577. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 17 April 1801

577. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 17 April 1801 ⁠* 

Faro Friday. April 17. 1801

By the luckiest opportunity, my dear Edith, I am enabled to write, & ease myself of a load of uneasiness. [1]  an express is about to leave Faro – otherwise till Tuesday next, there, would have been no conveyance. We are at Mr Lemprieres, [2]  hospitably & kindly received, & for the first time resting after ten days very hard labour. At Cassillas our letter to Kirwan [3]  was of no use as he was absent. for mules they asked too much & we mounted ours & to Azeitaõ. there no supply was to be found, & these same beasts carried us to Setubal, which we did not reach till night. the Irish house was deserted, & we lost nothing by going to an excellent estalagem. next day rain till noon, when we embarked & sailed thro dull & objectless shores to Alcacere. mules to Evora – the distance nine leagues of which the two first they said were equal to two apiece. & at the end of the first there set in a severe rain with the coldest North East wind we ever experienced. xx the road was one infinite charneca [4]  – a wilderness of gum cistus. we would have stopped anywhere – about six in the evening we begged charity at a peasants house at the Monte dos Morenos – three leagues short of Evora – dripping wet & deadly cold, dreading darkness & the effects of so severe a wetting & of the worse cold wind. We got admittance & all possible kindness – dried ourselves & baggage which was wet also – supped upon the little round curd-cheeses of the country, olives & milk & slept in comfort. the morning was fine, but the same wind continued till yesterday & has plagued us cruelly by day & night. At Evora we remained half a day – there our night sufferings began – from thence till we reached Faro we have never slept in one ceiled room – all tiled so loosely that an astrologer would find them no bad observatories, & by no possible means could we keep ourselves warm. Waterhouse [5]  I taught indeed by Niebuhrs example in Arabia [6]  to lie with his face under the sheet – but it suffocated me. from Evora burros [7]  to Beja – a day & half. we slept at Villa Ruiva. from Viana to that little town is a lovely track of country – & except that little island of cultivation we have seen always nothing but charnacas till we reached Tavira. the Bishop gave us cheese & incomparable wine & a letter to Father John of the Palm [8]  at Castro. to Castro a days journey – on the road a monumental cross where a man had been eat by the wolves. John of the Palm is a very blackguard priest, but he was useful. we had a curious party there of his friends drinking wine with us in the room or rather between the four walls where we were pounded – not housed for the night. a deputy judge, with a great sword old as the Portugueze monarchy – smoking & handing round his cigar out of his own mouth to the rest of the company – our muleteer that was to be – hand & glove with the Priest & the Magistrate & another pot-companion. next day across the field of Ourique & seven long leagues of wilderness to Martimlongo. there was no estalagem. in fact we were in the wilds of Alentejo where hardly ever traveller had penetrated. we were again thrown on charity & again kindly received. this was Tuesday. on Wednesday we crossed the mountains to Tavira – seven leagues – in the Bishops language long leagues – terrible leagues – infinite leagues. the road would be utterly impassable were it not that the host is carried on horseback in these wilds, & therefore the way must be kept open. as we passed one ugly spot the guide told us a man broke his neck here lately. this days journey however was quite new – wherever we looked was mountain – waving – swelling – breasting – exactly like the sea-like prints of the Holy Land which you see in old travels. at last the Sea appeared – & the Guadiana – & the frontier towns Ayamonte & Castro Marim. we descended & entered the Garden – the Paradise of Algarve – there our troubles & labour were to end. we were out of the wilderness – milk & honey indeed we did not expect in the Land of Promise – but we expected every thing else. the sound of a drum alarmed us & we found Tavira full of soldiers. the Governor examined our pass – & I could but smile at the way in which he eyed Roberto Southey the Negociante [9]  – of ordinary stature – thin – a long face – a dark complection &c – & squinted at Waterhouses lame legs. for a man in power he was civil & sent us to the Corregidor [10]  to get our beasts secured. this second inspection over – we were in the streets of Tavira to beg a nights lodging – & beg hard we did for some hour. at last, induced by the muleteer whom she knew, & by the petition of some dozen honest people whom our situation had drawn about us a woman who had one room unoccupied by the soldiers, turned the key with doubt & delay – for her husband was absent – & we wanted nothing but a ceiling. yesterday we reached Faro, & today remain here to rest. General Connell [11]  will hardly let us depart tomorrow – which however we will do unless these clouds fulfill their threatening & detain us by weather. we have ten days journey home by the Cape & the Caldas of Monchique, of which we hear a sort of Cintra description. I was uneasy knowing you would be alarmed – now as this will reach you & inform you of our safety my furlough must needs be prolonged. Our faces are skinned by the cutting wind & the sun. my nose has been roasted by a slow fire – burnt alive by sunbeams – tis a great comfort that Waterhouse has no reason to laugh at it, & even Bentos [12]  is of a fine carbuncle colour. thank God you were not with us. one room is the utmost these hovels contain. the walls of stone unmortared – & the roofs what I have described them.

Yet we are well repaid. & have never faltered either in health or spirits. At Evora at Bejà – at the Ourique field was much to interest – & here we are in a lovely country – to us a little heaven. Of rest we were quite glad & stood in need. the Lemprieres are very friendly & would willingly help us a week. If weather permit we depart tomorrow – but it threatens. They fortify us from hence with letters to the Caldas [13]  where we must go to the Hospital – & to Lagos where we must go to the Fort – for in neither place is there an estalagem. – I have tarried over our way that you may know simply where we have been & where we are. the full account would be a weeks work. – You will <be> amused at the adventures of two Irish & one Scotch officers who came from Gibralter to Lagos with a fortnights leave of absence to amuse themselves. they brought a Genoese interpreter & understood from him that it was eleven leagues to Faro & a good turnpike road – I write their own unexaggerated account. they determined to ride there to dinner – & they were three days on the way. begging – threatening – drawing their swords to get lodged at night – all in vain. the first night they slept at [MS torn] in the fields. afterwards they learnt a humbler tone & got between t[MS torn] no beds. here they waited six weeks for an opportunity of getting back – & one of them was paymaster at Gibralter. they were utterly miserable for want of somewhat to do. billiards eternally – they even bought birds – a cat – a dog – a fox for play things. yesterday they embarked after spending a hundred pieces here in six weeks – neither they nor any one else knowing how – except that they gave six testoons a bottle for all the Port wine in the place.

I must not delay longer. our route is to Sylves – Monchique – Lagos – the Cape. then a wild way home. it is ten days work – & for accidental delays something should be allowed – be you therefore quite easy. I do wish it were over – yet would I go thro double difficulty & inconvenience to see what this journey has shown me. I direct to Mr Gonnes as the easiest mode – & if you have left it the letter still find you. you will remember me with thanks to Mr & Mrs G. God bless you. I have a thousand things to tell you on my return. my dear Edith – we have yet the most interesting part to see.


Robert Southey


* Address: A/ Senhora Donna Editha Southey/ na casa do Senhor Guilerme Gonne / Rua da Assemblea/ Lisboa [Editor’s note: William Gonne (d. before 1815), package agent at Lisbon.]
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 140-144 [in part]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 164-166 [in part]. BACK

[1] For details of Southey’s southward trip to the Algarve on 7-29 April 1801 see his journal, published in Adolfo Cabral, Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France in 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 33-61. BACK

[2] John Lempriere (dates unknown), British consul at Faro. BACK

[3] Possibly a partner in the firm of Gould, Kirwan & Co. of Lisbon. BACK

[4] Moor or heath. BACK

[5] Samuel Waterhouse (dates unknown), later a prominent figure in the British community in Portugal. BACK

[6] Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815), Travels through Arabia, and Other Countries in the East … Translated into English By Robert Heron, 2 vols (Edinburgh, 1792), I, p. 326, told the salutary tale of how Von Haven, Niebuhr’s fellow traveller, caught cold and died after lying ‘for several nights successively, upon the roof of the house, in the open air, and with his face uncovered’. BACK

[7] Donkeys. BACK

[8] Parish priest at Castro Verde, which Southey wished to visit. It was near the battlefield of Ourique, where the Portuguese had won a great victory over Muslim forces in 1139. BACK

[9] Merchant. BACK

[10] An official who presided over the town council and administered local justice. BACK

[11] Brigadier-General Joao Schadwell Connell (dates unknown), Governor of Faro. BACK

[12] Portuguese servant. BACK

[13] Caldas de Monchique, a spa on Monchique mountain. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)