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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

2144. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 11 September 1812 ⁠* 

6. [1] 

The mansion whitherward they went, was one
Which in his youth Theodofred had built;
Thither had he brought home in happy hour
His blooming bride, there fondled on his knee
The lovely boy she bore him. Close beside
A temple to that Saint he reard, who first,
As old tradition tells, proclaim’d to Spain
The gospel tidings, – & in health & youth
There, mindful of mortality, he saw
His sepulchre prepared. Witiza seiz’d
For his adulterous leman & himself
The stately pile; but to that sepulchre
When from captivity & darkness death
Enlarged him, was Theodofred consign’d,
For that unhappy woman, wasting then
Beneath a mortal malady, at heart
Was smitten, & the tyrant at her prayer
This poor & tardy restitution made.
Soon the repentant sinner followed him,
And calling on Pelayo ere she died,
For his own wrongs & for his fathers death
Implor’d forgiveness of her absent child,
If it were possible he could forgive
Crimes black as hers, she said: & by the pangs
Of her remorse, by her last agonies,
The unutterable horrors of her death,
And by the blood of Jesus on the Cross
For sinners given, did she beseech his prayers
In aid of her most miserable soul.
Thus mingling sudden shrieks with hopeless vows,
And uttering franticly Pelayo’s name,
And crying out for mercy in despair,
Here had she made her dreadful end, & here
Her wretched body was deposited.
That presence seem’d to desecrate the place:
Thenceforth the Usurper shunnd it, with the heart
Of conscious guilt; nor could Rusilla bear
These groves & bowers which like funeral shades
Opprest her with their monumental forms;
One day of “bitter & severe delight”
When Roderick came for vengeance, she endur’d,
And then for ever left her bridal halls.

Oh when I last beheld this princely pile,
Exclaim d Siverian, with what other thoughts
Full, & elate of spirit did I pass
Its joyous gates! The weedery which thro
The interstices of its neglected courts
In rank luxuriance waved its idle head
Then underneath the feet of thronging crowds
Was trampled down. Here drawn in fair array
The faithfull vassals of my masters house,
Their javelins sparkling to the morning sun,
Spread their triumphant banners: high-plumd helm
Rose oer the martial ranks; & prancing steeds
Made answer to the trumpets stirring voice;
While yonder towers shook the dull silence off
Which long to their deserted walls had clung,
And with redoubling echoes swelld the shout
That hail’d victorious Roderick. Louder rose
The acclamation when the dust was seen
Rising beneath his chariot wheels, far off;
But nearer as the youthful hero came,
All sounds of all the multitude were hush’d,
And from the thousands & ten thousands here,
Whom Cordoba & Hispelis sent out forth –
Yea whom all Betica, all Spain pourd out
To greet his triumph, not a whisper rose
To heaven, – such awe & reverence mastered them
Such expectation held them motionless.
Conqueror & King he came, but with no joy
Of conquest, & no pride of sovereignty
That day displayd, for at his fathers grave
Did Roderick come to offer up his vow
Of vengeance well performd. Three coal black steeds
Drew on his ivory chariot… By his side
Still wrapt in mourning for the long deceasd
Rusilla sate; a deeper paleness blanchd
Her faded countenance, but in her eye
The light of her majestic nature shone.
Bound, & expecting at their hands the death
So well deserved, the Tyrant followed them;
Aghast & trembling first he gazed around
Wildly from side to side, then from the face
Of universal execration shrunk,
Hanging his wretched head abasd & poor
Of spirit with unmanly tears deplord
His fortune, not his crimes. With bolder front
Confiding in the priestly character
Came Orphas next; & then the spurious race
Whom in unhappy hour Favilas wife
Brought forth for Spain. O mercy ill bestowd
When Roderick in compassion for their youth
And for Pelayo’s sake forebore to crush
The brood of vipers!”
“Err perchance he might
Replied the Goth, suppressing as he spake
All signs of outward grief, tho every word
Went like a dagger to his bleeding heart, –
But sure I ween that error is not written
Among his sins. Old man, thou mayst regret
The mercy ill-deservd & worse returnd,
But not for this wouldst thou reproach the King.

Reproach him! cried Siverian. I reproach
My child, my noble boy – whom every tongue
Blest at that hour, – whose love filld every heart
With joy, & every eye with joyful tears!
My brave, my beautiful, my generous boy!
Brave, beautiful & generous as he was,
Never so brave, so beautiful, so great
As now! Not even on that glorious day
When in the field of victory, elevate
Amid the thousands who acclaimd him King,
Firm on the shield above their heads upraisd
Erect he stood, & waved his bloody sword. –
Why dost thou shake thy head as if in doubt?
I do not dream, or fable. Ten short years
Have scarcely past away, since all within
The Pyrenæan hills & the three seas
Which girdle Spain, echoed in one response
The acclamation from that field of fight.
– Or doth aught ail thee that thy body quakes
And shudders thus?
Tis but a chill, replied
The King, in passing from the open air
Under the shadow of this thick-set grove.

Oh if this scene awoke in thee such thoughts
As swell my bosom here, the old man pursued,
Sunshine or shade, & all things from without
Would be alike indifferent. – Gracious God
Only but ten short years & all ‘so changed’,
Ten little years since in yon court he checkd
His fiery steeds! The steeds obeyd his hand,
The whirling wheels stood still, & when he leapt
Upon the pavement the whole people heard
In their deep silence, open-eard, the sound
With slower movement from the ivory seat
Rusilla rose, her arm as down she stept
Extended to her sons supporting hand,
Not for default of firm or agile strength
But that the feelings of that solemn hour
Subdued her then, & tears deceivd her sight.
Howbeit when to her husbands grave she came,
On the sepulchral stone she bowd her head
Awhile, then rose collectedly, & fix’d
Upon the scene her calm & steady eye.
Roderick – oh when did valour wear a form
So beautiful, so noble, so august, –
Or vengeance, when did it put on before
A character so aweful, so divine? –
Roderick stood up, & reaching to the tomb
His hands, my hero cried, “Theodofred,
Father, I stand before thee once again,
According to thy prayer when kneeling down
Between thy knees I took my last farewell
And vowd by all thy sufferings, all thy wrongs
And by my mothers days & nights of woe
Her silent anguish, & the grief which then
Even from thee she did not seek to hide
That if our cruel parting should avail
To save me from the Tyrants jealous guilt
Surely should my avenging arm fulfill
What’eer he omened. Oh that Time, I cried
Would give the strength of manhood to this arm
Already would it find a manly heart
To guide it to its purpose! And I swore
Never again to see my fathers face,
Nor ask my mothers blessing, till I brought
Dead or in chains the Tyrant to thy feet.
Boy as I was, before all Saints in Heaven
And highest God whose justice slumbereth not
I made the vow. – According to thy prayer
In all things, O my father, is that vow
Performd, alas too well! For thou didst pray
While looking up I felt the burning tears
Which from thy sightless sockets streamd, drop down
That to thy grave & not thy living feet,
The Oppresor might be led. Behold him here
Father! Theodofred! no longer now
In darkness from thy heavenly seat look down
And see before thy grave thine enemy
In bonds, awaiting judgement at my hand

Thus while the hero spake, Witiza stood
Listening in agony, with open mouth,
And head half-raisd, toward his sentence turned
His eye-lids stiffened & pursed up, his eyes
Rigid & wild & wide; & when the King
Had ceas’d, amid the silence which ensued,
The dastards chains were heard, link against link
Clinking. At length upon his knees he fell
And lifting up his trembling hands outstretched
In supplication, – mercy! he exclaimd,
Chains, dungeons, darkness, – any thing but death!
I did not touch his life!
Roderick replied,
His hour whenever ha {it} had come had found
A soul prepard. He lived in peace with Heaven,
And life prolongd for him was bliss delayd.
But life in pain & darkness & despair
For thee, all leprous as thou art with crimes,
Is mercy. Take him hence, & let him see
The light of day no more!
Such Roderick was
When last I saw these courts, his theatre
Of glory; such when last I visited
My Masters grave.. Ten years have hardly held
Their course! ten little years! – break break old heart
– Oh why art thou so tough!
As thus he spake
They reachd the Church. The door before his hand
Gave way. Both blinded with their tears they went
Straight to the tomb, & there Siverian knelt
And bowd his head upon the sepulchre
Weeping aloud, while Roderick overpowerd,
And calling upon earth to cover him,
Threw himself prostrate on his fathers grave –

Thus as they lay an aweful voice in tones
Severe addressd them. Who are ye, it said
That with your passion thus, & on this night,
Disturb my prayers? – Starting they rose; there stood
A man before them of majestic form
And stature, clad in sackcloth, bare of foot,
Pale & in tears, with ashes on his head.

_______________

Keswick. Sept. 11 – 1812

I know nothing like this book in poetry, but there is something like it in Romance. Gyron le Courtoys, [2]  a book which has some of the best & some of the worst things of chivalrous romance, has something which is so far like that great part of the hero’s formd his former history is related to himself. It has a very good effect there, tho there is no passion connected with it, & I was led to the mode of back-narrative by the natural & necessary course of my own story, – not by imitation. Least of all things am I an imitator; – tho you will see that I have borrowed something from Count Julian. [3] 

The next book is nearly finished. I believe I must go back to the fifth, & interpolate a passage, introductory of Egilona, [4]  whose death I think of bringing forward in Book 8, in whose character I must seek for such palliation of the rape of Florinda, as may make Rodericks crime not so absolutely incompatible with his heroic qualities as it now appears. The truth is that in consequence of having begun the story with Roderick I have imperceptibly {been} led to make him the prominent personage of the poem, [5]  & have given him virtues which it will be very difficult to make consistent with his fall.

Remember me to Mrs Landor. I shall not move Southward till the Spring. – In the course of the next month

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Lanthony/ near/ Abergavenny./ Single Sheet
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298; MISSENT TO BRISTOL
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/11–13
Unpublished. BACK

[1] This letter contains a draft of the sixth book of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[2] A French Arthurian romance, which formed part of the Palamades cycle. Its putative, probably pseudonymous, author was Helie de Boron, who may have lived in the thirteenth century. BACK

[3] Landor’s Count Julian: A Tragedy (1812). BACK

[4] Egilona was introduced into Book 5, but not Book 8. In legend she was the wife of Roderick. BACK

[5] Southey’s original plan had been to centre the poem on Pelayo (c. 685–737), founder of the Kingdom of Asturias, who is credited with beginning the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013