Malta and the Mediterranean

Health in a 'distressful state', travels to Malta, appointed secretary to Governor


I received your Wife's kind & very interesting Letter; but was too ill to answer it by return of Post. I cannot without the most culpable Imprudence attempt to reach Kendal; especially, as I could not possibly arrive there time enough to spend any time at all with your Family – but I will go to Grasmere, & meet you there, if you come that way – as by Mrs Thelwall's Letter I promise myself, that you will. – I shall very soon – certainly in a week or ten days – leave this Country, to seek a vessel either for Malta or Madeira – for I dare stay no longer in this climate. But I will assuredly see Mrs Thelwall – & her friend – whose attachment to one unknown or at least unseen, affected & pleased me – not for myself – Heaven knows! she might easily have found a less unworthy object of her favorable opinion – but because such feelings of Esteem & Affection for persons, who are known to us only in spirit, are the exclusive property of minds at once fervent & pure & formative: – minds untamed by 'the dreary Intercourse' of common Life, & inspired by their own natures to believe, & have a Joy in the goodness of others. – My Health is in a most distressful State; my Bowel & Stomach attacks frequent & alarming. But I bear Pain with a woman's Fortitude / it is constitutional with me to look quietly and steadily in it's face, as it were, & to ask it – What & whence it is? – If this Letter reach you in time, you will oblige me by going to the best Druggist in Kendal for me, & purchasing an Ounce of crude opium, & 9 ounces of Laudanum, the Latter put in a stout bottle & so packed up as that it may travel a few hundred miles with safety.

Letter to John Thelwall, 26 November, 1803


altWhat Sicily may do for me, I cannot tell / but Dalton, the Lecturer on Natural Philosophy at the R. Institution, a man devoted to Keswick, convinced me, that there was five times the duration of falling weather at Keswick compared with the flat & midland Counties, & more than twice the gross quantity of water fallen. – I have as yet been able to do nothing for myself. My plans are to try to get such an introduction to the Captn of the War ship that shall next sail for Malta, as to be taken as his Friend – from Malta to Syracuse is but six hours' Passage in a Spallanieri – at Syracuse I shall meet with a hearty Welcome from Mr Leaky [G. F. Leckie], the Consul – & I hope to be able to have a Letter from Lord Nelson to the Convent of Benedictines at Catania to receive & lodge me, for such time as I may chuse to stay – Catania is a pleasant Town with pleasant hospitable Inhabitants at the foot of Ætna, tho' 15 miles, alas! from the woody region. Greenough has read me an admirable, because most minute, Journal of his Sights, Doings, and Done-untos in Sicily––As to money, I shall avail myself of an 105£, to be repayed by you on the first of January, 1805 – and another 100£, to be employed in paying the Life Assurance, the Bills at Keswick, Mrs Fricker's next half year, & if any remain, to buy me comforts for my voyage, &c, Dante & a Dictionary, I shall borrow part from my Brothers, and part from Stuart – I can live a year at Catania, for I have no plan or desire of travelling except up & down Ætna, for 100£ – & the getting back I shall trust to Chance.

Letter to the Wordsworths, 8 February, 1804, Dunmow, Essex


I wrote to you over land many weeks ago, & can only hope that you received it – all our communications with England are so uncertain. It informed you that I arrived safe & well after a very painful Passage, in which I was miserably ill – since then I have never had such sharp illnesses as in England – but dreadful Languor, weight on my breathing, & a sort of sudden fits of Sleep with nervous Twitches in my Stomach and Limbs on sitting down for a quarter of an hour unemployed or reading. I scarcely eat or drank any thing – but since the very hot weather has commenced, (and the officers here who have been in the E. & W. Indies say that it is hotter now in Valette than it is at Calcutta, or Kingston in Jamaica) I – a single exception – have been much better. For the last 8 or 10 days I have altered my whole System – risen every morning & bathed before the Sun rise, lived more freely, & forced myself to dine regularly – & find my whole Salvation in never suffering myself to be idle ten minutes together; but either to be actually composing, or walking, or in Company – for the moment I begin to think, my feelings drive me almost to agony & madness: & then comes on the dreadful Smothering upon my chest &c. I shall be much happier by living at the Palace instead of staying with Dr Stoddart, who has behaved well enough to me, but &c. – At the Palace I have the pleasantest & coolest suite of Rooms, I have seen in Malta – and with a view from the windows that you would wonder any view could be so impressive having neither River, Trees, nor grassy Field in Sight / but the Harbour & main Sea, & Buildings &c make altogether a glorious Sight. – I shall stay here a fortnight longer at least – perhaps a month – & then go to Sicily, take the Tour of that Island – then to Naples – & then back to Malta inthe fall of the Year. Stoddart & his wife & Sister are at St Julian's, about 4 miles from Valette – & have left me this huge House to myself – but I breakfast, dine, & take Coffee at the Governor's – . I shall write to Southey as soon as ever I arrive in Sicily – tho' I shall probably linger on day after day in hopes of a Convoy from England with Letters. Malta furnishes little indeed to write about – the dreariest of all dreary Islands – and I described Valette to youin my former Letter – & besides, Mr Laing will tell you all & every thing, about it and me. –

Letter to Sara Coleridge, Thursday, July 5, 1804, Valette, Malta


altI live in a perfect Palace, & have all my meals with the Governor; but my profits will be much less, than if I had employed my time & efforts in my own literary pursuits. However, I gain new Insights / & if (as I doubt not, I shall) I return, having expended nothing, having paid all my prior debts as well as interim expences, (of the which debts I consider the 100£ borrowed by me from Sotheby, on the firm of W. Wordsworth, the heaviest) with Health, & some additional Knowlege both in Things & Languages, I surely shall not have lost a year.

Letter to Southey, 2nd February. 1805, Saturday Morning, Treasury, Malta.


My Health had greatly improved; but latterly it has been very, very bad / in great measure owing to dejection of Spirits / my Letters having failed, the greater part of those to me, and almost all mine homeward – as if I were to be punished for former neglect by writing industriously to no purpose / My Letters to you – my Letters, & the duplicates of them, written with so much care & minuteness to Sir George Beaumont / those to Wedgewood – to the Wordsworths – to Southey – / Major Adye's sudden Death / – and then the loss of the two frigates / the capture of a Merchant's Privateer – all have seemed to spite / – No one not absent on a dreary Island so many leagues of sea from England can conceive the effect of these Accidents on the Spirits & inmost soul / So help me Heaven! they have nearly broken my Heart / And added to this, I have been hoping and expecting to get away for England for 5 months past, and Mr Chapman not arriving, Sir Alexander's Importunities have always overpowered me / tho' my gloom has encreased at each disappointment / I am determined however to go in less than a month …

Letter to Sara Coleridge, 21 July, 1805, Malta


I have been dangerously ill – for the last fortnight / & unwell enough, Heaven knows, previously – but about 10 days ago on rising from my bed I had a manifest stroke of Palsy along my right side, and right arm / My Head felt like another man's Head – so dead was it, that I seemed to know it only by my left hand, and a strange sense of Numbness – violent attempts to vomit, each effort accompanied by involuntary & terrific Screams – Enough of it / continual vexations & preyings upon the Spirit / I gave Life to my Children / and they have repeatedly given it to me / for by the Maker of all things, but for them I would try my chance. But they pluck out the wing-feathers from the mind––I have not entirely recovered the sense of my side or hand / but have recovered the use. I am harrassed by local & partial Fevers.

Letter to Washington Allston, 3 June 17th, 1806, Florence

altI arrived here from Stangate Creek last night, a little after ten: and have found myself so unusually better ever since I leaped on land, yester afternoon, that I am glad that neither my strength or spirits enabled me to write to you on my arrival in Quarantine, on the eleventh. Both the Captain and my fellow-passenger were seriously alarmed for my Life – and indeed such have been my unremitting Sufferings from pain, sleeplessness, costiveness, loathing of food, & spirits wholly despondent, that no motive on earth short of an awful duty would ever prevail on me to take any sea-voyage likely to be longer than three or four days. I had rather starve in [a ho]vel; and if Life thro' disease become worthless, will choose a Roman Death. – It is true, I was very low before I embarked – your kind Letter concluding with the Sums, I stand indebted to you, never for an hour ceased to prey on my mind. To have been working so hard for 18 months in a business, I detested – to have been flattered and to have flattered myself, that I should on striking the balance have payed all my debts, & maintained both myself and family during my exile, out of my savings – and earnings, including my travels thro' Germany, thro' which I had to the very last hoped to have passed – & find myself – but enough! – I cannot charge my conscience with a single extravagance, nor even my Judgement with any other imprudences than that of suffering one good and great man to over-persuade me from month to month to a delay, which was gnawing away my very vitals – and of being duped in disobedience to my first feelings & previous Ideas by another diplomatic minister, who is a rascal. I sent one Bill & a duplicate for 110£ to Mrs C – & actually had entrusted another for 100£ to Mr Noble at Naples for the same purpose, & discovered the dupery scarcely time enough to withdraw it, which I did with an aking heart – had I not done it, tho' at that time, it was merely for the convenience of not drawing on England, I should have been left starving in a foreign country / for a gentleman offered to take me without expence to Rome, which I accep[ted] with the full intention of staying only a fortnight & then returning to Naples to pass the winter at Noble's House, which Mr Noble offered me partly out of compassion for the wretched state of my finances, which were but barely sufficient for my intended Journey in the Spring – and partly out of gratitude for my many attentions, and one or two serious services to his Brother & Partner at Malta, while I was the Public Secretary.

By Mr Noble's advice I left every thing (but a good suit of cloathes, & my shirts &c) – all my letters of credit, manuscripts, &c &c – with him. – I had not been ten days in Rome before the French Torrent rolled down on Naples – all return was impossible, all transmission of Papers not only insecure, but being English & many of them political, highly dangerous both to the Sender and Sendee – After two months sickening anxiety I received certain tidings that Mr N. had decamped (having admirably out-maneuvred the French) with all my papers & effects; but whether to Malta, or Sardinia was not known. / But this is only a fragment of a Chapter of Contents / – and I am too much agitated to write the Detail, but will call on you as soon as my two or three remaining [guineas] shall have put a decent Hat upon my [head], & Shoes on my feet. – I am literally afraid even to cowardice to ask for any person [or] of any person – Including the Quarantine, we had 55 days of Ship-board, working up against head winds, rotting & sweating in calms, or running under hard gales, with the dead lights secured / & from the Captain and my fellow-passenger I received every possible Tenderness – only when I was very ill, they layed their wise heads together, & the Latter in a Letter to his Father begged him to inform my Family, that I had arrived & he trusted, that they would soon see me, in better health & spirits than I had quitted them, a Letter which must have alarmed if they saw into it, & wounded if they did not. I was not informed of it till this morning. – God bless you, my dear Sir! I have yet chearful Hopes that Heaven will not suffer me to die degraded by any other Debts, than those which it ever has been & ever will be, my joy & pride still to pay & still to owe, those of a truly grateful Heart – & to you among the first of those to whom they are due.

Letter to Daniel Stuart, 18 August 1806, Bell Inn, Friday Street


My Health improves wonderfully. My Captain to whom I owe my Life, and who saw me this morning, could scarcely believe his eyes – Almost immediately on my Landing Health seemed to flow in upon me like mountain waters upon the dusty pebbles of a Vale-stream after long-wanted Rains. In short, tho' no emolument could ever force me again to the business, intrigue, form and pomp of a public situation, yet beyond all doubt I have acquired a great variety of useful knowlege, quickness in discovering men's characters, and adroitness in dealing with them / I have learnt the inside character of many eminent living men / & know by heart the awkward & wicked machinery, by which all our affairs abroad are carried on / In short, if I recover a steady tho' imperfect Health, I perhaps should have no reason to regret my long Absence, not even my perilous detention in Italy – for by my regula[r atten]tion to the best of the good things in Rom[e,] and associating almost wholly with the Artists of acknowleged highest reputation I acquired more insight into the fine arts in the three months, than I could have done in England in 20 years.
Letter to Daniel Stuart, 22 August 1806

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