544. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 25 August 1800

544. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 25 August 1800 ⁠* 

Cintra. August 25. 1800

My dear Harry

Your letter (dated July 3) has reached me only this morning – I am ashamed of not having written before – & therefore answer it immediately. your account of your progress is highly satisfactory, & the manner of your letter evinces as much improvement as the matter. – On my return to England in the next spring I shall take a house, in or near, London, where you shall live with me, & study anatomy at the Westminster Hospital under Carlisle, whom you know to be a man of genius, & my friend. by the time you have acquired enough previous knowledge, I trust some of my eggs will have hatched, so that you may graduate either at Edinburgh or at in Germany, as shall appear best. Till my return you will remain where you are: you are well employed, & evidently improving rapidly, nor is there any home to which you possibly could remove! On my return you will have one, & I trust more comfortable than any you have ever yet had. We are rising in the world; it is our turn; & will be our own faults if we do not, all of us xxxx xxt <attain> that station to which our intellectual rank entitles us. Attend to prose particularly, excellence in that is acquirable, you know the value of literature & may perhaps one day find it, as I have done, a resource as well as a delight. In your course of history Gibbon [1]  must be read; it is the link that connects ancient with modern history. for the History of Portugal [2]  you must wait – there is none but that in the Universal History. [3]  it is a fine subject & you will see on my return a skeleton – I hope half-muscled.

Thalaba [4]  has taken up too much of my time, & I am eager to send it off & wash my hands of all that could have been written in England. it is finished & half ready for the Press. I am polishing & polishing, & hewing it to pieces with surgeon severity. yesterday I drew the pen across six hundred lines – & am now writing to you instead of supplying their place. it goes over for publication very shortly – I trust in three weeks. Rickman is my agent & supervisor of the Press. I am sorry you have not yet known Rickman. I esteem him among the first men of my knowledge.

I have acquired much miscellaneous information about this country, certainly enough to draw a faithful & striking likeness. I shall have the materials for its Literary History [5]  – my papers on that head are already numerous. my time is well employed & I shall thus return rich to England. for six weeks we have been at Cintra, a spot the most beautiful that I have ever seen, & which is probably unique. Eighteen miles distant at Lisbon the sun is insupportable – here we are cool with woods & water. the wealthier English are all here, still however I lack society, & were not for a self-sufficiency (like the Bear who sucks his paws when the snow shuts him up in his den) should be in a state of mental famine. My Uncle is little here; people will die & must be buried. the soldiers children die as fast as they are born, one of the myriad curses of war! He is a man of extensive information. his library very well furnished, & he very well acquainted with all its contents. One Englishman here only, [6]  talks politics with me. his taste is French in every thing, & in all else mine is right English & anti-Gallican. The English here know very little of the country they live in & nothing of its literature: of Camõens [7]  they have heard, & only of Camoens. by the help of my Uncle I have acquired an extensive knowledge, & am almost as well acquainted with Portugueze literature as with that of my own country. it is not worth much – but it is not from the Rose & Violet only that the Bee sucks honey.

You would be amused could you see Edith & myself on ass back, – I sitting sideways, gloriously lazy, with a Boy to beat my Bayardo, as well adapted to me as ever that wild courser was to Rinaldo. [8]  In this climate there is no walking, a little exercise heats so immoderately. but these cork woods, & fir-woods, & mountain glens, & rock-pyramids, & ever-flowing fountains; & lemon-groves ever in flower & in fruit, want only society to become a Paradise. could I but colonize Cintra with half a dozen families I should wish never to leave it. As it is I am comfortable, my health establishing itself, my spirits everlastingly partaking the sunshine of the climate. yet I do hunger after the bread-& butter, & the fire-side comforts, & the intellect of England. I saw some translations from Ramler [9]  I think the name was in the Monthly Magazine, & was almost as glad to see his xxxx as his language xxxxx xxxx the impress of Wm Taylor here, as I should have been had I met him in Bristol streets. – You will I think whenever my library is at hand, learn Portugueze – because I have got the History of Charlemagne & the Twelve Paladins in that language, [10]  & Palmerin of England. [11]  I have only laid hands on half an old Spanish romance [12]  – Don Florisel – son of Amadis of Greece, who was perfect Jack-the Giant-killer, & has taught me to forgive Don Quixote for knocking Knight errantry on the head. bad poetry I find in abundance. Wm Taylor knows my system of reading bad poetry. I have a vineyard on Parnassus & manure it with the dung in the neighbourhood. but it is ridiculously bad – I have seventy play two plays by Calderon [13]  the famous, all upon the Body & Blood – wherein the constant characters are the Five Senses, & old Mr World, & Jew the Emigrant, & Apostacy King of the North. most vile Bunyanism [14]  but infinitely absurd. Will you take a specimen? This then is the story of The Food of Man.

The Master of the Estate turns his son Adam out of doors, & the plays begins with the familiar phrase Get out you rascal! – aways goes Adam a-begging. & bitterly he complains that he can find no village & no body to give him any thing. he meets at last the Four Seasons & they give him nothing but implements of agriculture. Reason at last advises him to go to law with his Father, for his Father must supply him with food. an Angel is his Attorney, the Devil counsel against him. he wins his cause – the father settles upon him Oil-for extreme unction, Lamb, & bread & wi[MS torn] whereupon up comes the Pix & the Cup – & so ends the Mystery. – The Portugueze Academy published a book in honour of the victories of the Empress-Queen – Maria Theresa. [15]  my Liter[MS torn]tory will have a chapter upon the follies of Literature in which this work will furnish my best examples – every possible form of acrostic is there – poems to be read up & down & athwart & across, crosses & circles & wheels. Literature is almost dead here. More Books are published annually at Bristol – than in Portugal. there are no books to induce a love of reading – no Arabian tales or Seven champions. [16]  the people like dogs & savages can endure total idleness. they have even grated windows in their garden walls to gape into the road. hours & hours will the women sit looking out of window –. put somebody to hunt their heads & it is happiness. & this is the country that once was fertile in heroes! – but Portugal never produced a great man who was not superstitious – except Pombal. [17]  this is extraordinary. At a time when the Soldiers of France & England robbed the Pope at Avignon, [18]  the Portugueze & Spanish Heroes, were performing vows & making pilgrimages.

In case of peace, & surely surely it must come, we shall return thro Spain & France. I am curious to see Biscay. our man Bento [19]  who served in the Spanish army against France, [20]  has given me a curious account of that province where the people are clean, industrious & free & talk Welsh [21]  – or at least something very like it. On entering France one of the Spanish generals ordered his company to kill man, woman, child. In Roncesvalles [22]  (where Orlando & the Paladins were slain) a little boy of about six years, was playing on a wall – & he stopped to look at the troops. Bento saw one of his fellow soldiers, in obedience to these orders cut off the childs head. “I have seen a thousand men killed said he when he told me the story – but I never felt any pain except when I saw that poor child murdered.” What is to be the fate of Portugal? we know not much is going on. but all in secrecy. I expect peace everywhere. Bonaparte [23]  ought not to have risked that battle. My God, to stake so much on one game! Moreau [24]  would not have done it. it was a prodigality of human blood merely to please the Parisians. Shall I see no turn of tide in England on my return? – God bless you. remember me to Mr Maurice. & to Wm Taylor. I have written to him. remind him that I am in a land of strangers – & that an English letter – like all English commodities, increases in value by exportation. Ediths love.

yrs affectionately.



* Address: To/ Henry Herbert Southey/ with the Reverend Mr Maurice/ Normanstone/ Near Lowestoff/ Suffolk./ Single
Stamped: LISBON
Postmark: FOREIGN OFFICE/ SE 19/ 1800
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Don. d. 3. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 107–111 [in part]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 107–108 [in part]. BACK

[1] Edward Gibbon (1737–1794; DNB), The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788). BACK

[2] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[3] Southey may have been referring to a number of works. One of the most likely candidates is The Modern Part of the Universal History (1759–1765). BACK

[4] The Islamic romance Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[5] Southey’s planned ‘literary history’ of Spain and Portugal. This was never completed. BACK

[6] Unidentified. BACK

[7] Luis Vaz de Camões (1524–1580), Portuguese poet, best known for The Lusiad (1572). BACK

[8] In Ludovico Ariosto’s (1474–1533), Orlando Furioso (1516), Rinaldo is one of the main characters; Bayardo is his horse. BACK

[9] Karl Wilhelm Ramler (1725–1798), German poet; the translations appeared in Monthly Magazine, 9 (June 1800), 463–465. BACK

[10] An unidentified Portuguese translation of one of the collections of medieval legends that grew up around Charlemagne (742–814; Holy Roman Emperor 800–814) and his household knights. BACK

[11] Francisco de Moraes Cabral (c. 1500–1572), Palmerin of England (1547). Southey possessed a 1786 edition of this, no. 3684 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[12] Probably Feliciano de Silva (1491–1554), Chronica De Los Muy Valientes y Esforcados Cavalleros Don Florisel De Niquea y El Fuerte Anaxartes (1532), one of many continuations of the chivalric cycle concerning Amadis of Gaul and his descendents, no. 3364 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

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

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

[15] 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

[16] The ‘Arabian Nights’ was a famous collection of folk tales, first translated into English in 1706; Richard Johnson (fl. 1592-1622; DNB), The Famous Historie of the Seaven Champions of Christendom (1596). BACK

[17] Sebastiao Jose de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal (1699–1782), Prime Minister of Portugal 1750–1777. BACK

[18] The Papacy was based at Avignon in southern France 1305–1378. At this time it was closely controlled by the French monarchy and also hired English mercenaries to fight its wars in Italy. BACK

[19] Servant of Southey’s in Portugal. BACK

[20] Spain and France were at war 1793–1795. Spanish troops crossed the Pyrenees in 1793, but were driven back the following year. BACK

[21] Probably a reference to the Basque people of north-western Spain and south-western France. BACK

[22] Roncesvalles was the site of a battle between the army of Charlemagne and Basque forces in 778 and in legend became the last stand of Orlando and his fellow-knights. However, Roncesvalles is in Spain, so it cannot have been the site of the atrocity recounted to Southey. It is possible he misunderstood (or misheard) and the event occurred in Roussillon, the province in south eastern France which Spanish troops occupied in 1793. BACK

[23] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; First Consul 1799–1804; Emperor of the French 1804–1814). Southey is probably referring to Napoleon’s narrow victory over the Austrian forces in Italy at the Battle of Marengo, 14 June 1800. BACK

[24] Jean Victoire Marie Moreau (1763–1813) French general, then in command of the Army of the Rhine. BACK

People mentioned

Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 3 times)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 2 times)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 2 times)
Carlisle, Anthony (1768–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Maurice, Michael (1766–1855) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 3 times)