573. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 28 March 1801

573. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 28 March 1801 ⁠* 

March 28. 1801. Lisbon.

Dear Danvers

You have not written – & I am rather anxious lest the new Thalaba book should not have reached you. I sent a copy to Wynn to guard against the accident. [1]  Longman advertises it a poetical romance – on the half-title you will take care to use the more proper word metrical. [2] 

My Mother will show you her letter by this packet [3]  – the rest of our journey may be comprest into the present sheet. [4]  I rather hoped than expected to reach Coimbra. [5]  Miss Seton & Edith proved such excellent travellers that we reached it. I never saw a city so nobly situated – a view so altogether glorious as opened upon us from its near heights. the preceding day we hadx been wetted, & for three days threatened with dark & lowering clouds. of course the Sun was welcome – it dried us & warmed us, & made every thing chearful. the country is hilly & well watered – olives & oranges every where, & cypresses thick as poplars about London. mountains bounded the scene – the farthest object was one snowy summit of the Estrella, glittering in the sun. down the southern boundary a few clouds were floating, so beamy white that they seemed like light condensed to visible shape & substance. The city with its fine convents shone on an eminence over the Mondego, now in the fullness of its waters. Coimbra is the spot of which the historian & the poet scarcely ever loses sight – whatever was interesting in the history or literature of Portugal centered here – & I looked at the city with the strong recollection of old times & old heroes. Knowing what to expect within I was prepared for the contrast – yet was it impossible not to feel disappointment at quitting so rich a scene to enter narrow & stinking streets, crowded with blackguard students, or with townspeople rendered vicious & knavish & impudent by the contagion of the University. the first object was disgusting – passing under an old gateway – the prison fronted us. & two gallows-faced fellows fastened with chains round their necks were standing in the street begging. We met several other prisoners dragging their fetters thro the town on the same employment. Every where in Coimbra some relic of antiquity presents itself, but every where it is mixed with modern patches. In the monastery of Santa Cruz, one of the oldest & most famous establishments in the kingdom I saw nothing so remarkable as – the poultry yard. the royal tombs were comparatively modern & miserably poor after what we had seen at Alcobaça & Batalha. the sword of Alfonso Henrique [6]  was mislaid – nor did I regret not seeing x what I knew not to be genuine. Relics affected me little – what was a finger of Saint Antony [7]  after I had seen a thorn from the Holy Crown of Crucifixion – & a drop of the Redeemers blood? – the Revelations in a set of Tiles pleased me better. the truth or falsehood of a poetical figure is said to be appreciable by painting it – if the rule may be extended to religion certainly the Beast & the Vials & the Old Dragon did not look very believable. But the Poultry Yard was perfect – it was one of the quadrangles converted to this useful purpose – cut with canals of running water over which were several small temples – & such geese & ducks – & another sort of wild water bird to me unknown! – so fat – they ought to have been roasted in the Alcobaça kitchen. I did long to buy beg or steal a dinner.

The Fountain of Tears was far the most heart-interesting object in this vicinity. it is the spot where Ignes de Castro [8]  was accustomed to meet her husband Pedro, & weep for him in his absence. certainly her dwelling-house was in the adjoining garden & from thence she was dragged to be murdered at the feet of the King her father in law. there is a famous passage in Camoens [9]  upon this subject. it is very bad & therefore very much admired by all poetry-dabblers, being a complete specimen of false taste. but bad poetry does not affect the fact – & the loves of Iñes & Pedro are historically interesting. I – who have long planned a tragedy upon the subject [10]  – stood upon my own scene. two cedars – most magnificent, most antient trees – stand one on each side the fountain. I do believe, & not because I wish to believe it – that Inez sat under their shade four hundred years ago. Who is there who has not when he stood under a fine tree, felt the littleness of mans existence? & these cedars might have made the main beams of Solomons temple – of such luxuriant size is their growth. there is beside them one modern tree – bless the hand that planted it! – a great willow – whose boughs bend into the water. behind the fountain rises a high hill, green with corn & spotted with the shades of olive trees. the whole scene is in my eye – even with the vividness of actual sight. –

Of Museums & Colleges & Public Buildings – what is to be said? would you not yawn over the description – as we did over the sight? things that might each have excited admiration if seen simply, cloy in a collection, like a dinner of sweet-meats. Of more importance is the moral picture of Coimbra – the spring from whence Portugal is watered. it is Westminster & Oxford united – at once school & university. the students are attached to English literature – indeed to medical studies it is become indispensable. they are also votaries to the French principles. but – a set of more impudent blackguards never were assembled in one city. they followed us with such impertinence that had we not been with two Professors [11]  both men of manners & authority, we should not have past without being insulted – & as it was, I found it difficult to abstain from knocking some of them down. wherever we went there was a mob of these fellows behind us. so it is their custom to annoy foreigners – & two of them for impertinence carried a little further, received a severe drubbing from one of our acquaintance, not long before our visit.

I can only skim the cream of our after journey. our party was swoln to the very inconvenient number of eight when the Miss Petries [12]  rejoined us & brought with them two men of their acquaintance. [13]  with our followers we made a formidable appearance winding at length up the rocky lanes like a caravan. At Aldea de Cruz the only Estalagem had been converted into a saltfish warehouse. Corregidor of the Place very handsomely sent beds for the Ladies – but two of our party actually lay upon piles of saltfish – & I slept sweetly under them. At Thomar we were entertained by a Frenchman. M. Verdier [14]  to whom I had letters. a man of most uncommon learning & genius – who has wasted his talents & fortune in establishing a great cotton manufactory. his wife [15]  is very very clever – they have several children who all speak four languages which – with music & drawing their mother has taught them. here I feasted upon all my favourite conversation dishes. it was the sort of family that novels sometimes represent – but which I never elsewhere saw realized. curse the manufactory. that a man who ought to be at the head of a great nation should be managing mills & wheels! – We returned fourscore miles down the Tagus by water, & reached Lisbon after an absence of twenty days.

One anecdote is worth mentioning. we were every where the sight of the neighbourhood – a boy on his way to school stopt to see him us. he had his book under his arm & I was anxious to see what a fine clever looking boy about 14 might be learning. it was “Directions for a converted Sinner.” poor boy! I longed for the translation of Robinson Crusoe [16]  to give him.

Of our return. We expect Portugal to make her peace [17]  by the expulsion of the English. my Uncle is actually packing up all his books – & I am writing in the dirt of that employment. according to all appearances only a general peace can prev[MS obscured] the last blow to our commerce. I am little affected – except indeed that the war with Spain has cut off my supply of books & very very very materially affected me – as the only remedy will be to visit Lord Bute [18]  & quarter myself upon him & his library. In May we hope to be in England – that is in Bristol. my after plans may be considered there. they will probably – for Madocs sake take me into Wales – & then to the Lakes – I must work hard, for here my expences have exceeded my means – unavoidably rather than unwisely. the sale of Thalaba is of importance to me. if it be as it ought I shall gallop thro the Curse of Keradou. [19]  my history must be slower work. [20]  pyramids are not built in a day – & I mean mine to outlive & out-age the Egyptian ones. our love to Mrs D.

God bless you

R S.

Edith sadly wanted the cloak on her journey – which her sisters [21]  so very idly & uncivilly refused to purchase. she was much disappointed at opening the box – & much inconvenienced & still more hurt. you have received 15£ I trust from John May – & I hope paid Martha the extra amount of the first bill. [22] 


* 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. 135-140; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 157-160 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 February 1801, Letter 567. BACK

[2] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was sub-titled ‘A Metrical Romance’. It was advertised (or rather, mis-advertised) as a ‘Poetical Romance’ in the Morning Chronicle, 29 January and 5 February 1801. BACK

[3] Southey to Margaret Southey [28 March 1801], Letter 574. BACK

[4] For this expedition see Southey’s journal, published in Adolfo Cabral, Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 15-33. BACK

[5] Medieval capital of Portugal and site of the University of Coimbra, founded in 1290. BACK

[6] Afonso I (1109-1185, King of Portugal 1139-1185). Buried at the Monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra. His sword was said to be so large it took ten men to carry it. BACK

[7] St Antony of Padua (1195-1231). BACK

[8] Ines de Castro (1325-1355), lover of Pedro I (1320-1367, King of Portugal 1357-1367). She was murdered on the orders of Pedro’s father, Afonso IV (1291-1357, King of Portugal 1325-1357). BACK

[9] Luis Vaz de Camões (1524-1580), Os Lusiades (1572), Canto 3, stanzas 118-136. BACK

[10] Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 189-190. BACK

[11] Francisco Soares Franco (1772-1844), later Professor of Medicine at the University of Coimbra; and Felix Avellar Brotero (1744-1828), Professor of Botany at the University of Coimbra. BACK

[12] Two sisters resident in Portugal, possibly connected to Martin Petrie (d. 1805), a Commissary in the British Army. BACK

[13] The brother of the Misses Petrie, possibly William Petrie (d. 1842), later Commissary-General in the British Army; and an army surgeon called Burrows (first name and dates unknown). BACK

[14] Timoteo Lecussan Verdier (1754-1831), Portuguese man of letters and mill-owner. He was of French origin. BACK

[15] Elena Frizoni (dates unknown). BACK

[16] Daniel Defoe (c. 1659-1731; DNB), Robinson Crusoe (1719). The first Portuguese translation was Vida e Aventuras de Robinson Crusoe. Traduzido da Lingua Franceza por Henrique Leitao de Souza Mascarenhas (1785). BACK

[17] Spain had declared war on Portugal on 27 February 1801 and a Spanish invasion was widely expected. BACK

[18] John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute (1744-1814; DNB), Ambassador to Spain 1795-1796. BACK

[19] Southey’s plan for what became The Curse of Kehama (1810), Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 12-15. BACK

[20] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[21] Edith’s unmarried sisters Martha and Eliza Fricker. BACK

[22] Edith ... first bill: Written upside down in the space between the date and salutation on the first page. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 2 times)
Danvers, Mrs. (d. 1803) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker family (mentioned 1 time)
Seton, Barbara (dates unknown) (mentioned 1 time)
May, John (1775–1856) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Martha (1777–1850) (mentioned 1 time)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)