2153. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, [c. early October 1812]

2153. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, [c. early October 1812] ⁠* 

7. [1] 

Twas not in vain that on her absent son
Pelayo’s mother from the bed of death
Call’d for forgiveness, & in agony
Besought his prayers; all guilty as she was
He had not sure been human, if that cry
Had fail’d to pierce him. When he heard the tale
He blest the messenger, even while his speech
Was faltering, & from head to foot he shook
With icy feelings from his inmost heart
Effused. It changed the nature of his woe,
Making the burthen more endurable.
The life-long sorrow that remaind, became
A healing & a chastening grief, & brought
His soul in close communion, nearer Heaven
For he had been first born, & the love
Which at her breast he drew, & from her smiles
And from her voice of tenderness imbibed,
As opening flowers in sunshine gather strength,
Gave such unnatural horror to her crimes
That when the thought came over him, it seemd
As if the milk which with his infant life
Had blended, thrill’d like poison thro his frame.
It [MS obscured] beyond all reach of hope,
[MS obscured] dreadful tale of her remorse
[MS obscured] his heart; & ever from that day
[MS obscured] her who bore him, night & morn
Pour out the anguish of his soul in prayer –
But chiefly as the night return’d which heard
Her last expiring groans of penitence;
Then thro the long & painful hours, before
The altar, like a penitent himself,
He kept his vigils; & when Rodericks sword
Subdued Witiza, & the land was free,
Duly before her grave he offered up
His yearly sacrifice of agony
And prayer; this was the night & he it was
Who now before Siverian & the King
Stood up in sackcloth.
The old man, from fear
Recovering & from wonder, knew him first.
It is the Prince! he cried, & bending down
Embraced his knees. The action & the word
Awakened Roderick; he shook off the load
Of struggling thoughts which pressing on his heart
Held him like one entranced; yet all untaught
To bend before the face of man, confusd
Awhile he stood, forgetful of his part,
But when Siverian cried, my Lord, my Lord,
Now God he prais’d that I have found thee thus,
My Lord & Prince, Spains only hope & mine!
Then Roderick echoing him exclaimd, my Lord
And Prince, Pelayo! & approaching near
He bent his knee obeisant, but his head
Earthward inclin’d, while the old man looking up
From his low gesture to Pelayo’s face,
Wept at beholding him, for grief & joy.

Siverian? cried the Chief, what brings thee here?
Some tale of ill! – my wife, – my children – speak!

They are as thou wouldst wish them, he replied,
Wert thou but Lord of thine own home again
And Spain were Spain once more. I bear a tale
Of ill, but one which touches not the heart
Like what thy fears forebode. The renegade
Numacian woos thy sister, & she lends
To the vile slave unworthily her ear
The Lady Gaudiosa hath in vain
Warn’d her of all the evils which await
A union thus accurst; she sets at nought
Her faith, her lineage, & thy certain wrath.

Pelayo hearing him remain’d awhile
Silent, then turning to his mothers grave,
O thou poor dust, hath then the infectious taint
Survived thy dread remorse, that it should run
In Guisla’s veins! he cried, I should have heard
This shameful sorrow any where but here!
Humble thyself proud heart! thou, gracious Heaven
Be merciful, – it is the original flaw, –
And what are we, a weak unhappy race
Born to our sad inheritance of sin
And death. – He smote his forehead as he spake,
And from his head the ashes fell, like snow
Shaken from some dry beech leaves when a bird
Lights on the bending spray. A little while,
In silence rather than in thought he stood,
Passive beneath the sorrow. Turning then,
And what doth Gaudiosa counsel me,
He askd the old man, for she hath ever been
My wise & faithful counsellor. – He replied,
The Lady Gaudiosa bade me say
She sees the danger that on every part
Besets her husband’s house: here she had ceas’d, –
But when my noble Mistress gave in charge
How I should tell thee that in evil times
The bravest counsel ever is the best,
Then that high-minded Lady thus rejoin’d,
Whatever to my Lords resolve, he knows
I bear a mind prepared.
Brave spirits, cried
Pelayo, – worthy to remove all stain
Of weakness from their sex. I should be less
Than man, if drawing strength where others find
Their hearts most open to assault of fear,
I quaild at danger. Never be it said
Of Spain, that in the hour of her distress
Her women were as heroes, but her men
Performd the womens part.
Roderick at that
Lookd up, & taking up the word exclaim’d
O Prince, in better days the pride of Spain
And prostrate as she lies, her current hope
Hear now my tale. The fire which seemd extinct
Hath risen revigorate: a living spark
From Aurias ashes by a Womans hand
Preserved & quickened, kindles far & wide
The beacon-flame oer all the Asturian hills.
There hath a vow been offered up, which binds
Us & our childrens children to the work
Of holy hatred; in the name of Spain
That vow hath been pronounced & registered
Above, to be the bond whereby we stand
For condemnation or acceptance. Heaven
Received the irrevocable vow, & Earth
Must witness its fulfillment, Earth & Heaven
Call upon thee Pelayo! upon thee
The spirits of thy royal ancestors
Look down expectant; unto thee from fields
Laid waste, & hamlets burnt & cities sack’d
The blood of infancy & helpless age
Cries out; – thy native mountains call for thee
Echoing from all their armed sons thy names:
And deem not thou that rash impatience goads
Thy countrymen to counsels immature,
Odoar & Urban from Visonias banks
Send me their sworn & trusted messenger
To summon thee, & tell thee in their name
That now the hour is come. For sure it seems,
Thus saith the Primate, Heavens high will to rear
Upon the soil of Spain a Spanish throne,
Restoring in thy native line, O Prince
The sceptre to the Spaniard. Worthy son
Of that most ancient & heroic race,
Which with unweariable endurance still
Hath striven against its mightier enemies
Roman or Carthaginian, Greek or Goth;
So often by superior arts beguild & <arms> opprest
More often by superior arts beguild.
Yet amid all its sufferings, all the waste
Of sword & fire remorselessly employ’d,
Unconquerd & unconquerable still, –
Son of that injurd & illustrious stock
Stand forward thou, draw forth the sword of Spain
Restore them to their rights, too long withheld,
And place upon thy brow the Spanish crown.

While Roderick ceasd the princely Mountaineer
Gazed on the passionate orator awhile
With eyes intently fixd, & thoughtful brow.
Then turning to the altar, he let fall
The sackcloth robe which late with folded arms
Against his heart was prest, & stretching forth
His hands toward the Crucifix, exclaim’d
My God & my Redeemer where but here
Before thy aweful presence, in this garb,
With penitential ashes thus bestrewn,
Could I so fitly answer to the call
Of Spain, & for her sake & in thy name
Accept the crown of thorns she proffers me!

And where but here, said Roderick in his heart,
Could I so properly with humbled knee
And willing soul, confirm my forfeiture? –
The action followed on that secret thought.
He knelt & took Pelayo’s hand, & cried,
First of the Spaniards let me with this kiss
Do homage to thee here, my Lord & King.
With voice unchanged & steady countenance
He spake; but when Siverian followed him
The old man trembled as his lips pronounced
The faltering vow, & rising he exclaim’d,
God grant thee, O my Prince, a better fate
Than thy poor kinsmans, who in happier days
Receivd thy homage here! – Grief choakd his speech
And bursting into tears he sobbd aloud;
Tears too adown Pelayo’s manly cheek
Roll’d silently. Roderick alone appeard
Unmov’d & calm, for now the royal Goth
Had offered his accepted sacrifice,
And therefore in his soul he felt that peace
Which follows painful duty well perform’d,
A heavenly peace, above all earthly joys.


* MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/14. AL; 2p.
Dating from content: this letter was probably sent to Landor in early October 1812, and certainly before 26 October; see Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 26 October 1812, Letter 2164. BACK

[1] This letter contains a draft of the seventh book of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK