555. Robert Southey to Margaret Southey [fragment], [c. 29-30? October 1800]

555. Robert Southey to Margaret Southey [fragment], [c. 29–30? October 1800] ⁠* 

Lisbon [no date]

My dear Mother,

.            .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .            About Harry, it is necessary to remove him, – his room is wanted for a more profitable pupil, and he has outgrown his situation. I have an excellent letter from him, and one from William Taylor, advising me to place him with some provincial surgeon of eminence, who will for a hundred guineas board and instruct him for four or five years; – a hundred guineas! well, but thank God, there is Thalaba ready, for which I ask this sum. I have therefore thus eat my calf, and desired William Taylor to inquire for a situation, – and so once more goes the furniture of my long expected house in London. [1]             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .

The plague, or the yellow fever, or the black vomit, has not yet reached us, nor do we yet know what the disease is, though it is not three hundred miles from us, and kills five hundred a day at Seville! Contagious by clothes or paper it cannot be, or certainly it would have been here. A man was at Cintra who had recovered from the disease, and escaped from Cadiz only seventeen days before he told the story in a pot-house here. In Cadiz it might have been confined, because that city is connected by a bridge with the main land; but once beyond that limit, and it must take its course, – precautions are impossible; the only one in their power they do not take, – that of suffering no boat to come from the opposite shore. Edith is for packing off to England, but I will not move till it comes, and then away for the mountains.

Our weather is most delightful, – not a cloud, cool enough to walk, and warm enough to sit still; purple evenings, and moonlight more distinct than a November noon in London. We think of mounting jackasses and rambling some two hundred miles in the country. I shall laugh to see Edith among the dirt and fleas, who I suspect will be more amused with her than she will with them. She is going in a few days to visit the nuns: they wanted to borrow some books of an English woman, – ‘What book would you like?’ said Miss Petre, [2]  somewhat puzzled by the question, and anxious to know. ‘Why, we should like novels; – have you got Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake? [3]  we have had the first volume, and it was so interesting! and it leaves off in such an interesting part! We used to hate to hear the bell for prayers while we were reading it.’ And after a little pause she went on: ‘and then it is such a good book; we liked it, because the characters are so moral and virtuous.’ By the by, they have sent Edith some cakes.

We are afraid the expedition under Sir Ralph Abercrombie [4]  is coming here: his men are dying of the scurvy, and have been for some time upon a short allowance of salt provisions; they will starve us if they come. What folly, to keep five-and-twenty thousand men floating about so many months! horses and soldiers both dying for want of fresh food.             .             .             .             .             .             .

God bless you.

Your affectionate son,

Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.) Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 124–126 [in part; undated].
Dating note: Dating from internal evidence. This letter was written very shortly after Southey returned to Lisbon on 28 October 1800. BACK

[1] Southey received £115 for Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), enough to cover Henry Herbert Southey’s training. BACK

[2] Miss Petre (or Petrie; first name and dates unknown) and her sister became friends of the Southeys in Portugal. It is possible they were relatives of Martin Petrie (d. 1805), Commissary General in the British Army. BACK

[3] Charlotte Smith (1749–1806; DNB), Ethelinde; or the Recluse of the Lake (1789). BACK

[4] Sir Ralph Abercromby (1734–1801; DNB) was second-in-command of the failed Anglo-Russian expedition to Holland in 1799. In 1801 he commanded a British expedition to Egypt, rather than Portugal. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 3 times)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 2 times)

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)