565. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 30 January-9 February 1801

565. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 30 January–9 February 1801 ⁠* 

Jany. 30. 1801. Lisbon

First I must thank you for your agency. [1]  all the arrangements satisfy me. your overseeing eye would indeed have detected many inaccuracies that escape my hasty one, & in point of correctness the work will suffer by its Bristol printer. the Conjurer however will print better than a town craftsman, & slower – by which fault I have leisure to transmit a new half book for the 12th – which was before a clumsy piece of patchwork. this business occupied me or you would have heard my acknowledgements by the last packet. As to the “its” in the first paragraph – you know I attribute no undue importance to trifles – if it seemed wrong to any person – that was reason enough for removing it. had it been a word of sedition I might have fought for it –. And now I have made my alteration, & done with Thalaba, it remains only to spend the money for which I have 115 ways [2]  – & live in hope of a quick sale & a second edition.

Your two letters arrived by one packet & I had at once the home-politics of a month. you were quite right in preventing Longmans quarto-scheme. Alfred ought to cure him of quartos. [3]  moreover the short lines of Thalaba in a quarto page would make much such an appearance as I should in one of Biddlecombes waistcoats. the poem is so utterly innocent of all good principles or useful drift that it may possibly pass quietly thro the world like Richard Cromwell, [4]  notwithstanding the sweet savour of its fathers name. yet whatever may kindle a young imagination or correct a vicious taste is not altogether useless – & moreover Thalaba may pave the way for Madoc, [5]  who will be as Jacobinical as heart can wish. meantime my labours are of a species decidedly useful. my literary materials accumulate – & my history [6]  is in a state of progression. the 115 pounds were not illy earned, & xxx a large part of that sum will be well spent in brick & mortar for the historical building. my plan extends to two quartos – the Indian history forming a seperate third. The first will be ready for publication in the ensuing winter – & the literary history will keep pace with it, the researches for both assisting & relieving each other.

The death of the Marquis Ponte de Lima [7]  is regarded as a fortunate event here. he was an old man, almost superannuated – & miserably negligent of public affairs. the new ministry is hostile to the nobles & fidalgos & therefore popular. they have also promised to remedy the evils of the paper currency, by receiving half in payment – & paying half cash – whereas formerly they took all specie & gave all paper. the discount which before was 22 has since fluctuated from 17 to 19. – it is singular that a circumstance very similar to this currency existed above 250 years ago. there was such a want of small coins that the Maltese (now the paper-changers) used to change the larger pieces at a discount. this practice was prohibited – & a coinage gave effect to the prohibition. 1550 under John 3rd [8]  The merchants here still look apprehensively towards France, in my judgement with causeless fear, because it is the interest of Spain to prevent the revolution of Portugal, they must not aid in setting fire to the house of Ucalegon. [9]  because it is not the interest of France, who certainly receives subsidies for respite – the property here lies so much in sterling gold that it is removeable at an hours warning, & of valuable merchandize so much could be shipped as to leave little plunder. besides if a French army were in possession of Lisbon, our fleet would cut off their supplies of food & starve the city. These are strong reasons – but men more acquainted with what is going on, & with the state of the country than I am, apprehend a treaty with France, that the threatened naval league [10]  may be pointed out as a safeguard against our sea-despotism, that a French garrison may defend the river forts against naval hostility, & that English property at Lisbon may go like English property at Leghorn. [11]  certainly the decisive moment is at hand, & certainly so large a body of troops was never before assembled at Perpignan to influence negociation.

Febr 5. the Decree respecting the Paper money was made public. it lies before me & you therefore may depend upon the accuracy of my statement. they promise to pay faithfully the 6 per cent interest. that all sums under 100 milreas (about 27 £ only) they will pay half in paper half in cash, all sums above one third cash. the Troops xxxx xxxxxx all cash, the Officers two thirds paper.

crown lands to be sold to redeem the smaller paper & burn it. the rest of the Edict promises to receive all payments half & half, & declares that no favour from the Treasury shall be shown those who do not use the same method. they hope soon to pay all sums half & half – & look on to totally withdrawing the paper from circulation. They have abandoned some stupid schemes of doubling the nominal value of copper after calling it in – of debasing the silver – & also of a Bank – for which there is no foundation in this tottering country. About 120 years or rather less under Pedro 2nd [12]  a scheme of similar knavery was acted by the crown – they raised the value of money 20 per cent – & paid their debts according to the new reckoning. thus gaining the 1 in 5. the coin still bears the old figures. the milrea exists not <now> as a coin, but what was a milrea still bears the figures 1000, & passes for 1200 – or a quarter-moidore.

The new Minister Dom (remember the Don is Spanish & ignorantly applied to Portugueze) Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho, [13]  is said to be a man of talents, & ambitious of literary patronship. on the old Duke de Lafoes’ death he looks on to the Presidentship of the Academy, & already they talk of continuing the Dictionary. the Patriarchal church is rich & ill managed. it is in agitation to take the estates – & pay the church from the crown. it is only the Prince [14]  who saves the rich orders from a similar guardianship, & the poor ones from being limited & reduced & rooted out.

An introduction to some of the Portugueze has been highly useful to me. I am known for a curioso, a man busied upon their literature. The Chief Librarian of the Public Library, [15]  a man of rank & of learning has offered me his own very valuable collection – & also his papers. The Sub Librarian [16]  admits me among the mss. I see the Censor reports upon what books are published & what suppressed – & I am now promised access to what public documents are preserved among the archives. the young race of poets are ambitious of showing me their works in hopes of a nich. I only regret my short stay, of which the greater part will be employed in travelling. but for the latter volumes of history another visit to Portugal will be indispensable. We shall return in May, & if a merchant ship is ready, directly for Bristol. The moving cannot be less than 30 guineas, & it can make little difference in what sort of a cabin we are to be sick.

Little seems to be dreaded from the nearest & almost inevitable danger – the yellow fever. it still exists, but these unthinking people fancy it is dead – because it sleepeth. baffling medicine here as it has done in America, it is a dreadful calamity from which Portugal has no possibility of escaping. x possibly the rest of Europe may be infected. we have shall suffer from the northern league. the neutral ships were the corn-carriers, & our little loaves will be lessened – but not their price. agriculture here never can improve till the tenures be altered. It is so difficult – so almost impossible to alienate lands, that whoever purchases an estate purchases a dozen law-suits with it. the rich merchants therefore never think of retiring & establishing their family upon the graves of poor gentility. the sale of the crown-lands will have some effect in offering them clear tiller. – they have thought & written upon agriculture, as x they have written upon many things & thought of more – without the power as yet of practising. the average number of men of information is not perhaps much inferior to what it would be found in England. but they are crushed b[MS torn]sorial boards, & the Inquisition. if these were destroyed [MS torn] if the fiat lux [17]  were but pronounced – there would be light.

There is a Frenchman here, the Abbé Du Boys, [18]  employed upon a history of Brazil for which he has procured important documents. perhaps Manuscripts are no where so common as in Portugal. very many of the adventurers to Asia – & Africa – & America drew up their accounts – they disliked the scrutiny of a Censor & declined publication. libraries rarely descend here – & manuscripts & books go indiscriminately to the shops. if the work be of importance copies of it are to be found. I have one of their most famous poem fairly written – it is about 6000 lines – the Author a mongrel Irish-Portugueze turned monk [19]  & died in sanctity after a twelvemonths penance & discipline for writing this ungodly love story. therefore it was never printed but for three shillings I bought the mss – & there were three other copies at the same price. Books have cost me much – so much that I begin in prudence to think of selling them when my work is done. My brother Harrys destination is no ways disagreable to me. his conscience may digest more easily than mine, & I am at least a saver by the business.

We wait my Uncles return to commence our long planned ramble. & if the yellow fever do not advance nearer on our return, it is my intention to traverse Algarve & see Spain once more across the Guadiana.

poor Amos! – & poor Joseph! – & alas for Alfred the long [20]  – & his most inimitable original similes! I quake for Cottle when the reviews come at him – bunglers & blockheads as they are. these books I never see. the Monthly Magazine reaches me. it contains an ill-spelt annunciation of Thalaba [21]  which probably came from George Dyer. a sort of magazine is just commenced here under the title of Varieties. [22]  I have sent for it. there is also a sort of periodical Joe Miller [23]  – so the title bespeaks it, called The Convoy of Lies, [24]  & it has probably a profitable sale as the author made jokes by the week for 3 years in another work of the same kind. [25]  reviews exist not here, except the censorial books – which are hidden from profane eyes. these I have seen behind the curtain, & laughed over. the merit or demerit of a book consists in what it says of Portugal & its Priests & its Prince. thus of Murphys book [26]  – the stupidest compilation that ever blundering Irishman made – an account of a young Franciscan overturning a broth kettle in whispering to a girl was selected for censure – as the ignorance of a foreigner seeing things in a wrong light but scattered compliments to Portugal – & above all the very respectful & highly proper dedication to his Royal Highness [27]  – oh it weighed heavier than all the faults – & made atonement for a quarto full of dullness & blunders.

Ediths remembrance. remember me to Lamb – & the Cancellarius Magnus.

yrs truly

Robert Southey.

Feby. 9. 1801


* Address: To/ Mr John Rickman/ 33 Southampton Buildings/ Holburn/ London/ Single
Stamped: LISBON
Postmark: FOREIGN OFFICE/ FE/ 26/ 1801
Endorsement: Jan. 30 – 1801. –/ Feb. 9. 1801
MS: Huntington Library, RS 11. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 237-242. BACK

[1] Rickman had arranged for Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) to be published by Longman and Rees. BACK

[2] Southey was paid £115 by Longman and Rees for Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

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

[4] Richard Cromwell (1626-1712, Lord Protector 1658-1659; DNB), returned to England from exile in the 1680s and lived undisturbed under an assumed name. BACK

[5] Southey had written a fifteen-book version of Madoc in 1797-1799, but a revised version was not published until 1805. BACK

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

[7] The head of the Portuguese Treasury and former Secretary of State (prime minister) in 1786-1788, Tomas Xavier de Lima Teles da Silva, Marquess of Ponte de Lima (1727-1800), had died on 23 December 1800. BACK

[8] John III (1502-1557, King of Portugal 1521-1557). BACK

[9] In the Aeneid, Book 2, lines 311-312, Aeneas sees the house of Ucalegon, one of the elders of Troy, set on fire by the invading Greeks; ‘Ucalegon’ became a proverbial name for a neighbour’s house that was on fire. BACK

[10] The League of the North, formed in 1800, was an alliance of Denmark, Sweden, Russia and Prussia against the British policy of searching neutral ships suspected of trading with France. BACK

[11] When the French Army occupied the Italian port of Leghorn (Livorno) in June 1796 they sequestered a huge amount of British merchants’ property. BACK

[12] Pedro II (1648-1706, King of Portugal 1683-1706). BACK

[13] Rodrigo Domingos de Sousa Coutinho, Count of Linhares (1755-1812), had just been appointed head of the Portuguese Treasury. He was also briefly Secretary of State (prime minister), 21 May-23 July 1801. The new Secretary of State, appointed on 6 January 1801, was Joao Carlos de Braganca e Ligne de Sousa Tavares Mascarenhas de Silva, Duke of Lafoes (1719-1806). The Duke had been President of the Royal Portuguese Academy of Sciences since its foundation in 1779. The Academy had proposed a new Portuguese dictionary, but only the volume covering the letter ‘A’ had been published in 1793. BACK

[14] John VI (1767-1826, Prince Regent of Portugal 1799-1816, King of Portugal 1816-1826). BACK

[15] Antonio Ribeiro dos Santos (1745-1818), Professor at the University of Coimbra, historian, poet and Director of the Real Publica Corte since its foundation in 1796. BACK

[16] Agostinho Jose da Costa Macedo (1745-1822), lexicographer and editor. BACK

[17] A Latin translation of ‘let there be light’, Genesis 1: 3. BACK

[18] Unidentified. BACK

[19] Antonio da Fonseca Soares (1631-1682), a soldier who became a Franciscan friar under the name Antonio das Chagas. The manuscript is possibly Obra Heroica y Tragica, listed as no. 3837 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[20] Joseph Cottle’s Alfred, An Epic Poem, in Twenty Four Books (1800). BACK

[21] Monthly Magazine, 8 (November 1800), 807. BACK

[22] Unidentified. BACK

[23] i.e. a joke book, after John Mottley (1692-1750; DNB), Joe Miller’s Jests, or, The Wit’s Vade Mecum (1739), which purported to be drawn from the sayings of the comic actor Josias Miller (1683/4-1738; DNB) but was actually a compilation of material from earlier joke books. A ‘Joe Miller’ became slang for a hackneyed joke. BACK

[24] José Daniel Rodrigues da Costa (1757-1832), Comboy de Mentiras, Vindo do Reino Petista Com a Fragata Verdade Encoberta Por Capitania (1801). BACK

[25] José Daniel Rodrigues da Costa, Almocreve de Petas, Ou Moral Disfarçada, para corecçao das Minderas da Vida (1798-1799). BACK

[26] James Cavanah Murphy (1760-1814; DNB), Travels in Portugal (London, 1795), p. 296. BACK

[27] John VI (1767-1826, Prince Regent of Portugal 1799-1816, King of Portugal 1816-1826). BACK

People mentioned