546. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 13 September 1800

546. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 13 September 1800 ⁠* 

My dear Danvers

I write – because Thalaba [1]  does not trust himself to the King George. not for any jacobinical reasons on his part, but because Yescombe [2]  did not come this voyage with his Packet, & I know no passenger to whom I could trust the parcel. it must therefore wait the first opportunity that offers, & I trust to meet with one before Yescombes next voyage.

I expected – no that is not true – for I never expect where Cottle is concerned – but I hoped to receive Alfred [3]  by this packet. Alfred! alas! alas! it was the letters I wished & Davys book, [4]  for over this unhappy quarto I shall tremble & lament. From the Reviews he will receive no good criticism – but they will also likely want good nature. Never did Authors friends deal more honestly with him! xxx & if his Enemies are as blunt – luckily the loss, if loss there be will fall upon the London Cormorants – I have no bowels of compassion for them. [5]  And to sum up the merits of the book we shall have it flavoured with Essence of Tabernacle! I gave Cottle credit for more sense. if he really does swallow this miserable cant, we shall have him disgorge it in more ways than in Alfred, & Joseph will perhaps end in a Methodist Parson. Vexed & mortified as I should be – yet I should laugh to see his white face wax warm in the pulpit with a glowing description of the Great Furnace, charitably ordained for the ungracious like you & me!

Even this mummery – this puppet-show popery – is better than that execrable diabolism of Calvin. [6]  here is something to feed the feelings, to satisfy & kindle this Imagination. Their Deity indeed is somewhat partial to the old Mother Church – but then he is a kind Deity to them. bad indeed must the sinner be who will not be burnt white at last! Every prayer at a crucifix helps him – & a Massx on purpose – is a fine shove towards Paradise. it is a superstition of hope.

A Preacher here at Cintra asserted the other day in the pulpit, that there were to his knowledge, seven Witches in this town. Nobody doubts the truth of this assertion – to be sure they have confessed it to him! for you know the secrets of confession are sacred. Benito our man here, told me this – Sir said hex if it was not for the Inquisition, this country & Spain too would be over-run with Witches & Jews! – The great mischief ascribed to Witches here, is the trick they have of killing infants. this happens very often, & always by night, the children are known to have thus died by the blackness of their faces. Now this must be a lie, not a superstition, – an invention of some nurse who had over laid her infant – singularly useful as an excuse among this sleepy people.

Of the wise Ferrol expedition we know nothing more than that it has failed. [7]  Will there never be an end of these absurdities! Vigo can only have been visited for the sake of making a Gazette & varnishing over their failure. the consequence will probably be that Spain will at last commence hostilities here, to draw our attention & keep her own coasts clear. We have no serious apprehensions. it is a mere matter of talk & speculation. But the Pestilence which rages at Cadiz is a nearer & more alarming evil. it is now over the whole Province of Andalusia – within 250 miles of us, & no precautions are taken whatever. A man has just arrived at Lisbon from Cadiz who has had the disease – he has performed no quarantine – & his baggage entered unmolested. What the disorder is I cannot learn, other than it is called the Black Vomit, & that the same kind of plague has formerly ravaged Europe, particularly this peninsula. They say it is Epidemic, not contagious. if so we are safe. the Siroc blew for nine weeks at Cadiz. – if this was the cause the rains will remove it – or the winter – if it contagious Lisbon is in hourly & imminent danger. an immense contraband trade is carried on thro the bye passes of the mountains. guard the frontier towns however vigilantly it is impossible to guard the whole line of frontier where Nature has made no boundary. the disease will be smuggled in. indeed my chief reason for believing it not to be contagious, is that it has not reached us. If it comes we fly – perhaps to England – perhaps to Porto & the mountains. the last plan will be sufficiently safe & what I shall prefer – but my Uncle will decide.

Thus have we Pestilence knocking at the door, & War in sight. it was a saying of John 5. [8]  God preserve Portugal from Pestilence – from Famine & War I will preserve it. in the mean time we live comfortably at Cintra, talking of these things perhaps with more indifference than you [MS torn] receive the account.

I desired John May to send ten pounds to you, which Martha will lay out for her sister. Thomas wrote me word that he expected [MS torn] Mother & Aunt at Hereford – so I could not send it to her, & Edith knows no direction to her sisters, who have wisely omitted to mention it. on this account I sent it to you. direct you when you write to my Uncle only, Chaplain to the British Forces. this will frank the letter, & you may mark it for mine, by an S by the wafer.

I have scrawled the first part of this letter in the dark – hurrying over it that I may not lose an opportunity of sending it to Lisbon. Of late I have neither gained nor lost ground. the stimulus of novelty is over, I am unwell at times – but I shall expect something from escaping the severity of your winter, & from the Exercise which the weather then will allow me to take. About Persian manuscripts I think I spoke formerly. I could as easily catch the Sophy – & might as well look for the Mogul.

We shall in a few weeks return to Lisbon. not unwillingly. indeed now Thalaba is done I want to be within reach of the Libraries & at work. The Packet brings me no news of Peggy – I look for it with anxiety – not with hope. our love to your mother. it is uncomfortable to ask how she is & recollect the weeks that must elapse before an answer is possible. I wish Sam Reid were coming here. I could make his stay at Lisbon very pleasant, & accompany him every where. remember me to Davy. If he & his Laboratory were at hand I would not run from the Black Vomit. Rickman I apprehend has wholly settled at London. the fit place for him. he will be very useful, & soon acquire reputation. God bless you! in a land flowing with wine & oil, I often remember old Bristol & wish myself there. it is worth while to go abroad for the sake of returning.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Cintra. Saturday. Sept. 13. 1800.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers/ 9 St James’s Place/ Kingsdown./ Bristol./ Single
Stamped: LISBON
Endorsement: 13 Sept. 1800
MS: British Library, Add MS 30928. 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. 108–111. BACK

[1] A manuscript copy of the Islamic romance Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[2] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765–1803), Captain of the Packet, King George, which sailed between Falmouth and Lisbon. BACK

[3] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, An Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Books (1800). BACK

[4] Humphry Davy, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, Chiefly concerning Nitrous Oxide, or Dephlogisticated Nitrous Air, and its Respiration (1800). BACK

[5] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, An Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Books (1800) was published by the London firm of Longman and Rees, who would therefore be liable for any losses from poor sales. BACK

[6] John Calvin (1509–1564), French-born Protestant theologian, who emphasised that souls were predestined either to salvation or damnation. His opinions were the official doctrine of the Baptist denomination to which Joseph Cottle belonged. BACK

[7] The British government was increasingly convinced that Spain would ally with France and declare war on Britain. As a pre-emptive strike, a fleet under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren (1753–1822; DNB) unsuccessfully attempted to capture the Spanish port of Ferrol on 25–27 August 1800. BACK

[8] John V (1689–1750; King of Portugal 1706–1750). BACK

People mentioned

Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 4 times)
Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 2 times)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 2 times)
Reid, Samuel (c. 1775–1821) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)
May, John (1775–1856) (mentioned 1 time)
Tyler, Elizabeth (1739–1821) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 3 times)