500. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 23 March 1800

500. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 23 March 1800 ⁠* 

My dear Tom

At last my plans are settled. my Uncle has written to me, & Edith & I are preparing for a voyage to Lisbon, where I trust we shall arrive by May Day. I am taught to expect recovery from climate – & have certainly left <learnt> to expect it from nothing else.

Thank you for the tale of Matchim [1]  – I had read it – but forgotten it. if I should ever visit Madeira, & so become acquainted with all the particular scenery I would make a poem upon the story: your description of the snow-storm is uncommonly striking – you will probably find it introduced in Thalaba.

My intention is, when at Lisbon, to undertake the History of Portugal, [2]  a long & arduous & interesting & important undertaking, which I think I can do as it ought to be done. the little connection which Portugal has had with general politics give a wholeness & unity to the story – & no country in her rise ever displayed more splendid actions, or exhibited a more important lesson in her fall. It will be necessary to know well the country of which I write – & to be familiar with the situation of every town, famous for a siege – & every field famous for a battle. I shall endeavour also to do what history has never yet done, to introduce into the narrative the manners of the age & people.

I wish you could get superseded once more, & removed to the Lisbon station.

My Aunt, I believe is going into Herefordshire – at least so it is said – & my Mother will go with her. this will not be unpleasant – as my Aunt is better any where than at home, having no body to scold. She did a quaint thing in a passion the other day. she had written a letter to Thomas at Hereford – & packed up another for Edward with a box of ninepins & a cake of gingerbread. & then misdirected both – so that Edward received the Lawyers letter, & Thomas had the gingerbread & the ninepins, to the no small surprise of the one, & disappointment of the other.

Lord Somerville [3]  is at Lisbon, where probably I shall see him – unless indeed he should have left the country before the hot season comes on. he has with him as secretary a very great puppy from this place. [4] 

I take with me Thalaba in its unfinished state, designing to compleat & correct it there & send it over for publication. [5]  Wynn has promised to give me a copying machine – should this answer its purpose, (& as he has often seen his Uncle Lord Grenville [6]  use it successfully there can be no reason to doubt it,) I will on transcribing Madoc [7]  roll off a copy for you.

Rickman has been here some weeks, & I fancy he finds the society at Bristol better than the uniformity of Christ Church. he is going to day to examine the Boiling Well near Stapleton, a puzzling thing – & Davy & I accompany him. [8]  If you were a Landsman you would be interested in an account of his improvement upon wooden shoes – but as you are not destined to walk in the dirt, the description would be little useful.

Edith is not much pleased with the prospect of a journey to Falmouth, a voyage afterwards – & then a land of strangers. I also wish the voyage were over, & feel at the very thought qualms ominous of intestinal insurrection. but anything to rid me of these heart & head seizures! & as doctors do not differ about it, I hope with confidence.

When you write to Lisbon remember that letters pay by weight. of course the thinner paper you use the better. postage is shamefully dear there – an impertinent intrusion of the Portugueze government by the by which hardly ought to be tolerated. they take the letters from [MS torn] packet. & then make the English pay them for passing thro their post office. I once paid for a very long & heavy letter from Grosvenor Bedford eight English shillings – & the letter was not worth two-pence.

You mistook me about Cottles Alfred. [9]  I put your name on his list because to have put my own would have been foolish, as I know he will of course give me a copy; – & yet I wished to put some name on the subscription board. But to put any one down & make him pay a guinea for this book would be making rather too free with him – you will therefore receive the copy – & the Anthology account will pay for it.

God bless you.

yr affectionate brother

Robert Southey.

March 23. 1800.



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Thomas Southey./ H.M.S. Bellona/ Plymouth./ Single
Stamped: [partial] BRIST
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 99–101; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 67–68 [in part]. BACK

[1] Robert Machim was the legendary discoverer of Madeira in 1346. BACK

[2] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[3] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), agriculturist and distant relative of Southey. He used his stay in Portugal to further his interest in merino sheep. BACK

[4] Unidentified. BACK

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

[6] William Wyndham Grenville, Baron Grenville (1759–1834; Foreign Secretary 1791–1801; DNB). BACK

[7] The fifteen-book version completed in 1799. A heavily revised version of Madoc was published in 1805. BACK

[8] Boiling Well is so named because, after heavy rains, the underground spring feeding the well causes bubbles to rise to the surface of the spring pool. BACK

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

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