2402. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, [mid-April 1814] 

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

2402. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, [mid-April 1814]⁠* 

16. [1] 

Meantime Pelayo up the vale pursued
Eastward his way, before the sun had climb d
Auseva’s brow, or shed his silvering beams
Upon Europa’s summit, where the snows
Thro all revolving seasons hold their seat.
A happy man he went, his heart at rest
Of hope & virtue & affection full
To all exhilarating influences
Of earth & heaven alive. With kindred joy
He heard the lark, who from her airy height
On twinkling pinions pois’d, poured forth profuse
In thrilling sequence of exuberant song,
At one whose joyous nature overflowd
With life & power, her rich & rapturous strain.
The early bee buzzing along the way
From flower to flower bore gladness on her wing
To his rejoicing sense; & he pursued
With quickened eye alert the frolic hare
Where from the green herb in her wanton path
She brushd away the dews. For he long time
Far from [MS obscured] & from his native hills
Had [MS obscured], & the mountain breeze
Which [MS obscured] breath of infancy
Inhaled [MS obscured] to his heart restored
As if the seasons had roll’d back, & life
Enjoyed a second spring.
Thro fertile fields
He went, by cots with pear-trees overbowered,
Or spreading to the sun their trelliced vines;
Thro orchards now, & now by thymy banks
Where wooden hives in some warm nook were hid
From wind & shower; & now thro shadowy paths
Where hazels fringed Pionias vocal stream
Till where the loftier hills to narrower bounds
Confine the vale, he reach d those huts remote
Which should hereafter to the noble line
Of Soto, origin & name impart:
A gallant lineage, long in fields of war
And faithful chroniclers enduring page
Blazoned; but most by him illustrated,
Avid of gold yet greedier of renown
Whom not the spoils of Atabalipa
Could satisfy insatiate, nor the fame
Of that wide empire overthrown appease;
But he to Floridas disastrous shores
In evil hour his gallant comrades led,
Thro savage woods, & swamps, & hostile tribes,
The Apalachian arrows, & the snares
Of viler foes, hunger & thirst & toil,
Till from ambitions feverish dream the touch
Of Death awoke him; & when he had seen
The fruit of all his treasures, all his toil
Foresight & long endurance, fade away,
Earth to the restless one refusing rest
In the great rivers midland bed he left
His honoured bones.
A mountain rivulet
Now calm & lovely in its summer course,
Held by those huts its everlasting way
Toward Pionia. They whose flocks & herds
Drank of its waters calld it Deva. Here
Pelayo southward up the ruder vale
Traced it, his guide unerring. Amid heaps
Of mountain wreck on either side thrown high
The wide-spread traces of its wintry might,
The tortuous channel wound; oer beds of sand
Here silently it flows; here from the rock
Rebutted curls & eddies, plunges here
Precipitate; here roaring among crags
It leaps & foams & whirls & hurries on
Grey alders here & bushy hazels hides
The mossy side, their wreathed & knotted feet
Bared by the current, now against its force
Repaying the support they found, upheld
The bank secure. Here bending to the stream
The birch fantastic stretchd its rugged trunk
Tall & erect from whence as from a base
Each like a tree its silver branches grew
The cherry tree hung for the birds of heaven
Its rosy fruit on high. The elder there
Its purple berries oer the water bent
Heavily hanging. Here amid the brook
Grey as the stone to which it clung, half-root,
Half trunk, the young ash rises from the rock,
And there its parent lifts a lofty head
And spreads its graceful boughs; the passing wind
With twinkling motion lifts the silent leaves
And shakes the rattling tufts.
Soon had the Prince
Behind him left the farthest dwelling-place
Of man; no fields of wavering corn were here
Nor wicker storehouse for the autumnal grain,
Vineyard, nor bowery fig, nor fruitful grove;
Only the rocky vale, the mountain stream,
Incumbent crags, & hills that over hills
Arose on either hand, here hung with woods,
Here rich with heath that oer some smooth ascent
Its purple glory spread, or golden gorse’
Bare here & striated with many a hue
Scored by wintry rain; by torrents here
Riven, & with overhanging rock abrupt.
Pelayo upward, as he cast his eyes,
Where crags loose-hanging oer the narrow pass
Impended, there beheld his countrys strength
Insuperable, & in his heart rejoiced.
Oh that the Musselman were here, he cried,
With all his myriads! While thy day endures
Moor, thou mayst lord it in the plains, but here
Hath Nature for the free & brave prepard
A sanctuary, where no oppressors power,
No might of human tyranny can pierce.

The tears which started then sprang not alone
From loft thoughts of elevating joy;
For love & admiration had their part
And virtuous pride. Here then thou hast retired
My Gaudiosa! in his heart he said
Excellent woman! neer was richer boon
By fate benign to favoured man indulged,
Than when thou wert before the face of heaven
Given me to my childrens mother, brave
And virtuous as thou art! Here thou hast fled
Thou who wert nurst in palaces, to dwell
In rocks & mountain caves! – The thought was proud
Yet not without a sense of inmost pain;
For never had Pelayo till that hour
So deeply felt the force of solitude.
High over head the eagle soard serene,
And the grey lizard on the rocks below
Basked in the sun: no living creature else
In this remotest wilderness was seen;
Nor living voice was there, – only the flow
Of Deva, & the rushing of its springs
Long in the distance heard, which nearer now
With endless repercussion deep & loud
Throbb’d on the dizzy sense.
The ascending vale
Long straitened by the narrowing mountains, here
Was closed. In front a rock abrupt & bare
Stood eminent, in height exceeding far
All edifice of human power, by King
Or Caliph, or barbaric Sultan reard,
Or mightier tyrants of the world of old
Assyrian or Egyptian in their pride.
Yet far above; beyond the reach of sight
Swell above swell, the shaggy mountain rose.
Here in two sources from the living rock
The everlasting springs of Deva gushd.
Upon a smooth & grassy plat below,
By nature there as for an altar drest
They joined their sister stream, which from the earth
Well’d silently. In such a scene rude man
With pardonable error might have knelt,
Feeling a present Deity, & made
His offerings to the fountain Nymph devout.
The arching rock disclosed above the springs
A cave where hugest son of giant birth
That ere of old in forest of romance
Gainst knights & ladies waged discourteous war,
Erect within the portal might have stood.
The broken stone allowed for hand & foot
No difficult ascent, above the base
In height a tall mans stature measured thrice.
No holier spot than Covadonga Spain
Boasts in her wide extent, tho all her realms
Be with the noblest blood of martyrdom
In elder or in later days enrich’d,
And glorified with tales of heavenly aid
By many a miracle made manifest;
Nor in the heroic annals of her fame
Doth she show forth a scene of more renown.
Then, save the hunter drawn in keen pursuit
Beyond his wonted haunts, or shepherds boy
Following the pleasure of his straggling flock
None knew the place.
Pelayo when he saw
Those glittering sources & their sacred cave,
Took from his side the bugle silver-tipt,
And with a breath long-drawn & slow-expird
Sent forth that strain, which echoing from the walls
Of Cangas wont to tell his glad return
When from the chase he came. At the first sound
Favilla started in the cave & cried
My Fathers horn! a sudden flush suffusd
Hermesinds cheek, & she with quickened eye
Lookd eager to her mother silently;
But Gaudiosa trembled & grew pale
Doubting her sense deceived. A second time
The bugle breathed its well-known notes abroad,
And Hermesind around her mothers neck
Threw her white arms, & earnestly exclaimd
Tis he! But when a third & broader blast
Rung in the echoing archway, neer did pipe
With magic powers embued call up a sight
So strange, as sure it seemd in that wild solitude
It seemd, when from the bowels of the rock
The mother & her children hastened forth.
She in the sober charms & dignity
Of womanhood mature, nor verging yet
Upon decay; in gesture like a Queen
Such inborn & habitual majesty
Ennobled all her steps; or Priestess chosen
Because within such faultless work of Heaven
Inspiring Deity might seem to make
Its habitation known. Favila such
In form & stature as the Sea Nymphs son
When that wise Centaur from his cave well-pleased
Beheld the boy divine his growing strength
Against some shaggy lionet essay,
And fixing in the half-grown mane his hands
Roll with him in fierce dalliance interwined
But like a creature of some higher sphere
His sister came; she scarcely touchd the rock
So light was Hermesinds aerial speed.
Beauty & grace & innocence in her
In heavenly union shone. One who had held
The faith of elder Greece, would sure have thought
She was some glorious Nymph of seed divine
Oread or Dryad, of Dianas train
The youngest & the loveliest: yea she seemd
Angel, or soul beatified, from realms
Of bliss on errand of parental love
To earth re-sent, – if tears & trembling limbs
With such celestial nature might consist.

Embraced by all, by turns embracing each,
The husband & the father for awhile
Forgot his country & all things beside.
Life hath few moments of such pure delight,
Such foretaste of the perfect joy of Heaven.
And when the thought recurrd of sufferings pastx,
Perils which threatened still, & arduous toil
Yet to be undergone, rememberd griefs
Heightened the present happiness; & hope
Upon the shadows of futurity
Shone like the Sun upon the morning mists,
When driven before his rising rays they roll
And melt & leave the prospect bright & clear.

When now Pelayo’s eyes had drank their fill
Of love from those dear faces, he went up
To view the hiding place. Spacious it was
As that Sicilian cavern in the hill
Wherein earth-shaking Neptunes giant son
Duly at eve was want to fold his flock,
Ere the wise Ithacan oer that brute force
By wiles prevailing for a life-long night
Seeld his broad eye. The healthful air had here
Free entrance, & the chearful light of Heaven.
But at the end an opening in the floor
Of rock disclosed a wider vault below,
Which never sunbeam visited, nor breath
Of vivifying morning came to cheer.
No light was there, but that which from above
In dim reflection fell, or found its way
Broken & quivering, thro the glassy stream
Where thro the rock it gushd. That shadowy light
Sufficed to show where from their secret source
The waters issued; with whose rapid course
And with whose everlasting cataracts,
Such motion to the chill damp atmosphere
Was given, as if the solid walls of rock
Were shaken with the sound.
Glad to respire
The upper air Pelayo hastened back
From that drear den. Look, Hermesind exclaimd,
Taking her fathers hand, thou hast not seen
My chamber; – see – did ever ring-dove chuse
In so secure a nook her hiding place,
Or build a warmer nest? tis fragrant too
As warm, & not more sweet than soft, for thyme
And myrtle with the elastic heath are laid,
And over all this dry & downy pillowy moss.
Smiling she spake, Pelayo kissd his child
And sighing said within himself, I trust
In Heaven wheneer thy May of life is come,
Sweet bird, that thou shalt have a blither bower!
Fitlier he thought some such chamber might beseem
Some hermit of Hilarions school austere,
Or old Antonius, he who from the hell
Of his bewildered phantasy saw fiends
In actual vision, a fantastic throng
Of all horrific shapes & forms obscene,
Crowd in broad day before his open eyes.
That feeling cast a momentary shade
Of sadness oer his soul. But deeper thoughts,
If he might have foreseen the things to come,
Would there have filld him: for within that cave
His own remains were one day doomd to find
Their final place of rest; & in the spot
Where that dear child with innocent delight
Had spread her mossy couch, the sepulchre
Shall in the consecrated rock be hewn,
Where with Alphonso her beloved Lord,
Laid side by side must Hermesind partake
The everlasting marriage bed, when he
Leaving a name perdurable on earth,
Hath changed his earthly for a heavenly crown
Dear child, upon that fated spot she stood,
In all the beauty of her opening youth,
In healths rich bloom, in virgin innocence,
While her eyes sparkled, & her heart oerflowed
With pure & perfect joy of filial love.

Many a slow century since that day hath filled
Its course, & countless multitudes hath trod
With pilgrim feet that consecrated cave,
Yet not in all those ages, amid all
The untold concourse, hath one breast been swoln
With such emotions as Pelayo felt
That hour. O Gaudiosa, he exclaimd
And thou couldst seek for shelter here, amid
This aweful solitude, in mountain caves!
Thou noble spirit! oh when hearts like thine
Grow on this sacred soil, would it not be
In me thy husband, double infamy
And tenfold guilt if I despair’d of Spain!
In all her visitations favouring Heaven
Hath left her still the unconquerable mind,
And this being worthy of redemption sure
Is she to be redeem’d.
Beholding her
Thro tears he spake, & prest upon her lips
A kiss of deepest love. Think ever thus,
She answerd, & that faith will give the power
In which it trusts. When to this mountain hold
These children, thy dear images I brought,
I said within my heart, where should they fly
But to the bosom of their native hills?
I brought them here as to a sanctuary,
Where for the temples sake the indwelling God
Would guard his supplicants. O my dear Lord
Proud as I was to know that they were thine,
Was it a sin if I almost believed,
That Spain, her destiny being linked with theirs
Would save the precious charge?
So let us think
The Chief replied, so feel & teach & act.
Spain is our common parent: let the sons
Be to their parent true, & in her strength
And Heaven, their sure deliverance they will find.

________

So the curtain has fallen after a tragedy of five & twenty years! In two respects the catastrophe is as it should be. Buonapartes degradation is compleat, even his military reputation is lost, & he is suffered to live more because he may safely be despised than because of his Austrian marriage. [2]  And the French in baseness & impudence have contrived to outdo their former masterpieces in this kind. Amiable people, – they are have been rather the victims of the Tyrant than his agents! It will pass current at Paris, – but I would advise Jean F. to offer {trust} himself with no better security than such an excuse could {can} afford him among my friends the Portugueze, – nor in any part of peninsula. Then the patriotism of the rascals, the Municipality can no longer reconcile it to their conscience to keep silence! – Wretches! If Buonapartes last order concerning his good city of Paris had been executed, I could with little difficulty have brought myself to believe that the powder could not have been more fitly expended. [3] 

Your remark about the participles [4]  is right – & where I have written incorrectly it has been virtue of a liberty {privilege} – which in spite of all precedent, is better best honourd in the disuse. This book explains the scene of the final action, – which justifies a description otherwise too diffuse.

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ Walter Savage Esqre/ Swansea./ Single Sheet
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/28–29
Previously published: John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, p. 382 [in part].
Dating note: dated from content. BACK

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

[2] Napoleon had married Marie-Louise of Austria (1791–1847) in March 1810. BACK

[3] A reference to the rumour that Napoleon had ordered Paris to be destroyed if it fell to the allies in March 1814. BACK

[4] Landor had written to Southey: ‘In one place you have written forsook as the participle. Now I am very jealous of the participles. I would not write ‘it was held,’ but ‘it was holden:’ although custom authorises both, and rather (in late years) had preferred the former. I wish to see our language perfect in your works: it is very far from perfect in any other of our poets’; see John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 266–267. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013