877. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. late December 1803-mid February 1804]

877. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. late December 1803-mid February 1804] ⁠* 



At morning their high-priest Ayayaca
Came with our guide. the venerable man
With more especial welcome greeted xxx me
Deeming us children of another race
Mightier than they. He led us to the Queen.
The fate of war had robbd her of her realm,
Yet with affection & habitual awe,
And old remembrances that gave their love
A deeper & religious character,
Fallen as she was & humbled as they were,
Her faithful people still in all they could
Obeyed Erilyab. She too in her mind
Those recollections cherishd, & such thoughts
As, tho no hope tempered their bitterness,
Gave to her eye a spirit, & a strength
Of pride to features which had borne belike,
Had they been fashioned to a happier fate,
Meaning more gentle & more womanly
Yet not more worthy of esteem & love.
She sate upon the threshold of her hut
For in the country where her sires had reignd
The conqueror dwelt. her son was at her side,
A boy now near to manhood. By the door
Bared of its bark, the head & branches shorn,
Stood a young tree with many a weapon hung,
Her Husbands War-pole, & his monument.
There had his quiver moulderd, his stone axe
Had there grown green with moss, his bow string there
Sung, as it cut the wind.
She welcomed us
With a proud sorrow in her mien, fresh fruits
Were spread before us, & her features said
That when He lived whose hand was wont to wield
Those weapons, – that in better days, – that ere
She let the tresses of her widowhood
Grow wild, she could have given to guests like us
A worthier welcome. Soon a man approachd
Hooded with sable, x his half-naked limbs
Smeard black. the people at his sight drew round
The women waild & wept, the children turnd
And hid their faces on their mothers knees.

He to the Queen addrest his speech, then lookd
Around the children, & laid hands on two
Of different sexes, but of age alike,
Some six years each. they at his touch shriekd out,
But then Lincoya rose, & to my feet
Led them, & told me that the conquerors claimd
These innocents for tribute; that the Priest
Would lay them on the altar of his God,
Tear out their little hearts in sacrifice,
Yea with more cursed wickedness, himself
Feed on their flesh. I shuddered & my hand
Instinctively unsheathed the holy sword.
He with most passionate & eloquent signs
Eye-speaking earnestness & quivering lips,
Besought me to preserve himself & those
Who now fell suppliant round me, youths & maids
Gray-headed men & mothers with their babes.

I caught the little victims up – I kissed
Their innocent cheeks – I raised my eyes to Heaven
I calld upon Almighty God to hear
And bless the vow I made. in our own tongue
Was that sworn promise of protection vowd, –
Impetuous feeling made no pause for thought. –
Heaven heard the vow; the suppliant multitude
Saw what was stirring in my heart, the Priest
With eye inflamed & rapid answer, raisd
His menacing hand, the tone, the bitter smile
Interpreting his threat.
Meantime the Queen
With watchful eye & steady countenance
Had listened, – now she rose & to the Priest
Addressd her speech. low was her voice & calm
As one who spake with effort to subdue
Sorrow that struggled still, but as she spake
Her features kindled to more majesty
Her eye became more animate, her voice
Rose to the height of feeling. on her son
She calld & from her husbands monument
His battle axe she took, & I could see
That as she gave the boy his fathers arms
She calld his fathers spirit to look on
And bless them to his vengeance.
The tribe stood listening as Erilyab spake,
The very Priest was awed; once he essayd
To answer, his tongue faild him & his lip
Grew pale & fell. he to his countrymen,
Of rage & shame & wonder full, returnd,
Bearing no victims for their shrines accurst,
But tidings that the Homen had cast off
Their vassalage, rousd to desperate revolt
By men in hue & speech & garment strange,
Who in their folly dared defy the power
Of Aztlan.
When the King of Aztlan heard,
The unlookd-for tale, ere yet he rousd his strength
Or pitying our rash valour, or belike
Curious to see the man so bravely rash,
He sent to bid me to his court. surprized
I should have given to him no credulous faith,
But fearlessly Erilyab bade me trust
Her honourable foe. unarmd I went,
Lincoya with me to exchange our speech
So as he could, of safety first assured,
For to their damned idols he had been
A victim doomd, & from the bloody rites
Flying, been carried captive far away.

From early morning till the mid-noon hour
We travelled in the mountains, then a plain
Opened below; & rose upon the sight
Like boundless ocean from a hill top seen.
A beautiful & populous plain it was,
Fair woods were there, & fertilizing streams
And pastures spreading wild wide, & villages
In fruitful groves embowered, & stately towns,
And many a single dwelling specking it,
As tho for many a year the land had been
The land of peace. below us where the base
Of the great mountains to the level sloped,
A broad blue lake extended far & wide
Its waters, dark beneath the light of noon.
There Aztlan stood upon the farther shore,
Amid the shade of trees its dwellings rose,
Their level roofs with turrets set around.
And battlements all burnishd white, that shone
Like silver in the sunshine. I beheld
The imperial city, her far-arching walls,
Her garden-groves & stately palaces,
Her temples mountain-size, her thousand roofs.
And when I saw her might & majesty
My mind misgave me then.
We reachd the shore
A floating Islet waited for me there,
The beautiful work of man. I set my foot
Upon green-growing herbs & flowers, & sate
Embowered in odorous shrubs. four long light boats
Yoked to the garden, with accordant song
And dip & dash of oar in harmony,
Bore me across the lake.
Then in a car
Aloft by human bearers was I borne,
And thro the city gate, & thro long lines
Of marshalld multitudes who thronged the way,
We reachd the palace court. four Priests were there
Each held a burning censer in his hand
And strewd the precious gum as I drew nigh,
And held the steaming fragrance forth to me,
As I had been a God. they led me in
Where on his throne the royal Aztěca
Cōănăcotzin sate. Stranger, said he,
Welcome, & be this coming to thy weal!
A desperate warfare doth thy courage court,
But thou shalt see the people & the power
Whom thy deluded zeal would call to arms,
So may the knowledge make thee timely wise.
The valiant love the valiant. come with me.

He said & rose. we went together forth
To the Great Temple, twas a huge square
Or rather like a rock it seemd, hewn out
And squared by patient labour. never yet
Did our forefathers oer their leader slain
In glorious battle, heap a monument
Of that prodigious bulk, tho every shield
Was laden for his grave, & every hand
Toild unremitting at the willing work
From morn till eve, all the long summer day.

The ascent was lengthened by <with> provoking art [1] 
By steps that led but to a wearying path
Round the whole structure, then another flight,
Another road all round, & thus a third,
And yet a fourth, lengthening the long ascent.
Lo now, Coanocotzin cried, thou seest
The cities of this widely peopled plain;
And wert thou on yon farthest temple top,
Yet as far onward wouldst thou see the land
Well-husbanded like this & full of men.
They tell me that two floating palaces
Brought thee & all thy people: when I sound
The Trumpet of the God, ten cities hear
Its voice, & answer to the call in arms.

In truth I felt my weakness, & the view
Had wakend no unreasonable fear,
But that a nearer sight had stirrd my blood,
For on the summit where we stood, four Towers
Were piled with human skulls, & all around
Long files of human heads were strung to parch
And whiten in the sun. What then I felt
Was more than natural courage, twas a trust
In more than mortal strength, & faith in God,
An inspiration from him. I exclaimd
Not tho ten cities ten times told obeyd
The King of Aztlans bidding, should I fear
The power of man!
Art thou then more than man?
He answerd, & I saw his tawny cheek
Lose its life colour as the fear arose –
Nor did I undeceive him from that fear,
For sooth I knew not how to answer him,
And therefore let it work. till we had reachd
The court, no word Coanocotzin spake,
And I too went in silent thoughtfulness,
But then, when save Lincoya there was none
To hear our speech, again did he renew
The query. Stranger art thou more than man
That thou shouldst set the power of man at nought?

Then I replied, two floating Palaces
Bore me & all my people oer the seas.
When we departed from our mother land
The Moon was newly born, we saw her wax
And wane, & witnessed her new birth again,
And all that while, alike by day & night
We travelled thro the Sea, & caught the Winds
And made them bear us forward. We must meet
In battle, if the Homen are not freed
From your accursed tribute, thou & I,
My people & thy countlessss multitudes.
Your arrows shall fall from us as the hail
Leaps on a rock, & when ye smite with swords
Not blood, but fire shall follow from the stroke.
Yet think not thou that we are more than men –
Our knowledge is our power, & God our strength,
God, whose almighty will created thee
And me, & all that hath the breath of life,
And Earth & Heaven
He is our strength, – for in his name [MS obscured]
And when I tell thee that thou shalt not shed
The life of man in bloody sacrifice,
It is his holy bidding that I speak;
And if thou wilt not listen & obey, –
When I shall meet thee in the battle-field
It is his holy cause for which I fight
And I shall have his power to conquer thee.

And thinkest thou our Gods are feeble? cried
The King of Aztlan. dost thou deem they lack
Power to defend their altars & to keep
The Kingdom that they gave us strength to win.
The Gods of thirty nations have opposed
Their irresistible might, & they lie now
Conquered, & caged & fettered at their feet.
That they who serve them are no coward race
Let prove this ample realm they won in arms;
And I, their Leader, am not of the Sons
Of the feeble! as he spake he reachd a mace
The trunk & knotty root of some young tree,
Such as old Albion & his monster brood
From the oak forest from for their weapons pluckd
When father Brute & Corineus set foot
On the White Island first. lo this my club
Quoth he, & he threw back his robe – & this
The Arm that wields it! twas my fathers once –
Erilyabs husband King Tepolomi
He felt its weight – did I not show thee him?
He lights me at my evening banquet! – there
In very deed the dead Tepolomi
Stood up against the wall, by devilish art
Preserved, & from his black & shrivelled hand
The steady lamp hung down.
My spirit rose
At that abomination. I exclaimd
Thou art of noble nature, & full fain
Would I in friendship plight my hand with thine,
But till that body in the grave be laid,
Till thy polluted altars be made pure,
There is no peace between us. May my God,
Who tho thou knowst him not is also thine,
And after death will be thy dreadful Judge;
May it please him to visit thee, & shed
His mercy on thy soul. but if thy heart
Be hardened to the proof – come when thou wilt
I know thy power, & thou shalt then know mine. [2] 


The poem on Sir James Mackintosh [3]  in my next. let the “worthy Knight” [4]  die when he will he will never have a better epitaph.

You must give me credit for the costume. I assume nothing but this – that the Azteca were in the same degree of refinement as Cortes [5]  found their descendants at Mexico. In every trait of manners I shall produce vouchers. It was very wise in the Scotch Reviewers to say there was no invention in Thalaba [6]  because the manners & superstitions existed – they might have gon[Ms obscured] further for the proof <& have> attributed all the originality to the inventor of the Alphabet, for certain[MS obscured] it could not have been written without those materials.

Shall I send more? or are you again occupied in the glorious fatigues of war? – If these fortification schemes [7]  go on I shall grow ashamed of my country & begin to wish myself an American or a Russian [8]  – to look on with hope – instead of looking back with shame.

God bless you.

R S.



* Address: To/ C W W Wynn Esqr M. P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4819E. ALS; 4p.
Dating note: The earliest this letter could have been written was when Southey heard of James Mackintosh’s knighthood, which was announced on 21 December 1803; Southey sent a section of the next book of Madoc to Tom Southey on 17 February 1804 and had completed revisions to the first part of the poem by this date, so this letter is unlikely to have been sent after mid-February 1804. BACK

[1] Insertion in the margin of the poem [possibly in another hand] ‘gross xxxx & vulgar’. BACK

[2] At morning...know mine: Verse written in double columns. With minor corrections, these lines were published as Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 6. BACK

[3] Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832; DNB), writer and politician, was knighted on 21 December 1803 and sailed for India on 14 February 1804 to take up a post as Recorder of Bombay. Southey’s poem does not seem to have survived, if it was written. BACK

[4] The Knight in Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400; DNB), The Canterbury Tales, ‘General Prologue’, line 43. BACK

[5] Hernan Cortes (1485-1547), conqueror of Mexico in 1519-1521. BACK

[6] Francis Jeffrey’s review of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) in Edinburgh Review, 1 (October 1802), 63-83. BACK

[7] The government had consented in August 1803 to build fortifications overlooking the port of Dover and a series of Martello towers on the coast of Kent and Sussex. BACK

[8] Both the USA and Russia were neutral in 1803-1804. BACK

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