230. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, [c. July 1797]

230. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, [c. July 1797] ⁠* 

A LONG list of substantial titles is annexed to the name of BARTHOLOME LEONARDO: [1]  he was chaplain to the Empress Maria, of Austria; canon of the church of Zaragoza; historian to his Majesty for the kingdom of Aragon; and rector of Villahermosa. The “Poet’s Fate” has not always been an unfortunate one. The rector of Villahermosa expresses clerical comfort in every lineament of his face, and proves, in opposition to the rule of GEORGE DYER*, [2]  that the interests of mind and body are not irreconcileable.

Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola [3]  was born about 1565, a short time before his brother Bartholome; he was secretary to the empress Maria, [4]  and gentleman of the bedchamber to the archduke Albert. [5]  Equally prosperous in life, and equally deserving prosperity, the names of the Leonardos have descended together. — Among the Spanish poets no one has surpassed them, and Quevedo [6]  only may be esteemed their equal.

“It seems (said Cervantes) as if these brethren came from Aragon to reform the language of Castille.” [7]  Of this merit, which is allowed to them in their own country, a foreigner, who is not minutely acquainted with the language, must necessarily be an imperfect judge. I have still more to regret the scarcity of their works; the only edition extant was published by the son of Lupercio, at Zaragoza, in 1634, [8]  and I am obliged to content myself with the selections in the Parnaso Espanol [9]  and in Gracian. [10] 

The following sonnet of Lupercio simply expresses a natural reflection:

The sun has chas’d away the early shower,
And now upon the mountain’s clearer height,
Pours o’er the clouds, aslant, his growing light.
The husbandman, lothing the idle hour,
Starts from his rest, and to his daily toil,
Light-hearted man, goes forth; and patient now
As the slow ox drags on the heavy plough,
With the young harvest fills the reeking soil.
Domestic love his due return awaits,
With the clean board bespread with country cates;
And clust’ring round his knee his children press;
His days are pleasant, and his nights secure.
Oh, cities! haunts of power and wretchedness,
Who would your busy vanities endure? [11] 

There is a passage in Don Quixote relative to the Spanish drama, which for a considerable time excited the curiosity and regret of the lovers of poetry in Spain. “You will allow (said the curate) that there were three tragedies represented in Spain, a few years ago, composed by a famous poet of these realms, which astonished, delighted, and suspended all who heard them, simple as well as gentle, vulgar as well as learned, and brought more money to the actors than thirty of the best plays which had been written before them.” “Undoubtedly (replied the actor) you must speak of the Isabella, Phillis, and Alexandra.” “I speak of them (replied the curate); see if they do not observe the rules of art, and in consequence of observing them, please all the world.” [12]  The name of the author was unknown, and the tragedies were supposed to be lost, till, a few years since, two of them were discovered, and proved to be the productions of Lupercio Leonardo. — These two, the Isabella and Alexandra, were published, for the first time, by Don Juan Joseph Lopez de Sedano, [13]  in his Parnaso Espanol, a work which it would be equally unjust and ungrateful to mention without high approbation; an analysis of one of these tragedies will give an idea of the state of the Spanish drama, in the golden age of their poetry.

The scene lies in Zaragoza, and the piece opens with a conversation between Alboacen, king of that city, and his minister Audalla. It appears, that Alboacen is on the point of going to war with Pedro, the Spanish monarch; this, however, alarms him not, his anxiety proceeds from an enemy within the walls of Zaragoza. By this enemy, Audalla understands the Christians, and the Moors are represented as intolerant in his speech; a right Catholic idea of the religion of Mohammed. Here too he relates the history of our Lady of the Pillar, and this relation must have secured the favour of a Zaragozan audience. — The king refuses to expel the Christians; he will favour them for Isabella’s sake, the cause of his anxiety, because the object of his fruitless love. This resolution of the king soon changes, when he learns, that Muley Albenzayde, his friend and favourite, is the favoured lover of Isabella, and her convert to Christianity. A soliloquy of Isabella follows, her fears and prayers are interrupted by the arrival of Muley, now returned from the Christian territories adjoining, where he has been baptized by the name of Lupercio. It is somewhat singular, that the author should have given his own name to the heroes of both his plays.

Isabella appears much distressed at the rumour that the Christians are to be expelled the city. Muley endeavours to quiet her apprehensions, and says, that as he is intimate with the king, he will make him delay this measure, under the pretext that it would inform Pedro prematurely of his hostile intentions; he will persuade Alboacen to promise tribute to Pedro, that he may have time to prepare for war. In the mean time, the Christians in Zaragoza may prepare themselves for resistance; and, when the king refuses tribute, he may be attacked or overpowered by foreign and domestic enemies. Satisfied that the end sanctifies the means, Muley departs with this intention.

In the following scene, Audalla informs himself and the audience, that he is desperately in love with Isabella; that it is very foolish, and very unfortunate, but he cannot help it.

The servant of Muley tells Isabella that he has seen his master thrown into a dungeon among venomous serpents. Her sister enters, and tells her, that the house is surrounded by a crowd of Christians, that they know the king’s love for her, and that they come, led by her father, to intreat mercy from Isabella.

The second act opens with the supplications of the Christians to Isabella: her parents and her sister join them in intreating that she will supplicate the king for them. Isabella yields at last.

A scene follows between Adulce, the exiled king of Valencia, and Selin, his friend. He expresses his hope of being restored, by the aid of Alboacen, to his kingdom; but complains heavily of his love for that prince’s inexorable sister, Aja. He is now about to ride to see her, and Selin tells him his horse is ready:

A goodly steed
Waits you; so fleet and forcible, he seems
Foal’d by the fire, and nourish’d by the winds. [14] 

Alboacen and Audalla are discovered in the palace; the king deeply laments the perfidy of Muley, whose death Audalla demands. Isabella enters; in answer to her intreaties, Alboacen states, that he had applied to a holy man, to know the will of heaven, who had declared that the prophet could only be appeased by the sacrifice of that person whom the king loved best; that person is Isabella; but, willing to save her, he had banished the Christians that Isabella might depart with them, and chosen Muley for the victim. She attempts to convince him that he ought to sacrifice her, because this very attempt to save her, proves her to be the person he loves best. Provoked, at length, by jealousy, the king exclaims, that she shall have the death she desires, with the dog she loves.

Massinger [15]  makes an old courtier say —

You are a king, [16] 
And what in a mean man I should think folly,
Is in your majesty remarkable wisdom.

By the same privilege, we may class the term by which the king addresses Isabella, in the polite vocabulary of vituperation. She is committed to the custody of Audalla, and the old minister tells her not to dread severity from him.

The sister of the king now declares her love for Muley, in a long speech to herself. She commands Adulce to save him by force; in vain he represents to her the ingratitude of exciting an insurrection against his protector. She insists upon it, and leaves him to lament his fate in a long soliloquy, concluding the second act.

Audalla, finding that no means can subdue the virtue of Isabella, shows her the dead bodies of her father, mother, and sister, and sends her to execution. Aja is discovered upon the top of a tower, eagerly watching for Adulce, to save her beloved Muley. A messenger comes and informs her, that the Christians have lost two columns of their faith — but gained two martyrs. She listens to the long detail of their deaths, vows vengeance in a soliloquy, and departs to execute it.

Azan and Zauzalla, two characters introduced only in this scene, now enter; and the one tells the other that he had overheard Audalla making love to Isabella, informed the king of it, and seen the old minister put to death.

Aja and Selin meet. Selin tells Aja that his master has killed himself, because he could not obey her injunctions. Aja tells him that she has killed Alboacen to revenge Muley, and then she kills herself. The tragedy is concluded by the ghost of Isabella, she says, that, like the phoenix, she rises from the funeral pile to heaven, and hopes, that whenever her history shall be represented on the stage, the audience will applaud it.

The characters in this piece are fourteen, and ten of them are killed. The Alexandra has eleven characters, and nine of these are killed, without reckoning children. The editor has annexed some just and judicious remarks upon these tragedies, but they exceed my limits, and would not be new to an Englishman. Ill planned and ill executed as they are (the one which I have analysed is the best) they will reflect no disgrace on Lupercio Leonardo, when we recollect, that he could be but twenty years old when they were represented, and that they were superior to any his countrymen had then produced. The variety of metres in which they are written, though altogether improper for tragedy, advantageously display his powers in versification; and, if he had left no other works, there are passages brilliant enough in these, to entitle him to a high rank among the poets of Spain.

Bartholome survived his brother many years; he continued the annals of Zurita, and I hope and believe that he is included in the praise bestowed upon that author, by Robert Robinson,* [17]  a man whose uncommon learning, and still more uncommon liberality, deserve this respectful mention. He was, indeed, Royal Historiographer to the execrable Philip II; but Bartolome Leonardo was an honest man, and I do not know that Philip demanded apostacy as a qualification.

In one of his Epistles, he describes the birds as coming to a general council; among the rest (he says) there came my partridge, to whom orange and pepper is myrrh and frankincense. [18]  He lived to the age of fifty-six, deservedly respected, and the ease of a literary and canonical life was only occasionally interrupted by the gout; a complaint which, however painful it may be, is certainly an orthodox and gentleman-like one. The following extract from an epistle, written by him in the latter years of his life, shall conclude my account of Bartholome Leonardo; the ideas may not be new, but they are calm and contemplative; they are lines which I often read with pleasure, and which make me love the old rector of Villahermosa:

As the deep river swift and silent flows
Towards the ocean, I am borne adown
The quiet tide of time. Nought now remains
Of the past years; and for the years to come,
Their dark and undiscoverable deeds
Elude the mortal eye. Beholding thus
How daily life wains on, so may I learn,
Not with an unprovided mind, to meet
That hour, when Death shall gather up the old
And wither’d plant, whose season is gone by.
The spring flowers fade, th’ autumnal fruits decay,
And gray old Winter, with his clouds and storms,
Comes on; the leaves, whose calm cool murmuring
Made pleasant music to our green-wood walks,
Now rustle dry beneath our sinking feet.
So all things rise and perish; we the while
Do, with a dull and profitless eye, behold
All this, and think not of our latter end.
My friend! we will not let that soil, which oft
Impregnate with the rains and dews of heaven,
Is barren still and stubborn to the plough,
Emblem our thankless hearts; nor of our God
Forgetful, be as is the worthless vine,
That in due season brings not forth its fruits.
Thinkest thou, that God created man alone
To wander o’er the world and ocean waste,
Or for the blasting thunderbolt of war?
Was this his being’s end? Oh! how he errs,
Who of his godlike nature and his God
Thus poorly, basely, blasphemously deems!
For higher actions, and for loftier ends,
Our better part, the deathless and divine,
Was form’d. The fire that animates my breast
May not be quench’d, and when that breast is cold,
The unextinguishable fire shall burn
With brighter splendor: till that hour arrive,
Obedient to my better part, my friend,
Be it my lot to live, and thro’ the world,
Careless of human praise, pass quietly.
The Eastern despot, he whose silver towers
Shot back a rival radiance to the sun,
He was too poor for sin’s extravagance;
But Virtue, like the air and light of Heaven,
To all accessible, at every heart
Intreats admittance. Wretched fool is he
Who, through the perils of the earth and waves,
Toils on for wealth! A little peaceful home
Bounds all my wants and wishes, add to this
My book and friend, and this is happiness. [19] 

T. Y.


* MS: MS has not survived
Previously published: Monthly Magazine, 4 (July 1797), 26–28 [from where the text is taken] under pseudonym ‘T.Y.’. For attribution to Southey, see Kenneth Curry, ‘Southey’s contributions to The Monthly Magazine and The Athenaeum’, The Wordsworth Circle, 11 (1980), 216. BACK

[1] Bartolomè Leonardo de Argensola (1561–1631), Spanish priest, poet and historian. BACK

[2] *: Southey adds footnote: ‘Alluding to the “Poet’s Fate” of this benevolent writer, his late publication.’ [Editorial note: George Dyer, The Poet’s Fate, A Poetical Dialogue (1797).] BACK

[3] The Spanish poet Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola (1559–1613). BACK

[4] Maria of Spain (1528–1603), wife of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian II (1527–1576). BACK

[5] Albert, Archduke of Austria (1559–1621), son of Maria of Spain and Maximilian II. BACK

[6] Francisco Gomez de Quevedo y Villegas (1580–1645), Spanish poet. BACK

[7] A saying usually attributed to Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (1562–1635). BACK

[8] Gabriel Leonard de Albion y Argensola (dates unknown) published an edition of his father’s Rimas in 1634. BACK

[9] Juan José Lopez de Sedano (1729–1801), El Parnaso Español (1768–1778), III, pp. 222–245; VI, pp. 312–524. BACK

[10] Balthasar Gracian (1601–1658), Spanish priest and author. He wrote a preface to Joseph Alfay (fl. 1654), Poesias Varias de Grande Ingenios Español (1654), an anthology which contained poems by Bartolomè and Lupercio Leonardo. BACK

[11] Lupercio Leonardo, ‘Tras importunas iluvias amaneze’. The translation is probably Southey’s own, and a copy in his Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 268, dated ‘June 10th, 1797, at W. Miller’s Christ Church’, suggests it was a recent one. BACK

[12] Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616), Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605–1615), Book 4, chapter 21. The translation is probably Southey’s own. BACK

[13] Juan José Lopez de Sedano, El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768–1778), VI, pp. 312–524. BACK

[14] Juan José Lopez de Sedano, El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768–1778), VI, p. 361. The translation is probably Southey’s own. BACK

[15] Philip Massinger (1583–1640; DNB). BACK

[16] An adaptation of Philip Massinger, The Picture. A Tragi-Comedy (1630), Act 1, scene 2, lines 122, 125–126. BACK

[17] *: Southey adds footnote: ‘Ecclesiastical Researches, p. 230.’ [Editorial note: Robert Robinson (1735–1790; DNB), Ecclesiastical Researches (1792).] BACK

[18] Bartolomè Leonardo de Argensola, ‘Elegia’ (‘No te pienso pedir que me perdones’), Juan José Lopez de Sedano, El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768–1778), III, p. 240. The translation is probably Southey’s own. BACK

[19] Bartolomè Leonardo de Argensola, ‘Epistola’ (‘Fabio, las esperanzas cortesanas’). The translation is probably Southey’s own and is based on the Spanish original published in Juan José Lopez de Sedano, El Parnaso Español, 9 vols (Madrid, 1768–1778), I, pp. 226–233 (the lines translated appear on pp. 228–230). A copy of the translation, in Southey’s Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 268–269, is dated ‘June 14th, Christ Church’. BACK