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

148. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, [February–March 1796?] ⁠* 


Certainly I shall hear from Mr Cottle by the first packet — said I — now I say probably I may hear by the next. so does Experience abate the sanguine expectations of Man. “what — could not you write one letter?” & here am I writing not only to all my friends in Bristol but to all in England. indeed I should have been vexed but that the packet brought a letter from Edith, & the pleasure that gave me, allowed no feeling of vexation. what of JOAN? Mr Coates [1]  tells me it gains upon the public — but authors seldom hear the plain truth. I am anxious that it should reach a second edition that I may expunge every line of Coleridges — remember all he wrote not all he claims. he claims the character of Conrade (so Lovell told me) of which he never gave a hint nor wrote a line. & I wish to [2]  write a new preface, & enlarge the last book. [3] 

Bristol deserves panegyric instead of Satire. [4]  I know no mercantile place so literary. [5]  here I am among the Philistines, spending my mornings as pleasantly as books xx only books can make them, & sitting at evening the silent spectator of card playing & dancing. the English here unite the spirit of commerce with the frivolous amusements of high life. one of them who plays every night (Sundays are not excepted here) will tell you how closely he attends to profit “I never pay a porter for bringing a burthen till the next day. (says he) for while the fellow feels his back ache with the weight he charges high — but when he comes the next day the feeling is gone — & he asks only half the money.” and the author of this philosophical scheme is worth 200,000 pounds!! this is a comfortless place, & the only pleasure I find in it, is in looking on to my departure. three years ago I might have found a friend. Count Leopold Berchtold. [6]  this man (foster-brother of the Emperor Joseph [7] ) is one of those rare travellers characters who spend their lives in doing good. it is his custom in every country he visits to publish books in its language on some use subject of practical utility — these he gave away. I have now lying before me the two which he printed in Lisbon. the one is an Essay on the means of preserving life in the various dangers to which men are daily exposed. [8]  the other — an Essay on extending the limits of benevolence not only towards men but animals. [9]  his age was about 25 — his person fine, & his manners the most polished. my Uncle saw more of him than anyone, for he used his library; & this was the only house he called at; he was only seen at dinner — the rest of the day was constantly given to study. one {they} who lived in the same house with him, believed him to be the Wandering Jew. he spoke all the European languages, x had written in all, & was master of the Arabic. from Lisbon he went to Cadiz & thence to Barbary no more is known of him.

We felt a smart earthquake the morning after our arrival here. these shocks alarm the Portuguese dreadfully, & indeed it is the most terrifying sensation you can conceive. one man jumped out of bed & ran down to the stable to ride off {almost [10] } naked as he was. another more considerately put out his candle because I know (said he) the fire does more harm than the earthquake. the ruins of the great E.  [11]  are not yet removed entirely. the city is a curious place a straggling place built upon the most unequal ground — with heaps of ruins in the middle, & large open places. the streets filthy beyond all English ideas of filth — for they throw every thing into the street, & nothing is removed. dead animals annoy you at every corner — & such is the indolence & nastiness of the Portuguese that I really believe they would let one another rot in the same manner, if the Priests did not get something by burying them. some of the friars are vowed never to wear the same clothes without changing for a year — & this is a comfort to them. you will not wonder therefore that I always keep the windward of one of these reverend perfumers. the streets are very agreable in wet weather — if you walk under the houses you are drenched by the water spouts. if you attempt the middle — there is a little river. would you go between both — there is the dunghill. the rains here are very violent, & the streams in the streets on a declivity so rapid as to throw down men. & sometimes overset carriages. a woman was absolutely drowned a few years ago, in one of the most frequented streets of Lisbon. but to walk home at night is the most dangerous adventure. for then the chamber maids, shower out the filth into the streets with such profusion — that a Scotchman may fancy himself at Edinburgh. you cannot conceive what a cold perspiration it puts me in to hear one dashd down just before me as Thomson says with a little alteration — to

Hear nightly dashd amid the perilous street
The frequent stink-pot. [12] 

this furnishes food to innumerable dogs that belong to nobody, & annoy every body — but if did they not devour it the quantities would breed pestilence. by {in} a xxxx{moon}light we see dogs & rats feeding at the same dunghill. Lisbon is plagued with a very small species of red ant that swarms over every thing in the houses. their remedy for this is to send for a Priest & exorcise them. the drain from the new Convent opens into the middle of the street. an English pig-stye is cleaner than the metropolis of Portugal. To tonight I shall see a {the} procession of Our Lord of the Passion. this image is a very celebrated one & with great reason, for one night he knockd at the door of St Roques church, & there they would not admit him; upon this he walked to the other end of the town to the Church of Grace, & there they took him in. but a dispute now arose between the two churches, to which the image belongd, whether to the church to which he first chose, or the Church that first chose him. the matter was compromised — one church has him, but the other fetches him for their procession, & he sleeps with them the night preceding it. the better mode of deciding it had been to place the Gentleman between both, & let him walk to which he liked best. what think you of this story being believed [MS repaired] 1796?!!!

The power of the Inquisition still exists tho they never exercise it — & thus the Jews save their bacon. fifty years ago it was the greatest delight of the Portuguese to see a Jew burnt. Geddes [13]  the then chaplain was present at one of these detestable Auto-da-Fe’s — he says that the transports expressed by all ages & all sexes whilst the miserable sufferers were shrieking & begging mercy for Gods sake, formed a scene [MS torn] horrible than any out of hell. he adds that this is not barbarity is not the [MS torn] national character, for no people sympathize so much at the execution of a criminal — but it is the damnable nature of their religion & the most diabolical spirit of their priests. their celibacy deprives them of the affections of men, & their creed gives them the ferocity of devils. Geddes saw one man gagged — because immediately as he came out of the {Inquisition} gates — he looked up at the Sun whose light for many years had never visited him — & exclaimed “how is it possible for men who behold that glorious Orb, to worship any being but him who created it!” [14]  my bloods runs cold when I pass that accursed building, & tho they do not exercise their power — I feel it a reproach to human nature that the building should exist.

it is as warm here as in May with you. of course we broil in that month at Lisbon — but I shall escape the hot weather here as I did the cold weather of England, & quit this place about the latter end of April. you will of course see me the third day after my landing at Falmouth — or if I can get companions in a post chaise sooner. this my resolution is like the law of the Medes & the Persians that altereth not. [15] 

be good enough to lay by a set of Coleridges Watchman for me — his lectures & poems.  [16]  I am very desirous that Joan should reach a second edition — for the reasons I have given above I want to write a tragedy here; & can find no leisure to begin it — I have so much to read & lose so much time in this detestable visiting. I have seen the Monthly Rev. they speak well of Fawcetts poem [17]  — but abuse Joel Barlow [18]  — as for Joan no body sees its faults more than I do — & if it reaches a second edition I will neither spare time or trouble to remedy them.

this place is much plagued with robbers & they generally strip a man stark naked, & leave him to walk him home in his birthday suit. an English [19]  was served so at Almeyda & the Lisbon magistrates on his complaints took up the whole village & impris[MS repaired] them all. contemplate this people in what light you will, you can never see them in a good one. they suffered their best epic poet [20]  to perish for want — & they burnt their best dramatic writer alive because he was a Jew. [21]  Pombal [22]  — (a man whose heart was bad enough to make a good minister) reduced the church during his administration. he suffered no persons to enter the convents, & as the old monks & nuns died, threw two convents into one & sold the other estates. by this means he would have speedily annihilated the whole generation of vermin — but the King died & this Queen [23]  whose religion has driven her mad, und[MS missing] all that Pombal had done. he escaped with life but lived to see his bust destroyed & all his plans for the improvement of Portugal reversed. he had the interests of his country at heart — & this punishment added to the regret of having committed so many crimes vainly to secure his power, must almost have been enough for this execrable Marquis.

the climate is delightful — & the air so clear that when the moon is young I can often tho dim {distant} distinguish the whole circle. O [24]  you & Robert may look for this some fine night but I do not remember ever to have observed it in England, nor do I believe the atmosphere is every clear enough there. the stars appear more brilliant here — but I often look up at the Pleiades as I return home — & remember how much happier I was when I saw them at Bristol. fare you well — remember me to all your family kindly & let me know that my friends remember me as well as my enemies.

[MS missing]

Robert Southey.

I have seen the B. Critic. stupid hounds not to prefer the Monody! [25]  however our friends there behave very well. [26] 


Notes

* Address: Mr Cottle/ High Street/ Bristol
Postmark: [partial] DM/ 16/ 96
Endorsements: Southey/ Feby 1796; 34 6’ ‘Feby 1796; (62)
MS: Tipped into a copy of Letters and Journals of Lord Byron: with Notices of His Life, by Thomas Moore. Illustrated with Views, Portraits, etc., 4 vols (London, 1830), IV, between pp. 372–373; Huntington Library, RB 90327
Previously published: Joseph Cottle, Early Recollections of the Late Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 2 vols (London, 1837), II, pp. 6–14 [in part, and dated 1 February 1796]; and Joseph Cottle, Reminscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), pp. 193–199 [in part].
Dating note: The letter was probably written over a long period of time and was sent in March 1796. BACK

[1] Possibly the actor Robert Coates (1772–1848; DNB). BACK

[2] expunge ... wish to: Section deleted, almost certainly by another hand, probably Cottle’s. BACK

[3] Followed by a comment inserted in Cottle’s hand: ‘I shall omit all in the 2d book which Coleridge wrote.’ BACK

[4] Southey’s brother-in-law, Robert Lovell, disagreed, having published his Bristol, a Satire in 1794. BACK

[5] Bristol ... literary: Underlined in another hand, probably Cottle’s. BACK

[6] Leopold, Graf von Berchtold (d. 1809). BACK

[7] Joseph II (1741–1790; reigned 1765–1790), Holy Roman Emperor. BACK

[8] Leopold, Graf von Berchtold, An Essay to Direct and Extend the Inquiries of Patriotic Travellers (1789). BACK

[9] Leopold, Graf von Berchtold, Ensaio Sobre a Extensão dos Limites da Beneficiencia a Respeito, Assim dos Homens Como dos Mesmos Animaes (1793). BACK

[10] Inserted in another hand. BACK

[11] The Lisbon earthquake of 1755. BACK

[12] An adaptation of James Thomson (1700–1748; DNB), The Seasons (1726–1730), ‘Summer’, lines 1047–1048. BACK

[13] Michael Geddes (c. 1647–1713; DNB), chaplain of the English factory in Lisbon, 1678–1688. BACK

[14] A paraphrase of Michael Geddes, Miscellaneous Tracts, 3rd edn, 3 vols (London, 1730), I, pp. 406–407. BACK

[15] Daniel 6: 8. BACK

[16] Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Watchman (1796), Conciones ad Populum (1795), A Moral and Political Lecture (1795), and Poems on Various Subjects (1796). BACK

[17] A review of Joseph Fawcett (c. 1758–1804; DNB), The Art of War (1795) in the Monthly Review, n.s. 18 (November 1795), 258–262. BACK

[18] The American poet, radical and diplomat, Joel Barlow (1754–1812; DNB), whose Advice to the Privileged Orders (1792–1795) was reviewed in the Monthly Review, n.s. 18 (November 1795), 300–308, and A letter Addressed to the People of Piedmont (1795) in the Monthly Review, n.s. 18 (December 1795), 446–451. BACK

[19] Insertion of ‘man’ after ‘English’ in another hand (probably Cottle’s). BACK

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

[21] Antonio Jose da Silva (1705–1739), Portuguese poet and dramatist, who came from a family of Jewish converts to Catholicism. He was executed after being accused of secretly practising Judaism. BACK

[22] 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

[23] José I was succeeded by his daughter Maria I (1734–1816), who was declared insane in 1792. BACK

[24] O: Southey has drawn a moon with one quarter (left side) shaded in. BACK

[25] The review of Joseph Cottle’s Poems (1795) in the British Critic, 6 (November 1795), 539–540. BACK

[26] I have seen ... well: Postscript written upside down at top of fol. 1 r. BACK

About this Page

Published @ RC

March 2009