526. Robert Southey to Margaret Southey, 23 May 1800

526. Robert Southey to Margaret Southey, 23 May 1800 ⁠* 

Friday May 23. 1800.

My dear Mother

Our trunk arrived by the last packet – a joyful arrival – for I was beginning to be as bare as a plucked ostrich. the earthern-ware we do not expect before the return of the King George, as it is directed to Yescombe, [1]  & will (if at Falmouth) wait for him, that he may bring it & not charge freight. Yescombe is very friendly – We go on comfortably – as clean as an English house up stairs – as dirty as a Portugueze one below. Edith, like Mr Pitt, [2]  is convinced of the impossibility of reform. Manuel [3]  will clean the kitchen indeed – but immediately he will scrape the fish scales all over it. these people have no foresight. we however are very well off – & for a Portugueze our Maria Rosa is extraordinarily tidy.

Little duck Stephens [4]  is here – the Wine Street man, with a Housekeeper. & he goes to market himself – & I am going to cultivate his acquaintance – in order to find out what good things may have escaped my appetite here. nothing like a Bristol pointer at an eatable thing! – And we have found another Bristol bird – Mrs Mitchell [5]  – daughter of Sheeres the Surgeon [6]  – & niece to Patty Collins [7]  – a very good natured woman, with a cast in her eye. her husband [8]  is a Commodore in the Portugueze service – getting a great deal of money. they live in our street.

My Uncle – to my surprize – liked his knives better than if the handles had been white. he has enough to do with burying & christening among the soldiers, tho the Priests poach among his flock sadly. We profit somewhat by the war, getting most excellent pieces of the sirloin from the ration xx my Uncle. The summer we pass at Cintra – whither however we shall not go till July, for in June we have to see the Procession of the Body of God – of St Anthony – & the Royal family with the Knights of the New Convent. & we must also wait to see a Bull fight – which being a cool summer amusement, only takes place in the hottest weather. – Poor Thomas is very ill – & must I believe once more come to Lisbon for his health. by the by he desired me to say he wished my Aunt would send to Lisbon an account of what money she had received from him, that my Uncle might see he did his duty. – I shall be very glad to have him here, as I want a companion to ramble with thro the city & into all the churches.

I read nothing but Spanish & Portugueze. Edith knows enough of the common words to get all needful things done about the house. We have had an infinite number of visitors & our debt is not yet paid off. Young Hawker is a good-humoured man – his wife disagreable enough to have the old Press-gang-fellows daughter by blood instead of by law. [9]  we are to dine with them one day – somewhat conveniently as their barracks are nearly three miles from hence, & lying near the Museum – the Botanic Garden – the beasts – & the beautiful – most beautiful church & convent at Belem – we shall be enabled to see these with little trouble & without the necessity of hiring a chaise for the day.

Edith has seen the Aqueduct. even after having seen it I was astonished at its magnitude. Shakespere’s “lessened to a crow [10]  seemed hardly hyperbolical when I looked down from the middle arch upon the brook of Alcantara, the women washing there would have escaped my sight, if I had not seen them moving as they walked. it is a work worthy of Rome in the days of her power & magnificence. the Portugueze delight in water. the most luscious & cloying sweetmeats first – for instance preserved yolk of egg – & then a glass of water – & this is excellent which comes by the Aqueduct. The view from the top is wonderfully fine – a stoney shallow brook below – a few women washing in it – bare-knee’d. the sides sprinkled with linen drying in the sun. orange & vine – & olive-yards along the narrow line of fertility that runs between the hills, & houses scattered in the little valley, & bare dark hills & windmills – & houses far beyond, & distant mountains. – & looking down the str. She has also seen the New Convent. [11]  the inside of the church is of marble – & the colours very well disposed – you will remember that a marble room, chilling as it would be in England, is here only cool & comfortable. it is dedicated to the heart of Jesus, which is the subject of more than one Picture in the church. in one the Queen (for she built it,) is representing adoring this Heart. [12]  you would not like the Roman Catholic religion quite so well, if you saw it here in all its naked nonsense. could you but see the mummery & smell the Friars! There is no dying in peace for these fellows. they kill more than even the country apothecaries. when a man is given over – in they come – set up singing which they never cease till the poor wretch is dead – build an altar in the room, light their candles – & administer extreme unction. Which has much the same effect, as if in England you measured a sick man for his coffin – & dressed him in his shroud. they watch after the dying like Bristol Undertakers –. my Uncle is always obliged to mount guard – & yet last week they smuggled off an officer – got at him when his senses were gone, & stuck a candle in his hand – & sung O be joyful – for a convert. We have had three illuminations for the new Pope! [13]  you know the old story of lighting a candle to the Devil. – xx I remembered <it> & burnt tallow for the old Babylonian. We had another illumination for the christening of a Princess. [14]  these things are not as in England at the will of the mob. an illumination is proclaimed. at a proper hour the guns fire to say now light your candles – at ten they fire again to give notice that you may put them out. & if you do not illuminate you are fined about thirty shillings – but no riots – no mobbing – no breaking windows.

I shall send this by a private hand. Rundell [15]  I believe will return by the Packet after this – & by him I shall write to Danvers, to whom I pray you remember us & to his Mother. tell them the ninth book of Thalaba is not yet finished – tho all but finished. the literature of this place takes up very much of my time – I am never idle – & I believe must set at Thalaba in good earnest in order to get it out of my way.

Ediths love. God bless you.

your affectionate Son

Robert Southey.

We look somewhat anxiously for letters by the next packet.


* Address: To/ Mrs Southey./ at Miss Tylers/ Bristol./ Single
Stamped: EXETER
MS: Beinecke Library, Osborn MSS File ‘S’, Folder 14172. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 74–77 [in part]. BACK

[1] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765–1803), Captain of the packet, King George, which sailed between Falmouth and Lisbon. BACK

[2] William Pitt, the Younger (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806. 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] Possibly William Stephens (dates unknown), a warehouseman, of Wine Street, Bristol. BACK

[5] Anne Michell, née Shears (1765–1838). BACK

[6] Samuel Shears (dates unknown) of Bedminster, near Bristol. BACK

[7] Unidentified. BACK

[8] Lieutenant Sampson Michell (1755–1809), was in command of the Portuguese ship, San Sebastian. He rose to be an Admiral in the Portuguese Navy. BACK

[9] Lieutenant Francis Hawker (dates unknown) of the 12th Light Dragoons. He and his wife (née Cripps) were friendly with Herbert Hill. Southey met them again in France in 1838 (Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 210–211). Hawker was the son of Captain Thomas Hawker (dates unknown), who was head of the Impress Service in Bristol from 1793 and a neighbour of Southey’s aunt Elizabeth Tyler. BACK

[10] A paraphrase of Cymbeline, Act 1, scene 3, lines 14–16; Act 3, scene 3, lines 11–13. BACK

[11] Convent of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, founded in 1779 by Maria I (1734–1816; Queen of Portugal 1777–1816). BACK

[12] Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), p. 9 n. 5, notes that Southey’s assertion was incorrect. BACK

[13] Pius VII (1742–1823; Pope 1800–1823). BACK

[14] Maria Francisca de Assis (1800–1834), fourth child of John VI (1767–1826; King of Portugal 1816–1826). BACK

[15] 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

People mentioned

Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 3 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 3 times)
Tyler, Elizabeth (1739–1821) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)