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

2226. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 3 March 1813 ⁠* 

10 [1] 

With sword & breastplate under rustic weeds
Concealed, at dusk Pelayo past the gate,
Florinda following near, disguised alike;
Two peasants on their mules they seemd, at eve
Returning from the town. Not distant far
Alphonso by the appointed orange grove,
With anxious eye & agitated heart
Watch’d for the Princes coming. Eagerly
At every footfall thro the gloom he strain’d
His sight, nor did he recognize him when
The Chieftain thus accompanied drew nigh,
And when the expected signal calld him on,
Doubting this female presence, half in fear
Obeyd the call. Pelayo too perceived
The boy was not alone; he not for that
Delayed the summons, but lest need should be
Laying hand upon his sword, toward him bent
In act soliciting speech, & low of voice,
Enquired if friend or foe. Forgive me, cried
Alphonso, that I did not tell thee this,
Full as I was of happiness before
Tis Hoya, servant of my fathers house,
Unto whose dutiful care & love when sent
To this vile bondage, I was given in charge.
How could I look upon my fathers face,
If I had in my joy deserted him
Who was to me found faithful? – Excellent boy!
Exclaimd Pelayo, as he wrung his hand
While tears of sudden & intense delight
Started: brave boy! good boy! & in his heart
He said, supprest in silence, blessed be
The womb that bore thee, but of womankind
Most blessed she whose hand her happy stars
Shall link with thine. And at that happy thought the form
Of Ermesind his daughter, in his soul
Rose in her beauty.
Soon by devious tracts
They turnd aside. The favouring Moon arose
To guide them on their flight thro upland paths
Remote from frequency, & dales retired,
Forest & mountain glen. Before their feet
The fire-flies, swarming in the woodland shade
Sprung up like living sparks, & round their way
Twinkled; the blackbird starting at their step
Fled from her thicket with shrill note of fear
Melodious, far below them in the dell,
When all the soothing sounds of eve had ceased,
The distant watch-dogs voice at times was heard
Answering the nearer wolf. All thro the night
Among the hills they travelled silently,
Till when the stars were setting, at what hour
The breath of heaven is coldest, they beheld
Within a lonely grove the expected fire
Where Roderick & his comrade anxiously
Lookd for the Prince’s coming. Halting there
They from the burthen & the bit relieved
Their patient bearers, & around the fire
Partook of needful food & grateful rest.

Bright rose the flame replenished; it illumed
The cork-trees furrowed rind, its rifts & swells
And redder scars, & where its aged boughs
Oerbowered the travellers, cast upon the leaves
A floating, grey, unrealizing gleam.
Alphonso, light of heart, upon the heath
Lay carelessly dispread, in happy dreams
Of home; his faithful Hoya slept beside.
Years & fatigue to old Siverian brought
Easy oblivion, & the Prince himself,
Yielding to wearied Nature’s gentle will
Forgot his cares awhile. Florinda sate
Beholding Roderick with fixt eyes intent,
Yet unregardant of the countenance
Whereon she dwelt, in other thoughts absorbed,
Collecting fortitude for what she yearnd
Yet trembled to perform. Her steady look
Disturbd the Goth, albeit he little weend
What agony awaited him that hour;
The face, well-nigh as changed as his, was now
Half-hidden, & the lustre of her eye
Extinct; nor did her voice awaken in him
One startling recollection when she spoke,
So altered were its tones.
Father, she said,
All thankful as I am to leave behind
The unhappy walls of Cordoba, not less
Of consolation doth my heart receive
At sight of one to whom I may disclose
The sins which trouble me, & at his feet
Lay down repentantly in Jesu’s name
The burthen of my spirit. In his name
Hear me, & pour into my wounded soul
The balm of righteous counsel. – Saying thus
She drew toward the minister ordained,
And kneeling by him, Father, dost thou know
The wretch who kneels beside thee? she enquird;
He answered, Surely we are each to each
Equally unknown.
Then said she, here thou seest
One who is known too fatally for all,
The daughter of Count Julian, – Well it was
For Roderick that no eye beheld him now;
From head to foot a keener pang than death
Thrilld him; his heart as at a mortal stroke
Ceas’d from its functions; his breath faild, & when
The power of life recovering set its springs
Again in action, cold & clammy sweats
Starting at every pore, suffused his frame.
Their presence helped him to subdue himself
For else had none been nigh, he would have fallen
Before Florinda, prostrate on the earth,
Beseeching her forgiveness ere he died;
And in that mortal agony belike
Both souls had taken flight. She markd him not,
For having told her name she bowd her head
Breathing a short & silent prayer to heaven,
Which as the penitent she wrought herself
To open to his eyes her hidden wounds.

Father! at length she said, all tongues amid
This general ruin pour their bitterness
On Roderick, load his memory with reproach;
And with their curses persecute his soul.
– Why shouldst thou tell me this? exclaimd the Goth,
Wiping from his cold forehead, as he spake
The death-like moisture – Why of Rodericks guilt
Tellest thou me! thinkest thou I know it not?
Alas who hath not heard of Rodericks fall,
Rodericks reproach! – Babes learn it from their nurses,
And children by their mothers unreproved,
Link their first execrations to his name.
Oh it hath caught a taint of infamy,
That like Iscariots thro all time shall last
Reeking & fresh for ever!
There – she cried,
Drawing her body backward as she knelt,
And stretching forth her arms, with head upraised, –
There – it pursues me still! I came to thee
Father for comfort, & thou heapest fire
Upon my head! But hear me patiently
And let me undeceive thee! self-abased,
Not to arraign another do I come;
I come a self-accuser, self-condemnd,
To take upon myself the pain deserved;
For I have drank the cup of bitterness
And having drank therein of heavenly grace,
I must not put away the cup of shame.

Thus as she spake she faltered at the close,
And in that dying fall her voice sent forth
Somewhat of its original sweetness. There!
Thou self-abased, exclaimed the astonished King,
Thou self condemnd! the cup of shame for thee,
For thee Florinda! – But the very excess
Of passion checkd his speech, restraining him
From farther transport which perchance had else
Masterd him, & he stood as one entranced
Gazing upon that countenance so fallen,
So changed. Her face raised from its mufflers now
Was turnd towards him, & the fore-light shone
Full on its mortal paleness; but the shade
Concealed the King.
She rousd him from the spell
Which held him like a statue motionless.
Thou too, quoth she, dost join the general curse,
Like one who when he sees a felons grave
Casting a stone there as he passes by
Adds to the heap of shame. Oh what are we,
Frail creatures as we are, that we should sit
In judgement man on man! & what were we
If the all-merciful should mete to us
With the same rigorous measure wherewithal
Sinner to sinner metes! But God beholds
The secrets of the heart; therefore his name
Is merciful. Servant of God see thou
The hidden things of mine, & judge thou then
In charity thy brother who hath fallen.
– Nay hear me to the end! I loved the King
Tenderly, passionately, madly loved him!
Sinful it was to love a child of earth
With such entire devotion as I loved
Roderick, the heroic Prince, the glorious Goth.
And yet methought this was its only crime,
The imaginative passion seemed so pure:
Quiet & calm like duty, hope nor fear
Disturb’d the deep contentment of that love;
He was the sunshine of my soul, & like
A flower I lived & flourished in his light.
Oh bear not with me thus impatiently!
No tale of weakness this, that in the act
Of penitence, indulgent to itself,
With garrulous palliation half repeats
The sin it ill repents. I will be brief,
And shrink not from confessing how the love
Which thus began in innocence, betrayed
My unsuspecting heart; nor me alone,
But him, before whom, shining as she shone
With whatsoeer is noble, whatsoeer
Is lovely, whatsoever good & great,
I was as dust & ashes, – him alas!
The glorious being, this exalted Prince,
Even him with all his royalty of soul
Did this ill-omened, this accursed love
To his most lamentable fall betray
And utter ruin. Thus it was, the King
By council of cold statesmen ill-advised
Had given & {With} an unworthy mate had hand {bound himself}
In politic wedlock. Wherefore should I tell
How nature upon Egilona’s form
Profuse of beauty, lavishing her gifts
Left, like a statue from the gravers hand,
Deformity & hollowness beneath
The rich external? For the love of pomp
And emptiest vanity, hath she not incurr’d
The grief & wonder of good men, the gibes
Of vulgar ribaldry, the reproach of all,
Profaning the most holy sacrament
Of wedlock, to become chief of the wives
Of Abdalazis, of the Infidel,
The Moor, the Tyrant-Enemy of Spain.
All know her now: but they alone who know
What Roderick was, can judge his wretchedness
To that light spirit & unfeeling heart
In hopeless bondage bound. No children rose
From this unhappy union, towards whom
The springs of love within his soul confined
Might flow in joy & fullness; nor was he
One like Witiza of the vulgar crew
Who in promiscuous appetite can find
All their base nature needs seeks. – Alas for man
Exuberant health diseases him, frail worm;
And the slight bias of untoward chance
Make his best virtues from the even line
With fatal declination swerve aside.
Aye, thou well mayst groan! My evil fate
Made me an inmate of the royal house;
And Roderick found in me, if not a heart
Like his, – for who was like the heroic Goth?
One which at least felt his surpassing worth,
And loved him for himself. – A little yet
Bear with me, reverend father, for I touch
Upon the point, & this long prologue goes
As justice bids, to palliate his offence,
Not mine. The passion which I fondly thought
Such as fond sisters for a brother feel,
Grew day by day, & strengthened x in its growth
Till the beloved presence was become
Needful as food, or necessary sleep,
My hope, light, sunshine, life & every thing.
Thus lapt in dreams of bliss I might have lived
Contented with this pure idolatry;
Had he been happy; but I saw & knew
His {The} inward discontent & household griefs
Which he subdued in silence, & alas
Pity with admiration mingling then
Alloyed & lowered & humanized my love,
Till to the level of my lowliness
It brought him down; & in this treacherous heart
Too often the repining thought arose
That if Florinda had been Rodericks Queen
Then might domestic peace & happiness
Have blest his home, & crownd our wedded loves
Too often did that sinful thought arise,
Too feebly the temptation was repell’d.

See Father, I have probed my inmost soul,
Have searched to its remotest source the sin
And tracing it through all its specious forms
Of fair disguisement I present it now
Even as it lies before the eye of God,
Bare & exposed, convicted & condemn’d.
One eve as in the bowers which overhang
The glen where Tagus rolls between his rocks,
Alone I strayd, alone I met the King
His countenance was troubled, & his speech
Like that of one whose tongue to light discourse
At fits constraind, betrays a heart disturbd.
I too albeit unconscious of his thoughts
With anxious looks revealed what wandering words
Essayed in vain to hide. A little while
Did this oppressive intercourse endure,
Till our eyes met in silence, each to each
Telling their mutual tale, then consciously
Together fell abased. He took my hand
And said, Florinda would that thou & I
Earlier had met, oh what a blissful lot
Had then been mine who might have found in thee,
The sweet companion & the friend endeard,
A fruitful wife & crown of earthly joys.
Thou too shouldst then have been of womankind
Happiest, as now the loveliest! – And with that
First giving way to passion first disclosed,
He prest upon my lips a guilty kiss,
Alas! more guiltily received than given.
Passive, & yielding, & yet self-reproached
Trembling I stood, upheld in his embrace;
When coming steps were heard, & Roderick said
Meet me tomorrow I beseech thee here
Queen of my heart – oh meet me here again
My own Florinda, – meet me here again! –
Tongue, eye, & pressure of the empassioned hand
Solicited & urged the ardent suit;
And from my hesitating hurried lips
The word of promise fatally was drawn.
O Roderick! Roderick! hadst thou told me all
Thy purpose at that hour; from what a world
Of woe had thou & I” –– the bitterness
Of that reflection overcame her then
And choakd her speech – But Roderick sate the while
Covering his face with both his hands close prest,
His head bowed down, his spirit to such point
Of sufferance knit, as one who patiently
Awaits the uplifted sword.
Till now, said she
Pursuing her confession, I had lived
If not in innocence, yet self-deceived,
And of my perilous & sinful state
Unconscious. But this fatal hour revealed
To my awakened soul her guilt & shame,
And in those agonies with which Remorse
Doth triumph oer the lacerated heart
Wrestling with weakness, & with cherished sin,
Doth triumph oer the lacerated heart,
That night, that miserable night, I vowed
A virgin dedicate to pass my life
Immured, & like redeemed Magdaline
Or that Egyptian penitent, whose tears
Fretted the rock, & moistened round her cave
The thirsty desert, so to mourn my fall.
The struggle ending thus, the victory
Thus as I deemd accomplishd, I believed
My soul was calm, & that the peace of Heaven
Descended to accept & bless my vow;
And in this faith prepared to consummate
The sacrifice, I went to meet the King.
See Father! what a snare had Satan laid!
For Roderick came to tell me that the Church
From his unfruitful bed would set him free
And I should be his Queen.
Oh let me close
The dreadful tale. I told him of my vow,
And from sincere & scrupulous piety,
But more I fear me in that desperate mood
Of obstinate will perverse, the which with pride
And shame & self-reproach, doth sometimes make
The woman’s tongue, her own worst enemy
Run counter to its dearest heart’s desire, –
In that unhappy mood did I resist
All his most earnest prayers to let the power
Of holy church, – never more rightfully
Invoked, he said, than now in our behalf,
Release us from our fatal bonds. He urged
With kindling warmth his suit, like one whose life
Hung on the issue. I dissembled not
My cruel self-reproaches, nor my grief,
Yet desperately maintaind the rash resolve
Till in the passionate argument he grew
Inflamed, incensed, & maddened, or possessed; –
For Hell too surely at that hour prevaild,
And with such subtle toils enveloped him
That even in the extremity of wrong guilt
No guilt he purported, but rather meant
An life-long {amplest} recompense of life-long love
For transitory wrong, which fate perverse,
Thus madly he deceived himself, compelled
And therefore stern necessity excused.
Here then O father, at thy feet I own
Myself the guiltier; for full well I knew
These were his thoughts; – but vengeance mastered me
And in my agony I cursed the man
Whom I loved best!
Dost thou recall that curse?
Cried Roderick in a deep & inward voice,
Still with his head depressed & covering still
His countenance. Recall it? she exclaimed,
Father I come to thee because I gave
The reins to wrath too long; – because I wrought
His ruin, death & infamy; O God
Forgive the wicked vengeance thus indulged
As I forgive the King! – But teach me thou
What reparation more than tears & prayers
May now be made; – how shall I vindicate
His injured name, & take upon myself ––

Daughter of Julian, firmly he replied
Speak not of that I charge thee. On his fame
The Ethiop die fixed ineffaceably
Must For ever will abide; so it must be,
So should be; tis his rightful punishment;
And if to the full measure of his fault
The punishment hath fallen, the more our hope
That by the blood of Jesus he may find
His sins forgiven him. – Pausing then, he raisd
His hand & pointed where Siverian lay
Stretchd on the heath. To that old man said he,
And to the mother of the unhappy Goth,
Tell if it please thee, – not what thou hast pour’d
Into my secret ear, – but that the child
For whom they weep in hopeless bitterness,
Sinn’d not for vicious will or heart corrupt,
But fell by fatal circumstance betrayd.
And if in charity to them, thou sayest
Something to palliate, something to excuse
An act of sudden frenzy when the fiend
Oercame him, thou wilt do for Roderick
All he could ask thee, – all that can be done
On earth, & all his spirit could endure.

Venturing toward her an imploring look, –
Wilt thou join with me for his soul in prayer
He said, & trembled as he spake. That voice
Of sympathy was like Heavens influence
Wounding at once & comforting the soul.
O Father Christ requite thee! she replied:
Thou hast set free the springs which withering grief
Have closed too long! – forgive me for I thought
Thou wert a rigid & unpitying judge,
One whose stern virtue knowing in itself
No flaw of frailty hear impatiently
Of weakness & of guilt. I wrongd thee father! –
With that she took his hand & kissing it
Bathed it with tears. Then with a firmer speech,
For Roderick, for Count Julian, & myself
Three, wretchedest of all the human race,
Who have destroyed each other & ourselves,
Mutually wronged & wronging, – let us pray!

_____

You have a part of the Poem so difficult to get over, even tolerably, that I verily believe, if I had at first anticipated Rodericks character as thought of making Roderick any thing more than a sincere penitent, this difficulty would have deterred me from attempting the subject. – There will probably be much to amend in it hereafter, – but I think it is in the right strain, & that the passion is properly made diffuse.

I have endeavoured to do something for your Bill, [2]  & am told that the opinion of the county members in its favour will be worth more than any thing else.

RS.

March 3. 1813.


Notes

* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Lanthony/ Abergavenny./ Single Sheet
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/18–19
Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, p. 48 [in part]. BACK

[1] What follows is a draft of the tenth book of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[2] Landor was trying to bring a private enclosure Bill before parliament in order to enclose the common land around his Lanthony estate, see John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 374–375. However, opposition from neighbouring county members forced him to abandon the Bill early in the parliamentary session. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013