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

2393. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 21 March 1814 ⁠* 

14 [1] 

Count, said Pelayo, Nature hath assignd
Two sovereign remedies for human grief;
Strength to the weak & to the wounded balm
Religion, surest, firmest, first, & best,
And strenuous action next. Think not I came
With unprovided heart. My noble wife
In the last solemn words, the last farewell
With which she charged her secret messenger,
Told me that whatsoeer was my resolve,
She bore a mind prepared. And well I know
The evil, be it what it may, hath found
In her a courage equal to the hour.
Captivity, or death, or what worse pangs
She in her children may be doomed to feel,
Will never make that steady soul repent
Its virtuous purpose. I too did cast
My single life into the lot, but knew
These dearer pledges on the die were set;
And if the worst has fallen, I shall but bear
That in my breast, which with transfiguring power
Of piety, makes chastening sorrow take
The form of hope & sees in Death the friend
And the delivering Angel. We must rest
Perforce, & wait what tidings night may bring
Haply of comfort. Ho there! kindle fires,
And see if aught of hospitality
Can yet within these mournful walls be found.

Thus while he spake lights were descried far off,
Moving among the trees, & coming sounds
Were heard, as of a distant multitude.
Anon a company of horse & foot
Advancing in disorderly array
Came up the vale: before them & beside
Their torches flash’d on Sellas rippling stream,
Now gleam’d thro chesnut groves, –emerging now
Oer their huge boughs & radiated leaves
Cast broad & bright a transitory glare.
That sight inspired with strength the mountaineers;
All sense of weariness, all wish for rest
At once were gone; impatient in desire
Of second victory alert they stood,
And when the hostile symbols, which from far
Imagination to their wish had shaped
Vanished in nearer vision, high-wrought hope
Departing, left the spirit pall’d & blank.
No turband race, no sons of Africa
Were they who now came winding up the vale,
As waving wide before their horses feet
The torch-light floated, with its hovering glare
Blackening the incumbent & surrounding night
Helmet & breastplate glittered as they came,
And spears erect; & x nearer as they drew
Were the loose folds of female garments seen
On those who led the company. Who then
Had stood beside Pelayo, might have heard
The beating of his heart
But vainly there
Sought he with wistful eye the well-known forms
Beloved; & plainly might it now be seen
That from some bloody conflict they return’d
Victorious, for at every saddle bow
A gory head was hung. Anon they stopt
Levelling in quick alarm their ready spears.
Hold! who goes there? cried one. A hundred tongues
Sent forth with one accord the glad reply,
Friends & Asturians! – Onward moved the lights
The People knew their Lord.
Then what a shout
Rung thro the valley! From their clay-built nests
Beneath the overbrowing battlements,
Then first disturbd the affrighted martins fled
And uttering notes of terror short & shrill
Amid the yellow glare & lurid smoke
Wheeld giddily. Then plainly was it shown
How well the vassals loved their generous Lord,
How like a father the Asturian Prince
Was dear. They crowded round, they claspd his knees
They snatchd his hand, they fell upon his neck, –
They wept, – they blest Almighty Providence
Which had restored him thus from bondage free,
God was with them & their good cause they said,
His hand was here, His shield was over them
His spirit was abroad, His power displayd,
And pointing to their bloody trophies then
They told Pelayo there he might behold
The first fruits of the harvest they should
Soon reap in the field of war. – Benignantly
With voice & look & gesture did the Prince
To these warm greetings of tumultuous joy
Respond; & sure if at that moment aught
Could for awhile have overpowered those fears
Which from the inmost heart oer all his frame
Diffused their chilling influence, worthy pride
And sympathy of love & joy & hope,
Had then possessed him wholly. Even now
His spirit rose: the sense of power, the sight
Of his brave people ready where he led
To fight their countrys battles, & the thought
Of instant action & deliverance,
If Heaven which thus far had protected him
Should favour still, revived his heart, & gave
Fresh impulse to its spring. In vain he sought
Amid that turbulent greeting to enquire
Where Gaudiosa was, his children where,
Who called them to the field, who captained them,
And how these women thus with arms & death
Environed, came amid their company.
For yet amid the fluctuating light
And tumult of the crowd he knew them not.

Guisla was one. The Moors had found in her
A willing & concerted prisoner,
Gladly to Gegio, to the renegade
On whom her loose & shameless love was bent
Had she sent forth; & in her heart she cursd
The busy spirit who with powerful call
Rousing Pelayos people, led them on
In quick pursual, & victoriously
Atchieved the rescue, to her mind perverse
Unwelcome as unlookd for. With dismay
She recognized her brother, dreaded now
More than he once was dear; her countenance
Was turnd toward him, not with eager joy
To court his eye, & meeting its first glance
Exchange delightful welcome, soul with soul,
Hers was the conscious eye that cannot chuse
But look to what it fears. She could not shun
His presence, & the rigid smile constrain’d
With which she coldly drest her features, ill
Conceald her inward thoughts, & the despite
Of obstinate guilt & unrepentant shame.
Sullenly thus upon her mule she sate
Waiting the greeting which she did not dare
Bring on. But who is she that at her side
Upon a stately war horse eminent
Holds the loose rein with careless hand? A helm
Presses the clusters of her flaxen hair,
The shield is on her arm; her breast is maild,
A sword-belt is her girdle, & right well
It may be seen that sword hath done its work
To day, for upward from the wrist her sleeve
Is stiff with blood. An unregardant eye
As one whose thoughts were not of earth, she cast
Upon the turmoil round. One countenance
So strongly-markd, so passion worn was there,
That it recalled her mind. Ha! Maccabee!
Lifting her arm exultingly she cried,
Did I not tell thee we should meet in joy?
Well Brother hast thou done thy part. – I too
Have not been wanting! Now be His the praise
From whom the impulse came.
That startling call
That voice so well remembered touchd the Goth
With timely impulse now; for he had seen
His mothers face, & at her sight the past
And present mingled like a frightful dream
Which from {some} dread reality derives
Its deepest horror. Adosinda’s voice
Dispersed the waking vision – Little deemd
Rusilla at that moment that the child
For whom her supplications day & night
Were offered, breathd the living air. Her heart
Was calm; her placid countenance, tho grief
Deeper than time had left its traces there,
Retained its dignity serene; yet when
Siverian pressing thro the people, kissd
Her reverend hand, some quiet tears ran down
As she approachd the Prince, the crowd made way
Respectful. The maternal smile which bore
Her greeting, from Pelayo’s heart almost
Dispelld its boding. What he would have asked
She knew, & bending from her palfrey said
All safe; – in secret thou shalt hear the rest

This fatal case business at Bergen-op-Zoom is the punishment for trusting Graham with command after the battle of Barrosa, an action which ministers knew at the time to be worse than useless. [2]  As for the Dutch indeed their torpor at this time is such that they deserve; [3]  according to the old punsters curse to be undamm’d in this world, – & take their chance damned in the next. [4]  – Yet I was struck the other day in reading George Gascoignes poems to come to a passage which added one to the many striking points of comparison between their war of deliverance [5]  & that of the Spaniards. He speaks of them just in the same just contemptuous manner as the Spaniards are spoken of by almost all who have served with them; –

––– they be but hollow gear
As weak as wind which with one puff up goeth
And yet they brag & think they have no peer
Because Harlem hath hitherto held out, –
Altho’ in deed (as they have suffered Spain)
The end thereof even now doth rest in doubt. [6] 

Another portion tomorrow.

RS.

Keswick. March. 21. 1814.


Notes

* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqre/ Swansea./ Single sheet
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/24–25
Previously published: John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 381–382 [in part]. BACK

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

[2] An English force under Thomas Graham, 1st Baron Lynedoch (1748–1843; DNB) failed to capture Bergen-op-Zoom in the Netherlands on March 8 1814, with a loss of 900 killed and wounded and 1800 prisoners. Graham had defeated the French forces besieging Cadiz on 5 March 1811 at the Battle of Barrosa. This victory proved a significant boost to British morale, but had no wider strategic consequences. Southey disliked Graham both for his criticism of the Spanish army’s operations at Barrosa and his Whig opinions (he was MP for Perthshire 1794–1807). BACK

[3] The Netherlands had revolted against French rule in November 1813 and Graham’s army was sent to their aid. BACK

[4] A remark attributed to John ‘Orator’ Henley (1692–1756; DNB), Nonconformist Minister, wit and eccentric. BACK

[5] The Dutch War of Independence against Spain 1572–1648. BACK

[6] George Gascoigne (c. 1535–1577; DNB), ‘The Devises of Sundrie Gentlemen’ (1573), lines 298–303. BACK

About this Page

Published @ RC

August 2013