1841. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 17 December 1810 

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

1841. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 17 December 1810 ⁠* 

2. [1] 

Twelve months they sojournd in their solitude,
And then beneath the burthen of old age
Romano sunk. No brethren were there here
To spread the sackcloth, & with ashes strew
That penitential bed, & stand around
To sing his requiem, & with prayer & psalm
Assist him in his hour of agony.
On the bare earth he lay, which long had been
His only couch, beside him Roderick knelt,
Moistend from time to time his feverish lips,
Receivd a blessing in his latest breath.
Then closd his eyes, & by the nameless grave
Of the fore tenant of that holy place,
Consignd him earth to earth.
Two graves are here
And Roderick transverse at their feet begins
To break the third. In all his intervals
Of prayer, save only when he searchd the woods
And filld the watercruise, he labourd there,
And when the work was done, & he had laid
Himself at length within its narrow sides,
And measured it, he shook his head to think
There was no other business for him;
Poor wretch! thy bed is ready, he exclaim’d
And would that night would come! . It was a task
All gloomy as it was, which had beguild
The sense of solitude; but now he felt
The burthen of the solitary hours;
The silence of that lonely hermitage
Lay on him like a spell, & at the voice
Of his own prayers, he started half-aghast.
Then too as on Romano’s grave he sate
And pored upon his own, a painful thought
Arose within him, – well might he have spard
That useless toil! the sepulchre would be
No hiding place for him; no christian hands
Were here who should compose his decent corps,
And cover it with earth; – there he might drag
His wretched body its passing hour
And there the sea birds of her heritage
Would rob the worm, – or peradventure seize
Ere death had done its work, their helpless prey
Even now they did not fear him; if he walked
Beside them on the beach, regardlessly
They saw his coming, & their whirring wings
Upon the height had sometimes fannd his cheek,
As if, being thus alone, humanity
Had lost its rank, & the prerogative
Of man was done away.
For his last crown
And sceptre, never had he felt a thought
Of pain, – repentance had no pangs to spare
For trifles such as these, – the loss of these
Was a cheap penalty, that he had fallen
Down to the lowest depth of wretchedness,
His hope & consolation. But to lose
His human station in the scale of things, –
To see brute nature scorn him & renounce
Its homage to the human form divine, –
Had then Almighty vengeance thus reveald
His punishment, & was he fallen indeed
Below fallen man, below redemptions reach,
Made lower than the beasts, & like the beasts
To perish? – Such temptations troubled him
By day & in the visions of the night;
And Tho even in sleep he struggled with the thought,
And waking with the effort of his prayers
The dream assaild him still.
O for a voice
Of comfort! for a word to bid him hope!
A hand from these billows of despair,
While yet he strives against the breaking sea
May reach & snatch him ere he sink engulphed!
At length, as life when it hath lain long time
Opprest beneath some grievous malady,
Seems to rouse up with re-collected strength
And the sick man doth feel within himself
A second spring, – so Rodericks better mind
Arose to save him. Lo, the western sun
Flames oer the broad Atlantic, on the verge
Of glowing ocean rests, entering then
Draws with it all its rage, & sudden night
Fills the whole cope of heaven. The penitent
Knelt by Romano’s grave, & falling prone
Claspt with extended arms the funeral mould
Father, he cried, companion, only friend
When all beside was lost, thou too art gone
And the poor sinner whom from utter death
Thy providential hand preserved, once more
Totters upon the gulph. I am too weak
For solitude, too vile a wretch to bear
This everlasting commune with myself.
The Tempter hath assaild me; mine own heart
Is leagued with him, Despair hath laid his nets
To take my soul, & memory like a ghost
Haunts me & drives me to the toils. O Saint
While I was blest with thee, the hermitage
Was my sure haven. Look upon me still,
For from thy heavenly mansion thou canst see
The suppliant. Look upon thy child in Christ.
Is there no other way for penitence?
I ask not martyrdom, – for what am I
That I should pray for triumphs the fit meed
Of thy long life of merits, & aspire
To wear the heavenly crown resignd by thee,
How nobly, for my sake. O point me thou
Some humblest, painfullest, severest life,
Some new austerity unheard of yet
In Syrian fields of glory, or the sands
Of holiest Egypt. Let me bind my brow
With thorns, & barefoot seek Jerusalem
Tracking the way with blood, – there day by day
Inflict upon this sinful flesh the scourge,
Drink vinegar & gall, & for my bed
Hang with extended arms upon the cross
A mighty crucifixion; – any thing
Of action, difficulty, bodily pain,
Labour, & outward suffering, – any thing
But stillness & this dreadful solitude!
Romano! father! let me hear thy voice
In dreams, O Saint in heaven; – or from the grave
Speak to thy penitent, – even from the grave
Thine were a voice of comfort.

Thus he cried
Easing the pressure of his burthened soul
With passionate prayer, thus poured his spirit forth
Till the long effort had exhausted him,
His spirit faild, & laying on the grave
His weary head, as on a pillow, sleep
Fell on him. He had prayd to hear the voice
Of consolation, & in dreams a voice
Of consolation came – Roderick, it said,
Roderick, my poor unhappy sinful child, –
Jesus have mercy on thee! Not if Heaven
Had opened & Romano, visible
In his beatitude, had breathd that prayer.
Not if the grave had spoken, had it pierced
So deeply in his soul, nor thrilld his heart
With such compunctious visitings, nor given
Withal so keen a joy. It was the voice
Which sung his fretful infancy to sleep
So patiently, had soothd his childish griefs,
Counselld with anguish & prophetic tears
His head strong youth. And lo his Mother stood
Before him in the vision, in those weeds
Which never from the hour when to the grave
She followed her dear Lord, Theodofred
Rusilla laid aside, but in her face
A sorrow that bespake a heavier load
At heart, & more unmitigated woe.
Yea a more poignant agony, than when
Witiza’s ministers & the red-hot brass
Had done their work, & in her arms she held
Her eyeless husband, wiped away the sweat
Which still his tortures forced from every pore
Coold his scorchd lids with medicinable herbs
And prayd the while for patience for herself
And him, & prayd for vengeance too, & found
Best comfort in her curses.
In his dream
Groaning he knelt before her to receive
Her blessing, & she raisd her hands to lay
The benediction on him: but those hands
Were chaind, & casting a wild look around
With a wild voice she cried, will no one break
These shameful fetters? Pedro, Theudemuir
Athanagild, where are ye? – Roderick’s arm
Is withered, – Chiefs of Spain but where are ye
And thou Pelayo, thou our surest hope,
Dost thou too sleep. – up – up – Pelayo up
Why tarriest thou, deliverer! But with that
She broke her bonds, & lo her form was
Radiant in arms she stood; a bloody cross
Gleamd on her breast-plate, in her shield displayed
A Lion seemd to ramp; her helmed head
Rose like the Berecynthian Goddess, crownd
With towers, & in her dreadful hand the sword
Red as a fire brand blazed. Anon the tramp
Of horsemen & the din of multitudes
Moving to mortal conflict rung around,
The battle song, the clang of sword & shield
War-cries & tumult, strife & hate & rage
Blasphemous prayers, confusion, agony,
Rout & pursuit & death, & over all
The shout of victory, Spain & Victory
Roderick, for the strong vision mastered him
Rushd to the fight rejoicing; starting then
As his own effort burst the charm of sleep
He found himself upon that lonely grave
In moonlight & in silence.
But the dream
Worked in him still, for still he felt his heart
Pant, & his withered arm was trembling still
And still that voice was in his ears which called
Jesus for his sake. Oh might he hear
That actual voice!. & if Rusilla lived
If shame & anguish for his crimes, not yet
Had brought her to the grave, sure she would bless
Her penitent child, & pour with his heart
Prayers & forgiveness which like precious balm
Would heal the wounded soul. Nor to herself
Less precious or less feeling, would the voice
That spake forgiveness flow; she wept her son
For ever lost, cut off with all the weight
Of unrepented sin upon his head,
Sin that had weighd a nation down, – what joy
To know that righteous Heaven had in its wrath
Remembered mercy, & she yet might meet
The child, whom she had borne, redeemd in heaven!
The sudden impulse of this thought confirmd
His unacknowledged purpose, which till then
Vainly had sought its end. He girt his loins,
Laid blessed Marys image in a cleft
Of the rock, where sheltered from the element
It might abide, till happier days came on,
From all defilement safe; – pourd his last prayer
Upon Romanos grave, & kissd the earth
Which coverd his remains, – & wept as if
At long leave-taking, then began his way.

_____________

I am not sure that you do wisely in neglecting fine speeches from your tragedy, [2]  that speech of Julians which you give as a specimen of the old leaven seems to me perfectly in character, – such sort of reasoning is of the essence of passion – This concluding scene is very fine, – tho I lose some of its force for want of knowing precisely the situatio situation. One line – the Villager – Honeys with fallen pride his infants lore, [3]  – I do not understand. In Gebir I understood every thing except the phrase ‘Bays body’ [4]  by dint of repeated perusals, – not discovering them by hard trying, but reading till the meaning flashd upon me. Perhaps I shall feel the purport of this tomorrow – My action does not begin till yours concludes. I like the execution of these two sections, but I suspect they are disproportionately long for introductory matter, & that so much time ought not to be spent in developing the feelings of an individual who tho of great importance in the story is not the hero of it. Only a few lines more are written, for it has stood still these last three months. I shall soon go on again.

Heaven knows what is become of Kehama. [5]  I look & have for weeks & months daily been looking for the advertisement. Longman has your Putney Street direction I send it by, whenever it does appear, & I hope it will reach you before this. xxxxx Send me your Alcaics [6]  by that channels, & send me your Simonidea [7]  also if you can command a copy, for I have orderd it from London in vain

The Register [8]  for 1809 keeps me hard at work. I have got about half thro it, & have obtained means of communicating with D Manuel Abella M D of Albuquerques [9]  secretary, & with Col. Carol, [10]  which will enable me to give a clearer & better account of Spanish affairs than would else be possible. – In the next Quarterly there will be an Article of mine upon Methodism, [11]  & I meditate a mortal blow at Malthus, who is the especial object of my contempt & abhorrence. [12] 

I thought to have accompanied Kehama with an epistle in blank verse; – xx but it remains on the anvil

God bless you

RS.

Keswick. Dec. 17. 1810


Notes

* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Upham’s Library/ Bath/ Single.
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/3–4
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 546 [in part]. BACK

[1] This letter contains an early version of the second book of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[2] Landor’s Count Julian: A Tragedy (1812), which dealt with similar subject matter to Roderick. BACK

[3] Landor, Count Julian: A Tragedy (London, 1812), p. 120, adapted this line to ‘Sweetens with fallen pride his children’s lore’. BACK

[4] Landor, Gebir (London, 1798), p. 27. BACK

[5] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[6] Latin alcaics written by Landor to Gustav IV Adolf (1778–1837; King of Sweden 1792–1809). Only a few copies were privately printed. BACK

[7] Simonidea, a collection of English and Latin verses privately published by Landor in 1806. BACK

[8] The Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809 (1811). BACK

[9] The Spanish military commander, Jose Miguel de la Cueva, 13th Duke of Alburquerque (1774–1811). BACK

[10] William Parker Carrol (1776–1842), liaison officer between the British and Spanish forces. Later promoted to Major-General and Field Marshal in the Spanish Army. BACK

[11] Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching. By a Barrister (1809), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 480–514. BACK

[12] The political economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834; DNB). The first of a series of Southeyan articles on the poor was intended as ‘an attack upon Malthus’, amongst others; Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356; see Southey to Charles Danvers, 5 January 1813, Letter 2199. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013