533. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey [fragment], 22 June 1800 

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533. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey [fragment], 22 June 1800 ⁠* 

June 22. 1800.

My dear Tom,

We are just returned from a bull-feast, and I write to you while the feelings occasioned by this spectacle are fresh. I had never before seen one. The buffoonery of teazing bullocks at Madrid was rather foolish than cruel, and its extreme folly excited laughter, as much at the spectators as the thing itself. This is widely different. The handbill was pompous: – ‘Antonio de Cordeiro, who had so distinguished himself last year, was again to perform. The entertainment would deserve the approbation of a generous public. Ten bulls were to be killed, four to be tormented; they were picked bulls, of the Marquis de ––’s breed (I forget his name), and chosen out for their courage and ferocity.’ Yesterday the bull-fighters paraded the streets, as you may have seen rope-dancers and the ‘equestrian troop’ at Bristol fair; they were strangely disfigured with masques; one fellow had a paunch and a Punch-hump-back, and all were dressed in true tawdry style. Hot weather is always the season, and Sunday always the day, the amusement being cool and devout! At half after four it began: the hero was on horseback, and half a dozen men on foot to assist him; about ten more sat with pitchforks to defend themselves, ready when wanted: the bulls were all in the area till the amusement opened; they were not large, and not the same breed as in England; they had more the face of the cow than the short sulky look of gentlemen, – quiet, harmless animals, whom a child might safely have played with, and a woman would have been ashamed to fear. So much for their ferocity! Courage, indeed, they possessed; they attacked only in self-defence, and you would, like me, have been angry to see a fellow with a spear, provoking a bull whose horns were tipt with large balls, the brave beast, all bleeding with wounds, still facing him with reluctant resistance: once I saw crackers stuck into his neck to irritate him, and heard them burst in his wounds; you will not wonder that I gave the Portuguese a hearty and honest English curse. It is not an affair of courage; the horse is trained, the bull’s horns muffled, and half a dozen fellows, each ready to assist the other, and each with a cloak, on which the poor animal wastes his anger: they have the rails to leap over, also, and they know that when they drop the cloak he aims always at that; there is, therefore, little danger of a bruise, and none of anything else. The amusement is, therefore, as cowardly as cruel. I saw nine killed; the first wound sickened Edith, and my own eyes were not always fixed upon the area. My curiosity was not, perhaps, strictly excusable, but the pain which I endured was assuredly penalty enough. The fiercest of the whole was one of the four who were only tormented; two fellows on asses attacked him with goads, and he knocked them over and over with much spirit; two more came on, standing each in the middle of a painted horse, ridiculously enough – and I fancy those fellows will remember him for the next fortnight whenever they turn in bed – and their sham horses were broken to pieces. Three dogs were loosed at another bull, and effectually sickened. I hate bull-dogs; they are a surly, vicious breed, ever ready to attack, mischievous and malicious enough to deserve parliamentary praise from Mr. Wyndham and Mr. Canning. [1]  A large theatre was completely full; men, women, and children were clapping their hands at every wound, and watching with delight the struggles of the dying beasts. It is a damnable sport! and much to the honour of the English here they all dislike it – very rarely does an Englishman or Englishwoman witness it a second time.

You will find in Thalaba one accurate image which I observed this evening: a death-sweat darkening the dun hide of the animal. [2]  This amusement must have mischievous effects; it makes cruelty familiar: and as for the assertion, that bull-baiting, or bull-butchering, keeps up the courage of the nation, only Wyndham and Canning could have been absurd enough and unfeeling enough to believe it; – if it were true, the Spaniards ought to be the bravest nation in the world, because their amusement is the most cruel; and a butcher ought to make the best soldier.

On Thursday we go to Cintra; this, therefore, will be my last letter of Lisbon anecdote. In Africa a Portuguese saw an ouran-outang, the most human beast that has yet been discovered, walking quietly with a stick in his hand; he had the wickedness to shoot him, and was not, as he ought to have been, hung for wilful murder. The head and hands were sent here; I have seen them in the Museum, in spirits. I have seen many an uglier fellow pass for a man, in spite of the definition that makes him a reasoning animal: he has eyebrows, and a woolly head, almost like a negro’s, but the face not black.

Fielding [3]  died and was buried here. By a singular fatality, four attempts have been made to erect a monument, and all have miscarried. A Frenchman set on foot a subscription for this purpose, and many of the factory engaged for one, two, or three moidores; circumstances took him from Lisbon, and this dropped. Another Frenchman had a monument made at his own expense, and paid for it; there was a fine French inscription, that, as his own countrymen had never given the great Fielding a monument, it was reserved for a Frenchman to honour his country by paying that respect to genius: he also went away, and is now following the French Pretender; [4]  and his monument lies among masonry and rubbish, where I have sought for it in vain. Then De Visme [5]  undertook the affair; and the bust of Fielding, designed for this purpose, is still in the house which belonged to him here. I know not what made this scheme abortive. Last, the Prince of Brazil [6]  went to work, and the monument was made. The Lady Abbess of the New Convent [7]  wished to see it; it was sent to her; she took a fancy to it, and there it has remained ever since: and Fielding is still without a monument.

De Visme introduced the present fashion of painting rooms in stucco, with landscapes on the walls, and borders of flowers or arabesque; the fashion is, I believe, Italian. The workmen whom he employed had taste enough to be pleased with it, and it is general in all new houses. The ceilings are now painted; thus, instead of the huge layer of boards which was usual, nothing can look more cool, or be more convenient, for a cloth and soap cleans it.

In the larger old houses, here and in Spain, in the country, there is usually a room with no windows, but, instead, arches quite open to the air; the appearance is strange and picturesque, and I should esteem it one of the inconveniences of Lisbon, that the intolerable dust prevents the enjoyment of these open rooms there – the dust is a huge evil.           .           .          .

.          .           .          .          .           .         We had the hot wind for three days this week; a detestable burning blast, a bastard sort of siroc, tamed by crossing the sea and the land, but which parches the lips, and torments you with the Tantalus plague of fanning your cheek and heating it at the same time. The sea breeze is, on the other hand, as delightful: we feel it immediately; it cools the air, and freshens up all our languid feelings. In the West Indies they call this wind the doctor – a good seamanly phrase for its healing and comfortable effect.

At the time the aqueduct was built, a large reservoir was made for its waste water. In winter, much water runs to waste; in summer, more is wanted, and the watermen wait a long time round the fountain before they can in turn fill their barrels: but these people, in building the reservoir, never calculated the weight of the water till the building was finished, – so it stands still uncovered, a useless pile, and a rare monument of the national science. I saw a funeral from the country pass the window at night, the attendants holding torches, and the body in the trunk coffin carried upon a litter (that is, like a sedan chair carried by mules instead of men).

The servants here, in marketing, think it a part of their fair profits to cheat you as much as they can, and have no idea that this is dishonesty; it is a sort of commission they think they are entitled to. This is so much the case, that one of these fellows, when he was stipulating about wages, thought them too little, and inquired if he was to go to market; he was told yes, and then he said he would come.           .           .          .           .           .          .           .           .          .

The Queen’s stables serve as an asylum. Rogues and murderers go there and do the work for nothing; they are safe by this means, and the people, whose business it is to hire and pay the servants, pocket the money, so that they infest the neighbourhood: they quarrelled with our dragoons, who broke into the stables and thrashed them heartily, to the great satisfaction of the people near.

God bless you! Edith’s love.

Yours,

R. S.


Notes

* Address: H. M. S. Bellona.
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.) Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.) Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 89–94 [in part]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 101–102 [in part]. BACK

[1] William Windham (1750–1810; DNB), Secretary of State for War, 1794–1801, and George Canning (1770–1827; DNB), Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, 1795–1799, Commissioner at the Board of Control 1799–1800 and Paymaster of the Forces 1800–1801, had been the most eloquent opponents of the unsuccessful Bill to outlaw bull-baiting in 1800. BACK

[2] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 9, line 273. BACK

[3] Henry Fielding (1707–1754; DNB), novelist, who died in Lisbon where he had gone for his health. BACK

[4] Louis ‘XVIII’, Comte de Provence (1755–1824; King of France 1814–1824), heir to the French throne. BACK

[5] Gerard De Visme (1726–1797), wealthy British merchant long resident in Portugal. BACK

[6] John VI (1767–1826; King of Portugal 1816–1826), Prince Regent 1799–1816. BACK

[7] Convent of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, founded 1779. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2011