570. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 22 February 1801

570. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 22 February 1801 ⁠* 

My dear Harry

As this letter will in all probability reach you before the expiration of your trial-term with Mr Martineau [1]  – it will not be improper before your final decision is made to set you right upon one or two points on which you appear to judge erroneously.

Your entering the church could not prejudice Edward. because the immediate object is to secure a part of my Uncles preferment, [2]  which he could transfer to a better life than his own, & with it a church-estate on a lease of 21 years, renewable annually at one fifth of its value which is from 4 to 500 pounds. Of this, now in a strangers hand, seven years are expired. at the end of four more my Uncle can grant a lease for ten years to commence at the end of the existing one, & year by year fill it up to the term of twenty one – thus securing it to his family. if his health declined the Chancellorship & leasing-power might be transferred to you as soon as in orders – to wait for Edward is expecting a longer term than a man of his age can calculate upon. besides Edward is too young to form any plan for – & bright as his talents are there is in my opinion every symptom that they will be most miserably misapplied. –

Again. you deem yourself unqualified for university studies. of these I can only say that they are so trifling that you will be ashamed of your task. the trick of writing Latin verse is the only one in which you are deficient. that worthless habit is little necessary & may soon be acquired to the needful extent.

All this I have said that you may make your judgement knowing all the circumstances. the most important is upon what principles you could enter the establishment. Whatever your opinions be, right or wrong, they must as yet be the prejudices of friendship, & personal attachments. it is not possible that you should yet have knowledge whereon to found belief or disbelief. My conduct ought not to influence yours. the cases are wholly different. Nor would I advise you or any one to be as inattentive to worldly advancement as I have been.

Should you continue in your present choice, you know your expectations. application may raise you to eminence & affluence – you will have a profession most useful & most honourable, & if the surgical studies are at first loathsome there is pleasure enough in chemistry amply to counterbalance what is unpleasant in anatomy. your alternative presents nothing terrifying. it is to accept a competence – or acquire it.

In the case of your fixing with Mr Martineau, you ought to know with what money you can be supplied for cloaths washing &c. at present more than 20£ a year cannot be afforded or procured. My expences are increased here, & my resources for the time cut off. there is the heavy charge of returning to look on to. a years hard labour in England will hardly make me again equal to the world. from my employments here I expect emolument but it will be distant & is doubtful. to recommend decent oeconomy is needless. You would I think do well by keeping for your own satisfaction an account of your expences.

Our return may probably be hastened. May is the month fixed, but the state of Portugal is become uncertain & dangerous. if France be resolved to shut this port also against England, there is nothing but Famine to prevent her. Spain is weak willing but weak. the force of the country absolutely nothing, no preparation whatever of magazines or even ammunition. yet a French army must bring their own food – for they cannot find it here. & a weeks blockade would starve Lisbon, for here we are dependant upon almost daily supplies by sea. We cannot protect Portugal by land – France cannot support it by water – the country cannot please both powers, & may be ruined by either. this is exactly our state – & France & England are equally imperious in injustice. the merchants are preparing to secure their property, those who can. to the many whose trade is selling to the natives it will be utter ruin. That the danger may again be bought off is merely possible. the Spanish Ambassador [3]  left Lisbon on Thursday last, & invited all Spaniards to follow him. the port is of importance, & in my own opinion the only hope is of a general peace, which may perhaps follow the change [4]  in England.

My stay when prolonged to the utmost will be so inadequate to my wants & wishes that I can ill afford to have it shortened by the accidents of politics. A rupture with Spain will seriously inconvenience me. I have sent for books there of indispensable importance. they are indeed accessible in England but in an unpleasant manner – I could quarter myself upon Lord Bute [5]  for the sake of his most magnificent Library, but tho he would gladly receive me I should rather avoid the visit.

My Uncle returned very unwell & pale & thin. but this climate & good food after his voyage-fast are recovering him. he is anxious to remove his books as speedily as possible from danger. I also only wait an opportunity to ship off mine – for already I have bought more than would have been justifiable were not they not my stock in trade & responsible debtors. I must return to Lisbon – even if my health (which there is little reason to expect) should endure the blighting-blasts of England.

We are now in Lent, suffering for the follies of our neighbours. it is difficult to procure meat. indeed were there not beef killed for the few troops that remain here we must more than once already have done penance upon fish. in about another week the people will fall sick & eat flesh with a safe conscience.

Write to me soon. inform Wm Taylor that I have received his letters – & thank him for his arrangement. [6]  I am interrupted – so God bless you –

yrs truly

R Southey

22. Feby. 1801.


* Address: To/ Mr H H. Southey./ with Mr P. Martineau/ Norwich
Stamped: LISBON
Postmark: FOREIGN OFFICE/ MR 14/ 1801
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Don. d. 3. 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. 150-152. BACK

[1] Philip Meadows Martineau (1752-1829), surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and a member of the Martineau family, prominent Unitarians in Norwich. BACK

[2] Herbert Hill was Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral. This gave him the right to appoint the incumbent of the living of Little Hereford and Ashton Carbonell; in December 1800 Hill had appointed himself to this position, with the intention of resigning later in favour of a member of his family. BACK

[3] The Ambassador’s name is not recorded in contemporary reports; he left because Spain was about to declare war on Portugal. BACK

[4] The resignation of William Pitt (1759-1806, Prime Minister 1783-1801, 1804-1806; DNB). BACK

[5] John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute (1744-1814; DNB), Ambassador to Spain 1795-1796. BACK

[6] Taylor had been instrumental in placing Henry Herbert Southey with Martineau; see Taylor’s letter to Southey, 1 February 1801, J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 365. BACK

People mentioned

Southey, Edward (1788–1847) (mentioned 3 times)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 3 times)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 1 time)