554. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [c. 29-31] October 1800

554. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [c. 29–31] October 1800 ⁠* 

Oct. 1800

My dear Rickman

At last the opportunity is arrived of sending my important parcel. [1]  my private instructions must be vague – to make the best bargain you can – & on no terms to sell the copy-right. a quarto edition of 500 is worth £100. 1000 of the small size should produce something more.  [2]  Longman will probably offer to advance the expence of publishing & share the profits. this is not fair, as brains ought to bear a higher interest than money. If you are not satisfied with his terms offer it to Arch [3]  in Gracechurch Street. or to Philips [4]  of the Monthly Magazine, a man who can afford to pay a good price because he can advertize & puff his own property every month. the sale of the book is not doubtful. my name would carry it thro an edition, tho it were worthless. Perhaps the fate of Alfred the Long [5]  may have intimidated Longman & sickened him of poetry & Bristol. stipulate for at least twelve copies for the author.

In literature, as in the playthings of school-boys & the frippery of women there are the ins & outs of fashion. sonnets & satires & essays have their day – & my Joan of Arc [6]  has revived the epomania that Boileau [7]  cured the French of 120 years ago. but it is not every one who can shoot in the bow of Ulysses, [8]  & the gentlemen who think they can bend the Bow because I made the string twang will find themselves somewhat disappointed. Whenever that Poem requires a new edition I think – not of correcting it – the ore deserves not to be new cast: but of prefixing an fair estimate of its merits & defects.

I can now explain to you the whole state of the paper-money – if you can have patience to receive information in the scrip-scrap way that I receive & communicate. on issuing it six per cent interest was promised – & this interest they still profess to pay, but whoever applies for it is sure to be wearied out with the eternal evasion that it is not his turn – there are older bills – & prior applicants. In paying any sum half may be tendered in paper. but the smallest bills of half a moidore are very scarce. the more current are of thirty shillings value (five milreas). They pay their officers &c wholly in paper. of course this paper must be sold at the discount – a loss of twenty per cent – where then half-paper is tendered it is at par. whole payments are at the discount. But as this is variable & never for the better, every one puts a higher price upon his goods as the insurance for the risque of loss.

Forged Bills have already been imported from England. The wise financiers of this country are about to adopt another measure. to call in their copper new coin it & issue the ten-rea piece for twenty – at double its value. meantime a clumsy agriculture renders all provision scarce – & a hungry foreign soldiery are ready to pay any price – when the People of England discharge the bills. We expect the wise Expeditions here daily [9]  – the 15000 men who are now dieting upon a short allowance of salt beef for the scurvy. literally true! we have letters of lamentations! – moreover we are threatened from England with five thousand Dutch troops. a pleasant addition to society. when I tell you that thro the summer nine shillings have been paid at Cintra for the daily keep of a horse – after all allowances for tavern-extortion you will see the scarcity & dearness of fodder. The expences of our troops when they first arrived – are now for the same number of men, in the proportion of 4 to 9. more than doubled. this is roguery for the price of provisions is not doubled quite, nor of any article.

Foreign Jews are tolerated in Lisbon – that it is they are in no danger from the Inquisition, tho forbidden to exercise the ceremonials of their faith. the intercourse with Barbary brings a few Moors here – so that the devout Portugueze are accustomed to the sight of Turks – Jews – & Heretics. you remember Davys story of the Cornishmans remark when his master said, now John we are in Devonshire. – “I don’t see but the Pigs have got tails the same as along o we.” if the nations here have sense enough to make a similar inference, they will be one degree wiser than their forefathers. Lisbon grows. many a cornfield in which I have walked five years ago is now covered with houses; – this is a short-lived increase of population – a fine February day. for the English tenant these habitations, & when the army shall be recalled the houses will be desolate. but the city exhibits an unequivocal sign of recovering industry & opulence. the gaps in the new streets that have stood vacant since the disgrace of Pombal, [10]  are now filled up or filling. these are not rests for passage-birds. but large & magnificent houses for the merchants. But Commerce will for a long while be as in America – a sordid – selfish – money-getting drudgery, encouraging no art, & ignorant of every science. it is not genius that is wanted in Portugal. genius exists every where, but encouragement or the hope of encouragement must waken it to action, & here no ambition can exist – except the desire of place & court-pageantry. a man of letters – a philosopher would starve here. a fine singer & a female dancer are followed as in London. tis almost reason enough to prescribe music from a commonwealth – that Despotism encourages no other science. the idiot <ass> Kings of Europe seem are always showing there is. The Italian Opera is in my mind not only high treason against common sense, but mischievous in its effects. nothing is attended to but the music – the drama is simply a substratum for the tune. & the mind lies fallow while the sensual ear is gratified. the encouragement of a national theatre may call up talents that shall confer honour upon the nation.

My first publication will probably be the literary part of the history [11]  – which is too important to be treated of in an appendix or in seperate & interrupting chapters. Lisbon is rich in the books which suit my purpose – but I alas! am not rich – & endure somewhat of the tortures of Tantalus. [12]  the public Library [13]  is indeed far more accessible than our Museums &c in England. but the books are under wire cases, & the freedom of research is miserably shackled by the necessity of asking the Librarian for every volume you wish to consult. to hunt a subject thro a series of authors is thus rendered almost impossible. – the Academy [14]  however have much facilitated my labour by publishing many of their old chronicles in a buyable shape – & also the old laws of Portugal. – There is a Frenchman here [15]  busy upon the history of Brazil – his materials are excellent & he is indefatigable. but I am apprehensive for his [MS torn] – even if his person should escape. the ministry know what he is abo[Ms torn] & you need not be told with what an absurd secresy they secrete from the world all information respecting that country. – the population of Brazil is said to double that of the mother & now dependant country. So heavy a branch cannot long remain upon so rotten a trunk.

God bless you. write to me. Ediths remembrance –

yrs truly

R Southey.

What money you may get for Thalaba remit to John May. Richmond Green. Surry. write  it must bring me 100 guineas – to apprentice my brother Harry with a surgeon – Poor Amos Cottle! [16] 


* Address: To/ Mr John Rickman
Endorsements: Oct: 1800.; Oct. 1800
MS: Huntington Library, RS 10. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 121–124 [in part; dated ‘October 1800’]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 137–139 [in part; dated [30–31] October 1800].
Dating note: This letter was written very shortly after Southey returned to Lisbon on 28 October 1800. BACK

[1] The manuscript of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[2] Southey received £115 for 1,000 octavo copies of Thalaba the Destroyer from Longman and Rees. BACK

[3] John and Arthur Arch (fl. 1792–1838), publishers, booksellers and stationers, whose premises were at this time at 23 Gracechurch St, London. BACK

[4] Richard Phillips (1767–1840; DNB). BACK

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

[6] Robert Southey, Joan of Arc (1796), with a revised second edition published in 1798. BACK

[7] Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux (1636–1711), L’Art Poetique (1674). BACK

[8] In Homer’s Odyssey, when Ulysses returned home, only he, not any of his wife’s suitors, could draw his bow. BACK

[9] The British Army had sent an expeditionary force to Holland in 1799. In 1800 there were rumours it would land in Portugal. However, the next destination for a British Army was Egypt in 1801. BACK

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

[11] Southey never completed his proposed ‘literary history’ of Spain and Portugal. BACK

[12] In Greek mythology, Tantalus was condemned to a fate whereby food and water were always within reach, but receded whenever he wished to eat or drink. BACK

[13] The Real Biblioteca Publica da Corte, established in 1796. It inherited many works collected by the Jesuits before their expulsion from Portugal in 1759, and in 1797 acquired the records of the Inquisition. BACK

[14] Either the Royal Academy of Portuguese History, founded in 1720, or Royal Academy of Sciences, founded in 1779. BACK

[15] Abbé Du Boys (dates unknown). BACK

[16] Amos Cottle had died on 28 September 1800. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)


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