539. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 25 July 1800

539. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 25 July 1800 ⁠* 

Cintra July 25. 1800.

I have in my life received so many letters to disturb & distress me that I never open one without some kind of fear. poor Peggy! – her disease I thought incurable – but still it was intermitting & its long intervals might be intervals of enjoyment. she would always be dependent – but I am looking on to better days, & trusted that at some, no very remote time, I should be able to settle her as I wished. this intelligence will haunt & hurt me. recovered as I am still my mind is in a state of childish weakness. my Uncle was ill lately with a sick headache – I was not aware that he is subject to them & lay awake the whole night listening to hear him breathe – the consequence was that the startings & head seizures returned. it was not merely climate that I wished to seek as medicinal, it was the plunging into <new> scenes – the total abandonment of all irksome thoughts & employments – it has succeeded. my spirits have been as my letters exhibited them. the loss of a Miss Barker here damped me for some days, & they will not now soon recover their tone. the death of Patty Cottle [1]  I expected as certain. Mr Morgans [2]  too I thought inevitably near. these have happened – & I have only been three months in Portugal. thank God you give us no bad accounts of your Mother. I have many friends in England, but none whom I hope more earnestly to see again – But to change the subject. – as the Post brought me no letters from Bristol we were vexed, angry with all our friends – but wondering that Danvers had not written – & indeed I had sent to Lisbon to have particular enquiry made at the office thinking there certainly must be a letter from you. the packet reached me this morning. I pray you remember that & take pattern. I am among acquaintance, & cannot hear too frequently from my friends. We had a delightful companion for a short time here – a Miss Barker – brimfull full of every thing that was good. she is returned to England – but we do not lose her acquaintance. Coleridge has never written to me; where no expectation existed, there can be no disappointment. Wynn sent me Sir Herbert Crofts letter, now printed seperately. [3]  woe be to him when the Chatterton [4]  is printed! he cannot irritate me, & I can therefore chastise him with cool & just severity. I am busy in correcting Thalaba to send over for the press. the copying machine never came [5] Bedford manages every thing badly – Thalaba [6]  does not monopolize me in the way poor Cottle seems to be monopolized – the latter books will soon reach you on their way to Wynn. it is a good job done & so I have thought of another & another & another, but my books are in England & I cannot begin to build without having the bricks & mortar at hand.

We are enjoying Cintra – a place that wants only fresh butter & jacobinical society to make it an earthly Paradise. we ride a good deal, upon asses, & Edith has made a great proficiency in asswomanship, riding without the great-armed-chair which female-strangers generally use. for the most part the English dwell in the town, where they idle away their time in visiting their idle acquaintance. I saw Miss Barker suffering this insufferable annoyance with martyr patience. we happily are xx far from the town & not in the road of their rides, so that it must be an especial intention to see us that brings any visitor here, & half a mile up & down half a dozen stoney hills in hot weather operates well upon people who do but half-like me & whom I do not like at all. My Uncle is here less than we would wish. business detains him in the heat of Lisbon. I have then much leisure, but even here, cool heavenly cool as Cintra is compared to the metropolis, the weather is hot enough to give me a true Portugueze & irresistible indolence. for the last ten days we have been most unusually hot – the cursed Sirocs of the East reach us here, tamed indeed by their passing over sea & land, but still hot as if they <had> breathed thro the <an> oven, or like the very breath of Beelzebub. I have spent my mornings half naked, in a wet room, dozing upon the bed, my right hand not daring to touch my left. at night we look with as much hope for a fog as you in England watch for a fine day. when the mountain has his night-cap on then are we so cool! so freshened into comfort! a few nights since the fog came on with a sublimity beyond my ideas of fog. magnificence – it came rolling onx one huge close mass of mist & darkness from the ocean. it was terrible – for we were on the hill – yet in the daylight & it moved on leaving night behind it. the palace [7]  on which we looked down not a quarter of a mile distant, was completely involved & hidden while we looked at it it rolled like a river along the valley; – like the march of a victorious army wherever it moved, all seemed to be destroyed. we had been panting all day like frogs in a dry ditch – & <we> returned wet & cold from our walk.

I can give you no idea of the beauty of Cintra, for in England you have no parts that can help you to an image of the whole. there is little doubt that it is a mountain shattered or formed by a volcano. we crossed it with Miss Barker, & in consequence of losing ourselves had a six hours ramble; the day was fine, we had cold beef with us & enjoyed our situation, only the wild rocky mountain in whose depths we were lost to be seen, & the sea beyond it. we were at one time compleatly without a track, & the asses would not move. you will be amused by the stratagem which set my beast going again. I was lugging him by the head & the boy pushing him by the rump to no purpose – John wrinkles his nose, held up his head threw his huge ears forward & there he stood in the true attitude of obstinacy, & defiance. what did we but set him astride a furze bush. it was the best spur in the world, on th he went & his companions followed him. it was six o clock before we got home to dinner & the adventure furnished subject for our conversation & the astonishment of uplifted hands & eyes, among the good people who came to Cintra to play a cool rubber at whist or casino. I had joined Edith & Miss B. that morning at a country house (Quinta they call it) of the Marquis Marialvas. [8]  the woman who let me in enquired if I wanted to see the Shoemaker. see the Shoemaker! I imagined that none of the Servants who lived in the house to care of it might be of the gentle craft, & wanted my custom, & answered no – after seeing the garden & admiring the taste which had decorated it with statues – a soldier painted like life – a bear eating a dog, a goat reading in a large folio, & a woman whose marble petticoats were blown up to shew no very well shaped leg, we were led to a hut in the garden, round which all the children in the neighbourhood & the whole household had assembled in expectation. The door was opened & there was the Shoemaker. it was a figure large as life, an old man sewing at his trade – a hideous old woman by him spinning, a boy hammering the sole, & another behind beating a tamborine, all moved by turning a wheel behind. & this is the admiration of the country & the masterpiece of Portugueze mechanism! the Marquis has bought anot[MS torn]se in the neighbourhood, & there he is about to remove this jewel: it is said also that he means to have a Taylor made. – My Uncle has been robbed of his hat lately. fi[MS torn]rs some of them, attacked him, it was <in> sight of many people & this was probably the cause that he escaped so well. a Portuegueze Officer passing by just after enquired what was the matter & when it was over coolly remarked “people must live,” & walked on. a ship was cut out of the river lately of great value, & it was at first believed by Portugueze. the remark was by a company of these people when they heard the circumstance was that “the times were very xxxx hard.” you can have no idea of a more total anarchy than exists here as to all rational purposes of government. there is actually no security whatever for person or property. if a rascal is taken up for robbery or murder after a few days imprisonment he is let out again without trial or punishment. A priest in one of the new streets was stopped by the watch lately, who robbed him of his purse, his watch & his buckles. he returned home which was very near put on his servants clothes, took a pistol & a knife under his cloak, returned to the same street & met the same watchmen. they stopt him, questioned him, searched him, found the knife & pistol, & carried him before a magistrate. then he told his story, recovered all he had lost, & had the satisfaction of seeing the rascals sent to prison.

About the jelly you will not I trust anyways inconvenience yourself, if it comes well. if not it is of no serious importance. the little jug arrived safely. do not forget to make Cottle send me 3 quire of the wove fools-cap with Alfred. [9]  my mother says Bill [10]  has a parcell to send to me. what can he mean? I pray you take care to make no blunder & send any thing of weight by post. a magazine sent that way would cost me ten guineas. Wynn sent me a bundle of letters from the Secretary of States office – like a blockhead & they cost me fourteen shillings. the way the plays came thro Yescombe, [11]  is the only way. The plays are done so as only Coleridge could have done them. [12]  I recognize him also in the Essay on Schiller, & the Prelude of Wallensteins Camp, advertised in the newspaper as in the Press. [13]  – remember me to all who enquire for me. – Mr Rowe [14]  in particular – to Cottle & Davy if time permits. I shall write by the packet. pray pray write often. tell Charles Fox [15]  I might as well look for Persian Mss in Kamschatka as in Lisbon. flowerseeds would be useless here – I have no friend – & gardens require too much labour in watering, to be used here as in England.

God bless you. Ediths love.

yrs truly

R. S.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers/ 9 St James’s Place/ Kingsdown/ Bristol/ Single
MS: British Library, Add MS 30928. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 117–122 [in part]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 104–105 [in part]. BACK

[1] One of Joseph Cottle’s relatives, possibly his sister Martha, who died in 1800, aged 15. BACK

[2] Possibly the father of John James Morgan. BACK

[3] Herbert Croft, Chatterton and ‘Love and Madness’. A letter from Denmark to Mr. Nichols, Editor of the Gentleman’s Magazine, where it appeared in February, March and April 1800; Respecting an Unprovoked Attack, made upon the Writer during his Absence from England (1800). BACK

[4] Southey and Cottle’s The Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803). BACK

[5] See Southey to Thomas Southey, 23 March 1800, Letter 500. BACK

[6] The Islamic romance Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[7] The medieval royal palace at Cintra, which served as a summer retreat for the royal family. BACK

[8] Diogo Jose Vito de Menezes Noronha Coutinho, 5th Marquess of Marialva (1739–1803), the Royal Chamberlain. He had just purchased the Palacio de Seteais in Cintra. BACK

[9] Joseph Cottle, Alfred. An Epic Poem. In Twenty-four Books (1800). BACK

[10] Unidentified. BACK

[11] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765–1803), captain of the packet, King George, which sailed between Falmouth and Lisbon. BACK

[12] The Piccolomini, or the First Part of Wallenstein, a Drama in Five Acts. Translated from the German of Frederick Schiller by S. T. Coleridge (1800) and The Death of Wallenstein. A Tragedy in Five Acts. Translated from the German of Frederick Schiller by S. T. Coleridge (1800). BACK

[13] The Oracle, 4 April 1800, for example, announced that ‘In the Press and speedily to be published’ were: the one-act prelude ‘Wallenstein’s Camp’; and an ‘Essay on the Genius of Schiller’. BACK

[14] His identity is not certain, but he is possibly the Unitarian John Rowe (1764–1832), one of the ministers of Lewin’s Mead Chapel, Bristol. BACK

[15] Charles Fox (c. 1740-1809; DNB), orientalist, poet and parrot owner. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 5 times)