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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 1: 1791-1797, Edited By Lynda Pratt

151. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23–27 April 1796 ⁠* 

Lisbon. Satur. Apr. 23. 1796

It depends upon Capt. Benjamin Norwood [1]  of the Swift of New York — bound from this port to Hull — whether or no I shall breakfast with you ten days after the receipt of this. if he lands me at the Isle of Wight I shall of course take the shortest road to Bristol. if at Dover or Ramsgate my way lies thro London. I shall in that case sleep there one night. breakfast with you — see Bedford — & get into the mail on the next evening. we sail on Wednesday or Thursday next. so that if the weather be tolerably favourable I shall not be long after my letter. — of Joan of Arc the accounts are more favourable than I expected. the aristocrats are as much pleased as the democrats — & some of them of the most intolerant order — have even thankd me by proxy for the pleasure they derived from it. as it is most probable a second edition will soon be wanted — do you turn public accuser & bring all obnoxious passages before the revolutionary tribunal of my writing desk. I will engage to condemn a great many — tho you must not be surprized if a few favourites should be spared.

The Marq. Pombal [2]  displaced the Franciscans from Mafra because they impoverishd the country, & gave that superb convent to the regular Canons of St Austin who could support themselves by their own revenues. the Confessor of the present Prince of Brazil [3]  is a Franciscan, & he assured this sapient sprig of royalty, that he would never have a child till the Franciscans were reestablished in Mafra. the Prince had faith — & in nine months after his marriage an heir was born — no doubt by miraculous assistance. Antonio Francisco Caetano Christofero. these the four first names of the young Prince of Beira [4]  were chosen by his father for their mystical signification. Antony he is called in honour of the tutelary Saint of Lisbon. Francisco in grateful acknowledgement of that saints assistance — & Caetano because the Confessor who gave him that advice respecting Mafra & so enabled him to be a father, bore that name. but of Christofer nobody could discover the secret wisdom. somebody however asked the Prince — admiring the wisdom that had directed his choice of the other — & begging an explanation of this. ah — said his Serene Highness — you cant find out the meaning of Christofer! — why it was upon St Christoffers day that I first thought of having a child. this anecdote is literally true. is it not strange that the reigning Sovereigns of Europe should be so very despicable? & that the rising generation of Princes should be worse than their parents? such pillars will but ill prop the tottering temple of royalty.

what you say of repeated attacks upon the Kings life [5]  surprizes me. I have always laughed at the stories. for in the first place I believe there are no men in England who {wicked enough to} entertain so black a design — xx if they were atrocious enough to intend assassination — fools enough to attempt it so clumsily. I have been inclined to think with many others that William Pitt [6]  might have had the marble & the stones flung at the Kings coach — in order so to alarm the people that they might gladly submit to any of his measures. [7]  I am inclined to adopt this opinion because it is less improbable than that a regular system should be formed of killing the King. —

the Poetry of Spain & Portugal wants taste, & generally, feeling. I should have thought Camoens [8]  deficient in feelings if I had only read his Lusiad — but the Sonnets of Camoens are very beautiful. those given by Hayley in his notes to the Essay on Epic P. [9]  tho among the best are but a wretched specimen to the English reader. the translations are detestable — & the originals so printed as to be unintelligible. I bought some ballads in Spain in remembrance of Rio Verde [10]  — but they prove bad enough. but six months after my return I will tell you more. of Hanbury [11]  I knew nothing but that he was the victim of his own irregularities as well as his friend Harvey [12]  whom I saw. of Spanish society I saw nothing good, tho I had letters to Cornide [13]  one of their luminaries — as stupid a fellow as ever eat college commons. I should perhaps have had a better opinion of it if Gimbernatts [14]  letter had arrived in time — that is if I had delivered it & I should have had some scruples of conscience upon that head — as on the one hand I should have thought it right to deliver a letter entrusted to me, & on the other had but little ambition of appearing as the luminary of Great Britain & the greatest Poet Politician & Philosopher of the present day!!! & all this upon second hand knowledge too — for Gimbernatt & I never met tho we lived in the same circle.

Dr Aikin wrote the critique on Joan in the Analytical R. [15]  so my letters tell me. who was my friend in the Critical I have not heard. — you talk of nine hours daily study — I could like less — & yet would undertake more. the day will never be less than fifteen — so that six will still be my own. but must those nine hours be spent {all} from home? or do you allow a certain portion of them to the comfortable study. in a great chair by the fire side? of all this when we meet. — poor Bunbury! of all professions what could make {him} chuse the army? after all your hum-drum plodding fellows stand the best chance in the world. imagination is a kind of mettled horse that will most probably break the riders neck when a donkey would have carried slow & sure to the end of the journey. if I should ever be a father I shall find little time for any thing but the education of my children, what might Bunbury have been at this {day. &} if his heart had {not} been so early corrupted! rather xxxxld xxxxxxxxxxx his life — with such abilities? Radji [16]  is the son of an Arabian woman & an Italian Physician settled at Bagdat. he was sent when about fifteen to his Uncle at Bombay — but his Uncle kept two or three black mistresses, & lived so dissolutely as to disgust Radji — for he had had a religious education. the boy ran away & entered on board a ship. he was as little pleased with the morality of a sailors life, & when the vessel entered Lisbon — he took his cloaths — left his pay behind him, & went for shelter to the English college. the singularity of the boys story & the uncommon simplicity & goodness of his character made him friends — & tho the Portuguese noblemen who promised to protect him — neglected it with their usual sincerity — an English student took care of him, & procured him among other friends the patronage of the Grand Inquisitor. How are those chaps? — said he one day speaking of two English Protestants here. they are fine looking chaps — but they are like all you English — they think about eating & drinking but I believe they don’t think much about saving their souls. why do’nt you talk to them about their souls — & convert them? if I lived with them as much as you do I should talk of nothing else. do you pray for them Radji — said Bramstone [17]  — yes — replied the boy — I have never neglected that & I never will. — is not this a singular story? he will be made a priest — & live useless & happy.

Wed. Apr 27th. I cannot yet learn whether we go tomorrow Friday or Saturday. where we land is equally uncertain — but if the sea runs high when the boats come out I shall certainly go on to Hull. I have two children under my care.

I have no time to proceed as we dine out & I have the pleasant job of dropping cards TTL.

did Bedford shew you the fable of Dapple playing the flute? [18] 

Why shall I be like a pigeon when I land?

there is a little fellow here whose equestrian exploits would make [MS torn] good third volume for Bunburys Gambadoniana. [19]  sometimes his [MS torn] chuses to leap — then he either leaves his rider behind [MS torn] him over first. one day he rode out with a Lady [MS torn] stranger to the country. off went his horse — & the poor {woman} was left at a cross road unable to enquire her way. ignor[MS torn] where he went — & obliged to wait there till the horse chose to come back again. once the horse chose to look over a high wall & claps his fore legs on the top of it — the rider bellowing most manfully all the while. once he threw the little man over his head — & he alighted on his legs in direct opposition to the law of gravitation.




* Address: Charles Watkin Williams Wynn Esqr/ No 5 Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmark: [partial] MA/ 13
Watermark: Crest/ J LARKING
Endorsement: Southey April 23 1796
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections From the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 25–29 [in part]. BACK

[1] Benjamin Norwood (dates unknown), Master of the ship that took Southey home from Portugal in 1796. BACK

[2] Sebastiao José de Carvalho E Melo, Marquis of Pombal (1699–1782), chief minister (and effective ruler) of Portugal under King José I (1714–1777; reigned 1750–1777). BACK

[3] The title given to the heir to the throne of Portugal. In 1796 it was held by John (1767–1826), the future John VI. BACK

[4] The title given to the second-in-line to the Portuguese throne. In 1796 it was held by Francisco António (1795–1801), eldest son of John, Prince of Brazil. BACK

[5] Attempts to assassinate George III (1738–1820; reigned 1760–1820). BACK

[6] The Prime Minister William Pitt, the Younger (1759–1806; DNB). BACK

[7] The stoning of the royal coach on 29 October 1795 provided the pretext for the government’s ‘Two Acts’ to suppress radical activity. BACK

[8] Luis Vaz de Camoëns (c. 1524–1580), author of The Lusiad (1572). BACK

[9] William Hayley (1745–1820; DNB), An Essay on Epic Poetry (London, 1782), pp. 272-277. BACK

[10] An old English ballad, see Thomas Percy (1729–1811: DNB), Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 2nd edn, 3 vols (London, 1767), I, pp. 335–342. BACK

[11] Possibly a reference to John Hanbury (1775–1796), a contemporary of Southey’s at Oxford (matric. 1792). BACK

[12] Possibly a reference to John Augustus Hervey, Lord Hervey (1757–1796). BACK

[13] Joseph Cornide de Saavedra (1737–1803), a member of the Royal Academy of History. BACK

[14] Either the Spanish geologist Carlos de Gimbernat (1768–1834), or (though less likely) his father, the physician Antonio de Gimbernat (1734–1816). BACK

[15] Analytical Review, 23 (February 1796), 170–177. BACK

[16] A revised version of the account of Radji appeared in Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[17] Bramstone (first name and dates unknown), an English convert to Catholicism who was studying at the Irish College in Lisbon. BACK

[18] Southey had sent a translation of Tomás de Iriarte (1750–1791), ‘El Burro Flaustista’ to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [December 1795–] 20 February [1796], (Letter 145). Bedford’s nickname was Dapple, probably a reference to the ass in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616), Don Quixote (1605–1615). BACK

[19] A reference to the satirical prints of horse riders and their antics produced by Henry William Bunbury (1750–1811; DNB), under the pseudonym Geoffrey Gambado, such as Hints to Bad Horsemen (1781), and An Academy for Grown Horsemen (1787). BACK

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March 2009