LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 23 May 1800

Vol. I Contents
Early Life: I
Early Life: II
Early Life: III
Early Life: IV
Early Life: V
Early Life: VI
Early Life: VII
Early Life: VIII
Early Life: IX
Early Life: X
Early Life: XI
Early Life: XII
Early Life: XIII
Early Life: XIV
Early Life: XV
Early Life: XVI
Early Life: XVII
Ch. I. 1791-93
Ch. II. 1794
Ch. III. 1794-95
Ch. IV. 1796
Ch. V. 1797
Vol. II Contents
Ch. VI. 1799-1800
Ch. VII. 1800-1801
Ch. VIII. 1801
Ch. IX. 1802-03
Ch. X. 1804
Ch. XI. 1804-1805
Vol. III Contents
Ch. XII. 1806
Ch. XIII. 1807
Ch. XIV. 1808
Ch. XV. 1809
Ch. XVI. 1810-1811
Ch. XVII. 1812
Vol. IV Contents
Ch. XVIII. 1813
Ch. XIX. 1814-1815
Ch. XX. 1815-1816
Ch. XXI. 1816
Ch. XXII. 1817
Ch. XXIII. 1818
Ch. XXIV. 1818-1819
Vol. IV Appendix
Vol. V Contents
Ch. XXV. 1820-1821
Ch. XXVI. 1821
Ch. XXVII. 1822-1823
Ch. XXVIII. 1824-1825
Ch. XXIX. 1825-1826
Ch. XXX. 1826-1827
Ch. XXXI. 1827-1828
Vol. V Appendix
Vol. VI Contents
Ch. XXXII. 1829
Ch. XXXIII. 1830
Ch. XXXIV. 1830-1831
Ch. XXXV. 1832-1834
Ch. XXXVI. 1834-1836
Ch. XXXVII. 1836-1837
Ch. XXXVIII. 1837-1843
Vol. VI Appendix
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
“Lisbon, May 23. 1800.

“Lisbon has twice been clean since the creation. Noah’s flood washed it once, and the fire after the earthquake purified it. When it will be clean again, will be difficult to say; probably not till the general conflagration. A house, at which I called yesterday, actually has a drain running round one of the sides, which empties all the filth before the entrance. . . . . Government will neither cleanse the city themselves, nor suffer any one else to do it. An English merchant applied lately for permission to clean the street in which he lived, and it was refused. This is one of the curious absurdities of the P. go-
vernment. An English invalid, who was terribly shaken in his carriage by the ragged pavement in his street, applied to the proper officers to allow him to have it mended: they would not do it. He was a man of fortune.

“The filthiest offices in the place are performed by negroes. . . . . These poor people were brought as slaves into Portugal, till Pombal prohibited all future importation, still leaving those already in the country slaves, that property might not be invaded. Once since, a petition was presented that the country wanted negroes, and a few were imported in consequence. When they have grown old in service and slavery, the trick of Portuguese generosity is to give them their liberty; that is as if, in England, a man, when his horse was grown old, should turn him adrift, instead of giving the old animal the run of his park. Of course black beggars are numerous. Grey-headed, and with grey beards, they look strangely; and some, that have the leprosy, are the most hideous objects imaginable. The old women wear nothing on their heads, and, what with their woolly hair and their broad features, look sometimes so fearfully ugly that I do not wonder at the frequency of negresses in romance. A priest in this country sold his own daughter by a negress. The Portuguese despise the negroes, and by way of insult sneeze at them as they pass: this is their strongest mark of contempt. Our phrase, ‘a fig for him,’ is explained by an amulet in use here against witchcraft, called a figa; the mules and asses wear it. It is the figure of a hand closed, the thumb cocked out between the fore and
middle fingers. I first saw it mentioned in a curious poem by
Vieira, the famous, and indeed only good, Portuguese painter. He had one given him when a child to save him from an evil eye, for he was in more danger on account of his being handsome and quick; as we say, a child is too clever to live. The ‘gift of the gab,’ must also be of Portuguese extraction: gaban is to praise, to coax.

“No doubt this is a regular government; it is an old monarchy, and has an established church. . . . . A lawyer in England wrote a book to prove that our monarchy was absolute also; and Hughes, the clergyman at Clifton, whom you may have seen at my aunt’s, lamented in a pamphlet that that awful tribunal, the Inquisition, had relaxed its vigilance: but you may not forge and murder with impunity. An acquaintance of mine (Tennant, well known for some famous chemical experiments on the diamond) met an Irishman in Switzerland, who had been at Borne. He said it was the most laineant government in the world: you might kill a man in the streets, and nobody would take the laist notice of it. This also is a laineant government: a man stabs his antagonist, wipes the knife in his cloak, and walks quietly away. It is a point of honour in the spectators to give no information. If one servant robs his master, it is a point of honour in his fellow-servants never to inform of him. Both these points of honour are inviolable from prudence, for a stab would be the consequence. One method of revenge used in the provinces is ingeniously wicked: they beat a man with sand-bags. These do not inflict so much immediate pain as a cane would do, but they so
bruise all the fine vessels, that, unless the poor wretch be immediately scarified, a lingering death is the consequence. My uncle has known instances at Porto. For all useful purposes of society, this is a complete anarchy; in the police every individual is interested; security is the object of political institutions, and here every man is at the mercy of every ruffian he meets. These things make no noise here. A man was murdered this week within thirty yards of our house, and we only heard it ten days afterwards by mere accident; yet all goes on smoothly as the Tagus flows over the dead bodies that are thrown into it. . . . . In England you will imagine that this insecurity must occasion perpetual disquiet. Not so. As I do not quarrel, and nobody has any interest in sending me to the next world, there is no danger. We are indeed, safer than in England, because there is not so much ingenuity exerted in villany. Instruments for picking pockets and breaking open houses have not yet been introduced. The country is not civilised enough to produce coiners. A man may as easily escape being assassinated here, as he can fighting a duel in England.

“On Sunday, some boys, dressed like blue-coat boys, went under our window, with baskets, begging provisions or money. A man has set up this charity school on speculation, and without funds, trusting to chance alms. The ‘Emperor of the Holy Ghost’ also passed us in person: his flags are new, and his retinue magnificent in their new dresses of white and scarlet; his musicians were all negroes: before him went a grave and comely personage, carrying a gilt
wand of about ten feet high. The Emperor is about six years old, exceedingly thin, dressed like a man in full dress, silk stockings, large buckles, a sword, and an enormous cocked hat, bigger than yours, edged with white fringe. On either side marched a gentleman usher, from time to time adjusting his hat, as, its heavy corners preponderated. The attendants carried silver salvers, on which they had collected much copper money: few poor people passed who did not give something.

“Lately a negro went along our street with a Christ in a glass case, which he showed to every one whom he met. They usually kissed the glass and gave him money. Pombal, in his time, prohibited such follies. These images have all been blessed by the Pope, and are therefore thus respected. I was in a shop the other day waiting for change, when a beggar-woman came in. As I did not give her anything, she turned to an image of Our Lady, prayed to it and kissed it, and then turned round to beg again.

“Religion is kept alive by these images, &c., like a fire perpetually supplied with fuel. They have a saint for every thing. . . . . One saint preserves from lightning, another from fire, a third clears the clouds, and so on—a salve for every sore. It is a fine religion for an enthusiast—for one who can let his feelings remain awake, and opiate his reason. Never was goddess so calculated to win upon the human heart as the Virgin Mary; and devotees, Moravians as well as Catholics, not unfrequently mingle the feelings of earthly and spiritual love, as
strangely as our Bible has mixed the language in Solomon’s Song. We have an instance in
Crashaw the poet’s hymn to St. Theresa.

“One of the new convent towers is miserably disfigured by a projecting screen of wood. The man who rings the bell stands close by it, and the ugly thing is put there, lest he should see the nuns walking in the garden, or lest they should see him, for a nun has nothing but love to think of, and a powder magazine must be guarded warily. A million sterling has been expended upon this convent; it is magnificent within, wholly of marble, and the colour well disposed. A million sterling! and the great square is unfinished, and the city without flagstones, without lamps, without drains!

“I meet the galley-slaves sometimes, and have looked at them with a physiognomic eye to see if they differed from the rest of the people. It appeared to me that they had been found out, the others had not. The Portuguese face, when fine, is very fine, and it rarely wants the expression of intellect.

“The gardens have usually vine-covered walks, stone pillars supporting the trellis poles. Some you see in the old-fashioned style—box cut into patterns like the zig-zag twirling of a Turkey carpet pattern. The Convent of the Necessidades has a very large and fine garden, open to men but not to women. This is laid out in shady walks, like the spokes of wheels, that centre into fountains; the space between the walks occupied with oranges, lemons, and other fruit trees. Everywhere innumerable lizards are to be seen sporting in the sun, grey or green, from two
inches to twenty in length, nimble, harmless, beautiful animals. . . . . God bless you.