520. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 2 May 1800

520. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 2 May 1800 ⁠* 

Lisbon. Friday May 2. 1800

My dear Rickman

The voyage is over. we had fair weather, light winds, & a fine passage of only five days & a half. soon said – but what a world of misery was comprized in those five days & half! I neither could eat or sleep, & Edith suffered more than me. all my former sea nausea was trifling to this – & yet our weather was so singularly favourable. I saw porpusses – & a grampus. a shark was seen but not by me. one only adventure diversified our voyage. a cutter [1]  bore down upon us, we supposed her to be French & prepared for action – Edith – half dead with fear – was stowed in the cockpit – & I stationed myself on the quarter deck with a musquet – which I replaced in the musquet chest with no small joy when the cutter spoke us – or rather answered us in English. it cured me for six hours, the joy of keeping my legs & arms made my stomach in good humour.

We arrived yesterday morning, & are now half settled in our house. My old friend Manuel [2]  is consigned over to me, much to my satisfaction as well as his own. he has I believe a regard for me & talks of our journey with a minuteness of recollection which only pleasure could have preserved. his voice & tones are familiar, & assist me in the language – besides he has brains, & if he cannot take me the straight road to his meaning, will drive roundabout till I get there at last. We are without a female servant. the one who was engaged for us disappointed my Uncle. his old woman at present visits us. today I have sate at the receipt of visits – these I must return in due form, – then plead my health, drop the intercourse & go to work.

Four years have passed away since I left Lisbon. so long a time had blunted memory, & every thing seems half new to me – new enough to interest – not to depress by a total strangeness. I see much which would else have escaped me thro Ediths eyes. she is as much amused at seeing the Portugueze women walking in thick heavy large woollen cloaks in their May, as they would be at her muslin in an English December. Every thing, while it amuses her, makes her like England – but you know how any foreign country makes an Englishman proud – & will easily conceive that I am all Anglicanized already. An Englishman in the streets of Lisbon – is like the Heathen Gods of poetry when they descend you know them by their gait – their figure – not by their odours indeed – for the difference between them & the natives is that they do not smell, & the perfumes of ambrosia could have been nothing to the delight of having no stink at all here. Edith has discovered that there are no middle-aged women to be seen – this is a well known effect of hot climate. like the primrose that blossom flowers the Portugueze women burst into full bloom at once – & then wither away. I have discovered something too – that married persons use seperate beds – this is the necessity of the climate, which I might have guessed. the natives are a libidinous people & perhaps this custom may be one of the disposing causes.

I learnt from a fellow passenger, who has been two years ago in Spain, that their abridged translation of Adam Smiths book [3]  has been suppressed. they have also suppressed a translation of Buchans domestic physician [4]  because he says the passing bell is a ridiculous custom, which sometimes kills the sick by terrifying them. the chief novelty here is paper money – of how long date I know not yet – but the government themselves discounted it at six per cent the first week – & it is now at 20 per cent – xxxxxxx discount! this occasioned an odd symptom here some fortnight ago only. they paid their sailors chiefly in this paper – the men went to pay it away as they received it, at par – & their disappointment produced a sort of riot – they shouted out Liberty – & Bonaparte. it was quelled & some of the ring leaders are in custody, but no punishment has been inflicted.

I must not forget one great innovation – a mail coach runs to Coimbra – on the way to Porto & is to go all the way when the road is compleated. it travels eight miles an hour. true Rickmanmy Uncle has taken the journey in it. tis a Royal business, & it answers for the road is frequented. one might prophecy good from this, the establishment of decent inns & the growth of civilization.


Half a days delay has already given me something to correct. the Mail Coach is not well managed & not expected to last. tis a government business & priced so high as to exclude the great body of travellers – the little dealers who mount their mules. now a single persons expences amount to as much as if he was in a chaise singly. the Paper money has produced its usual consequence – Forgery. you must note however that Portugueze eyes can see these slippery places for roguery. a German of talents & once of respectability is in custody for it in England. [5] 

Some inconvenience xx has been produced to Strangers by the wish of England to send her wild Irishmen here. they are detained at a little fort to give in their names & be vouched for by some settler, & the nephew of a settler was not sent back by the ship in which he came only because he was born in Ireland! – Counsellor Sampson [6]  – one of the Directors there who fell – magnis tamen ausis [7]  – landed at Porto & after a months quiet residence was arrested – brought here & imprisoned at Belem. some of his countrymen asked permission to see him. it was xx answered – o yes – as many as please may see him – but then you shall stay with him – & they actually did shut one up one person for his visit. Sampson has since been sent to Hambro.

An imposition of some consequence takes place upon passengers at Falmouth. four guineas are taken – by no authority whatever, at the passport off[MS torn] say it is a Post Office charge. & that the money goes to some charity. When my Uncle & I crossed in the Spanish captain the same charge was made. why how is this? said he to the Spanish Captain. the Post Office cannot put this on. No. said Aruspini [8]  – but I do.

We landed without difficulty & our trunks were not examined. for this we were obliged to the Commissary here who came on board with my Uncle to serve us in this business. – I have been paying my form visits to the Envoy [9]  – the Consul [10]  – the Commander in Chief [11]  – & this round is not yet over, but after the ceremonials are over an invalids privilege will secure me enough privacy. we shall summerize at Cintra. I xxx have begun immediately my plan of early rising & it has helped me thro my letter writing, which on arrival in a foreign country is a serious job. this once done – & the next packet will finish it, for I cannot write all by this. I turn to serious employment. in my next I will tell you my intended plan of proceeding in my historical undertaking.

If the Magazine plan xxxxxxx xxx xxxx like xxxxxx rhyme xxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx be of any xxxx – but my xx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx of the scheme xxxx xxxxx xxxxxx these xx xxxxxxxx xxxx of xxxxxxx xxxxxx & xxxx & xxxxxxxx for you & xx xxxxxx I wrote to xxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xx xxxx xx my plan xxxxx up to xxxx xxxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxx – I had almost forgotten Thalaba. at Falmouth I wrote half a book – & digested my plan for the remainder in bed on shipboard. – I am not a little proud to find that I speak the language & understand it better than when I left Lisbon. Reading has done this for me.

Remember me to George Dyer, my very good friend, who is the friend of every body & to Amos & Robert Cottle – I have brought a pair of the clogs over – but dare not show them before the wet weather – for now they are preposterous as a parasol would be in Greenland. Edith begs to be remembered. we felt your loss at Bristol – & I often wish Davy could annihilate space as well as matter & enable me to perceive the percipient Perception which conveys to me the xxx impression called John Rickman.

Farewell – yrs truly

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Mr John Rickman/ 33 Southampton Buildings/ Holburn/ London/ Single
Stamped: LISBON
Postmark: FOREIGN OFFICE/ MA/ 17/ 1800
Endorsement: May 2. 1800
MS: Huntington Library, RS 7. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 223–227. BACK

[1] Fortunately, the ‘cutter’ turned out to be the British frigate HMS Endymion. BACK

[2] Manuel Mambrino (dates unknown), a Spanish servant from Oviedo who worked for Herbert Hill. Mambrino had accompanied Southey on some of his travels in Spain and Portugal in 1795–1796. BACK

[3] Adam Smith (1723–1790; DNB), The Wealth of Nations (1776). BACK

[4] William Buchan (1729–1805; DNB), Domestic Medicine, or the Family Physician (1769). BACK

[5] Unidentified. BACK

[6] William Sampson (1764–1836; DNB), United Irishman and lawyer, exiled after the 1798 rising. Arrested at Oporto, 12 March 1799 and imprisoned in Lisbon. He eventually settled in the United States. BACK

[7] A paraphrase of Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC–AD 17), Metamorphoses, Book 2, line 323: ‘magnis tamen excidit ausis’; ‘he fell, however, in a noble attempt’. BACK

[8] Don Raimundo Aruspini (dates unknown), Captain of the Spanish packet on which Southey crossed from Falmouth to Coruna in 1795. BACK

[9] Robert Walpole (1736–1810), Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal 1772–1800. BACK

[10] Charles Arbuthnot (1767–1850; DNB), Consul and Charge d’Affaires in Portugal 1800–1801. Educated at Westminster School 1779–1784; a career diplomat, later a government Minister and confidante of the Duke of Wellington. BACK

[11] Simon Fraser (1738–1813; DNB), Major-General in command of British forces in Portugal 1797–1800. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 5 times)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 4 times)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 2 times)
Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 1 time)
Dyer, George (1755–1841) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle family (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)