560. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 10 December 1800

560. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 10 December 1800 ⁠* 

Wednesday 10 December. 1800. Lisbon.

My dear Danvers

The frippery box arrived on Sunday. not so our cheese. I have not yet seen Yescombe [1]  but am in great fear that they have been stopt for the good of the nation & eaten at Falmouth by act of Parliament. – with regard to Lambe you have acted quite properly in shunning him. he had nothing but well-meaning to recommend him – & as he seems to have discarded decency, one may be allowed to avoid vulgar ignorance. – Mrs Madox [2]  I have seen at your house, & her husbandsx person I recollect – having sometimes met him when walking with you. you will give me credit for sincerity in wishing I could be one of your rich customers.

I am hard at history. [3]  the labour pleases me & I feel both power & inclination for the work. but the scantiness of my finances miserably cripples me. I cannot afford to buy two or three very costly works – which I must buy before any one page is in a state for publication. thus will I at last lose much time & labour in going over the old ground, when the hooks & eyes of connection shall between one author & another shall be mislaid in my memory. I must lay out thirty pounds – but in losing Thalaba [4]  my sheet-anchor was lost. certainly there will be the first volume quarto of the History ready for the Press by next winter. the literary history [5]  will soon follow – if success encourages it. Madoc is my Army of Reserve. – after a summer in Wales has been devoted to correcting it, its publication will be a question of prudence – , whether like your old wine it will increase in value by keeping – or whether I shall publish as soon as possible not to lose the yearly profits that may be expected. it would greatly delight me to give Mrs Danvers her poem in print.  [6]  You will not be surprized to hear that I am thinking of another long poem – the story imaginary – the groundwork Hindoo mythology. some progress in the plan is made, & probably in a few days I shall gallop thro the first book. [7] 

I must send you more money & more commissions – but as I delay writing to John May for about a fortnight or three weeks, you will have the goodness to execute them on credit, till that time. imprimis [8]  a copy of Joan of Arc [9]  – Russia bound according to my fashion. if Jackson [10]  has forgotten it there is the first Anthology [11]  among the books we left, as a pattern. secondly – I am grown shabby & want a coat & pantaloons. my measure was left with Baker, [12]  & probably his successor has retained the same foreman. if it should be lost there is I think an old black coat at Mrs Frickers by which a new one might be made. chuse me a good brown. velvet collar – covered buttons. worsted pantaloons the same colour – they are easily made to fit a long lean man. if my Uncle returns thro Bristol – he will take the parcel – my Mother can inform you of this. otherwise direct it to him as usual. my motive for sending so far is that a coat here would cost me five pounds. water carriage costs nothing – & I get it on shore without difficulty or trouble.

I have at last seen & seditionized with Davys friend. [13]  a pleasant & able man. from whom I hope some useful introductions to those friars who are worth knowing. we have some pleasant English neighbours – a Biddeford family [14]  with whom is a Miss Seton a very clever woman, who draws most admirably. I find no fault in her except a resemblance to Mrs Barbauld in countenance; & that is a heavy one. a friend of Capel Loft [15]  is here – recommended to me as a man of literary acquirements. his name Du Bois [16]  – I have as yet seen him but little. after all Thomas the Cat is my chief companion – & a most magnificent Thomas he is. fat as Rover, all life & good humour.

Our wet weather is now commenced after a series of the most delightful days I ever experienced. we had scarcely a cloud thro the whole November. now we sit by the fire – for we have removed to tenant my Uncles house during his absence. Lisbon grows weekly worse as to robbery & murder & I hope is now so bad that it must awaken the police. daily murders & robberies so impudent that they astonish everybody. our vacant house has been opened & searched but there was nothing left portable enough to steal. last Monday two boatmen stabbed a poor fellow by mistake – begged his pardon & left him dying. the robbers are usually soldiers & in several instances Cadets – answering to our Ensigns. it is not possible to conceive a more total anarchy as to all useful purposes of society. yet there is a germ of vitality – a living spark existing – we see only the worst classes of society – the highest & the lowest – the oppressors & the oppressed. in the middle class – the tiers-etats – & tis a prophetic name – there are many who think & feel – who remember the past – & look on to the future.

I have been admitted behind the curtain – introduced to one of the Censors, [17]  shown his official reports of every books presented for publication – & thus know not only what is published – but those more important works that are not – that are strangled in the birth. this Censor was the Lutheran Minister here who changed his religion & is now as sincere in Popery – as he was in Protestantism. by his introduction he is of indispensable use to me, for he is a man of power, – communicative & very well informed. by his means the manuscripts are at my use. I even meditate the adventure of searching the records of the Inquisition. five written folios of the bloody chronicle whose outside I have seen with respectful eyes & itching fingers.

In writing history [18]  I actually want an Amanuensis, so troublesome is the shifting from book to paper. I am sanguine as to the merits of this work – not as to its success. fashion – rank in life – connections are every thing. for six quartos Gibbon [19]  got 8000 pounds. I shall be satisfied if I get 1500 for three – tho I expect a more durable & deserved reputation than that even of Gibbon. money – money is my only want. they reckon by moidores & six & thirties – & we learn like them to consider these pieces only as guineas – only as single coins – when alas there is a lamentable difference in the number of a yearly income. If Sam Reid calls here on his return – I should like to re[MS obscured] him – should the time suit my plans. conveniences are of little import to s[MS obscured] are Edith & myself. – a pot to be sick-in is the only article in requisition. & we should by embarking directly for Bristol save full thirty guineas – allowing a handsome price for passage & provisions. this is a material object. Why did you not tell me the name of his ship that I might have found him out?

I shall inclose my cousins letter to you – to spare her postage. Will you purchase for her such useful things as she probably would think too expensive to afford – & pay yourself when the remittance arrives. I will remit enough to leave something for her afterwards. much I cannot do. the call for the Thalaba money has quite crippled me.

Coleridge has never written – nor has Mrs C. written to Edith since her confinement – which is I think somewhat uncivil. why will he given his children such Heathenish <names?>. – did he dip him in the river & baptize him in the name of the Stream God? [20] 

By the next packet I expect news of the parcels arrival both from you & Rickman. his negociation will I hope be succesful – & if so Thalaba ought to be now in the printers office & gone to the Devil at last. [21] 

God bless you. our love to your Mother. Time runs away at an unmerciful rate & a few packets more will cross only, before we shall reach Bristol – still the port to which after every wandering I return.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers./ 9. St James’s Place./ Kingsdown./ Bristol
Stamped: LISBON
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 230–233 [where it is misdated 18 December 1800]. BACK

[1] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765–1803), Captain of the packet, King George, which sailed between Falmouth and Lisbon. BACK

[2] Possibly the wife (first name and dates unknown) of John Maddox (dates unknown) of Park Row, Bristol. BACK

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

[4] Southey believed he would have to use the profits from Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) to pay for Henry Herbert Southey’s medical training. BACK

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

[6] Southey finished the 15-book version of Madoc (1797–1799) at the Danvers’ house in Bristol. A heavily revised version was finally published in 1805. BACK

[7] Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 12–15 contains his early plans for The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[8] Translates as ‘in the first place’. BACK

[9] Joan of Arc (1798). BACK

[10] Probably Joseph Jackson (fl. 1780s –1790s) a Bristol bookbinder. BACK

[11] Annual Anthology (1799). BACK

[12] Possibly William Baker (dates unknown), a tailor of Bridge Street, Bristol. BACK

[13] Unidentified. BACK

[14] The Hammett family from Bideford, Devon. BACK

[15] Capel Lofft (1751–1824; DNB), miscellaneous writer and politician. BACK

[16] Edward Du Bois (1774–1850; DNB), lawyer, author and magazine editor. BACK

[17] Johann Wilhelm Christian Muller (1752–1814), came to Portugal in 1772 as chaplain to the Dutch Factory; entered the Portuguese civil service as a translator in 1790 and converted to Catholicism. BACK

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

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

[20] Coleridge’s son, Derwent Coleridge, was born on 14 September 1800. BACK

[21] A pun on the ‘Printer’s Devil’, an apprentice in a printer’s workshop. BACK

People mentioned