1793. Robert Southey and Edith Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 14 July 1810

1793. Robert Southey and Edith Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 14 July 1810 ⁠* 

[Start of section in Edith Southey’s hand]

Pelayo [1] 


Long had the crimes of Spain cried out to Heaven,
For lying Priests with unoffending blood
Had staind her soul; the yoke of bondage gall’d
The children of the land; & Royalty
Upon the cap of luxury dissolute.
Only by sting of wilder passions prickd
Shook off the shameful sloth, & roused himself
To deeds of rapine, fiercer lust & death.
At length the measure of offence was full;
Count Julian calld the invaders. Mad to wreak
His vengeance for his violated child
On Rodericks head, in evil hour for Spain.
For that unhappy daughter & himself,
Desperate Apostate, on the Moors he call’d;
And like a cloud of locusts whom the south
Wafts from the plains of wasted Africa
The Musselmen upon Iberias shore,
By righteous Heaven commissiond for its book
Of wrath, descend. A countless multitude,
Syrian, Moor, Saracen, freak renegade
Persian & Copt & Tartar, in one bond
Of erring faith conjoind; strong in the youth
And heat of zeal …a dreadful brotherhood
In whom all turbulent vices were let loose.
While Conscience with their impious creed accurst
Drunk as with wine, had sanctified to them
All bloody, all abominable things.
Yea & hallood them on.
Thou Calpe saw’st
Their coming, thou no longer to be calld
From Gods & Heroes of the years of yore
Chronos, or xxxxx <hundred-handed> Briareus hundred xxxxx
Bacchus or Hercules, but doomd to bear
The name of thy new conqueror now & stand
Henceforth his everlasting monument.
Thou sawst the dark-blue waters flash before
Their ominous way, & whiten round their keels,
Their swarthy myriads darkening oer thy sands.
There on the beach the Misbelievers spread
Their banners flaunting to the sun & breeze;
Fair shone the Sun upon their proud array,
White turbans, glittering armour, shields engrail’d
With gold & scymetars of Syrian steel.
And gently did the breezes as in sport
Curl their white flags outrolling, & display
The blazoned scrolls of blasphemy. Ere long,
O gales of Spain, from that unhappy land
Ye bore, as from an open charnel house
The scent of death, & thou, O sun from fields
Of slaughter, with the morning dew didst draw
Corruption thro the tainted atmosphere.

Then fell the kingdom of the Goths; their hour
Was come, & Vengeance, long witheld let loose.
Famine & Pestilence had wasted them,
And Treason like an old & eating sore
Cankered the bones & sinews of their strength,
And worst of enemies, their sins were armd
Against them. Yet the sceptre from their lands
Past not away inglorious, nor was shame
Left for their childrens lasting heritage.
Eight summer days from morn till latest eve
The fatal fight endurd, till perfidy
Prevailing to their overthrow they sunk
Defeated, not dishonoured. On the banks
Of Chrysus Rodericks royal car was found,
His battle-horse Orelio, & that helm
Whose horns amid the thickest of the fray
Eminent, had marked his presence. Had the stream
Received him with the undistinguished dead
Christian & Moor, who cloggd its course that day?
So thought the Conqueror, & from that day forth
Memorial of his perfect victory
He bade the River bear the name of joy.
So thought the Goths; they said no prayer for him
For him no service sung, nor mourning made
But charged their armies upon his head & curst
His memory.
Bravely in that eight days fight
The King had fought, for victory, first while hope
Remaind, then desperately in search of death.
The arrows past him by to right & left
The spear-point pierced not him, the scymitar
Glanced from his helmet. Is the shield of Heaven
Wretch that I am, extended over me?
Quoth Roderick & he dropt Orelios reins
And threw his hands aloft in frantic prayer;
Death is the only mercy that I crave
Death soon & short, death & forgetfulness!
Aloud he cried; but in his inmost heart
There answered him a secret voice that spake
Of righteousness & judgement after death,
And Gods redeeming love which fain would save
The guilty soul alive. Twas agony
And yet ‘twas joy; a momentary light
That flash’d thro utter darkness on the Cross
To point salvation there, then left his soul
Dark as before. Fear, never felt till now;
Sudden & irresistible as stroke
Of lightning smote him. Off his horse he dropt
Whether with human impulse, or by Heaven
Struck down, he knew not; loosend from his wrist
The sword chain, & let fall the sword, whose hilt
Clung to his palm a moment ere it fell
Glued there with Moorish gore. His royal-robe
His horned helmet & enamelld mail
He cast aside, & taking from the dead
A peasants garment, in those weeds involvd
Stole, like a thief in darkness from the field.

Evening closd round to favour him; all night
He fled, the sound of battle in his ears
Ringing, & sights of death before his eyes,
With dreams more horrible of eager fiends
That seemd to hover round, & gulphs of fire
Opening before his feet. At times the groan
Of some poor fugitive, who bearing with him
His mortal hurt, had fallen beside the way
Rousd him from <these> dread visions, & he calld
In answering groans on his Redeemers name.
That word the only prayer that past his lips
Or rose within his heart. Then would he see
The Cross whereon a bleeding Saviour hung,
And calld on him to come & cleanse his soul
In those all-healing streams which from his wounds
As from perpetual springs for ever flowd.
No heart eer panted for his <the> water brooks
As Roderick thirsted there to drink & live;
But Hell was interposed; & worse than Hell
Yea to his eyes more dreadful than the Fiends
Who flockd & like hungry ravens round his head,
Florinda stood between, & warnd him off
With her abhorrent hands,.. that agony
Still in her face which, when the deed was done,
Inflicted on her ravisher the curse
That is invoked from heaven. Oh what a night
Of waking horrors! nor when morning came
Did the realities of light & day
Bring aught of comfort; wheresoeer he went
The tidings of defeat had gone before,
And leaving their defenceless homes to seek
What shelter walls & battlements might yield,
Old men with feeble feet, & tottering babes
And widows with their infants in their arms,
Hurried along. Nor solemn festival,
Nor rarest pageant, with like multitudes
Eer filld the public way; all whom the sword
Had spared were here; bed-rid infirmity
Alone was left behind; the cripple plied
His crutches, with her child of yesterday
The mother fled, & she whose hour was come
Fell by the road.
Less dreadful then this scene
Of outward suffering that the day disclosd,
Had night & darkness seemd to Rodericks heart
With all their dread creations. From the throng
He turnd aside unable to endure
This burthen of the general woe; nor walls
Nor towers, nor mountain fastnesses he sought
A firmer hold his spirit yearned to find
A rock of surer strength. Unknowing where,
Straight thro the wild he hastend on all day,
And with unslackend speed was travelling still
When Evening gatherd round. Seven days from morn
Till night he travell’d thus; the forest oaks
The fig grove by the fearful husbandman
Forsaken to the spoiler, & the vines
Where fox & household dog together now
Fed on the vintage, gave him food; the hand
Of Heaven was on him, & the agony
That wrought within, & supplied a strength beyond
All natural force of man –
When the eighth eve
Was come, he found himself on Ana’s banks
Fast by the Caulian schools. It was the hour
Of vespers, but no vesper bell was heard;
Nor other sound than of the passing stream
Or stork, who flapping with wide wing the air
Sought her broad nest upon the silent tower.
The schools & convent calls were desolate;
One aged Monk <alone> remaind behind,
When all his brethren with their scholars fled
Within the gates of ancient Merida.
Romano would not fly, for having servd
Even from his childhood up to ripe old age
Gods holy altar, it became him now,
He thought, before that altar to await
The merciless misbelievers, & lay down
His life, a willing martyr. So he staid
Alone when all were gone, & duly fed
The sacred lamps, & kept the altar drest
And duly offerd up the sacrifice.
Four days & nights he thus had passed alone
In such high mood of saintly fortitude
That hope of Heaven itself was heavenly joy
And now at evening to the gate he went
If he might spy the Moors, for it seem’d long
To tarry for his crown.
Before the Cross
Roderick had thrown himself, his body raisd
Half-kneeling half at length he lay, his arms
Embraced its foot, & from his lifted face
Tears streaming down bedewd the senseless stone
He had not wept till now, & at the gush
Of these first tears, it seemd as if his heart
From a long winters icy thrall let loose,
Had opend to the genial influences
Of Heaven. In attitude, but not in act
Of prayer he lay; an agony of tears
Was all his soul could offer. When the Monk
Beheld him suffering thus, he raisd him up
And took him by the arm & led him in,
And there before the altar, in the name
Of him whose bleeding image there was hung,
Spake comfort, & adjurd him in that name
There to lay down the burthen of his sins.
Lo! said Romano. I am waiting here
The coming of the Moors, that from their hands
My spirit may receive its purple robe
Of martyrdom, & raise to claim its crown.
That God who willeth not the sinners death
Hath led the hither. Threescore years & five
Even from the hour when I, a five years child
Entered the schools, have I continued here
And servd the Altar; not in all those years
Hath such contrite & a broken heart
Appeard before me. O my brother, Heaven
Hath sent thee for thy comfort & for mine
That my last earthly act may reconcile
[MS torn]nner to his God.
Then Roderick knelt
Before the holy man, & strove to speak
Thou seest, he cried,.. thou seest – but memory
And suffocating pain represt the words,
And shudderings like an ague fit from head
To foot convuls’d him. Till at length subduing
His nature to the effort, he exclaimd
Spreading his hands, & lifting up his face
As if resolvd in penitence to bear
A human eye upon his shame,.. thou seest
Roderick, the Goth.. that name would have sufficed
To tell its whole abhorred history, –
He not the less pursued,.. the ravisher
The cause of all this ruin. Having said
In the same posture motionless he knelt
Arms straitend down, & hands dispread, & eyes
Raisd to the Monk, like one who from his voice
Expected life or death
All night the old man
Prayd with his penitent & minister’d
Unto the wounded soul, till he infusd
A healing hope of mercy that allayd
Its heat of anguish. But Romano saw
What strong temptations of despair beset,
And how he needed in this second birth,
Even like a yearling child, a fosterers care.
Father in Heaven, he cried, thy will be done!
Surely I hoped that I this day should sing
Hosannahs at thy throne; but thou hast yet
Work for thy servant here. He girt his loins
And from her Altar took with reverent hands
Our Lady’s image down. In this quoth he
We have our guide & guard & comforter,
The best provision for our perilous way.
Fear not but we shall find a resting place,
The Almighty’s hand is on us.
They went forth
They crost the stream, & when Romano turnd
For his last look toward the Caulian towers
Far off the Moorish standards in the light
Of morn were glittering, where the miscreant host
Toward the Lusitanian capital
To lay their siege advanced. The eastern breeze
Bore to the fearful travellers far away
The sound of horn & tambour oer the plain.
All day they hastened, & when evening fell
Sped toward the setting sun, as if its line
Of glory came from Heaven to point their course.
But feeble were the feet of that old man
For such a weary length of way; & now
Being past the danger (for in Merida
Sacara long in resolute defence
Withstood the tide of war,) with easier pace
The wanderers journeyd on, till having crost
Old Tagus & the rapid Zezere,
They from Albardos’ hoary height beheld
Pine forest, fruitful vale, & that fair lake
Where Alcoa, mingled there with Baza’s stream
Rests on its passage to the western sea, –
That sea the aim & boundary of their toil.

The fourth week of their painful pilgrimage
Was full when to the shore they came. A hill
Rocky & high arose with steep ascent
Upon the glittering beach; there on the top
A little lowly hermitage they found,
A Cross, & at its foot a nameless grave.
Where better could they rest than here, where prayer
And secret penitence & happiest death
Had blest the spot, & brought good Angels down,
And opened as it were a Way to Heaven.
Behind them was the desert offering fruit
And water for their need; on either side
The white sand sparkling to the sun, in front
Great Ocean with its everlasting voice
As in perpetual jubilee, proclaimd
The wonders of the Almighty, filling thus
The pauses of their fervent orisons.
Where better could the wanderers rest than here?


[End of section in Edith Southey’s hand]

Keswick. July 14. 1810.

You have here the first section of Pelayo. It is a fine subject, & my second-sight of what is to follow promises well. I have followed in the opening the l received legend concerning Roderick, [2]  – that fact that he escaped from the battle & died in penitence at Viseu is generally admitted, & as the story is not connected with any miracle-shop (like that of his abode at Nazareth) it is probably true. You will readily see what may be done by bringing him & Florinda & Count Julian [3]  together in the course of the poem.

I thought to have sent you Kehama [4]  before this time, with his due accompaniment of notes, but tho the poem has been printed these six weeks, I have not yet received the first proof of the notes, – & six weeks more will probably elapse before they are all printed. There are a good many alterations, & one interpolation of considerable length, – which does not however in any way affect the story – it occurs in the 13th section, – when Ladurlad & Kalyal are in their x retreat in the woods. The xxst structure of the poem is its main merit. in this point it is far superior to Thalaba, [5]  – in most other respects I am afraid I myself do no like it quite so well, & am well assured that most persons will like it even less, – or in plainer language will dislike it more. About this I am perfectly indifferent. It is a work sui generis, [6]  which like Gebir will find its own admirers, & I have always sincerely echoed your original preface upon that point. [7] 

I dream of many others things, – of a poem built on the Zendavesta, [8]  wherein the Evil Powers should be leagued against the son of the Great King and by every new calamity which they inflict upon him evolve in time some virtue which his rank had stifled, till it ended in his abandoning Persia, in company with a Greek slave (the philosopher of the story) & becoming a citizen of Athens. – I have also an ambition of showing that the Greeks & Romans themselves did not know how what use might be made of their own mythology in poetry. Then there are the Runic, & Druidical systems, – & the Japanese – of all which I have thought – years ago, besides some half-dozen historical subjects. Why will not you, with full leisure & p abundant power, leave more behind you for the delight of men like yourself, – another Gebir only with a happier fable!

See what I have been doing in the Edinb. Annual Register [9]  – which ought to be published by this time – The whole of the history is mine, – & I have now to sit upon that for the second volume.

– I should sooner have replied to you about the family of poor Roberts, if I had known how they could have received any thing without wounding their feelings in any other manner than thro the means of the projected publication – But I could not devise how – & moreover am ignorant of their direction. P. M. James a Banker at Birmingham manages the publication, – he was one of the two persons [10]  to whom the papers were bequeathed in trust, & is very zealous in his discharging the office confided to him. To him you may address any thing.

I retain my opinion that Spain is not to be subdued, – & long to be more advanced in Pelayo for the pleasure of bursting out upon the subject upon the many fit occasions which will occur. Were you at Gijon? [11]  – I am in want of a good description of that place.

God bless you

R Southey


* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ South Parade/ Bath./ Single Sheet
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/1–2. (A)LS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 535–536 [in part]. BACK

[1] The early name for what became Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). This letter contains an early draft of the first book of the poem. BACK

[2] Roderick (d. 711/ 712), Visigothic king of part of Spain from 710. He was defeated and killed by Muslim invaders who went on to conquer most of the Iberian peninsula. BACK

[3] Julian, Count of Ceuta, a legendary Christian ruler who aided the Islamic conquest of the kingdom of Hispania, 711–718. In Southey’s poem, Roderick rapes Julian’s daughter, Florinda, thus provoking the Count’s actions. Southey had already dealt with the same subject matter in his monodrama ‘Florinda’, later retitled ‘La Caba’, first published in The Iris, 21 July 1804. BACK

[4] Southey’s The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[5] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[6] ‘Of its own kind’. BACK

[7] Landor’s Gebir (London, 1798). The ‘Preface’ ([i]–ii) had argued that: ‘A Poem, like mine, descriptive of men and manners, should never be founded totally on fiction … I have followed no man closely; nor have I turned from my road because another stood in it: tho’ perhaps I have momentarily … caught the object that attracted him. I have written in blank verse, because there never was a poem in rhyme that grew not tedious in a thousand lines … If there are, now, Englishmen of taste and genius who will applaud my Poem, I declare myself fully content.’ BACK

[8] Southey did not write his poem on Zoroastrianism, or on any of the other subjects mentioned in this paragraph; see J. W. Warter (ed.), Southey’s Common Place Book, 4 vols (1849–1851), IV, pp. 11–12, 197 for his notes. BACK

[9] Southey had begun writing for the Edinburgh Annual Register. His first contributions, for the volume covering 1808, appeared in 1810. BACK

[10] The other was Edward Hogg. BACK

[11] Port in Asturias. In legends about Pelayo (c. 685–737) it was the seat of a local Moorish governor, Munuza, who kidnapped and married Pelayo’s sister, thus provoking his rebellion. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)