606. Robert Southey to Barbara Seton [fragment], [7 September 1801]

606. Robert Southey to Barbara Seton [fragment], [7 September 1801] ⁠* 

.             .             .             .             there is a temptation upon me to publish my best at once, & remain with a whole inclination for the history [1]              .             .             .             .             Even English society will not make amends to me for English climate. The truth perhaps is that I never felt the want of it in Portugal. My Uncle with me was always the man of letters, & the many points in common to us quite hid the difference of age & the utter dissimilarity of opinions on more important but not every day topics. When I lost Miss Barker, I soon found you – your loss drove me to the old folios. I should miss Mrs Gonne [2]  much, not that we often met – but there was always the possibility of meeting. However to any foreign country I should carry so much local ignorance as would make any common acquaintance interesting. The lowest Franciscan knows something which is worth knowing & I would willingly endure the odour of one of these oily garlicky fellows a whole evening to learn from him the history of his daily life. For this reason dull company has sometimes been interesting to me at Lisbon, & many a one there who never thought himself, has given me the materials of thinking. I am going seriously to work at French, so as to write & speak it. My Portuguese is easily converted into Italian – or Spanish should Madrid happen to be my place allotted, which I should hope it would not be, were it not for the old Spanish poets. My worst & least curable deficiency is the finger-fault. Zounds that I should be able to paint what I hear & feel – & yet so utterly at a loss to paint what I see. Were we but as near neighbours as we have been & as I heartily wish we were I should take your drawing book out in my walks & screw up my mouth to explain on my return in French that this stood for a church & that for a tree.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Ifan Kyrle Fletcher, ‘Robert Southey and Miss Seton’, Times Literary Supplement (1937). Southey’s letters to Seton were advertised for sale in Kyrle Fletcher’s catalogue no. 57 (1936), Item 332. Their purchaser and current location is unknown
Previously published: Ifan Kyrle Fletcher, ‘Robert Southey and Miss Seton’, Times Literary Supplement, no. 1868 (20 November 1937), 896. BACK

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

[2] Wife of William Gonne (d. before 1815), the packet agent at Lisbon. BACK

People mentioned

Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)
Barker, Mary (c. 1780–1853) (mentioned 1 time)