522. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 3 May 1800

522. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 3 May 1800 ⁠* 

Lisbon. Saturday May 3. 1800.

My dear Tom

Here then we are, thank God. we sailed on Thursday evening the 24th at five. our weather all the way was delightful – light winds & favourable – but we bent before the wind. which was rough work in the way – & as my bowels were obliged to shift every moment with the centre of gravity. it did not at all agree with them. We were both miserably sick – I indeed far worse than in my former voyages, & that all the way almost. On Sunday we saw a homeward bound convoy & were chased seventy miles by a Frigate with them – luckily it was in our course. Monday brought with it an adventure. at six I heard the Captain [1]  awakened with news that a Cutter [2]  was bearing down upon us. she did not answer to our signals. we fired a gun – she returned it, still hoisting English colours. little doubt was entertained of her being French & we more ready for action. I surrounded Edith with mattresses in the cabin by the Captains advice – she however would go down into the Cockpit. there I escaped from her & took my station with a musquet on the quarter-deck. We were all ready. Another Packet was in company with us carrying six guns [3]  – our force was ten, & our efficient Passengers from the Cutter came down between us – Zounds I saw the smoke from her ready matches, we hailed her – she answered in broken English – unintelligibly – & we expected the broadside. her force was fourteen guns. Even when she past us we only supposed it a manoeuvre to get round the other packet, & every moment looked to see French colours hoisted. she was however a Guernsey cutter. So I lost all chance of ever being gazetted. I laid my musquet in the chest right willingly & was particularly pleased with having legs arms & a head all the rest of the day. Soon after the Endymion boarded us. it was a busy morning, & the bustle kept me well for half the day. Tuesday night we made the Berlings. At sun rise Wednesday I rose & saw the Sun resting upon the rock. we ran close along shore – took a pilot out of one of those queer boats, whose sail tosses like a womans petticoats in a high wind – & at ten anchored in the Tagus after an uncommonly short & fine passage. My Uncle was on the water & on board immediately. the Commissary came with him & by his assistance we passed thro the Fort, where all strangers are now strictly examined & must be vouched for by some settler. this is owing to the fears entertained of the Wild Irishmen whom our government wanted to send here, & to the circumstance of Sampson, [4]  one of their secret Directory having landed at Porto. A young man who came to settle here with his Uncle, was, in their first panic, actually sent back by the ship in which he arrived because he was an Irishman.

Our baggage also passed unexamined. my trunk which was sent by waggon & the crockery ware had not reached Falmouth when we sailed. there is a frequent & scandalous delay at Exeter in the waggons. We took possession of our house the same evening. Manuel [5]  is our servant, poor fellow he was rejoiced at seeing me. We have likewise hired a woman – her name Maria Rosa. she came last night to be looked at – in powder – straw coloured gloves – a fan – pink ribband thrice round her head – a muslin petticoat – a rose coloured satin jacket with green satin sleeves. young – & withall clean. somewhat above the common run of servants – as she said “not one of those people who sleep upon straw mattresses.”

I am writing at a window that overlooks the river – a magnificent scene. the town of Almeida on the opposite isthmus, & its ruined castle – still farther where the river widens, the shore of Alentejo – the distant height of Cezimbre & its castle. about fifteen miles, the cross road – & the boundary formed by the Arrabida mountain. the Tagus so superb a river! so busy & alive with its thousand-shaped boats – & yet so broad as never to be crowded – lying smooth under this sunny heaven, like the blue of burnished armour in the sun, seen where it does not dazzle – & now spotted with purple islands by a few thin clouds. views like exist only in climates like these – they have a mellowness, a richness, a soft & voluptuous luxuriance <of> which no English landscape can help you to form an adequate idea – & the strong light & shade varies the scene as the sun moves, now hiding & now bringing forth crags & vineyards & churches & habitations.

I am improving my time, & accordingly rise at five. I may say this for I have done it the only three mornings we have been here, & certainly I shall persevere. you would wonder at the extent already of my memorandums. I wish you to keep my letters & with that idea will regularly send you all that I pick up, that if my own papers should by any accident be lost, their place may in some measure be thus supplied. you shall therefore receive larger paper to lessen postage, & will always have one upon the stocks – not by every packet the expence of postage is considerable, & I may sometimes wait the passage of an acquaintance to convey one free.

Filthy as Lisbon is no infectious disorders are known here – the streets are narrow & the houses high – the people dirty & scantily fed upon poor food – chiefly salt fish – a diet miserably bad & indigestible – yet with all these disadvantages they are as healthy as the inhabitants of any city in the world. An American in a book upon contagion [6]  attributes the exemption from infectious diseases which Lisbon appears to possess, to the number of lime kilns in its vicinity. Lime assuredly is very useful in this way, but the cause is utterly inadequate – it might indeed do were every <other> house a kiln. the more obvious cause is to be found in the strong winds that regularly blow every evening during the hot weather, sweeping down all the windings of the narrowest streets, & rolling the current down every avenue. They had an infected ship here not long since from Mogadore. [7]  I told you if I mistake not, the stupidity of the people at Plymouth in sinking suspected corn, & fumigating suspected silks. [8]  the smoke spoilt the silks & would have purified the grain. the American minister [9]  whom I visited this morning told me that at Boston once when they dreaded infection, they erected little boxes like watch boxes at all the entrances of the town, & smoked every person who entered. some fine ladies in full dress – silks & feathers, were obliged to pass thro this brimstone purification – & out they came their silks & feathers all discoloured – smelling like an itchey Scotchman in the sun. – An imposition of some consequence takes place at Falmouth. the packet passengers pay four guineas for their passport – this is raised by Post Office authority & only, & they say it goes to some charity. the Spanish Packet did the same. my Uncle asked our old Don Captain [10]  why they did it – “the Post office cannot lay on this. No said Aruspeni – but I do. – Paper money has been lately introduced here – & it <has produced as usual every where – forgery> is very badly managed. government immediately discounted it at six per cent – & the discount is now twenty. a very few weeks since they paid their sailors in paper at par. the men went to change their notes & lost 20 per cent. they accordingly rioted & cried out Liberty & Bonaparte. it was soon quelled & the ringleaders seized – but they have not been punished. – A Mail Coach has been established to Comibra. 136 miles on the road to Porto where it is intended to proceed when the road shall be made. they travel as fast as in England. my Uncle has been in it, but it is so dear that it will not hold. the expences are as great as if travelling singly in a chaise – of course this must exclude the great body of passers & repassers, the lesser dealers who now go backward & forward their journeys of business upon mules.

God bless you Tom. with this I conclude my batch of letters for the first packet this being the seventh – & all full as this. it has been a fatigue – & my correspondents must be contented with hearing from me seldom. for the whole harvest of Portugueze literature is open to me – & I am about to lay in bricks for the great Pyramid of my history. [11]  God bless you my dear Tom.


Ediths love.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Thomas Southey/ H.M.S. Bellona/ Plymouth Dock/ or elsewhere/ 1st/ Single
Stamped: LISBON
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 108–112 [in part]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 86–87 [in part]. BACK

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

[2] Fortunately, the ‘cutter’ turned out to be the British frigate HMS Endymion. BACK

[3] The Prince Ernest. BACK

[4] 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

[5] 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

[6] The American author is unidentified. The idea that lime was efficacious in the prevention and treatment of contagious fevers was current in the period. See John Alderson (c. 1757-1829; DNB), An Essay on the Nature and Origin of the Contagion of Fevers (Hull, 1788), p. 43. BACK

[7] Mogador, now known as Essaouira, is a port on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. BACK

[8] If Southey did impart this information to his brother, it was not contained in a surviving letter. BACK

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

[10] Don Raimundo Aruspini (dates unknown),Captain of the Spanish packet on which Southey crossed from Falmouth to Coruna in 1795. BACK

[11] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

People mentioned

Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 3 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 2 times)