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

2429. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 28 May 1814 ⁠* 

17. [1] 

O holiest Mary, Maid & Mother! thou
In Covadonga at thy rocky shrine
Hast witness’d whatsoeer of human bliss
Heart can conceive most perfect: faithful love
Long crost by envious stars, hath there attain’d
Its crown, in endless matrimony given;
The youthful mother there hath to the font
x Here first-born borne, & there with deeper sense
Of gratitude for that dear babe redeem’d
From threatening death, returnd to pay her vows.
But na {neer} on nuptial, nor baptismal day,
Nor from their grateful pilgrimage discharged,
X Did happier groupe their way down Devas vale
Rejoicing hold, than this blest family
Oer whom the mighty Spirit of the Land
Spread his protecting wings. The children free
In youthheads happy season from all cares
That might disturb the hour, yet capable
Of that intense & unalloyed delight
Which childhood feels when it enjoys again
The dear parental presence, long deprived:
Nor were the parents now less blest than they
Even to the height of human happiness;
For Gaudiosa & her Lord that hour
Let no misgiving thoughts intrude; she fixd
Her hope on him, & his were fixd on Heaven,
And hope in that courageous heart derived
Such rooted strength, & confidence assurd
In righteousness, that twas to him like faith
An everlasting sunshine of the soul,
Illuming & quickening all xx its powers.

But on Pionias side meantime a heart
As generous & as full of noble thoughts
Lay stricken with the deadliest bolts of grief.
Upon a smooth grey stone sate Roderick there;
The wind above him stirrd the hazel boughs,
And murmuring at his feet the river ran. –
He sate with folded arms, & head declin’d
Upon his breast, feeding on bitter thoughts;
Till nature gave him in the exhausted sense
Of woe, a respite ‘something like repose’,
And then the quiet sound of gentle winds
And waters with their lulling consonance
Beguiled him of himself. Of all within
Oblivious there he sate, sentient alone
Of outward nature, of the whispering leaves
That sooth’d his ear, the genial breath of Heaven
That fann’d his cheek, the streams perpetual flow
That with its shadows & its glancing lights,
Dimples & thread-like motions infinite
For ever varying & yet still the same
Like time toward eternity ran by.
Resting his head upon his master’s knees
Upon the bank beside him Whitefoot lay xTho [2] 
What matters change of state & circumstance
Or lapse of years with all their dread events
To him? what matter it that Roderick wears
The crown no longer, nor the sceptre wields;
It is the dear-loved hand whose friendly touch
Had flattered him so oft; it is the voice
At whose glad summons to the field so oft
From slumber he had started, shaking off
Dreams of the chace to share the actual joy
The eye whose recognition he was wont
To watch & welcome with exultant tongue.

A coming step unheard by Roderick roused
His wakeful ear, & turning he beheld
Siverian. Father, said the good old man,
As Whitefoot rose & fawnd about his knees
Hast thou some charm which draws toward thee thus
The hearts of all our house, even to the beast
That lacks discourse of reason, but too oft
With uncorrupted feeling & dumb faith
Puts lordly men to shame? – The King replied
Tis that mysterious sense by which mankind
To fix their friendships & their loves are led
And which with fainter influence doth extend
To such poor things as this. As we put off
The cares & passions of this fretful world
It may be too that we thus far approach
To elder nature, & regain in part
The privilege thro sin in Eden lost
The timid hare soon leans that she may trust
The solitary penitent, & birds
Will light upon the hermits harmless hand

Thus Roderick answered in excursive speech
Thinking to draw the old mans mind from what
Might touch him else too nearly, & himself
Disposed to follow on the lure he threw
As one whom such imaginations led
Out of the world of his own miseries.
But to regardless ears his words were given
For on the dog Siverian gazed the while,
Pursuing his own thoughts. Thou hast not felt
Exclaim’d the old man the earthquake & the storm
The kingdoms overthrow, the wreck of Spain
The ruin of thy royal masters house,
Hath reachd not thee! Then turning to the King,
When the destroying enemy drew nigh
Toledo, he continued, & we fled,
Before their fury, even while her grief
Was fresh, my mistress would not leave behind
This faithful creature. Well we knew she thought
Of Roderick then, altho she named him not;
For never since the faithful certainty
x Fell on us all, hath that  [3]  unhappy name
Save in her prayers, been known to pass her lips
Before this day. She names him now & weeps;
But now her tears are tears of thankfulness,
For blessed hath thy coming been to her
And all who loved the King.
His faultering voice
Here failed him, & he paused; recovering soon
When that poor injured Lady, he pursued
Did in my presence to the Prince absolve
The unhappy King.
Absolve him! Roderick cried
And in that strong emotion turn’d his face
Sternly toward Siverian, for the sense
Of shame & self-reproach drove from his mind
All other thoughts. The good old man replied,
Of human judgements humanly I speak.
Who knows not what Pelayo’s life hath been?
Not happier in all dear domestic ties
Than worthy by his virtue of the bliss
Which is that virtue’s fruit: & yet did he,
Pure as his life hath been & without spot,
Absolve upon Florindas tale the King.
Siverian, thus he said, what most I hoped
And still within my secret heart believed
Is now made certain. Roderick hath been
More sinn’d against than sinning. And with that
He claspt his hands & lifting them to Heaven
Cried, Would to God that he were yet alive,
For not more gladly did I draw my sword
Against Witiza  [4]  in our common cause,
Than I would fight beneath his banners now,
And vindicate his name!
Did he say this?
The Prince? Pelayo? in astonishment
Roderick exclaimd. He said it, quoth the old man.
None better knew his kinsmans noble heart,
None loved him better, more bewaild him more.
And as he felt, like me, for his reproach
A deeper grief than for his death, even so
He cherished in his heart the secret thought
Something was yet untold which being known
Would palliate his offence, & make the fall
Of one till then so excellently good,
Less monstrous, less revolting to belief,
More to be pitied more to be forgiven.

While thus he spake the fallen King felt his face
Burn, & his blood flow fast. Down guilty thoughts!
Firmly he said within his soul, lie still
Thou heart of flesh! I thought thou hadst been quelld
And quelld thou shalt be! Help me O my God
That I may crucify this inward foe,
Yea thou hast helpd me Father! I am strong
O Saviour in thy strength!
Thus while he breathed
His silent supplication, the old man
Eyed him with frequent & unsteady looks
He had a secret trembling on his lips
And hesitated yet still irresolute
In utterance to embody the dear hope
Fain would he have it strengthend & assurd
By this concording judgement, yet he feard
To feel it chilld in cold accoil. At length
Venturing he broke with interrupted speech
The troubled silence. Father Maccabee,
I cannot rest till I have laid my heart
Open before thee. When Pelayo wishd
That his poor kinsman were alive to rear
His banner once again, a sudden thought –
A hope – a fancy – what shall it be called –
Possessed me that the generous {perhaps the} wish might see
Its glad accomplishment, – that Roderick lived
And might in glory take the field once more
For Spain. I see thou startest at the thought
Yet spurn it not with hasty unbelief
As tho twere utterly beyond the bounds scope
Of possible contingency – I think
That I have calmly satisfied myself
How this is more than idle fancy, more
Than mere imaginations of a mind
Which from its wishes builds a baseless faith.
His horse, his royal robe, his horned helm
His mail & sword were found upon the field.
But if King Roderick had in battle fallen,
That sword, I know, would only have been found
Clenched in the hand, which living knew so well
To wield the dreadful steel. Not in the throng
Confounded, nor amid the turbid stream
Opening with ignominious arms a way
For flight, would he have perished! When the strife
Were hottest, ring’d about with slaughtered foes
Should Roderick have been found: by this sure mark
Ye should have known him, if nought else remaind
That his whole body had been gored with wounds
And quilld with spears, as if the Moors had felt
That in his single life the victory lay
More than in all the host!
Siverians eyes
Shone with a youthful ardour while he spake,
Frowning with {His gathering} brow severe {grew stern}, & as he raisd
His arm, a warriors impulse characterisd
The impassioned gesture. But the King was calm,
And heard him with unchanging countenance;
For he had taken his resolve, & felt
Once more the peace of God within his soul,
As in that hour when by his fathers grave
He knelt before Pelayo.
Soon the old man
Pursued in calmer tones. Thus much I dare
Believe, that Roderick fell not on that day
When treason brought about his overthrow
If yet he live, – for sure I think I know
His noble mind, – tis in some wilderness
Where in some savage den inhumed he drags
The weary load of life, & on himself his flesh
As on a mortal enemy inflicts
Fierce vengeance with immitigable hand.
Oh that I knew but where to bend my way
In his dear search! My voice perhaps might reach
His heart, might reconcile him to himself
Restore him to his mother ere she dies,
His people & his country, – with the Sword
Them & his own good name should he redeem.
Oh might I but behold him once again,
Leading to battle those undaunted bands
Such as he was, – yea rising from his fall
More glorious, more beloved, – sure I believe
Joy would accomplish then what grief hath failed
To do with this old heart, & I should die
Clasping his knees with such intense delight
That when I woke in Heaven xxxxx would seem
Xxxx x xxxxxxxx xxxxx Heaven itself
Could have no higher happiness in store.

Thus fervently he spake, & copious tears
Ran down his cheeks. Full oft the royal Goth
Since he came forth again among mankind,
Had trembled lest some curious eye should read
His lineaments too closely: now he longed
To fall upon the neck of that old man
And given his full heart utterance. But the sense
Of duty by the pride of self controul
Corroborate, made him steadily repress
His yearning nature. Whether Roderick live
Paying in penitence the bitter price
Of sin, he answered, or if earth hath given
Rest to his earthly part, only is only known
To him & Heaven. Dead is he to the world;
And let not these imaginations rob
His soul of thy continual prayers; whose aid
Too surely, in whatever world, he needs.
The faithful love that mitigates his fault,
Heavenward addrest may mitigates his doom.
Living or dead, old man, besure his soul,
It were unworthy else, – doth hold with thine
Entire communion! Doubt not he relies
Firmly on thee, as on a fathers love,
Counts on thy offices & joins with thee
In sympathy & fervent act of faith,
Tho regions, or tho worlds should intervene,
Lost as he is, to Roderick this must be
Thy first, best, dearest duty; next must be
To hold right onward in that noble path
Which he would cou[MS torn]l, could his voice be heard.
Now therefore aid me, while I call upon
The Leaders & the People, that this day
We may acclaim Pelayo for our King.

_____

May 28. 1814

Your last letter has grieved me. [5]  Do not be hasty in disposing of your property. Even if you should pass the rest of your life abroad, it would be wise to have your property vested in England. A few years might pleasantly be passed on the on the continent but not if you went with a purpose of not returning. My own intention is to take my family abroad at the expiration of the first xxx term of my lease, if I can compass the means. The difference of living will probably balance the expence of the journey, & my young ones will pick up languages while I am enjoy a genial climate. But a few years – a very few would suffice; – for the older we grow the dearer those old ties become which time has spared. I grant there is vexation enough in our laws, but take it for all in all, there is no country in which a man lives with so little annoyance from the government. – This & the following book [6]  have been transcribed some time, – since which I have lost one of my oldest & dearest friends – Danvers at whose lodgings I first saw you. [7]  I loved him with my whole heart, – & scarcely any loss could have wounded me so deeply. – Go abroad as a guest & a stranger, – not as an emigrant. – Perhaps we may meet upon the Rhone or one of the Swiss Lakes.

God bless you

RS.


Notes

* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] To/ Walter Savage Esqre/ Swansea/ Single Sheet./ {Tours/ France/ English/ Post Paid}
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298; ANGLETERRE; [partial] FOREIGN / 192
Postmarks: ANGLETERRE/ JE 26/ 1814; [partial] PAID/ 26/ 1814
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/30–31
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, p. 101 [in part]. BACK

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

[2] X Tho: Landor adds marginal note: ‘Tho the dogs are the best people amongst us, the fastidiousness of poetry rejects their names. Homer has given none to the dog of Ulysses – Ovid has signalized every cur that devoured Acteon.’ Landor is referring to the faithful dog, Argus, in Homer’s Odyssey, Book 17, lines 290–327. The elderly Argus recognises Odysseus on his return and then dies. In Southey’s poem (Book 15, lines 241–279) ‘Whitefoot’ sees through Roderick’s disguise. Southey later changed the dog’s name to Theron (after one of Actaeon’s hound’s in Ovid’s Metamorphoses) and reduced the dog’s role in the poem; for the significance of this see Diego Saglia, ‘A Siege, a Dog, and Too Many Women: Refiguring the Epic in Roderick, the Last of the Goths’, Romanticism 17.1 (2011), 52–62. BACK

[3] Landor adds marginal note: ‘x hath – has should be used before the aspirate – two th cannot meet. In most instances I wd use hath rather than has, even in [MS obscured]’. BACK

[4] Landor adds marginal note: ‘2nd syllable short I fancy’. BACK

[5] Landor had written to Southey on 16 May 1814 announcing his resolution to leave England. See John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 406–407. He left the country at the end of the month, travelling first to France and then to Italy. BACK

[6] Of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[7] Danvers had died on 3 May 1814. BACK

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August 2013