fraser (1738–1813; DNB), Major-General in command of British forces in Portugal 1797–1800. BACK

[9] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), agriculturist and distant relative of Southey. BACK

[10] William Loughton Smith (1758–1812), resident Minister of the USA in Lisbon 1798–1801. BACK

[11] The Islamic romance Thalaba the Destroyer was published in 1801. BACK

[12] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

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

[14] Charles Fox (1740?–1809; DNB), poet, orientalist and artist. BACK

[15] According to Catholic tradition, the Holy House at Loretto in Italy was the house in which Jesus grew up in Nazareth. It was miraculously transported to Italy by angels in the 13th century. BACK

[16] Possibly William Stephens (dates unknown), a warehouseman in Wine Street, Bristol. BACK

People mentioned

Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 4 times)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 4 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 3 times)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 2 times)
Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 2 times)