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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

897. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 17 February 1804 ⁠* 

No 1.                                                                                        6.

The Battle.

Now then to meet the war! Erilyabs call
Rous’d all her people to revenge their wrongs;
Among the mountain tribes Lincoya spread
The flame. I sent & bade the mariners,
Leaving such guard alone as need required
To join us arm’d for battle, let me give them
The praise they well deserve; right gallant men
Were they, & tho upon the playful deep
The tyranny of terror conquered them,
Save only then, I ever found them serve me
With true affection, patient of their toil,
Fearless in every danger.
I the while
Took counsel with Cadwallon & his sire,
And told them of the numbers we must meet,
And what advantage from the mountain straits
I thought, us in the Saxon wars, to win,
Thou sawest their weapons, then, Cadwallon said,
Are they like these rude works of ignorance
Bone-headed shafts, & spears of wood & shields
Strong only for such strife?
We had to cope
With wiser enemies & abler arm’d
What for the sword wielded was a stave
Set thick with stones across: you would have judged
That uncouth shape was cumberous, but a hand
Expert & practised to its use, could drive
The heavy edge with deadly impulse down,
Their mail, if mail it may be called, was woven
Of vegetable down, seeming like flax
Bleached to the whiteness of the new-fallen snow,
To every bend & motion flexible,
Light as a warriors summer garb in peace,
Yet in that lightest softest habergeon
Harmless the sharp stone-arrow-head would hang.
Others of higher office were array’d
In feathery breast plates, of more gorgeous hue
Then the gay plumage of the mountain cock,
Than the pheasants glittering pride but what were these
Or what this gold hauberk, when opposed
To arms like ours in battle? What the mail
Of wood fire-hardened, or the wooden helm
Against our northern spears, or battle axe
Or good sword wielded in a British hand?

Then, quoth Cadwallon, ‘at the wooden helm
Of these weak arms the weakest, let the sword
Hew & the spear be thrust, the mountaineers
So long inured to crouch beneath their yoke
We will not trust in battle. from the heights
They with their arrows may annoy the foe,
And when our closer strife has won the fray,
Then let them loose for havoc.’
‘O my son!’
Exclaim’d the blind old man, thou counsellest ill.
Blood will have blood, revenge begat revenge
Evil must come of evil! we shall win
Certes a cheap & easy victory
In the first field, their arrows from our arms
Will fall, & on the hauberk & the helm
The stone edge blunt & break; whole thro their limbs
Naked, or vainly fenced, the grinding steel
Shall sheer its mortal way. But what are we
Against a nation? other hosts will rise
In endless warfare, with perpetual fights
Dwindling our all-too-few, or multitudes
Will wear & weary us till we sink subdued
By the very toil of conquest. Ye are brave,
But he who puts his trust in mortal strength,
Leans on a broken reed! first prove your power
Be in the battle terrible, but spare
The fallen & follow not the flying foe,
Then may ye win a nobler victory,
So dealing with the captives as to fill
Their hearts with wonder, gratitude & awe,
That love shall mingle with their fear, & fear
Stablish the love else wavering. Let them see
That as more pure & gentle is your faith,
Your-selves are gentler, purer, ye shall be
As Gods among them, if ye thus obey
Gods precepts.’
Soon the mountain-tribes in arms
Rose at Lincoyas call a numerous host,
More than in numbers, in the memory
Of long oppression & revengeful hope
A formidable foe. I stationed them
Where at the entrance of the rocky straits
Secure themselves their arrows might command
The coming army. on the level ground
We took our stand, between the mountain base
And the green margin of the waters. Soon
Their long array came on. Oh what a pomp
And pride & pageantry of war was there!
Not half so gorgeous for their may day mirth
All wreath’d & ribbanded our youth & maids
As these stern Aztecas in war-attire!
The golden glitterance, & the feather mail
More gay than glittering gold, & round the helm
A coronal of high upstanding plumes,
Green as the spring grass in a sunny shower,
Or scarlet-bright, as in the wintry wood
The clustered holly, or of purple tint.
Whereto shall that be likened … to what gem
Indiademd, what flower, what insects wing?
With war songs & wild music they came on
We the while kneeling raised with one accord
The hymn of supplication.
Front to front
And now the embattled armies stood, a band
Of priests all sable-garmented advanced,
They piled a heap of sedge before our host
And warn’d us ... ‘sons of Ocean, from the land
Of Aztlan, while ye may, depart in peace!
Before this fire shall be extinguished, hence!
Or even as yon dry sedge amid the flame,
So, ye shall be consumed .. the arid heap
They kindled, & the rapid flame ran up
And blazed & died away, then from his bow
With steady hand their chosen archer loosed
The arrow of the Omen, to its mark
The shaft of divination fled; it smote
Cadwallons plated breast, the brittle point
Rebounded; he contemptuous of their faith
Stoopt for the shaft, & while with zealous speed
To the rescue they rushd onward, snapping it
Asunder cast the fragments back in scorn.

Fierce was their onset, never in the field
Encountered I with braver enemies,
Nor marvel ye – nor think it to their shame
If soon they staggered, & gave way, & fled,
So many from so few; they saw their darts
Recoil, their lances shiver, & their swords
Fall ineffectual, blunted with the blow
Think ye no shame of Aztlan that they fled
When the bowyers of Deheubarth plied so well
Their shafts with fatal aim, thro the thin gold
Or feather mail while Gwyneths deep-driven spears
Pierced to the bone & vitals, when they saw
The falchion, flashing late so lightning like,
Quenched in their own life blood, our mountaineers
Showered from the heights meantime an arrowy storm
Themselves secure, & we who bore the brunt
Of battle, iron men, impassible,
Stood in our strength unbroken, marvel not
If then the brave felt fear, already impressd
That day with ominous thoughts to fear akin,
For it so chanced, high heaven ordaining so,
The King who should have led his people forth,
At the army-head, as they began their march
Was with sore sickness stricken, & the stroke,
Came like the act & arm of very God,
So suddenly, & in that point of time.
A gallant man was he who in his stead
That day commanded Aztlan; his long hair
Tufted with many a cotton lock, proclaimed
Of princely prowess many a feat atchieved
In many a field of fame. oft had he led
The Aztecas with happy fortune forth,
Yet could not now Yuhidthiton inspire
His host with hope, he, not the less, that day
True to his old renown, & in the hour
Of rout & ruin with collected mind,
Sounded his signals shrill, & in the voice
Of loud reproach, & anger, & brave shame
Calld on the people; .. but when nought availd
Seizing the standard from the timid hand
That held it in dismay, alone he turnd
For honourable death resolved, & praise
That would not die. at that the braver chiefs
Rallied, anew their signals rung around,
And Aztlan seeing how we spared her flight
Took heart, & rolld the tide of battle back
But when Cadwallon from the chieftains grasp
Had cut the standard-staff away, & stunnd
And stretched him at his mercy on the field,
Then fled the enemy in utter rout,
Broken & quelled at heart. Of chief alone
Bestrode the body of Yuhidthiton;
Bare headed did young Malinal bestride
His brothers body, wiping from his brow
With the shield-hand the blinding blood away
And dealing frantically with broken sword
Obstinate wrath, the last resisting foe,
Him in his own despite we seized & saved

Then in the moment of our victory
We purified our hands from blood, & knealt
And pourd to Heaven the grateful prayer of praise
And raised the choral psalm – Triumphant thus
To the hills we went our way, the mountaineers
With joy & dissonant song & antic dance,
The captives sullenly deeming that they went
To meet the certain death of sacrifice
Yet stern & undismayed. we bade them know
Ours was a law of mercy & of love.
We healed their wounds, & set the prisoners free
‘Bear yea,’ quoth I my bidding to your King,
Say to him, did the Stranger speak to thee
The words of truth, & hath he proved his power
Thus saith the Lord of Ocean, in the name
Of God, the almighty universal God,
Thy judge & mine, whose battles I have fought
Whose bidding I obey, whose will I speak,
Shed thou no more in impious sacrifice
The life of man, restore unto the grave
The dead Tepolomi, set this people free,
And peace shall be between us.’
On the morning
Came messengers from Aztlan in reply.
Coanocotzin with some malady
Hath by the Gods been stricken, will the Lord
Of Ocean visit his sick bed? he told
Of wrath, & as he spake the vengeance
Let him bring healing now & stablish peace. [1] 

______________

Dear Tom

When I remember how many letters I wrote to you on your last West Indies Station, & that you never received one of the number – it seems as if this too was to be sent upon a forlorn hope however I will now number what I send, that you may see if any be missing & make enquiry for them.

I have wanted you to help me in weighing anchor for Madoc, [2]  & for want of you have been obliged to throw into shade what else should have been brought out in strong light. had you been at my elbow he should have set sail in a very seasonable manner. if this reaches you it may yet be in time for you to tell me what I should say to express that the sails are all ready for sailing next day. I am afraid bent is not the word & have only put it in just to keep the place – designing to omit it & clap some general phrase in unless you can help me out in this. the whole first part of the poem is now finished – that is – as far as Madocs return to America. 3600 lines – the remaining part will be longer – as my guide once told me in Portugal – we are got half way for we have come two short leagues, & have two long ones to go, – & upon his calculation I am half into the poem.

The other day our Lake presented the most visionary & xxx unnatural sight I ever yet beheld. it was a fine day, the sun shining & a few white clouds hanging xxx motionless in the sky. we had walked down to the water-side. there was not a breath of wind stirring – so that the Lake being perfectly still became like a great mirror, & represented the shores mountains sky & clouds so vividly that there was not the slightest appearance of water. it is impossible to make you conceive the wonderful effect this produced unless you could conceive what the banks of Derwentwater are. in one part the mountains form an arch reversed the lower half of a vast circle, [3]  & thro that magnificent {opening} a long vale is seen between {between} mountains, & bounded by mountain behind mountain. all this was in the water – the distance perfect as in the actual thing, the single houses far in the vale & the smoke from their chimneys, – the shadow & the substance joining at their bases so that the eye could not tell where each ended – & as I stood on the shore heaven & the clouds & the sun seemed lying under me – I was looking down into the sky, & the range of mountains having one line of summit under my feet, & another above me seemed to be suspended between two firmaments. My fancy never pictured any scenery so unnaturally beautiful, for it was beautiful & enchanting as eye could see or heart desire.

Of my own goings on, I know not that there is any thing which can be said. imagine me in this great study of mine from breakfast till dinner, from dinner till tea, & from tea till supper, in my old black coat, my corderoys alternately with the long worsted pantaloons & gaiters in one, & the green shade – sitting at my desk – & you have my picture & my history. When I go to the House appointed to all who are living, in the orchard I play with Dapper the dog, who loves me as much as Cupid ever did, [4]  & when I return the Cat upstairs plays with me, for Puss finding my room the quietest in the house, has thought proper to share it with me. Our weather has been so wet, that I have not got out of doors {for a walk} once in a month. Now & then I get down to the river which runs at the bottom of the orchard & throw stones till my arms ache – & then saunter back again. James Lawson the carpenter [5]  serves me for a Juniper, [6]  he has made boards for my papers, & a screen like those in the frame with a little shelf to hold my ivory knife &c, & is now making a little table for Edith, of which I shall probably make the most use. I rouse the house to breakfast every morning, & qualify myself for a boatswains place by this practice, & thus one day passes like another, & never did the days appear to pass so fast. Summer will make a difference. our neighbour General Peche [7]  will return in May – Harry also will come in May. Sir George & Lady Beaumont are expected to visit Mrs Coleridge. Danvers is to come in the Autumn. the Smiths of Bownham (who gave me Hayleys Life of Cowper) [8]  will probably visit the Lakes this year, & most likely Duppa will stroll down to see me & the mountains. – I am very well – never better. Edith tolerable. God bless you! if you do not henceforward receive a letter by every packet the fault will not be mine.

R.S.

Friday 17. Feby 1804


Notes

* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey./ H. M. S. Galatea./ Barbadoes/ or elsewhere/ Single Sheet
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ FEB 20/ 1804; [partial] A S E/ 1804
Endorsement: Miss [illegible word] Jamaica
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 261–63 [in part]. BACK

[1] A draft of Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 7. Verse written in Edith Southey’s hand in double columns. BACK

[2] Southey was revising Madoc, written in 1797–1799, for publication. BACK

[3] A drawing of the lower half of a circle is included here. BACK

[4] Charles Danvers’s dog, formerly Southey’s.’ BACK

[5] Dates unknown. BACK

[6] A Juniper was, in Southey’s parlance, a bookbinding assistant. To juniperize meant to add a gold border and lettering to the bindings of Southey’s books. The allusion was to Friar Juniper, disciple of St Francis, who cut the silver bells off a gold border of an altar cloth to give to a poor woman begging alms. BACK

[7] John Peche (dates unknown), who had served in the East India Company’s army, gazetted as Colonel in 1796 and Major-General in 1798. BACK

[8] Southey reviewed William Hayley (1745–1820; DNB), The Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper, Esq. (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 457–462. BACK

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August 2013