535. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 5 July[- c. 4 August] 1800

535. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 5 July[– c. 4 August] 1800 ⁠* 

Cintra. July 5. 1800.

My dear friend

I know not why distance by water should occasion neglect of letter-writing more than distance by land. but my English correspondents have proved the fact to me – & I in my turn, have given you sufficient reason to believe it. We were in Lisbon on May day, look at the date above & pardon & absolve him that doth truly repent.

First of my health, the immediate object of this emigration. The effect of climate has been what I expected & wished. night seizures I have none. the irregularity of my heart is lessened, not removed, I eat voraciously, & above all enjoy an everlasting sunshine of spirits. Something of this is assuredly owing to the total change of scenery & society, but the climate has been the great cause. In England, summer & winter, I sit by the fire, − I have never seen a fire since our departure from Falmouth. the society here is not rather such as would depress than elevate xxx <the> spirits of a man accustomed to freedom of speech & intellectual intercourse. literature here is none, & I am too fond of tranquillity ever to utter a political opinion where every a true Catholic uniformity of sentiment prevails. I hunger & thirst for the intercourse of my friends, & yet feel the climate so sensibly, that if only inclination were to be consulted, I should perhaps pitch my tent here, & settle in a country where the will of the sovereign is paramount & the Inquisition consummates the church establishment.

The political situation of Portugal is far more critical than when I last visited it. a foolish treaty with Russia has offended Spain, [1]  the only possible consequence of such a treaty. If it be the intention of Bonaparte to shut us out of the Mediterranean this port will not again be left for the English fleet. we are inclined here to believe Lisbon will be the point aimed at by the Brest fleet: it can make no resistance. the forts are weak, soon silenced, or soon past: the English force very trifling, the city without fortifications. the Spanish forces alone, should the attack be made by land, are equal to the conquest of the country. they are only Spaniards you will say, but they would have only Portugueze for their enemies, & numbers would decide the contest. But it is the fear of Spain for her own tottering government that has preserved this. the revolutionary torrent when let loose will not follow the line of demarcation. The Spaniard is therefore carefull how he sets fired to his nextdoor neighbours house. The folly of irritating Spain by a treaty with Russia, after that Barbarian Paul [2]  had so absurdly declared war against Spain, was a fine specimen of Portugueze policy, more especially as the Spanish minister who now directs every thing, [3]  is a violent Jacobine, of more zeal than prudence. The solitary Merchantman at sea wishes for the wind that suits his course, whether or no it thwarts fleets & expeditions. I confess that it would please me a great deal better to read the Capture of Lisbon in England than to witness it. & I should carry home the news with very different feelings than <from those which> would be excited by an order commanding all English subjects to evacuate Portugal. a long passage in a crowded transport would be a sad exchange way of returning after I have planned a journey over the Pyrenees & a visit to Paris.

Time will decide all these chances. perhaps the Income Tax & the campaign in Italy [4]  may plead for peace in England. meantime I live as comfortably as if no earthquake were brooding under my feet, literally & metaphorically. it is just a week since we removed here for the summer, − to a spot the most delightfull I have ever known. I am daily acquiring knowledge for the History of the Kingdom – my materials for the Literary History of Both countries, [5]  will, except the translations, be compleat when I return, & the miscellaneous information which my eyes & ears pick up will swell into a volume. in autumn, when the weather will permit, I shall begin my travels, & visit the whole of the country. literary habits & employments make some amends for the want of society, I go among the English no more than civility demands, & always return to my books with a better appetite.

The strangest novelties here are a mail-coach. & paper money. the history of both characteristic of the statesmen. xxxxx the mail coach is priced so highly, that a single person may go to Porto (the road it runs) in a chaise somewhat cheaper. time only therefore is saved, for it actually travels an English mail pace, 8 miles an hour. but this high price excludes the main body of travellers from profiting by the speed, & the little dealers must still jog backward & forward on their mules. this therefore will not last long. no vehicle can run profitably, faster than the usual posting pace of the country. this is a royal undertaking. Immediately upon issuing the paper money, they set the example of discounting it: Only half the [MS obscured] you pay is a legal tender, the consequences are xxx xxxxxxxx a progressive depreciation, & an advance in price upon every article. they chose to pay the Sailors in paper, & when these fellows found out what they lost by it, they rioted & shouted Bonaparte [6]  for ever. a name now growing more bug-bearish than ever. pasquinades are common here. the “order-counter order & disorder” caricature of Paul [7]  was applied to the Prince, [8]  & I saw the other day a Sonnet which was affixed to the Opera house door, recommending transportation for some of the Ministry, & a madhouse for others. a Friar who preached some months ago before the Prince, chose to give him a political sermon, but not in the English fashion. it was a lecture upon the wrong measures he was pursuing. when it was over the Princess [9]  waked her husband & asked him if he had heard what that fellow had been saying. the consequence was an order to confine the Priest to his convent. these are merely bubbles that rise to the stagnant surfac[MS torn]

I am preparing Thalaba for the press, designing to send it over for publication, & travel home upon its profits in the spring. you never gave me your judgement of Gebir. [10]  I have [MS torn] me & read it daily with increased astonishment & admiration. of bad poetry, mo[MS torn] divertingly bad both Spain & Portugal furnish me with abundance. I have been much amused with a metrical life of Vieyra the Portugueze painter, [11]  written by himself. the most original mixture of devotion, enthusiasm & vanity I ever met with. A quarto volume, published by the Academy here in compliment to the victories of Maria Theresa, [12]  furnishes me some incomparable specimens for a chapter upon the absurdities of literature, which will make <no> xxxxxxxxx for the no inconsiderable part in an historical account of Portugueze letters. it abounds with crosses & wheels. & anonymous follies that are to be read across & athwart & all ways from the middle.

Send me Burnetts direction, & give him mine that I may hear from him sooner, for I much wish to hear from him. R S. with the Reverend Herbert Hill, Lisbon. your letter should reach London on Tuesday, or it loses the weeks mail & the Packet. We have French & Italian news rather earlier than it reaches England by way of Madrid. Berthiers [13]  victory is felt very heavily here – so much hope & expectation was excited that I hear every body complaining. let me hear from you soon. the arrival of a Packet excites fifty fold more hope & fear than the daily Posts of England.

God bless you –

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

I must have some Poem in head when Thalaba is gone – & it will be probably my hexameter Mohammed. [14]  The necessity of beginning the line with a long syllable seems more hostile to our language than any thing else in the metre. An Iambic must be used there occasionally, or a redundant syllable. I am afraid your Show Eclogue [15]  will be abused for my sake. a hostile hand is at work in the Monthly Review [16]  against me, or the Old Woman of Berkeley must have been more civilly treated. with Thalaba I trust you will be satisfied. it satisfies myself.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr./ Surry Street/ Norwich./ Single
Stamped: [illegible]
Postmark: A/ AUG 4/ 1800
Endorsement: Ansd 5 October
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4830. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 348–353. [in part; dated 5 July 1800]. BACK

[1] Portugal and Russia signed a defensive alliance in 1799 (aimed at France). This annoyed Spain, which had severed ties with Russia after Paul I (1754–1801; Tsar of Russia 1796–1801), though an Orthodox Christian, assumed the title of Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, a Catholic order, in 1798. BACK

[2] Paul I. Russia did not declare war on Spain, but diplomatic ties were severed. BACK

[3] Manuel de Godoy y Alvarez de Faria (1767–1851), First Secretary of State 1792–1798 and still the dominant influence on the Spanish government. He was not a Jacobin, but was associated with a pro-French alignment in Spanish foreign policy. BACK

[4] The British government had announced the first income tax, to pay for the war with France, in December 1798. France had just won a decisive victory over Austrian forces in Italy at the Battle of Marengo on 14 June 1800. BACK

[5] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’ and literary history of Portugal and Spain. BACK

[6] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; First Consul 1799–1804; Emperor of the French 1804–1814). BACK

[7] Tsar Paul I was obsessed with military drill and issued a new Military Code Concerning the Field Service for Infantry (1796), which was much derided and caricatured. BACK

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

[9] Princess Charlotte of Spain (1775–1830), wife of John VI, Prince Regent of Portugal. BACK

[10] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801); Walter Savage Landor, Gebir (1798). BACK

[11] Francisco Vieira (1699–1783), O Insigne Pintor e Leal Esposo Vieira Lusitano (1780). BACK

[12] Idéa de hum Elogio Historico de Maria Theresa Archiduqueza de Austria, Imperatriz Viuva, Rainha Apostolica de Hungria, e de Bohemia, Princeza Soberana dos Paizes Baixos. Escrita em Francez por *** (1781, republished c. 1800). This was a Portuguese translation of Marie-Caroline Murray (fl. 1780s), Essai d’un éloge Historique de Marie-Thérese, Archiduchesse d’Autriche, Impératrice-Douairiere, Reine Apostolique de Hongrie & de Bohême, Princesse Souveraine des Pys-Bas par M. M. *** (1781). The translator was Teresa de Mello Breyner, Countess of Vimieiro (1739-after 1798), a leading light in the foundation of the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon in 1779. Teresa de Mello Breyner was a great admirer of Maria Theresa (1717–1780; ruler of Austria 1740–1780), and by establishing parallels between her and Maria I (1734-1816; Queen of Portugal 1777-1816) wished to address the question of power exercised by women. The editors are extremely grateful to Dr Maria Castanheira for this information. BACK

[13] Louis Alexandre Berthier (1753–1815), French commander in the victory over Austria at Marengo on 14 June 1800. BACK

[14] Coleridge and Southey’s plan for a jointly-written poem in hexameters on Muhammad (570–632), the Prophet of Islam, did not make much progress. A fragment by Southey was published posthumously in Oliver Newman: a New-England Tale (London, 1845), pp. 113–116; and 14 lines by Coleridge in The Poetical Works of S. T. Coleridge, 3 vols (London, 1834), II, p. 68. For Southey’s notes for, and early sketch of, the poem see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 18–20. BACK

[15] William Taylor, ‘The Show. An English Eclogue’, Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), pp. 200–210. BACK

[16] The review of Southey’s Poems (1799) in the Monthly Review, 31 (March 1800), 261–267. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)