581. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 13 May 1801

581. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 13 May 1801 ⁠* 

My dear Danvers

It was not my intention to have written to you by this packet – but my Uncle has this moment put this draft for my mother into my hand, & desired me to inclose it to you. he will send more as soon as he can. – One of the many pleasant circumstances attending my mothers residence with her sister, is that her letters are all in danger of being read.

Waterhouse [1]  will carry this to England. I shall miss him much, we have been fellow travellers for above six weeks at different times, & he has usually dined with me twice a week. I have sent in his trunk a few books, for the convenience of having them smuggled, & out of the way. The French are near the frontiers – perhaps past them, & I am with the utmost tranquillity waiting the event. [2]  according to my politics it will soon end in a peace, purchased by Portugal on the condition of shutting her ports against England & we shall receive our dismissal either from this government – or from a French proclamation. Self will come into all speculations – this will make my Uncle remove to England & also give me a motive which there will be no withstanding, to return home. Else I am so fastened here among folios & papers, books & booksellers. so bribed by oranges & sunshine, & magnetized so strongly by Cintra – that God knows when I should be able to resolve upon being seasick. – Edith wishes to move homeward – my Uncle wishes me to stay. I heartily wish myself in England & yet am too well employed & too comfortable here to let the encounter a voyage willingly. Whenever I return I shall daily feel that some source of information is become inaccessible, & that those documents which are now within an hours walk – wer are at an unreachable distance.

You would be astonished at the tranquillity of this city – which is literally at the mercy of the French. Tis the old fable of the Boy & the Wolf – & the Wolf is coming at last. [3]  An expulsion will not only determine my return but quite reconcile me to it – I shall no longer have any cause of self reproach for leaving these libraries & archives – when I could not remain with them.

Why has not my Mother written to give us news of Tom? we fully expected some account by the Packet that followed the news of his being wounded. [4] 

A very short time must determine our destiny – perhaps a few days – a few weeks certainly. We shall probably see your primrose tree in blossom – for strawberries & cream at Ashton – patience till next year. – & you must correct the title page of Thalaba, for which however I sent unmistakeable directions. I could willingly ask a few questions how it goes on – & when will it be out – , & I am somewhat vexed that the Letter was lost in which you acknowledged the receipt of the last splice – as you probably said whether to your taste it was spliced well or not.

I have no time to fill my sheet – if the French do not come I must I believe make up one great – brave resolution – like that of having a tooth drawn. I am literally like the syllogism – ass between two bundles of hay [5]  – so very desirous of being in England, & so exceedingly happy where I am – that I can not then know not whether to go or stay. meantime all my supplies of letters are cut off. no body writes in expectation of my return. Summer is come – & I am sure of a long passage – from a fortnight to three weeks. Oh my poor inside! this voyage Danvers is like death – one goes & another goes & we who stay on shore pity them with the true & self-originating pity – because it is what we must all come to!

God bless you & your mother. We talk of you daily & almost hourly – & we shall doubtless soon see you. Edith is not well. we are unhappily like Jack Sprat & his wife. [6]  she cannot bear heat & I cannot bear cold.

I shall arrive at Bristol something like Noah [7]  if I remove my whole family – now consisting of a cat & a dog & a turtle & a tortoise. The last little gentleman I caught in Algarve, & he is to live in your garden – in order that we may learn thro history of his mode of life.

yrs truly

Robert Southey.

Wednesday May 13. 1801.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers/ 9. St James’s Place/ Kingsdown/ Bristol
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Samuel Waterhouse (dates unknown), later a prominent figure in the British community in Portugal. BACK

[2] Spain had declared war on Portugal on 27 February 1801 and a Spanish invasion, in co-operation with France, was widely expected. BACK

[3] The boy who cried wolf, a fable attributed to Aesop. BACK

[4] A British fleet had destroyed the Danish fleet at Copenhagen on 2 April 1801. Tom Southey was a Lieutenant on the Beltona in this action, and listed as wounded, e.g. in Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 19 April 1801. BACK

[5] The syllogism usually known as Buridan’s ass after the French philosopher, Jean Buridan (c. 1295-1358), placed the ass equally between a stack of hay and a pail of water, between which it was unable to choose, being both hungry and thirsty. BACK

[6] The English nursery rhyme, ‘Jack Sprat could eat no fat/His wife could eat no lean’. BACK

[7] A reference to Noah’s ark in which two of every kind of animal were saved from the flood, Genesis 6-9. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)