530. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [8-15 June 1800]

530. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [8–15 June 1800] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I neither see nor hear any English news here – so your account of Sir H. Croft  [1]  was new to me. like the snuff of a candle. He was you let him stink & go out – reply would only produce the whole legal series of rejoinders &c &c. in the edition of Chatterton [2]  according to his desire, his letter shall be inserted, & I will then set the seal of infamy upon his forehead, for ever. you shall receive the remaining books of Thalaba when they are finished. I am half way thro the tenth, but here the books, unattainable in England, are perpetually tempting me – & a Lisbon summer would be a good excuse for laziness. I have read & digested much – for the History of the Kingdom [3]  I shall bring home all the materials & most of the requisite knowledge. for the history of the Poetry or rather the whole Literature, I shall have the skeleton. of miscellaneous information relative to Portugal & characteristic anecdotes I have amassed more already than I expected to have done at all. If Herbert Croft were in Lisbon I should be seriously alarmed – two new crowns is the price of assassination – & as the Irishman said of Rome this is a xxxxx lainient government, for you may kill a man in the streets, & nobody takes the laist notice of it. for all useful purposes of society this is a complete anarchy. a man cannot indeed write against the church or the state, but he may rob & murder with impunity. we had a murder committed within thirty yards of our door – & heard of it by accident two days afterwards. one method of revenge used in the country is damnably ingenious, improvements are so slow in Portugal that it has not yet reached the metropolis. they beat a man with sand-bags. these do not inflict so much present pain as a cane would do. but they bruise all the fine vessels so that a slow & certain death ensues, unless the patient be immediately scarified. An old Porto merchant whom I knew at Bath [4]  had a quarrel with a native at Porto, & the each of them always carries a gun when he went out hoping to get the first shot. but the Portugueze used to come at night & fire thro the windows. the Englishmans wife did not quite like this state of siege, & she prevailed upon her husband to quit the country. so much for personal security! from fraud, property is safe enough for the kingdom is not yet civilized enough to produce ingenious rogues. an attempt at coining has been made – but the English soldiers were the supposed artificers. they have not courage enough for house breakers, not ingenuity enough for pick pockets or sharpers. they can cheat indeed by pricing their goods at five-fold their value – but to this their roguery is limited by their ignorance. A country Magistrate (it is a tale some century old but true) always sent back the bones to his butcher – he did not buy bones he said, nor has he a dog to eat them – & he made the butcher allow him their weight in meat.

To day is Trinity Sunday, & the Emperor of the Holy Ghost [5]  whose reign expires with this festival, dines in public. his head quarters are a few yards only below us – I walked by them last night, for the eve of the great day is a time of rejoicing. his mountebank-stage was illuminated his flags floating across the street, & barrels of pitch blazing all along it, whose light flashed finely upon the broad flags. it was somewhat terrible – they were bonfires of superstition – & I could not help thinking how much finer a sight the spectators would have thought it, if there had been a Jew or a Socinian like me in every barrel. – The Emperor passes us sometimes in person. his flags that bear the Dove rampant, are new & his retinue gay in their new dresses of white-hooded scarlet his musicians are negroes. before him goes a comely personage carrying a gilt wand – he himself is about six years old, very thin & sickly, in a mans full dress. <(a long tail tyed with huge ribbands> silk stockings – large buckles – a sword & an enormous hat white-edged, whose heavy corners as they preponderate are adjusted by his Bedchamber Lords (Camaristas) who walk on either hand & support him. a sickly child is always chosen by desire of the parents – because he grows strong & healthy in consequence of having served the holy office. – I wish you were here to see the precious mummery! this is a City standing upon seven hills, & the Babylonian is throned here & the cup of her abominations is full. I was waiting for change in a shop here, when a beggar came in – as she got nothing from me, she turned to an image of our Lady & kissed it & then begged again. They carry about images in glass cases which the Pope has blest – the people kiss them & give money. Pombal [6]  forbid these things: a little longer with his administration, & this popish fire would have mouldered into ashes for want of fuel – A poor xxxxxxx <gentoo> [7]  I heard begging yesterday with a strange petition – it was “for the love of Christ – my mother was a Pagan – but I believe!” – A strange levity sometimes accompanies superstition. Garci Sanches, [8]  a Spaniard of Badajos, & a man of notorious wit, was dying, & he desired to die in the Franciscan habit. it was accordingly put on him, & over it the dress of St Iago of which order he was a Knight. he looked at himself & was struck at the pompous & stuffed appearance he made. God will say presently to me (said the dying man) my friend Garci Sanchez you are come very well wrapt up! & I shall reply Lord it is no wonder, for I set off in winter.

One of the New Convent Towers [9]  is miserably disfigured by a projecting screen of wood. the man who rings the bells goes up to them, & this ugly thing is put there lest he should see the Nuns walking in the garden below. the bells are as noisy here as at Oxford – but not as musical. a rich merchant has a private chapel, whose incessant ding-donging so distressed the Invalids at the English Hotel that they sent to request it might cease. he returned answer “the Prince [10]  had given him leave to have a chapel, & his bells should ring in spite of any body.” I would have this fellow hung up as a clapper to Great Tom & punished in kind. This is a gay week. the Emperor to day – on Thursday their finest procession – of the Corpo do Dios, & on Friday St Antony, my old friend, who is as useful to the boys here, as they find Guy Faux in England. On the 20 is another raree show in honour of the heart of Jesus. then over we go to Cintra – & indeed I am impatient to be there.

My complaints hang on me, but my spirits are wonderfully bettered. I do not feel to be the same being as in England. it is incredible the difference. I hunger & thirst after my friends – & yet wish they were coming to Portugal rather than that I should have to return. this must be something more than the stimulus of novelty. – I met the Galley Slaves & looked at them with a physiognomic eye to see how they differed from the rest of the people. it was like those upon whom the Tower of Siloam fell. [11]  it appeared to me that they had been found out, & the others had not. The Gallegos [12]  are the best looking people. their number here is disgraceful to their own country & to this. to Spain that her industrious natives cannot find employment at home, to Portugal that the Portugueze are lazy enough to let foreigners do their work & annually drain Lisbon of its specie. You will be amused at a good anecdote of the national prejudice. A cunning man was taken up by the Inquisition for consulting the Devil. they asked him how he could be so foolish as well as wicked as to believe what the Father of Lies told him? why said he, he speaks to me either in Spanish or in Portugueze, when it is in Portugueze he always tells truth – but if he answers in Spanish it is sure to be a lie. – We look towards Brest [13]  with some suspicion. if the fleet have any object it is probably Lisbon – & I have no inclination to be hurried on shipboard & sent home. – It is now broad noon, & they are letting off sky rockets from the Emperors headquarters. this is the fashion of the country – their fireworks are by day – they have no idea that they are to be seen, & like them for the noise. I have seen two prints published by Manique [14]  a man high in office here, of the fireworks which he exhibited on the birth of the Princes first child. [15]  can you conceive a print of a firework? it was a white wilderness of streaks & lines & blotches upon a black ground. we have had one illumination here for a royal christening since our arrival, & three for the Pope. [16]  I remembered the old story of lighting a candle to the Devil, & lighted my windows for his holiness – but it was only with tallow & this I hope will excuse me. the illuminations here are not voluntary. the Castle guns fire when it is time to light the candles, & again when you may extinguish them. if you do not chuse to illuminate there is a fixed, but not a heavy fine. the Mob do not as in England dictate upon these occasions. another thing I noticed in the rabble – among with all their squibs & bonfires, last night nothing like personal danger insult was attempted – women were walking in safety to see the sight, they seemed to have no idea that mischief was amid[MS obscured]

I have been much amused with a long poem by Vieyra [17]  the famous, & only famous Portugueze painter. it is the history of his life. an interesting account of his mixture of honest vanity, devotion & love. I have analized it at length, & like the Poet so well, that I shall make it my business to see as many of his pictures as I can. A few lines which you wrote to Falmouth reached me here. we have upon the average a packet weekly, & you know not what a subject it is of hope & expectation – & when it brings no letters what a sinking disappointment. I do not wish you were ill – but I do wish you were idle enough, or curious enough to come over for two or three months in which time you might see the greater part of Portugal. we seem only next-door to Falmouth & when I consider the facility afforded by the packets it seems astonishing that curiosity does not lead more idlers here. I should much like leading you over this country. It was my intention to send over Thalaba for publication – but I am not yet determined – every thing ripens by time –, & the poem appears to me good enough to deserve a serious correction. [18]  whenever it is published I shall rest upon my oars. it will gain me credit enough till Madoc [19]  be compleat & then I may cast anchor in port.

Your letter was opened in England because you had forgotten to pay the inland postage.

Sunday June 15th. I have just finished the tenth book of Thalaba, & very much to my satisfaction. two more remain – as soon as they are done I will send you over the remainder. there must doubtless be many weak lines in what you have, as only the four first books have been corrected at all – & they have only their first correction – have only passed thro the first sieve. coinages I am willing to sacrifice if they offend any ear. I must not clo[MS torn] the wheels with needless obstacles. “if you will write your accusations in a small hand, & for [MS torn] thin paper I shall be glad of them here. it will be well to hear counsel against it before the trial. my notes will be too numerous & too entertaining to print at the bottom of the page for [MS torn] would be letting the mutton grow cold while they eat the currant jelly. [20] 

I do not like the divorce bill. [21]  it may do some harm & can do no good. An Irish story – at the Procession of the Body of God two years ago a stranger received a Coup de Soleil & fell senseless. the Irish friars carried him off to bury him. the coffin is like a trunk & the lid kept open during the service. in the middle of the service the man turned round. the Paddies said they could not bury him to be sure! but they would leave him till tomorrow – so out they went – locked him in the church instead of procuring assistance – & the next day they finished the ceremony. – could you not get a clause in the Union bill [22]  to prohibit all cross marriages? it ought to be punishable in an Englishman as degrading his species.

God bless you

R S.


* Address: To/ Charles Watkin Williams Wynn Esqr/ 5 Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmark: [illegible]
Endorsement: June 15 1800
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. 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. 93–98.
Dating note: Dated from internal evidence, especially Southey’s reference to Trinity Sunday, which fell on 8 June in 1800. BACK

[1] Herbert Croft had published his letters to the Gentleman’s Magazine as, 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

[2] Southey and Cottle’s The Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803) did not include Croft’s letter. BACK

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

[4] A Mr Harris, whose first name and dates are unknown; see Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 30 May–6 June 1800, Letter 528. BACK

[5] A boy who was chosen to preside over the festivities at the Feast of the Holy Ghost. BACK

[6] Sebastiao Jose de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal (1699–1782; Prime Minister of Portugal 1750–1777). BACK

[7] Unidentified; an Indian, presumably from one of the Portuguese colonies in India. BACK

[8] Garci Sanchez de Badajoz (1460–1524), Spanish poet. BACK

[9] Convent of the Discalced Carmelite nuns, founded in 1779. BACK

[10] John VI (1767–1826; King of Portugal 1816–1826), Prince Regent of Portugal 1799–1816. BACK

[11] Luke 13: 4, which mentions eighteen men who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them, ‘sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem’. BACK

[12] Inhabitants of Galicia in north-west Spain. BACK

[13] The main French fleet was in port at Brest. BACK

[14] Diogo Inacio de Pina Manique (1733–1805), General-Superintendant of Police. BACK

[15] Maria Teresa, Princess of Beira (1793–1874). BACK

[16] Celebrations for Princess Maria Francisca (1800–1834) and Pius VII (1742–1823; Pope 1800–1823). BACK

[17] Francisco Vieira (1690–1783), O Insigne Pintor e Leal Esposo Vieira Lusitano (1780). BACK

[18] The Islamic romance Thalaba the Destroyer was published in 1801. BACK

[19] Southey had finished a 15-book version of Madoc (1797–1799), but intended to revise it before publication. The heavily corrected poem appeared in 1805. BACK

[20] Against Southey’s wishes, the notes to Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) were printed at the bottom of the page. BACK

[21] A Bill introduced in 1800 by William Eden, 1st Lord Auckland (1745–1814; DNB). It proposed making adultery a misdemeanour and banning future marriages between the guilty parties in a divorce case. BACK

[22] The Bill to create a Union between Great Britain and Ireland, passed in 1800. BACK

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