541. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 21 August 1800

541. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 21 August 1800 ⁠* 

Cintra. August 21. 1800

My dear Rickman

In the long space of three months which have elapsed since I wrote to you – (or rather four!) – you will expect that I have done much. in truth I have not been idle. For the great History [1]  I have hitherto only collected the knowledge of what documents to search, & where to seek them. the public library-books are not removeable, & I, like all the English, am driven to the cool retirement of Cintra. I have the general facts clearly in my memory. I think a fair & accurate opinion of the chief personages, differing very considerably from their received characters, & a map of the method to be pursued. the ground is well manured, & the seed is in. I speak the language, not indeed grammatically, but fluently & Portugueze from a familiar voice, is almost as intelligible to me as English. I know the progress of their language, step by step, & have written materials towards the literary history. [2]  of collateral & incidental information, such anecdotes as paint the manners & character of a people, my collection would fill half an octavo volume.

But Thalaba. [3]  it has taken up a greater portion of my time than I expected or wished. I have been polishing & polishing, adding & adding. – & my unlearned readers ought to thank me very heartily for the toil, unpleasant & unproductive, of translating so many notes. by the King George packet I shall send it over, which will probably sail from Lisbon in about three weeks, perhaps a little more. in a fortnight the copy will be compleat. but I must wait for Captain Yescombe [4]  whose care I can rely upon. the M.S.S. (if the French way-lay it not) may reach you the beginning of October at the latest, & if the booksellers fall into my terms, a London printer will dispatch one quarto in a month, & <or> two pocket volumes in a fortnight. 100 £ I will have for 500 4to copies. 130 for 1000 of the smaller size. [5]  the whole property I will not sell – because I expect the poem will become popular, & of course productive. as the fat man said when his starved shipmates were eating his rump stakes, I have a right to my share.

Our house here stands in a lemon garden of somewhat less than half an acre. its fruit usually sells for twenty moidores. this year only <owing> to its failure it produced only ten. these orchards you see are wonderfully productive, but they require more attention than any English crops. they are watered regularly: here there is a large tank in every garden, whence the water is conveyed by little channels, which the man conducts round the roots of every tree, loosening the soil with a hoe. by this the leaves as they fall are sooner mingled with the soil, & afford a constant manure. wages are as high as eighteen-pence a day, with wine. the price of bread of course can differ little from its price in England, all other provisions are rather dearer, in some respect owing to actual scarcity, still more to the paper money, as every tradesman will have his profit upon the discount. The Wine owes its advance to the enormous taxes in England. As the English tax it so highly, said the Government here, we will tax it too, & they laid on the very moderate duty of a six-&-thirty per pipe. if people will give 75 £ a pipe, said the Porto Merchants, no doubt they will give 80, & we will have our profit. they therefore laid on the five, & are making fortunes. More wine is exported than before the new duties, because the excise to which it is subject so materially checks the home-brewed. still much is so manufactured – by an accident I happened to know that one merchant, made his own Lisbon. the Law you allude to was made by Pombal, [6]  but my recollection of it is not distinct enough to explain it now. it certainly had some view to his own interest – but he had always the welfare of Portugal at heart. Of all these things I am promising accurate information. – No debtor is imprisoned here. shame – shame to our laws! There is a Board of Bankruptcy, an institution perhaps of unequalled absurdity, so is it managed. any debtor who will surrender all his effects to the board receives ten per cent. it has been established about 30 years, & they have <never> made one dividend. where goes the money? there is a fund for lighting & cleaning the city. there are no lamps & no scavengers. where goes the fund?

Every officer, every soldier, after the service of a certain number of years, has a right to a pension, in itself trifling – but settled upon his family for several lives, & by court-interest easily perpetuated. here then is a growing expence. a number of Emigrants are saddled upon the court – this is a new source of waste: they even pay an Embassador from the Pretender of France. [7]  The Brazil mines made the great revenue of Portugal – but they are nearly exhausted, & return not 20 bars where they used to return 100. So much for the finances. shall I tell how they recruit their army? – The servant of an English Lady here was pressed for a soldier, confined in the gaol with twenty others for a week with no food but what their relations, if they had any, brought them; & what they could beg thro the grate. then marched with their hands tied behind them to join the regiment. Their discipline? five men last month robbed my Uncle of his hat. some of them were soldiers. an officer past by just after, enquired what was the matter, & on learning, coolly remarked, “people must live,” & walked on. Is there no white side? indeed I can scarcely se[MS obscured] it. the Portugueze are certainly getting their own trade which till lately was exclusively managed by foreigners. their soldiers & sailors have washed off one coating of dirt since they have seen so many English. But – the great colony must be seperated – it is too vigorous a branch to hang on a rotten trunk – & I may live to have as whole & finished a subject as the Historian would find in Venice.

The number of Monastics decreases. not from any dearth of laziness or fanaticism, but because the revenues are now not equal to the support of the original number. Sometimes the Monks desert. in that case the Soldiers of God & the Virgin pursue him. they took one poor fellow at work in a Garden where for three months he had been usefully employed, & enjoying freedom. In an evening ride lately, we passed a Portugueze party, as riotously loud as a company of drunken Oxonians, they had a priest with them, & in every joke we heard the name of Father Antonio. my servant told me this Father Antonio was an excellent Priest & the best Confessor in the world, nobody was better at Mass – but out of church he was the greatest fool that could be, & only invited an object of ridicule. The Priests however, not content with [MS torn] the people, seems to delight in laughing at them, & insulting their credulity. When the late King [8]  was dying, all the famous Saints in Lisbon were sent for to the Palace. & St. George was actually put into the bed with him. here is a fine soil of folly, [MS torn] plentiful crop do the Friars reap! some little good they do in return, they are good landlords, & the church lands are the only lands that are tolerably cultivated. the ruin of Spain & Portugal is the xxxx fashion that all the wealthy have of residing wholly in the metropolis, where they spend to the utmost, vex their tenants, & never pay their debts. – Portugal you say must have bad roads. it will be very difficult to make them good. in winter the very heavy rains wash away all the smaller parts & leave only the larger stones, in summer the sun dries them up & the wind sweeps the stones bare. Brentford-stones [9]  would be thought a fine road here. hence slow & little travelling, & bad inns. in country towns no bookseller! scarcely any reading anywhere. like beasts & savages the people can bear total indolence; their delight is to look into the street – put somebody to hunt their heads at the same time – & it is happiness! even in their garden walls, they have grates to look into the road. little morality in any class. in the lower scarcely the outwardness of decency. the old European custom of sleeping entirely naked is not yet disused by the servants. they are affectionate nurses & I can find out no other good quality.

I lack society sadly. the people here know much of their own business, very little of the country they live in, & nothing of any thing else – except cards. My Uncle indeed is a man of extensive knowledge, & here is one family of which the master is a man of some science, & where I can open my flood-gates. I want you & Davy & a newspaper – & bread & butter & a green field for me & the horse. it would do his old English heart as much good as it would mine. But I have ample & pleasant employment – curiosity ever on the hunt – a situation the most beautiful that I have ever seen, & a climate for which Nature seems to have destined me, only blessed be God! she dropt me the other side the Bay.

I am apprehensive that when Thalaba arrives you may not be in town, & shall therefore send it to Danvers, who if you are there, will immediately forward it. ample directions will accompany it, enough to preclude all possibility of error blunders. the occupation is pleasant but I am eager to wash my hands clean of all that could have been done in England.

By the King George I expect Alfred, [10]  & tremble for the <long> speeches, against which God knows I have pleaded at length. Remember me to George Dyer whose letter I have been expecting, & waiting for before I write to him – & to Amos Cottle. & to Robert if you know him. I should like to jump into Clyffords Inn! [11]  here are no books – & there you may walk upon literature, for I could never set my foot upon any thing else there. Ediths remembrance. farewell. yrs.

R. Southey.

Of the Beguinages I will say something to the purpose a month hence [12] 


* Address: To/ Mr John Rickman/ 33 Southampton Buildings/ Holburn/ London/ Single
Postmark: FOREIGN OFFICE/ SE/ 19/ 1800
Endorsement: Augst. 21./ 1800
MS: Huntington Library, RS 8. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 103–107 [in part; misdated 22 August 1800]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 105–107 [in part; misdated 22 August 1800]. BACK

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

[2] Southey’s proposed ‘literary history’ of Spain and Portugal. This was never completed. BACK

[3] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

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

[5] Southey finally received £115 for 1,000 octavo copies of Thalaba. BACK

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

[7] Louis ‘XVIII’, Comte de Provence (1755–1824; King of France 1814–1824). BACK

[8] Jose (1714–1777; King of Portugal 1750–1777). BACK

[9] The main road from London to the West Country passed through the High Street of Brentford in Middlesex. Southey would have travelled this route many times. BACK

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

[11] Cliffords Inn passage, off Fleet Street, London. BACK

[12] Of the …. hence: Written upside down at the top of fol. 1 r. Rickman’s scheme was for groups of poor single women to live and work together, on the model of religious communities in the Low Countries. BACK

People mentioned

Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 2 times)
Dyer, George (1755–1841) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle family (mentioned 1 time)
Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 2 times)


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