552. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [27 October 1800]

552. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [27 October 1800] ⁠* 

My dear Danvers

I have written five Letters to my Mother. the last might not have arrived when you wrote – but four she ought then to have received. I have not neglected her, & hope that both she & you rather suspected the fault to be in the post offices than in me. The circumstance of your receiving a letter a fortnight later than those which were written by the same packet is an instance of their irregularity. moreover my Uncle is fond of writing by private hands – & as he usually dispatches my letters from Lisbon, some may have miscarried by this insecure conveyance.

The parcel has not reached me, but I believe it is lying at Lisbon. I expect Alfred [1]  with that uneasiness & half self-shame that a man always feels at the errors of a friend. a pamphlet – a common volume is launched quietly, & sinks into the pool of oblivion without raising one bubble, or agitating the surface with one circle. but when a quarto splashes in! – Cottle has written to me – & tells me his brother Amos is in a consumption – a disease which I fear will be fatal to the family. A Chaplain of the Prince of Wales, by name Clarke, has announced a history intitled The Progress of Naval Discovery. [2]  he writes a letter to his booksellers Cadell & Davies, [3]  containing certain queries which he desires they will send to any literary man whom they may know, at present in Portugal – & they have dispatched it to me with the mans Prospectus. Now this is uncivilly done. If the Prince of Wales’s chaplain wants me to rummage Lisbon for him, he ought to have written himself, when his booksellers had discovered that I was here. besides he is a palpable Puppy, by his prospectus which is full of cant about patronage & his Maecenas [4]  – & embellishments. & the questions he has sent about Portugal are betray a miserable ignorance, & what are not ignorant – are childish. however if he understands navigation & geography, that is what his work wants, & the book will be useful & indeed necessary. I shall therefore consider the work & not the workman, & do every thing for him which is to be done.

We leave Cintra tomorrow, & the exceeding inconvenience of having no books but what I send eighteen miles for, makes me leave it without reluctance. Portugueze scenery suffers less than our colder country by winter; the Cork keeps thro the year its foliage – the olive also – the firs, the orange & lemon trees; the laurel of this country, & the arbutus are all evergreens, I know not whether the mixture of grey boughs among the evergreen woods be not rather a beauty than a winter-scene of nakedness. besides the hills that are brown-burnt in the summer have now a somewhat of grassiness to the eye – & the great aloe is of unchanging magnificence. we lose less than we gain by having an endurable sun, & weather for walking. – Yesterday we went nine miles to see fishermen walk up & down an almost perpendicular rock. one false step & down they go to be shattered upon the rocks or drowned – & yet they scramble for who shall do it – & we went two hours ride for the sake of seeing them & finding ourselves in a most uncomfortable state of apprehension. the rock is shelving & rough – they went bare footed, & fast by the help of hands & that part which is usually of more use in rest than in motion – Kangaroos indeed use their tails also in walking as you may remember. near this place the rock is perforated I know not how. but we lay down & saw a monstrous pit into which the rushing sea smoked up. it was a shuddering feeling – our man called upon Jesu Maria – & crossed himself.

The Indian corn is now drying by every house in yellow & sunshiny patches. the husks of the vintage are also exposed, & the women sifting it to lay by for the porks in winter. they tread the corn by oxen here – on a round pavement like that at Keynsham where the Woad is crushed. – I am planning a ten days ramble northward, with a young man whose sister is married to young Protheroe in Park Row. [5]  his name Waterhouse. [6]  I wish he were a Jacobine but he is intelligent, & diffident, & one whose manners I should have liked any where, so that in Portugal he is a very acceptable companion. but as he is lame & I think of trying Edith this trip (where we <shall> rest almost every other night in private houses) – I shall fancy myself quite a man of war in this convoy. our object is to see Batalha & Alcobaca – the two finest monasteries in Portugal – both historical ground. & I have business with a M.SS. at Thomar [7]  – a collection of very early Poems, collected by King Diniz. [8]  xx there is a Frenchman resident in the town [9]  who is one of the cleverest men in Portugal & will probably be useful to me. & I know the language well enough to speak fluently upon any subject whatever. grammatical accuracy I care little for – if a word be not ready I make one, & never fail to be understood.

There are two methods of avoiding military service in this country – by marrying – or by turning Monk. many motives contribute to fill the monasteries – the service of God is easier than military duty, & a fellow boldly defies the World the Flesh & the Devil – who would be confoundedly afraid of the French & Spaniards. besides it is easier to pray than to work, & the Friars are always well fed. abolish these begging orders, the sink of all the idle vagabonds in the kingdom, & the landed Communities will be less absurd & more useful than our Universities. they feed the poor, so as to prevent all poor-rates: they are the only Landlords under whom a man can venture to improve his estate, because not being embarrassed they are not eternally racking their tenants like the nobles. allow them the liberty of coming out & marrying – you have our colleges – with this advantage [MS torn]t the youth of the kingdom is not sent there – to learn nothing. Every convent dresses food daily for the beggars, & all at the same hour to prevent the same person from feeding at both <more than one>. but this precaution is ineffectual – they know the difference of clocks to a minute & eat full-gallop that they [MS torn] arrive in time at a second course. These landed orders are supplied from the aristocracy – younger sons, who would in England be quartered upon the public in the shape of placemen, xx who would there strut in regimentals, xxx enter these convents. with you they are mischievous – here they are only useless. moreover they are now of the same use here that the Monasteries were in England 300 years ago: they have the only libraries, & preserve books tho they do not use them. – The Friars will not stand in the way of revolution whenever the hour arrives. witness France. the secular priests there have been troublesome in La Vendee, [10]  & often & the greater part – have emigrated, but the Friars & Nuns fell quietly into the ranks of society. very very few attempted to emigrate. a Portugueze of family had <professed> in a nunnery in France. her brother on hearing of the dissolution of the monasteries procured her a situation here in a nunnery, & wrote for her to come immediately. she replied she was very much obliged to him – but she was married.

A dog said to be mad passed thro Cintra two days ago & bit almost every dog in the town. I told the Boy to take care of ours – lest he should be bit. Sir, said he, there is no danger now, the dogs have all been blest & burnt with the Iron of St Quiteria [11]  on the forehead <nose>: a precious security! holy water & the iron of St Quiteria to save us from the hydrophobia. – you will perhaps be amused at the name of our dog – the servants heard me call him poor fellow, & he goes by that name – or rather as they pronounce it Boo fellow. from a similar circumstance the dog of an Englishman here got the name of “Come along.” – I forgot to add that if a man is bit he must be burnt with this iron in the hand. the original iron is in possession of a nobleman but fac-similes that have been blest partake the virtue. – The Yellow Fever has spent itself at Cadiz. of 63,000 Inhabitants (for 17,000 fled in time) 4,000 <only> have escaped the contagion – 8000 have died, the rest have recovered. It spreads in the province & rages more violently at Seville that it had ever done at Cadiz. the gates of Cadiz are now shut to keep out the contagion. An Englishman writes from Xeres that his wife & children & all his servants are in the disease – he can get no assistance whatever – no one will come near them – he attends upon all – & hourly expects to be attacked with it himself. In Turkey you are never thus abandoned. their fearless superstition palliates the evil that it spreads.

God bless you – our love to Mrs Danvers

yrs affectionately



* Address: To/ Mr Danvers
Endorsement: Book 9/ // note 14 –/ line 478/ The gnawing of his 100 poison mouths [Another hand adds marginal note: ‘From Thalaba.’ Editors note: The note to Thalaba (1801) described in the endorsement refers to Muslim beliefs about the punishment of the wicked after death. It is taken from George Sale, The Koran commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed, Translated into English Immediately From the Original Arabic; with Explanatory Notes, Taken From the Most Approved Commentators. To which is Prefixed a Preliminary Discourse (1734), p. 76].
MS: British Library, Add MS 30928. 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. 129–132 [where it is dated [27? October 1800]].
Dating note: Dated from internal evidence, especially Southey’s reference to his intention to leave Sintra the following day. The Southeys left Sintra on 28 October 1800. BACK

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

[2] James Stanier Clarke (1765–1834; DNB), clergyman, social climber, domestic chaplain to George IV (1762–1830; Prince Regent 1810–1820; reigned 1820–1830) and author of The Progress of Maritime Discovery (1803). BACK

[3] The London booksellers and publishers Thomas Cadell Jnr and William Davies (d. 1820). BACK

[4] Gaius Maecenas (70–8 BC), famous patron of the arts. BACK

[5] An unidentified member of the wealthy Protheroe family of Bristol, bankers and West Indian merchants. BACK

[6] Samuel Waterhouse (dates unknown), an English merchant in Lisbon. BACK

[7] Tomar is the location of a 12th-century castle which contains the Convent of Christ. BACK

[8] Diniz (1261–1325; King of Portugal 1279–1325). Southey was unable to find the manuscript he was seeking at Tomar. BACK

[9] Timoteo Lecussan Verdier (1754–1831), Portuguese man of letters and mill-owner, he was of French parentage. BACK

[10] The Vendée area of western France was a centre of anti-Revolutionary revolt in 1793–1796. BACK

[11] St Quiteria: 5th-century virgin and martyr. In legend, she held two rabid dogs at bay with the sanctity of her voice, so she was invoked as a protector against rabies. BACK

People mentioned

Cadell, Thomas (1773–1836) (mentioned 2 times)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 2 times)