572. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 28 March 1801

572. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 28 March 1801 ⁠* 

Lisbon, March 28. 1801.

The sight of your hand-writing did not give me much pleasure; ’twas the leg of a lark to a hungry man – yet it was your hand-writing.             .             .             .             .             .             .

I have been more than once tottering on the brink of a letter to you, and more than once the glimpse at some old Spaniard, or the whim of a walk, or an orange, or a bunch of grapes, has tempted me either to industry or idleness. I return rich in materials: a twelvemonth’s work in England will produce a first volume of my History, and also of the Literary History. [1]  Of success I am not sanguine, though sufficiently so of desert; yet I shall leave a monument to my own memory, and perhaps, which is of more consequence, procure a few life-enjoyments.

My poetising has been exclusively confined to the completion of Thalaba. I have planned a Hindoo romance of original extravagance, and have christened it ‘The Curse of Keradon;’ [2]  but it were unwise to do anything here which were as well done in England; and indeed the easy business of hunting out everything to be seen has taken up no small portion of my time. I have ample materials for a volume of miscellaneous information; my work in England will be chiefly to arrange and tack together; here, I have been glutting, and go home to digest. In May we return; and, on my part, with much reluctance. I have formed local attachments and not personal ones: this glorious river, with its mountain boundaries, this blessed winter sun, and the summer paradise of Cintra. I would gladly live and die here. My health is amended materially, but I have seizures enough to assure me that our own unkindly climate will blight me, as it does the myrtle and oranges of this better land; howbeit, business must lead me here once more for the after-volumes of the History. If your ill health should also proceed from English skies, we may perhaps emigrate together at last. One head full of brains, and I should ask England nothing else.

Meantime my nearer dreams lay their scenes about the Lakes. [3]  Madoc [4]  compels me to visit Wales; perhaps we can meet you in the autumn: but for the unreasonable distance from Bristol and London, we might take up our abiding near you. I wish you were at Allfoxen, [5]  – there was a house big enough: you would talk me into a healthy indolence, and I should spur you to profitable industry.

            .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .

We are threatened with speedy invasion, and the critical hour of Portugal is probably arrived. [6]  No alarm has been so general; they have sent for transports to secure us a speedy retreat; nor is it impossible that all idlers may be requested to remove before the hurry and crowd of a general departure. Yet I doubt the reality of the danger. Portugal buys respite; will they kill the goose that lays golden eggs? Will Spain consent to admit an army through that will shake her rotten throne? Will Bonaparte [7]  venture an army where there is danger of the yellow fever? to a part whence all plunder will be removed, where that army will find nothing to eat after a march of 1000 miles, through a starved country? On the other hand, this country may turn round, may join the coalition, seize on English property, and bid us all decamp; this was apprehended; and what dependence can be placed upon utter imbecility? Were it not for Edith, I would fairly see it out, and witness the whole boderation. There is a worse than the Bastile here, over whose dungeons I often walk             .             .             .             .             .             But this is not what is to be wished for Portugal, – this conquest which would excite good feelings against innovation; if there was peace, the business would probably be done at home. England is now the bedarkening power; she is in politics, what Spain was to religion at the Reformation. Change here involves the loss of their colonies; and an English fleet would cut off the supplies of Lisbon.             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             The monastic orders will accelerate revolution, because the begging friars, mostly young, are mostly discontented, and the rich friars everywhere objects of envy. I have heard the people complain of monastic oppression, and distinguish between the friars and the religion they profess. I even fear, so generally is that distinction made, that popery may exist when monkery is abolished.

In May I hope to be in Bristol; and if it can be so arranged, in September at the Lakes. I should like to winter there; then I might labour at my History; [8]  and we might perhaps amuse ourselves with some joint journeyman work, which might keep up winter fires and Christmas tables. Of all this we will write on my return. I now long to be in England; as it is impossible to remain and root here at present. We shall soon and inevitably be expelled, unless a general peace redeem the merchants here from ruin. England has brought Portugal into the scrape, and with rather more than usual prudence, left her in it; it is understood that this country may make her own terms, and submit to France without incurring the resentment of England. When the Portuguese first entered this happy war, the phrase of their ministers was, that they were going to be pallbearers at the funeral of France. Fools! they were digging a grave, and have fallen into it.

Of all English doings I am quite ignorant. Thomas Dermody, [9]  I see, has risen again; and the Farmer’s Boy is most miraculously overrated. [10]  The Monthly Magazine speaks with shallow-pated pertness of your Wallenstein; [11]  it interests me much; and what is better praise, invited me to a frequent reperusal of its parts: will you think me wrong in preferring it to Schiller’s other plays? [12]  it appears to me more dramatically true. Max may, perhaps, be overstrained, and the woman is like all German heroines; but in Wallenstein is that greatness and littleness united, which stamp the portrait. William Taylor, you see, is making quaint theories of the Old Testament writers; [13]  how are you employed? Must Lessing wait for the Resurrection before he receives a new life? [14] 

So you dipped your young Pagan in the Derwent, and baptized him in the name of the river! Should he be drowned there, he will get into the next edition of Wanley’s Wonders, under the head of God’s Judgments. [15]  And how comes on Moses, and will he remember me? God bless you!


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. 136-140 [in part]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 152-153 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’ and his proposal to write a history of the literature of Portugal (and possibly Spain as well). BACK

[2] Southey’s plan for what became The Curse of Kehama (1810), Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 12-15. BACK

[3] Coleridge had moved to the Lake District in 1800. BACK

[4] Southey had written a version of Madoc in 1797-1799, but it was extensively revised before publication in 1805. BACK

[5] Alfoxden House, Somersetshire, rented by William and Dorothy Wordsworth in 1797-1798. BACK

[6] Spain had declared war on Portugal on 27 February 1801 and a Spanish invasion was widely expected. BACK

[7] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[8] Southey’s projected ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[9] Thomas Dermody (1775–1802; DNB), poet whose career was interrupted by military service and alcoholism. His Poems, Moral, and Descriptive appeared in 1800, eight years after his previous collection. BACK

[10] Southey’s opinion was not shared by others. Robert Bloomfield (1766-1823; DNB), The Farmer’s Boy: A Rural Poem went into 10 editions between 1800 and 1808. BACK

[11] The Death of Wallenstein. A Tragedy in Five Acts. Translated from the German of Frederick Schiller by S. T. Coleridge (1800), reviewed in the Monthly Magazine, 10 (December 1800), 611, as ‘very affectedly and unequally translated’. BACK

[12] Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), German playwright. BACK

[13] In a letter of 1 February 1801, Taylor had told Southey that he was working on a ‘dissertation’ to prove that ‘the apocryphal book, commonly called the Wisdom of Solomon, was written by Jesus Christ himself after the crucifixion’ (J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 367). BACK

[14] Coleridge’s projected life of the German poet, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781). BACK

[15] Nathaniel Wanley (1632/3–1680; DNB), The Wonders of the Little World, or, a General History of Man (1678), a compendium of human prodigies. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)