532. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 15 June 1800

532. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 15 June 1800 ⁠* 

Sunday June 15. 1800. Lisbon.

My dear Tom.

On Tuesday Rundell [1]  goes – I have an engagement for the day tomorrow & lack of paper has till now prevented me from preparation. so now for a gallopping letter!

Thursday last we saw the long-looked-for procession of the Body of God. the Pix is carried in all other processions empty, in this only it has the wafer – this is the only Real Presence. the Pix is a silver vessel – & our vulgarism please the Pigs which has sometimes puzzled me, is only a corruption, & that an easy one of please the Pix – the holiest church utensil. so much for the object of this raree show. on the night preceding the streets thro which it is to pass are cleaned – the only miracle I saw ever knew the sacrament perform is that of cleaning the streets of Lisbon! they are strewn with sand, & the houses hung with crimson damask from top to bottom. When the morning arrived the streets were lined with soldiers, they marched on filing to the right & left. their new uniforms are put on this day, & their appearance was very respectable. this alone was a fine sight. we were in a house in one of the new streets, where the houses are high & handsome & perfectly regular & the street longer than Redclift Street. every window & balcony crowded, & the Portugueze all in full dress & of the finery of Portugueze full dress you can have but very inadequate ideas. not a jewel in Lisbon but was displayed – the Rainbow would have been ashamed to be seen. The banners of the city & its various corporate trades led the way. I never saw banners so clumsily carried. they were stuck out with bars – not suffered to play freely & wave with the wind & roll out their beauties in light & shade. their sticks were stuck at right angles in the poles to carry them by – nothing could be more awkward – or more laborious for the bearers. they were all round the first & of course some walking backward like lobsters, & others crab-sideling along. then came a champion in armour carrying a flag – God knows his armour was heavy enough, & as both his hands were employed upon the flag his horse was led. There also I saw St George – but not St George of England. by God. this was a Portugueze wooden St George his legs stiff & striding like a boot-jack; a man walking on each side to hold him on by the feet. his house, when he is at home, is the Castle, from whence he goes to the Duke of Cadavals, [2]  where they dress his hat up with all their magnificent jewels for the processions, which he calls & returns on his way back. when the late King [3]  was dying he had all the Saints in Lisbon sent for, & this St George was put to bed to him. The consultation produced no good effect.

Scarcely any part of the procession was more beautiful than a number of very fine led horses their saddles covered with rich escutcheons. all the brotherhood then walked – an immense train of men in red or grey cloaks. & all the friars – Zounds what a regiment. many of them fine young men, some few “more fat than friars beseemed”, [4]  & others again as venerable figures as a painter could wish. among the Bearded monks were many so old, so meagre, so hermit-like in look – of such a bread & water-diet appearance, that there needed no other evidence to prove they were indeed penitents, as austere as conscientious folly could desire. the Knights of the different orders walked in their superb dresses – the whole patriarchal church in such robes! & after the Pix came the Prince himself, [5]  a group of nobles round him closing the whole. I never saw ought finer than this the crowd closing behind, the whole street as far as the eye could reach above & below, thronged – flooded with people & the blaze of their dresses! & the music! – I pitied the Friars – it was hot – tho temperate for the season – yet the Sun was painfull & on their shaven heads – they were holding up their singing books – or their hands, or their handkerchiefs – or their cowls to shade them. I have heard that it has been death to some of them in a hot season. two years ago at this very procession, a stranger received a stroke of the sun & fell down apparently dead. the Irish Friars got hold of him & carried him off to be buried. the coffins here are like a trunk, & the lid is kept open during the funeral service – before it was over the Man moved. what then did the Paddies? oh to be sure & they could not bury him then! – but they locked him in the church instead of calling assistance, & the next day the man was dead enough & they finished the job.

Had this been well managed it would one of the finest conceivable sights, but it was a long procession broken into a number of little pieces, so irregularly they moved. on the Prince & the group about the Body of God – I like to translate it that you may see the nakedness of the nonsensical blasphemy – they showered rose leaves from the windows. The following day St Anthony had a Procession, & the trappings of the houses were ordered to remain for him. this was like the Lent procession a perfect Puppet Show – the huge Idols of the people carried upon mens shoulders. there were two Negro Saints carried by Negroes – I smiled to think what black Angels they must make. We have yet another Raree-show to see in honour of the Heart of Jesus. this will be on Friday next, – & then we think of Cintra.

This has been a busy time for the Catholic. Saturday the seventh of this month, as the eve of Trinity Sunday, was a festival at the Emperors headquarters. [6]  his mountebank stage was illuminated, & pitch barrels blazing along the street, their flames flashing finely upon the broad flags that floated across the way. it was somewhat terrible. they were bonfires of superstition, & I could not help thinking how much better the spectators would have been pleased with the sight had there been a Jew, or a heretic like me, in every barrel. the scene was thronged with spectators, & to my great surprize I saw women walking in safety. nothing like personal insult was attempted. the boys had their bonfires & their fireworks, but they seemed to have no idea that mischief was amusement.

the succeeding day, Trinity Sunday, Holy-Ghost-day, was the termination of the Emperors reign. his train was increased by a band of soldiers, he was crowned & dined in public. the Emperor for the ensuing year was elected – & thus ends the mummery till Lent & fasting & folly come round again. At Cascaes the Emperor is a man, & the farce more formal. there was a brother of John 5th [7]  who, like our old rakes, delighted in blackguard mischief. he went to the Emperor then on the throne, with the intention of kicking him down, or some such practical jest. The Emperor knew him, sate like an old Senator when the Gaul [8]  approaches – & held out his hand for the Prince to kiss. it effectually disconcerted him, & he growled out as he retired, the rascal plays his part better than I expected.

In the course of a conversation introduced by these processions I said to a Lady who remembers the Auto-da-fes, what a dreadful day it must have been for the English when one of those infernal executions took place. no – she said – not at all. it was like the processions expected as a fine sight, & the people English whose houses overlooked the streets thro which they passed kept open house as now & made entertainments!! They did not indeed see the execution that was at midnight. but they should have shut up their houses, & for the honour of their own country have expressed all silent abhorrence. did such an event take place now I should shake the dust from my feet, & curse the city, & leave it for ever! – What is it that has prevented these Catholic bonfires? I do not understand. the Court & the People never were more bigotted & the dislike of Pombal [9]  would, after his disgrace have only been a motive for their reviving [MS obscured]. is it that the Priests themselves <& the Nobles> have grown irreligious? perhaps the books of Voltaire [10]  may have saved many a poor Jew from the flames. Portugal is certainly improving but very, very, very – slowly. the Factory have been long declining in opulence, & the Portugueze who had some years since no merchants of note, have now the most eminent & wealthy in the place. they are beginning to take the profits themselves which they had suffered us to reap. this is well – & as it should be. but they have found out that Cintra is a fine place, & are buying up the houses there as they are vacant, so that they will one day dispossess the English, & this I do not like. Cintra is too good a place for the Portugueze. It is only fit for us Goths – for Germans or English – who can worship Nature & trust our seats upon a saints shoulders.

Your Thalaba is on the stocks. [11]  it will be a work of some little time – but you will have it before the other [12]  goes to press, & of course some six months before it can possibly be printed – & this is worth while. I this morning finished the 10th book. only two more, & <at> the end of a journey hope always quenches my speed.

farewell – I am hurried & you must & may excuse as Rundell is post-man extraordinary the turnings empty. God bless you. Ediths love.

R. S.

Sunday Lisbon 15. 1800.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Thomas Southey/ H. M. S. Bellona/ Plymouth Dock/ or elsewhere –
Endorsement: 5th
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. 83–88; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 98–99 [in part]. BACK

[1] 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

[2] Miguel Caetano Alvares Pereira de Melo, 5th Duke of Cadaval (1765–1806). BACK

[3] Jose I (1714–1777; King of Portugal 1750–1777). BACK

[4] Possibly an adaption of James Thomson (1700–1748; DNB), The Castle of Indolence, Canto 1, stanza 68, line 1, ‘A bard here dwelt, more fat than bard beseems’. BACK

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

[6] A boy who was chosen to preside over the festivities at the Feast of the Holy Ghost. BACK

[7] John V (1689–1750; King of Portugal 1706–1750). He had three legitimate brothers: Francisco, Duke of Beja (1691–1742); Antonio (1695–1757); and Manuel (1697–1736). BACK

[8] When Rome was besieged by the Gauls in 389 BC, eighty senators agreed to remain outside the Capitol as they were too old to flee or fight. The Gauls found them seated motionless in their chairs and were at first unsure if they were statues or men. BACK

[9] Sebastiao Jose de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal (1699–1782; Prime Minister of Portugal 1750–1777). He abolished public autos-da-fé and the power of the Inquisition to inflict the death penalty in 1774. BACK

[10] Francois-Marie Arouet (1694–1778), Candide, ou l’Optimisme (1759), Chapter 6, contained a famous account of an auto-da-fé held after the Portuguese earthquake of 1755. BACK

[11] The MS copy of Thalaba the Destroyer made for Tom Southey is now at Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, LHMS MA 415. It was partly written by Edith Southey. BACK

[12] i.e. The MS of Thalaba the Destroyer used as copy text by the publishers. The poem was published in 1801. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 3 times)