596. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, 1 August 1801

596. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, 1 August 1801 ⁠* 

My dear friend

There is a great pleasure in revisiting ones native country in spite of its rains & fogs & Laplandishness – yet I hardly feel myself nearer the greater part of my friends than when the sea was between us. One is calling me East – another West – & I am going North [1]  – in truth I should find omnipresence a very convenient attribute at this present. – but as I neither possess the cap of Fortunatus, [2]  nor his more desirable purse.

First then to business. here I am – but happily not to remain – for in the spring I expect to revisit the continent [3]  & there make my abode for some years. Of course I have done with law – & wisely – as I have reason to look for some an appointment in some of the embassies to Italy. this you will not mention. & there my inclination & health will prudently be pleased. – The house at Burton you will allow me to relinquish at Michaelmas. there is a troublesome business, of which Rickman doubtless will undertake the more troublesome part – & for some assistance I reckon upon your kindness. I wish to have the furniture sold – save only the beds & the clothes thereunto belonging – i-e – the sheets blankets & counterpanes. these xxxxx may I beg you to house for a few months? with the boxes of wearing apparel & the books? – I shall request Rickman to pack them up, & transact the sale – that I may trouble you as little as possible. you will have the goodness to advise with him how they may be sold most advantageously. for the kitchen grate & boiler Mrs what is her name there – of whom they were bought professed herself ready at any time to repurchase them. All the keys of the boxes I will send down – as soon as you shall have replied – for I know not whether the second volume of the Anthology [4]  has even been sent to you, & if not, it shall make part of the parcel. – if I mistake not Rickman will be at Christ Church when this shall arrive.

Of Portugal I sincerely wish it were in my power to send you any tidings, for I have myself a serious interest in the fate of the factory, [5]  & am as ignorant as the English newswriters, tho not so ready to invent lies upon the subject. common prudence in the government, common talents in the Commander, common courage in the officers would have saved the country. the people could & would have beat the Spaniards, nor I do believe that even French tactics could have subdued a country, strong by nature, defended by famine – & a brave & spirited people proud of their own name, & bitterly hostile to their enemies. but no preparations were made. no magazines ready, no provisions. the troops were starving – the General [6]  at Lisbon when the Spaniards had proceeded some way into the country. she was left to the Saints & the Army of Martyrs – & so the peace was made – but what that peace is I know no more than you. the terms will be as favourable towards England as Portugal can make them [7]  – but Portugal was at the mercy of Spain, & Spain under the direction of France.

As I cannot calculate upon more than a six months stay in England – that time must be disposed of as advantageously as possible & I am about as soon as possible to set forth for Keswick where Coleridge resides. part of the autumn I shall pass in North Wales – thus at once seeing my friends – & what is the most worthy of a visit in the Island, & storing myself with the appropriate knowledge for Madoc [8]  – about which for certain urgent & obvious reasons, it is probable that I must seriously set to work. I have a years labour lying dead – to me a serious evil. but it is absolutely necessary for me to revisit Portugal & did I publish any part of my materials before all are collected – I should find the archives shut against such an Historian.

The weather (except for dry soils like yours) augurs ill for the harvest – a serious evil in every point of view. [9]  we want one excellent harvest to convince the people that the price of provisions is not so much occasioned by scarcity as they imagine. Taxes & the great quantity of paper money must ever render them enormously dear. As for the Invasion – tis an old bugbear – & I conceive all the preparations in France can only be intended as weights in the scale of negociation. Addington [10]  has every motive for making peace, & whatever be my opinion of his talents – I give him credit for sincerity – moreover he does not make long speeches, which are usually designed to puzzle & fatigue an audience. But peace will bring no immediate relief – & our burthens will not be removed as hastily as they have been laid on. I look on to a foreign residence with much satisfaction on every account. my literary pursuits will be [MS obscured]ided – my health I trust confirmed – & I shall procure the luxuries of life with less exertion than it has ever cost me here to obtain the necessary decencies.

My Mother is very unwell. with Edith she joins in remembrances to yourself & your Mother. [11]  your little girl [12]  must walk & talk mainly by this time. do not forget me when Mr Coleman [13]  is with you. let me hear from you as soon as you can without inconvenience – & omit not to say whether you have received or not the second Anthology. – direct to me at Mrs Danvers’s. Kingsdown. Bristol.

God bless you –

yrs truly

Robert Southey.

Saturday. August 1. 1801.


* Address: To/ Charles Biddlecombe Esqr/ Burton/ near Ringwood/ Hampshire./ Single
Stamped: [illegible]
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey had been invited to Norwich by William Taylor and hoped to make a walking tour of north Wales with Wynn, but he intended first to visit Coleridge at Keswick in the Lake District. BACK

[2] Fortunatus was the hero of a series of tales widely published in 16th and 17th-century Europe. He had a purse that always replenished itself and a cap that could carry the wearer wherever he wished. BACK

[3] A reference to the proposal by Wynn that Southey should become Secretary to Sir William Drummond (c. 1770-1828; DNB), classical scholar, poet and diplomat; Charge d’Affaires in Denmark 1800-1801, Minister-Plenipotentiary in Naples 1801-1803 and 1807-1808, and Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1803. BACK

[4] Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

[5] The British Factory at Lisbon. The official organisation of British merchants in the Portuguese capital, it was not finally abolished until 1825. BACK

[6] Joao Carlos de Braganca e Ligne de Sousa Tavares Mascarenhas de Silva, Duke of Lafoes (1719-1806), Secretary of State (prime minister) 6 January–21 May 1801, and commander of the Portuguese army sent to resist the Spanish invasion. BACK

[7] The Treaty of Badajoz, signed on 6 June 1801, required Portugal to close its ports to British ships, indemnify Spain for the cost of the war with Portugal and cede Olivenca to Spain. BACK

[8] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799, but was hoping to revise it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

[9] Southey was correct; there was a poor harvest in 1801, leading to high food prices. BACK

[10] Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth (1757-1844; DNB), The Speaker 1789-1801, Prime Minister 1801-1804, Home Secretary 1812-1822. There were persistent reports of a French invasion fleet massing at Boulogne in the summer of 1801, but Addington’s ministry edged towards beginning peace talks with France on 1 October 1801. BACK

[11] Mrs Biddlecombe’s first name and dates are unknown. BACK

[12] Biddlecombe’s daughter, b. 1799. BACK

[13] Unidentified; probably an acquaintance of Southey’s from his residence at Burton in 1797 and 1799. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Burton (mentioned 2 times)
Danvers’s, Kingsdown, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)