528. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 30 May-6 June 1800

528. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 30 May–6 June 1800 ⁠* 

May 30. 1800. Lisbon.

The country immediately adjoining Buenos Ayres, [1]  the hill on which we live, is very unpleasant bare, burnt, hills, bearing nothing but wind-mills. the valley of Alcantara, over which the great Aqueduct passes is indeed very striking, it winds among these hills, & perhaps owes much of its beauty to the contrast – like the villages in the South Downs – & that beautiful valley on the left of the road from Salisbury to Deptford Inn. in rich countries they would not be noticed – but here – they are like water in the deserts. The whole road to Cintra is thus ugly & uninteresting – the road paved all the way, a very Devils-bowling-alley –. you can imagine no scenery more wearying. but Eastward of Lisbon it is totally different. there all is rich & beautiful – exquisitely beautiful now that the green corn & the vineyards give it all the fresh verdure of an English landscape. yesterday evening I took a long ride there with my Uncle about the valley of Chellas, the gardens of which delightful spot chiefly supply Lisbon. the place is intersected by a thousand bye lanes, unenterable by carriage – & as intricate as one of the last propositions in Euclid, [2]  all angles & curves. in this scenery there is scarcely an English feature – orange trees in the gardens, & vine-covered trellis-walks – olive-trees growing in the corn fields, & now in full blossom – the blossom is somewhat like the old-mans-beard of our hedges, not so striking at a distance as when looked into, but it gives a greyness to the tree, a sober blossom in character with the dusky foliage. fig-trees – their broad leaves so green & rich – & a few broad-headed pine-trees – here & there, & cherres apricots &c in the gardens varying the verdure. in the gardens is usually a water-wheel, & the garden is veined with little aqueducts. these wheels creak eternally – & such is the force of association that the Portugueze reckon this creaking among the delights of the country – they think of water, & the garden revived by it. the country looks covered with wood – not indeed of forest size – but large enough for beauty, & all useful. the fences are either walls – & the walls are soon covered with luxuriant vegetation in this country, – or aloe-guarded banks. & the aloe is magnificent – the stem of the blossom looks <almost> like a piece of timber. & the fennel grows finely as a weed – you know its handsome leaf, fine as vegetable threads – or like x hair fine & curled, its blossom growing tall & to be seen at some distan, a fine yellow flower distinguishable at a considerable distance from its size. & the acanthus, the plant that gave a man of genius the idea of the Corinthian capital which he in consequence invented. bl[MS obscured] these with wild roses, & woodbines – more profusely beautiful than I ever saw them elsewhere & you have the idea of these bank-fences. our way was up & down steep hills, whence we looked over the valley, its scattered houses, & here & there a convent – always a beautiful object, & sometimes the river, & its far shore like a low cloud. It was dusk before we returned & the fireflies were awake – flashing about the banks, & then putting out their candles, & again in light – like faery fire-works. my Uncle when first in this country had lost himself in a lane at Cintra – it was evening – he had heard nothing of these fireflies – & some hundred rose at once before him. he says he thought there was a volcano beginning under his feet.

The warm weather is come. we shut our windows to exclude the heated air, & our shutters to darken the room. – if half the money expended upon the Souls in Purgatory were employed in watering the streets, we should be relieved from the torment of burning – yet is the heat more endurable than the intense light. this is insufferably painful – the houses are white – the stones in the street white – the very dust bleached – & all reflect back upon us the scorching sun. the light is like the white quivering of a furnace fire: it dazzles & makes the eyes ache – & blindness is very common. At evening the sea breeze rises – a sudden change! tremendous for an invalid – but it purifies the town, & then owl-like we come out of our nests. – At Cintra we shall be cool. we wait only for the Processions of the Body of God, & St Antony the 12 & 13th of June – & the Heart of Jesus on the 20th & the first Bull-fight which will be about that time.

The Butchers annually pay a certain sum to Government – like tax or turnpike men in England. veal is prohibited – there are however smugglers who carry on a contraband trade in veal, & better mutton than is to be procured in the legal way. one of these was taken up near our door a few days since, a public calamity I assure you. The Portugueze servants do not like mutton, & <they> mutinied in an English family the other day on this account. a tax of one rea per pound on all meat sold in Lisbon, raises the fund for the Aqueduct. a light tax (about the fifth of a halfpenny) for so great a benefit. the water is indeed purchased from the Gallegos [3]  who are water-carriers by trade. <but> you may send it to the fountains if you please, & the great arch is known by the <a> name expressive of this they call it the free waters. The number of Gallegos employed here is disgraceful both to Spain & Portugal. to their own country that these industrious people cannot find employment at home: to this, that the Portugueze are lazy enough to let foreigners do their work, who annually drain Lisbon of its species. The Mules & Goats have a most ugly cup-shaped bell from 6 to 12 inches long xxxxxx <hanging from> their neck – with a clapper as rude as the rude cup in which it clinks. Manuel [4]  is at war with my Uncles mule; & like xx worse people than himself, adopts this system of coercion when conciliation has been advised, & the ill effects of force experienced. you should coax the mule said my Uncle – & never go near her without carrying her something in your hand. No Senhor – said Mambrino. that is the way with horned cattle I know – but not with beasts like mules or horses. nothing but beating will do. One day there was a hallaballoo (I never saw that word in a dictionary, so pardon the spelling if it be wrong) in the stables which alarmed my Uncle – out he went – & there was Manuel, discomfited by the Mule & crawled up under the manger, in bodily fear.

Friday June 6. Your letter has just reached me – a welcome visitant. here a letter is of tenfold more value than in England, our friends are perhaps like our daily comforts, their value hardly understood till we are deprived of them. – I go on comfortably, the weather makes me lazy & yet I have read enormously & digested much. laziness is the cou influenza of the country. the stone cutter will lay his head upon the stone at which he has worked, & sleep, tho it be hot enough to boil a beef[MS obscured] very days are lazy. it was but yesterday I saw a great son of a bitch, (literally,) let a mule step upon him from sheer laziness, & then he rose howling & walked away. the fellows lie sleeping every where in the streets – they seem to possess the power of sleeping where they will. Everlasting noise is another characteristic of Lisbon. their noon-fireworks – their cannonading on every fool pretext – their bells to every goat in a flock & every mule in a drove prove this – above all their everlasting bell ding-donging – for bell ringing would convey the English idea of music, & here it is only noise. A merchant not far from my Uncles has a private chapel from whence his bells annoy the whole neighbourhood. The English Hotel till lately was near him, & the Invalids were disturbed & of course injured by the noise. they sent to requ state this & request that he would have the goodness to dispense with the bellringing. he returned for answer that the Prince [5]  had given him leave to have a private chapel, & his bells should ring in spite of any body. I would have this fellow hung up by the heels as a clapper to Great Tom of Lincoln, & punish him in kind. [6] 

We had often heard a noise below which puzzled us. it was like ranting linen – but so often that all the linen in Lisbon could not have supplied the sound. at last when Maria was cleaning the adjoining room we heard it. she was laying the dust & in the same way as she damps the cloaths in ironing – by taking a great mouthfull of water & then squirting it out, – this is the Portugueze way – & the mouth makes a very good watering-pot.

I have heard a good anecdote to illustrate the <personal> insecurity in this Kingdom. did you <ever> see old Harris who lodged with my mother once? [7]  he was a Porto merchant – & had a quarrel with a Portugueze. in consequence of which he & [MS obscured] antagonist always went out with guns – each watching for the first shot. but the Portugueze used to attack his house at night & fire thro the windows at him – till M[MS obscured] Harris, who did not like this chance shooting, prevailed on her husband to quit the kingdom. The gallows here has a stationary ladder, & God knows if the hangman did all that was necessary he would have a hard place.

My Uncle has purchased Charts of all the coasts & ports of Spain & its islands – with the intention of giving them to you. should you ever get on this station they will be eminently useful. Lord St Vincent has a copy – but the copies are so rare & so expensive that there can be very few in the navy. Omit not to write often your letters cost very little – not more than at Bristol. God bless you. Rundell [8]  returns by the next packet after this, & I shall write again by him. Ediths love.

yrs affectionately


It was Rundell made the enquiry near Helstone. you have had the Anthology [9]  I trust if not, write to Cottle.


* Address: [in another hand] To/ Lieutenant Thomas Southey/ H.M.S. Bellona/ Plymouth Dock. – / or elsewhere. / Single
Stamped: LISBON
Endorsement: 4th
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 77–83 [in part]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 91–93 [in part]. BACK

[1] Area of Lisbon, now known as Lapa. BACK

[2] Euclid (fl. 300 BC), Greek mathematician, author of Elements. BACK

[3] Inhabitants of Galicia in north-west Spain. BACK

[4] 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

[5] John VI (1767–1826; King of Portugal 1816–1826), Prince Regent of Portugal 1799–1816. BACK

[6] ‘Great Tom’, a bell at Lincoln Cathedral, was believed to be the largest bell in England. BACK

[7] Otherwise unidentified. BACK

[8] 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

[9] Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 3 times)