542. Robert Southey to Margaret Southey, 22 August 1800

542. Robert Southey to Margaret Southey, 22 August 1800 ⁠* 

Cintra. August 22. 1800.

My dear Mother

You will have known before this can arrive, that your Bristol dispatches reached me. That I have not written sooner is the fault of the wind – we have been three weeks without a packet – & now we have one, my letters may probably be detained for want of a conveyance to Lisbon. – You must write to my Uncle. upon family affairs he never utters a syllable, & whenever I have begun upon the subject here he has made no reply whatever. It is not therefore possible to speak to him. – About the cheese you mistook – I designed to pay for it, thro Cottle. however we want certain articles from Bristol (a gown for Maria Rosa [1]  & a few things for Edith) for which I shall send ten pounds, & you will then pack off some forty shillings worth. Peggy? – I am impatient for letters. your last was an unpleasant one altogether, & undid half that Portugal had done for me. however I am materially amended. Tom writes that she is better – but I know the cursed nature of the disease too well to hope so easily perhaps as you & he may have done. In settled cases, the fox-glove always retards the progress of the malady – but never cures. at an early stage, it prevents. however other diseases there are undistinguishably similar in their symptoms, which are sometimes mistaken for this – & the patient is said to have recovered from a consumption, when his lungs have been sound all the while.

We have been here about two months, living alone & riding jack-asses. My Uncle is sadly confined in Lisbon. the Soldiers children die as fast as they are born from inattention or bad management – one of the million war-evils! – & he must bury them. We have acquaintance out of number, but no friends. of course I go among these people no oftener than absolute decorum requires. Patty Collins’s [2]  Niece [3]  has more brains than three parts of the factory: her I like hugely – but she is never at Cintra. I want Danvers here, & Davy & Rickman & Cottle & you, & some fresh butter, & the newspaper. howbeit I am very comfortable, & very busy. I want you to eat melons – we get them for about xxx three farthings a pound: & grapes – oh what grapes! our desserts are magnificent. We have three servants here – a man, a maid, & a boy. all good servants for the country, but not a little swine. I long sometimes to rub their noses in their filth as they serve the dog & the cat. can you guess how they damp clothes for ironing? Maria takes a mouthful of water & squirts it out over the linen. The Roman Catholics have contrived to rank nastiness among Christian virtues, & they practise no other so universally. The poor Moriscoes in Spain were forbidden to use their baths – because it was a Turkish custom. Certain of the austerer monks would think it wicked to kill any of their vermin. others wear no linen, & sleep in their woollen dress from one year to another, fine, fat, frying, friars, looking as oily as Aarons beard in the sun. I should like to catch a Quaker & bring here among filth & finery. – Of Capt Hawker [4]  I saw something at Lisbon. he was educated as an Artist, & draws beautifully. this is his virtue, & you may add to it great apparent good nature. but if ever his head should be broken – his wife is a most disagreable & affected woman. they are civil to us, – for my Uncle is very serviceable to them. him I have no objection to, but his wife was one of the precious party who fell foul of Tom, & belied him behind his back – because they had nothing to say to his face. She claims acquaintance with him here, & chuses to forget what passed – but I do not choose to forget it.

Since we left Lisbon I have written scarcely any letters, & have a weeks work to settle my accounts with Tom. tell him that Thalaba has monopolized me. that by the King George [5]  in her next voyage (about 3 weeks hence) I send over his copy, together <with> that for the Press. [6]  his direction at Plymouth Dock I have forgotten, so the parcel shall be directed to Danvers. who will read – & forward it. the press copy also goes to him, lest Rickman should not be in London, which he will know. I shall manufacture letters for the occasion. a plague upon writing letters! except to Bristol & to Tom I have neglected all my other correspondents. actually I have not time. I must ride, I am visited – & the correcting Thalaba & transcribing it is a very serious job.

The French. you are probably alarmed for us, & perhaps not without cause – but we are in the dark, & only know that the situation of the country is very critical. We are quite easy about the matter. The house is on fire! Ach! & is xxxx that all? said the Paddy – now why did you disturb me? I am but a lodger. – In my own opinion no attempt will be made on Portugal. it is not worth the trouble. Why make a dust by pulling down a house that must fall? We shall have peace! thank God, & Somebody. –

By the next packet I shall write, & send to Biddlecombe his years rent. when we return I shall immediately take a house in London, or near it. for a summer or two Burton may do – but if Rickman leaves Xt Church I must look for a situation where there is better society. I wish I could settle here; the climate suits me so well, that I could give up society, & live like a Bear by sucking my own paws. You like the Catholics. shall I give you an account of one of their Lent plays upon Transubstantiation which is lying on the table? It begins by the Father turning Adam out of doors – “Get out xxx of my house, you Rascal” Adam goes a begging, & bitterly does he complain that he can find no house, no village, nobody to beg of. At last he meets – The Four Seasons, & they give him a spade & a plough &c. – but nothing to eat. At last Then comes Reason, & tells him to go to law with his Father, who is obliged to find him in victuals. Adam goes to law, an Angel is his counsel, & the Devil pleads against him. He wins his cause, & the Father settles upon him Oil – for extreme unction. Lamb. & Bread & Wine. up comes the Sacrament – & there is an end of the Play. This is written by a Priest – one of the best Spanish writers [7]  – who has written seventy-two of these plays, all upon the Body & Blood; & all in the same strain of quaint & pious blasphemy. In another Christ comes in as a soldier to ask his reward of My Lord World for serving him, & he produces the testimonials of his service. that on the eighth day of his enlisting he was wounded with a knife. that he had a narrow <escape> when the Infantry were all cut off. that he went as a spy among the Enemies, & even got into their temple. that he stood a siege of forty days, & would not capitulate, tho without provisions. & after three assaults put the Enemy to flight. that he succoured Castle-Magdalen when the enemy had got possession. that he supplied a camp consisting of more than 5000 persons with food, who would all have been starved. that he did good service at sea in a storm. therefore for him & his twelve followers he asked his reward. I could fill sheet after sheet with these Bunyanisms, [8]  & send you miracles as strange as any in Thalaba.

But you are crying out already, & are satisfied with the specimen. – farewell. we are going on well – only Ediths Burro fell with her & threw her over head down hill, & she is now lame with a bruised knee. she excells in ass-woman-ship – & I am hugely pleased with riding sideways, & having a Boy to beat the John & guide him.

By the King George I expect Alfred [9]  & a load of letters. remember me to Danvers & Mrs D. & to Cottle & Davy if you see him. poor Patty Cottle! [10]  poor Old Morgan. [11]  but his death was to be wished. Mrs Wilson! [12]  the piece of a letter that I read by mistake about a wretch touching her – did it mean the Irishman? – you have used us scurvily in writing but once. Ediths love. God bless you.

yr affectionate son

Robert Southey.

My love to Killcrop when you write. how does his Latin go on? Harry must forgive me. I do not forget him – & will write very soon. but the interruption it occasions & the time it takes up make letter-writing a serious evil.

By the Monthly Magazine [13]  I see my seditious cobler & book-stall-man is married!


* Address: To / Mrs Southey/ at Miss Tylers/ Bristol./ Single
Stamped: LISBON
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1 (28)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.) Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 99–103 [in part; misdated 21 August 1800]. BACK

[1] The Southeys’ maidservant in Portugal. BACK

[2] Unidentified. BACK

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

[4] 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). BACK

[5] Packet sailing between Falmouth and Lisbon. BACK

[6] Tom Southey’s manuscript copy of Thalaba, now Pierpont Morgan Library, LHMS MA 415. Thalaba the Destroyer was published in London in 1801. BACK

[7] Pedro Calderon de la Barca (1600–1681), author of over 80 one-act ‘auto sacramentales’. BACK

[8] John Bunyan (1628–1688; DNB), wrote fiction on Christian themes, most famously The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). BACK

[9] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, An Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Books (1800). BACK

[10] Possibly Cottle’s sister, Martha Cottle, who died in 1800, aged 15. BACK

[12] Unidentified. BACK

[13] Unidentified. BACK

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 2 times)
Burton (mentioned 1 time)
Christ Church (mentioned 1 time)