521. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 2 May 1800

521. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 2 May 1800 ⁠* 

Lisbon May 2. 1800. Friday.

My dear Wynn

Here then I am once more, safe over the seas. our passage was uncommonly fine – five days & a half only. light winds the whole way, yet I never suffered so much from sickness. Edith was dreadfully affected. We left Falmouth at five on Thursday afternoon. the three following days I merely crawled out of bed for the sake of washing myself, & then lay down again, scarcely eating or sleeping. On the Monday morning about six I heard the Captain [1]  awakened by the tidings that a Cutter [2]  was bearing down upon us. We had another Packet in company carrying six guns, [3]  our own force was ten. the Cutter hoisted English colours, we made a signal which she did not answer, we fired a gun, she did the same. every body thought her certainly French & we prepared for action. imagine Ediths terror; I bulwarked her with mattrasses in the cabin – but she could not fancy herself safe there. so I lodged her in the cockpit, & was glad to escape, took my station on the quarter deck with a musquet. The Cutter bore down between us – I counted seven guns on the her side, & saw the smoke from her matches. we hailed her. she answered in broken English, & past us. her language left us no doubt that she was French & we imagined it was a manouvre either to bear round us, or to attack the other Packet. She was English however, manned chiefly from Guernsey. I replaced my musquet in the chest with no small satisfaction. my xx former feeling had been an undistinguishable mass of wonder & apprehension, but when that was over it was pure joy that was left. The comfort at feeling two legs, two arms & a head upon my shoulders put my stomach in good humour for half the day. Now it is a subject of satisfaction that I have seen all the preparatory bustle of a sea fight, tho certainly in none of the pleasure: packet sailors will fight well, but not with enthusiasm – they get nothing by a prize. this regulation is owing to the folly of one in the American war – or the war before last, who left her course to take a French vessel. the moment she came alongside, the Frenchman opened his ports, which had been somehow disguised, & the packet was obliged to strike without firing a gun. – Immediately after this we saw Cape Finisterre, & were boarded by the Endymion Frigate. it was a busy morning – & to make it more so the porpusses played around the vessel & we saw a small grampus. on Tuesday we saw Cape Mondego – but still the land lay like a cloud scarcely visible to a strong eye. Tuesday night we made the Berlings. Wednesday I rose at sun rise – the sun was rising over the rock of Lisbon. the flat shores of Yarmouth would have been delightful to me, but this was magnificent. we were very near the shore <land> – the wind fresh, the breakers swelling up along the shore, & multitudes of sea birds sporting over their silver dust. the heights of Cintra rose upon us & I distinguished the Penha convent, & the summits which I had trod. we continued close along the land. you know the entrance up the Tagus is wonderfully fine. four years had unfamiliarized all objects – they had a white wash of novelty. we anchored soon after ten & my Uncle was immediately on board. at night we took possession of our house. it is very small & quite Portugueze, but large enough & delightfully situated. if I turn my head xxxxxx from this table I look over the Tagus to Almeida & the farther shores of Alentejo, & a boundary of hills high as Malvern. houses are very difficult to find upon the hill. a niece of Lord Lansdown [4]  had just left it. I wish she had kept it cleaner, for the fleas are in full force, but not in quiet possession, for I also have on my part opened the campaign.

I have not yet been out. yesterday was given to arranging our things – letter writing – & the evening to visitors. I go this morning to the Envoy [5]  & the Consul, [6]  & to Pitcairne [7]  who leaves Lisbon by the return of our Packet. My old friend Manuel [8]  is consigned over to me during our stay. he was delighted at seeing me, & talks of our journey & all its little importancies with high glee. my jargon is very understandable & tolerably at my own command. but it will soon cease to be jargon as I shall now conquer the language. my thousand & one visits received & returned I claim an Invalids privilege of avoiding company, & following my own occupations undisturbed.

Portugal offers some novelties – a paper money which the government t[MS obscured]es discounted immediately at six per cent– & which is now only worth 20 per cent. about a fortnight since they paid their sailors with this at par. honest & wise people! the sailors found it 80 per cent short, & rioted & hallooed for Liberty & Bonaparte. this was soon quelled & the ringleaders apprehended, but no example, has been made, nor is it perhaps needful where all ranks are equally indolent & stupid. It is a strange feeling to walk these streets; a Heathen God upon earth was nothing to an Englishman among this dirty, debilitated, lazy, lousy, generation. A Mail Coach is established to Coimbra & will run on to Porto when the road is made. A Mail Coach that actually travels eight miles an hour. this is little less than miraculous.

You have heard from Bedford the history of the copying machine. [9]  its use you can better judge. if you send it direct it to the Rev. H. Hill. Chaplain to the British forces. Lisbon. to the care of Capt Yescombe. Falmouth. Yescombe will take care of it. he is a very friendly man. & my Uncles name bring it safely on shore. mine must only be on the inner direction.

Yescombe was a prisoner in Robespierres time. [10]  a French Lady seeing him ill, took him to her own house, answering for him with her head. this woman is sister to Souchet [11]  second in command in Italy. her brother was then in the last cell of the Conciergerie, [12]  where she saved him by influencing the gaolers wife. Kervelegan, [13]  also her near relation, was hidden in a dry well, where she fed him, by the help of an old servant & of Yescombe. When the danger was over & Kervelegan appeared Yescombe saw the meeting between him & his wife – & dined with the old servant & the whole family at their xxx first days dinner. he told me it was the finest happiest day he had ever witnessed. It would be well for poor human nature if all the good actions occasioned by the French Revolution, were as faithfully chronicled as its public follies & atrocities.

Today I shall see Lord Somerville [14]  who claims relationship with me here. The Consul here it is supposed will succeed to Walpole who is going to England for his health. he is an old Westminster, but before my recollection – Arbuthnot.

I cannot write to Bedford by this packet. he shall hear from me by the next.

God bless you.

Robert Southey.

I have seen Pitcairne. he says I have no organic disease – but a miserably diseased irritability that I have done the best thing possible in coming to the best possible climate. & that I must be in no hurry to return. Time will cure me assuredly if I can afford time. the only prescription is the occasional & moderate use of laudanum, self-administered. – I was much pleased with him


* Address: To/ Charles Watkin Williams Wynn Esqr/ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Stamped: LISBON
Postmark: [partial] FOREIGN OFFICE/ MA/ 1800
Endorsement: 2 May 1800
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 80–83. BACK

[1] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765–1803), Captain of the Falmouth Packet, King George. BACK

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

[3] The Prince Ernest. BACK

[4] Unidentified: neither George Granville, Lord Lansdowne (1666–1735; DNB) or William Petty-Fitzmaurice, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne (1737–1805; DNB) had any nieces. BACK

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

[6] 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

[7] David Pitcairn (1749–1809; DNB), a London doctor who was in Portugal for his health. BACK

[8] 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

[9] A machine for copying handwriting; see Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 23 March 1800, Letter 500. BACK

[10] Maximilien Francois Marie Isidore de Robespierre (1758–1794), leading figure in France during the ‘Terror’, 1793–1794. Captain Yescombe was a prisoner in France from July 1794 to December 1794. He was paroled from the naval prison at Quimper in Brittany to lodge with a female relative of the governor. BACK

[11] Southey misidentifies this French military figure as Louis Gabriel Suchet (1770–1826), who had been appointed second in command of the French Armies in Italy in 1800. However, the story actually concerns François-Noël Souché de la Brémaudière (1749–1825), who led a force from Brittany that was loyal to the Girondin deputies in the National Convention. Souché was arrested in October 1793 and spent 15 months in prison, until the fall of the Jacobins. His sister was Françoise-Yvonne Souché de la Brémaudière. BACK

[12] Former Royal palace and prison in France, seat of the Revolutionary Tribunal 1793–1795. BACK

[13] Augustin Bernard-François le Goazre de Kervélégan (1748–1825), Deputy for Finisterre in Brittany to the National Convention 1792–1795. He sided with the Girondins and his arrest was ordered in June 1793. He escaped back to his native Brittany and remained in hiding until December 1794. BACK

[14] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), agriculturist and distant relative of Southey. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)