558. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 26 November 1800

558. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 26 November 1800 ⁠* 

Dear William Taylor

I am perplexed about Harry. remain he must not & ought not. to himself it must be irksome & now little advantageous – to Mr Maurice unhandsome & unjust. he has literally no home, & this difficulty of an intermediate resting place is what now distresses me. I have sent my Thalaba to market & demand an hundred guineas for a first edition. getting this sum I do not doubt, [1]  & have appropriated it as an apprentice fee with Henry – as you advise. it is a better plan than what I had formed [2]  – & my former one was only imagined the most practicable when formed, not the best. Will you make enquiry in your part of the world if such a situation can be procured for him? & if it can, signify it to John May – Richmond Green – Surry. into whose hands I have directed the purchase money to be paid, & who is commissioned to apply it to this purpose. Among you I know it must be his wish to settle – nor elsewhere have I any motive for preference of place. with Bristol my own connection is precarious – Davy will not always remain at the Pneumatic Institution, [3] & the death of a very infirm old Lady [4]  which cannot long delay, will perhaps move thence my dearest friend, & leave me little heart to visit it again. besides Harry must not be placed with any one to whom he would too soon feel himself superior – & this he must do at Bristol. a situation however must be accepted where it offers. You will not think me encroaching in thus requesting you to act for him yet I feel that our distant correspondence does not justify me.

It has been suggested to me [5]  to try my fortunes at the East Indian bar – where success could not be doubtful. my inclinations are decidedly hostile to this scheme – but I must not lightly & hastily reject it. my constitution unhappily requires a warmer climate than England, of this my health here is a convincing proof. moreover old Brama [6]  would be an interesting acquaintance. the contra arguments weigh heavier & Camoens [7]  warns me from India.

But it is time to talk of Portugal. we have as yet escaped the yellow Fever, & the yellow Fever will effectually guard us against the French & Spaniards, if any danger could be apprehended from invasion. no such danger has ever existed. before a French army could scale Lisbon the whole species would be embarked – & here the property is kept in chests ready at a moments alarm. the multitude of ships always in the Tagus would take off the more valuable merchandise – plunder therefore cannot allure the French here. the remaining bales of cotton would not pay their soldiers – nor the sugar casks sweeten their lemonade. besides provisions are scarce both here & in Spain. a hostile army could not subsist six weeks. If however the French should chuse to take possession of Lisbon in order to distress England – the blow would speedily recoil. a fleet would block up the Tagus & famine speedily drive them over the Pyrenees. Spain & Portugal must one day blend into one country. the hour is not yet come. one country is not strong enough to conquer – both too unenlightend to unite. You then as well as we, will wonder at the enormous army quartered here – if you can wonder at any ministerial absurdity. the most probable opinion here is that it is a collusion between the courts of Madrid & Lisbon managed by France – to get as many English troops here as possible – in order to keep them quiet. they solicited for Abercrombies [8]  troops also – the whole expedition – to prevent the attack on Egypt. The necessary advance in the price of provisions oppresses the people who see the cause in the foreign soldiers. they talk very freely. the army & navy lose twenty per cent by the paper in which they were <are> paid. of course the discount goes to account – & the arrears must be one day paid!

I am up to the ears in chronicles. a pleasant days amusement – but battles & folios & Moors & Monarchs teaze me terribly in my dreams. I have just obtained access to the public Manuscripts – & the records of the Inquisition tempt me. five folios – the whole black catalogue! yet I am somewhat shy of laying heretical hands upon these bloody annals. the Holy Office is not dead – but sleepeth. [9]  there however it is that I must find materials for the history of Reformation here & its ineffectual efforts. the I obtain access thro one of the Censors of Books here [10]  – an ex-German divine – who enlisted in the Catholic service, professing the one faith with the same sincerity that he preached the other. a strong-headed, learned & laborious man – curious enough to preserve his authorative reviews of all that is permitted to be printed or sold in Portugal. these reviews I have seen, & by this means become acquainted with what is not brought to light. – The Public Library here is magnificently established. [11]  the books well arranged with ample catalogues – a librarian to every department – & free access to all – without a cloak. the Museum is also shut to all in this – the common dress – a good trait of national honesty. The ruin of the Jesuits gave rise to this foundation. their libraries were all brought to Lisbon, & the books remained as shovelled out of the carts for many years. they are not yet wholly arranged. English writers are very few – alm scarcely any. but for what regards the peninsula – for church & monastic history – & the laborious & valuable compilations of the last centuries – a more compleat collection does not probably exist.

I regret my approaching return to England & earnestly wish I could remain six or seven years in a country whose climate so well suits me, & where I could find ample & important occupation. Once more I must return when my history shall be as far compleated as is possible at home, to give it its last corrections here.

The fits of alarm respecting the yellow fever are periodical. about once a week we have a days panic. not causelessly – look at Beja in the map – it has been there – but the Bishop  [12]  burnt down the house in which the sick had died. three days last week the public amusements were suspended, & the efficacy of prayer tried. the more respectable congregations that attended evinced a general fear. St Roques life is advertised in the Madrid gazette – as the saint to be called in, in pestilence. St Sebastian also is famous in these cases. Earthly remedies none have been found – or none [MS torn] Lisbon. even now the nature of the disease is differentl[MS torn] reported – & the method of treatment not known. We trust to cold weather & the rains. Should these only suspend the contagion – if it breaks [MS torn] again in the spring, it must inevitably reach Lisbon, & I shall then think of my own safety.

From England nothing has reached me but the unhappy Alfred of poor Cottle. [13]  I laboured hard & honestly to suppress its birth – & am thrown into a cold sweat by recollecting it. Coleridge ought to be upon the Life of Lessing. [14]  he ought also to write to me – & I have my fears lest the more important business should be neglected like the other. George Burnett has not written me – nor have I done my duty towards him. my Bristol accounts of his going on were such as pained me. The Anti-Jacobine [15]  is – as you know – appointed our Envoy. & the Jacobine – like every body else – must make his formal visit. I hear he has all the coxcombry of an Etonian – & the most I retain of Westminster is an Etonophobia confirmed by seeing them at Oxford. Frere however is undoubtedly a man of genius. pray write to me. I am in an illiterate land – only among acquaintance – your letters will be weighed among your good works.

God bless you.


Robert Southey.

Nov. 26. 1800. Lisbon.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street./ Norwich/ Single
Stamped: LISBON
Postmarks: FOREIGN OFFICE/ DE/ 13; BDE/ 13/ 1800
Endorsement: Ansd 1 Feb
MS: Guildhall Library, London, MS 03109. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 358–363 [in part]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 139–140 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey received £115 for 1,000 octavo copies of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[2] William Taylor had suggested that Henry Herbert Southey should be trained by a provincial surgeon, rather than attending medical lectures in London (Taylor to Southey, 5 October 1800, J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 354). BACK

[3] Davy left the Pneumatic Institute, Bristol for a new post at the Royal Institution, London in January 1801. BACK

[4] Mrs Danvers died in 1803 of influenza. BACK

[6] Hindu god of creation. BACK

[7] Luis Vaz de Camões (1524–1580), Portuguese poet. He failed to make his fortune in India. BACK

[8] Sir Ralph Abercromby (1734–1801; DNB), second-in-command of the British forces that invaded Holland in 1799 and commander of the expedition to Egypt in 1801. BACK

[9] Though the Inquisition in Portugal had lost many of its powers, it was not abolished until 1821. BACK

[10] Johann Wilhelm Christian Muller (1752–1814), came to Portugal in 1772 as chaplain to the Dutch Factory; entered the Portuguese civil service as a translator in 1790 and converted to Catholicism. BACK

[11] The Real Biblioteca Publica da Corte, established in 1796. It inherited many works collected by the Jesuits before their expulsion from Portugal in 1759, and in 1797 acquired the records of the Inquisition. BACK

[12] Southey had an introductory letter to the bishop from Herbert Hill. BACK

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

[14] Coleridge had intended to write a life of the German poet, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781). BACK

[15] John Hookham Frere (1769–1846; DNB), educated Eton, and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (BA 1792, MA 1795); MP for West Looe 1796–1802; envoy extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Portugal 1800–1802 and then to Spain 1802–1804, 1808–1809. Also a poet, he contributed parodies to the Anti-Jacobin 1797–1798. BACK

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