556. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 30 October 1800

556. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 30 October 1800 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I have a letter already written for you which will sail next week with the parcel that contains Thalaba, but the state of my finances occasions me to write before that Packet sails. I draw upon John May thro his Uncle & partner here. [1]  will you make your draft payable to him. he is at Richmond Green.

In the Irish way I must refer you to the letter that you have not received for an answer to your last; & gallop thro this as fast as I can lest the Post should leave me behind. – the Yellow Fever has not yet reached us & the hubbub of invasion has long subsided. Of the paper money I have before detailed the evil consequences at present a new financial operation <operation> is about to be adopted, not in opposition to system & experience – but in sheer ignorance – the copper is to be called in, recoined, & issued at double its value – to the great advantage of our Birmingham traders, who have already sent over a brave cargo of bank notes. provisions are most enormously dear – the every one raising the price of his commodity to repay the discount which he loses. the poor & the servants of government suffer the whole loss – & the poor pay the advance upon every thing with no increase of xx wages adequate. the wisdom of thus defrauding their army & navy officers of a fifth part of their pay is too obvious to need a comment. moreover they have reformed the army – that is taken away the regiments from their Colonels – & left the old officers who have grown grey in the service with less than they had thirty years ago.

You know the precarious state of Lisbon. the earthquake may shatter it today. it may be only warned by its annual slight shocks. the state stands upon as uncertain a foundation. the court is poor, & blindly & beastily ignorant. provisions dearer than in any other part of Europe. the Princes [2]  character you know. & the people know. I saw him lately at Mafra following St Francis & his xxx flour-&-water-Deity round the town, & feasting <a> the set of beggarly friars – the most ignorant & blackguard of all the monastic orders & thus he spends his time, & lies down at night with the idea that he has done his duty in the day. He has had a monument made for the Prince of Waldeck [3]  who died here. a costly & handsome piece of sculpture which he wished to see when it was finished. But the German Princeling was a Protestant – & the Regent of Portugal would not enter a heretical burying ground. the monument has therefore been put up for the present in one of the convents that he may see it!

But with all this court devotion a spirit of toleration exists formerly unknown in Portugal. there is no doubt that he would think it a good deed to burn a few Jews, & that the mob would think it good fun. mobs are never tolerant. Were you to roast a Socinian in England there would be a holyday over the Kingdom & all the church bells would ring. to the ministry & higher clergy this moderation or indifference must be imputed. the friars if I may judge by what I have seen & heard envy the fate of their brethren in France, & like them would gladly join a revolution which – whatever it did to the other classes of society, certainly gave liberty to them. A Portugueze of good family had in a sister in a French nunnery. on the dissolution of the convents he immediately secured her an admission here & wrote to her to come with all speed from the land of Atheism. she replied – she was very much obliged to him – but she was married.

To the prevalence of indifference or infidelity I attribute this sort of toleration. my man observed to me one day that no miracles were worked now – & the reason was there was not faith. Sir said he, there was a man in my country who was very ill & he wanted to have a relic & there was none to be had. so one of his friends cut a piece of dry stick, & wrapt it up in a linen cloth & put it into bed to him, & told him that was a piece of St Somebody staff. & the man got up well – for his faith cured him. Is not the failure of miracles like the silence of the Oracles? the juggle is over – perhaps the people are too wise to be cheated, perhaps the clergy are too wealthy to cheat. their predecessors made their fortune – & they have given over trade & are enjoying it.

But all is silently done. No hand has laid the Axe to the great Upas Tree the canker from France has reached it – & it is ready to fall with the rottenness of age. the few books that are published could not be hostile to the established systems – if the Authors wished – & the Saints have usually their fair portion of pages – a full tythe in kind.

About India my mind fluctuates. my inclination is against it decidedly – & in the opposite scale perhaps curiosity is a heavier weight than prudence. [MS torn] it is certain that a hot climate suits me. perhaps is even necessary. if that should prove the case it will be Hobsons choice. but India is too hot for comfort – & I have an abhorrence of East-Indianised Englishmen. the South of Europe would [MS obscured]redly be my choice – if I could chuse. I like this country so well that I should be content to exchange the society & the fire & the fogs & the bread & butter of England for the filth & the fruit & the sun of Portugal, with no better equipage thro life than a jack-ass.

I am going a round-about journey to Batalha & Alcobaça & Thomar & Santarem. [4]  either on a mule or a Bedford. [5]  Edith goes with me – & a young Englishman [6]  whom I like. our plan for the campaign is not quite arranged. – News we have none. save that the deaths at Seville are five hundred daily! & that we are in danger of being starved by the expedition whom we half expect here – & who are & have been some time upon a short allowance of xx salt provisions – by way of dieting for the scurvy which is raging among them. we shall have the land stript if they arrive. God bless you. write soon & write often.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

October 30. 1800.

I have got a Portugueze version of the Guerras Civiles. [7]  will you believe that the Idiot translator has omitted all the Ballads?!!! – I have found however a little volume of Ballads about the Cid [8]  – & another volume of Spanish Ballads [9]  which is not come home from the booksellers. its date 1596 <1566> xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxxx. the Devil is always tempting me here in the shape of a Spanish book. indeed Lisbon would be a book-Paradise to me – if I was not somewhat in the situation of Tantalus. [10]  Romances are not to be found. where can they be scattered? one would almost suspect that abominable curate & barbarous Barber of having treated every library in Spain with the same inquisitorial severity as Don Quixotes. [11] 


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: [illegible]
Postmark: [partial] NO/ 2/ 1800
Endorsement: Oct. 30/ 1800
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 134–137. BACK

[1] Thomas Coppendale (d. 1833), a prominent English merchant in Portugal. BACK

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

[3] Christian August von Waldeck (1744–1798), Marshal of the Portuguese army 1797–1798. His monument finally found a place in the English Cemetery in Lisbon. BACK

[4] All these places contained medieval monasteries and convents that might contain useful manuscripts on Portuguese history and literature. BACK

[5] An ass: Bedford’s nickname was ‘Dapple’, Sancho Panza’s ass in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616), Don Quixote (1605–15). BACK

[6] Samuel Waterhouse (dates unknown), an English merchant in Lisbon. BACK

[7] An untraced Portuguese version of Gines Perez de Hita (1544–1619?), Historia de los Vandos, De Los Cegries, y Abencerrages, Cavalleros Moros De Granada, y Las Civiles Guerras Que Huvo En Ella, Hasta Que El Rey Don Fernando El Quinto La Gano (1595–1619). BACK

[8] Juan de Escobar (fl. C17th), Historia Del Muy Valeroso Cavallero El Cid Ruy Diez de Bivar, En Romances (1632), no. 3449 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] Lorenzo de Sepulveda (c. 1505–c. 1580), Romances Nuevamente Sacados De Historias Antiguas De La Cronica De Espana (1566), no. 3448 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[10] In Greek mythology, Tantalus was condemned to a fate whereby food and water were always within reach, but receded whenever he wished to eat or drink. BACK

[11] In Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616), Don Quixote (1605–1615), Part 1, Book 1, chapter 6, the barber, Master Nicholas, and the curate, Pedro Perez, stage a mock Inquistion of Don Quixote’s books on chivalry. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
May, John (1775–1856) (mentioned 1 time)