ROBERT SOUTHEY, Esq. Poet Laureat, was born August 12, 1774, at Bristol, where his father carried on an extensive business as a wholesale linen draper. Young Robert was educated first under Mr. Foote, a baptist minister of great ability, but at that time very aged. After a short time young Southey was removed to a school at Carston, where he remained about two years, and was then entered at Westminster School in 1787, where, in 1790, he fell under censure for his concern in the rebellion excited against the master, Dr. Vincent. In 1792 he became a student of Baliol College, Oxford, with a view to the church, but Unitarian principles and the revolutionary mania put an end to that design. So strongly did he imbibe the new opinions on politics which the explosion in France had produced, that he, with his friends Lovell and Coleridge, projected a plan of settling on the banks of the Susquehannah in North America, and of there founding a new republic. This Utopian scheme was soon dissolved for the want of means, and in 1795 Mr. Southey married Miss Fricker, soon after, which event be accompanied his maternal uncle the Rev. Dr. Hill to Portugal, that gentleman being appointed Chaplain to the Factory at Lisbon. In 1801 Mr. Southey obtained the appointment of Secretary to the Right Hon. Isaac Corry, Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland. On retiring from office with his patron, our author went to reside in a cottage near Keswick, where also dwelt under the same roof the widow of his friend Lovell and the wife of Mr. Coleridge, both which ladies are sisters to Mrs Southey. In 1813 he succeeded Mr. Pye as Poet Laureat.
The mere list of the various productions of the Poet Laureate, bears evidence of his industry and facility. Mr. Southey is, beyond all contradiction, the most universal of modern poets; and if all the world does not admit that he is the most inventive, it is, perhaps, because he is suspected of having recourse to the erudite stores of his memory, more frequently than to his poetic imagination. The profuseness of his notes may he regarded as a proof of mal-adroit candour, or bibliomanic vanity. As a chronicler, a historian, a biographer, an editor, a romance writer, an antiquary, a poet, in short, in every possible department of literature, Southey is a rival to Sir Walter Scott; and if Old Mortality and Ivanhoe had not sufficiently proved, that in the representation of modern manners, prose language may be very successfully adapted to the epopee, the author of Roderick would be the first epic poet in Great Britain.
The Chronicle of the Cid entitled him at least to the glory of having discovered all the Homeric spirit which belongs to the simplicity of the chivalric poets. Even amidst the pomp of poetic romance, Mr. Southey, as a laker, has not sacrificed natural feeling to the artificial sentiments of conventional heroism; but, unfortunately, he has sometimes rested his claims to originality on the singularity and novelty of his subjects, rather than on the resources of his genius. If his cosmopolitan muse had but concentrated her powers on national subjects, Southey's originality would have been more decided. By turns, French, Arabic, Indian, and Spanish, Southey's muse assumes the garb of every nation she adopts; but her borrowed robes do not always sit easily upon her. She sometimes betrays an air of constraint, though she endeavours to conceal it by forced energy. She reminds one of an actor, whose whole attention is engrossed in arranging his drapery and studying his attitudes. The muse of the Scottish minstrel, on the contrary, is always animated and perfectly at ease beneath the folds of her plaid; she never sacrifices her natural inspirations, but shews herself in all her native grace and dignity. Then again with regard to style, Scott's is never studied; his common places pass on like the current coin of conversation, and contribute to the illusion. Southey, who always seems to be translating a foreign language, requires to be continually supported by ideas; and the filling up phrases, which are requisite in all sorts of composition, often appear in Southey's writings merely trivial verbosity; while his use of antiquated words and turns of expression sometimes produce a kind of patchwork effect. These faults are never observable in Scott's writings. I feel the more confident in pronouncing these opinions on Southey's talent, owing to the peculiar charm of his detached poems and tales, which present the expression of his own individual ideas, whether as a lake poet, as for instance in his Address to the Penates and his Landscape of Poussin, or whether he assumes a philosophic tone, half serious, half ironical, as in his tale of San Gualberto. His ballads on popular and local superstitions are also very impressive, as for example, Lord William, or the History of the Old Woman of Berkeley. As a prose writer, Southey is generally natural, easy, and free from all affectation.
We cannot help repeating the fact, that Southey became an indifferent poet only after he turned a ministerial writer. Let Southey, the poet laureate and pensioned writer, be compared with Southey the author of Joan of Arc. The French have certainly reason to be grateful to him for that production. Shakspeare is unjust towards the heroine of Domremi; but Southey's muse has made her ample amends.
The Poem of Joan of Arc was written by Southey at the age of nineteen, and was published in 1795, under the influence of the republican principles, which the author at that period professed. In subsequent editions of the poem, Southey has, however, been candid enough not to retrench his liberal allusions, and those maledictions against English tyranny, which could not be very favourably received in England, at a moment when the stern policy of Pitt, and the chivalrous eloquence of Burke, had excited among the English a strong prejudice against the French revolution. A hue and cry was raised against Southey's abuse of talent. Who could then have foreseen that the young gallomanic poet would one day become the furious enemy of French glory? The liberal avenger of Joan of Arc does not however appear, front his poem, to have been precisely a girondist or a patriot of 1789. From his religious opinions, and his union of the spirit of the feudal chronicles with the solemn style of the paradise Lost, he may be more properly termed an independent of Cromwell's time, and a disciple of Milton. The philosophic principles of the day are plainly recognisable in that admirable vision, in which Despair appeals to Joan of Arc in favour of Suicide, and in which the Maid of Orleans borrows from Rousseau's Julie some portion of her eloquent refutation. But the general character of the work is religious. It is curious to find the future biographer of Wesley, the Methodist, making Joan of Arc almost a mystical enthusiast. But was it not indeed her character? Who can read her wonderful history without feeling the conviction of her heavenly inspiration? Where is the Frenchman who will venture to deny, that there was something divine in the patriotism of Joan of Arc? Southey has made his heroine cherish the recollection of a terrestrial passion, which gives her a charming air of melancholy, without in any way diminishing her purity. It is of course unnecessary to describe the incidents of a poem, the subject of which must be familiar to every one. The poet has not had recourse to any fantastic agency. Joan simply relates to Dunois the signs she has received of her mission and her mysterious dreams under the tree of the fairies. How sweet is the description which Joan gives of her pastoral life:
Here in solitude
My soul was worst, amid the loveliest scenes
Of unpolluted nature. Sweet it was,
As the white mists of morning roll'd away,
To see the mountains' wooded heights appear
Dark in the early dawn, and mark its slope,
Rich with the blossom'd furze, as the slant sun
On the golden ripeness pour'd a deepening light.
Pleasant, at noon, beside the vocal brook,
To lie me down and watch the floating clouds,
And shape to fancy's wild similitudes
Their ever varying forms; and he, most sweet!
To drive my flock at evening to the fold,
And hasten to our little hut, and hear
The voice of kindness bid me welcome home.
Here, without the least inflation or bombastical swelling of style, an effect is produced, the deeper, because the means employed are simple, and influencing in an equal degree the illiterate and the cultivated. How natural and unostentatiously affecting is the expansion of a parent's heart over a family of happy and blooming children!
A pleasant sight it was
To see my children, as at eve I sat
Beneath the vine, come clustering round my knee,
That they might hear again she oft told tale
Of the dangers I had past: their little eyes
Did with such anxious eagerness attend
The tale of life preserved, as made me feel
Nothing can be finer than the glowing and picturesque delineation of the holy maid's consecration; the ancient abbey in all its awful pomp; shrines of saints and tombs of heroes, the tonsured priest and the soul-subduing grandeur of sacrifice, become visible to the maid's eye; but the heaven-sent championess herself, how felicitously is her appearance described:
As she came, a loveliest blush
O'er her fair cheek suffus'd, such as became
One mindful still of maiden modesty,
Tho' of her own worth conscious. Thro' the aisle
The cold wind moaning as it pass'd along,
Wav'd her dark flowing locks. Before the train,
In reverend silence waiting their sage will
With half averted eyes she stood compos'd.
So have I seen the simple snowdrop rise
Amid the russet leaves that hide the earth
In early spring, — so seen its gentle bend
Of modest loveliness amid the waste
The ninth canto was originally a long vision, which transported the reader to an imaginary world. The author afterwards retrenched it, and gave it in an appendix, because he was of opinion that it contributed to retard the events of the poem; but perhaps, after all, he was not quite sight in making this alteration. Coleridge had some share in the invention of this allegorical part of the poem. It presents several sublime images, as, for instance, the personification of despair, and the hall of glory in which Henry V, expiates his conquests. The author has here indulged in a satirical attack on the church, and the prerogatives of its dignitaries, of which he is now so ardent a defender. He has placed its hell the English prelates in their surplices, together with roman cardinals in full costume, and there they are all condemned to a scrupulous fulfilment of those duties, which they converted into sinecures in their earthly paradises. We must also notice the ingenious allegory of the frail thread of life, that, with fearful swiftness winds upon a fatal wheel, which two genii lave with water contained in two urns. From the ebony urn flows the bitter water from the spring of evil, and the genius who pours it out has a gloomy smile on his countenance. A more benign spirit has charge of the other urn, the contents of which are of a less baneful nature, and which are augmented by the tears the spirit sheds in compassion for the lot of man.
The style of Joan of Arc is an imitation of the occasionally stiff rhythm of Milton. In his second poem, Southey has steered clear of all imitation, either in the measure of the verse or the subject. The scene is laid in the east, for this writer has made the tour of the world in his poems, and has availed himself of the traditions, the history, and the faith of every nation. The prodigious learning displayed in each of his works, proves the absurdity of those poets who are constantly endeavouring to retrace the footsteps of Homer and Virgil, instead of availing themselves of the various new paths which civilization has opened to them. What a misfortune would it have been to literature, had Milton imposed on himself the task of writing another Aeneid! Tasso, who with infinite taste subjected the muse of Christian Europe to the forms of ancient poetry, never soared to a loftier height than in painting the manners of his own age; and we cannot but confess, that Voltaire was more true to nature, when he made himself the rival of Ariosto, than when, full of the recollection of his college studies, he traced his Henry IV. on the model of the pious Aeneas. Lord Byron accused himself, as of a crime, of being one of those who have raised Chinese pagodas beside Greek temples, the only genuine models of art. The classic architecture of St. Paul's does not render us indifferent to the beauties of Westminster Abbey, or even to the Pavilion at Brighton. In like manner we derive pleasure from reading Thalaba after Joan of Arc, and The Curse of Kehama after Madoc or Roderick. Since Southey was fated to write five epic poems, we are glad he did not produce five Joans of Arc, or five Thalabas.
Si Peau d'ane m'etait conte,
J'y prendrais un plaisir extreme,
says La Fontaine, who read Peau d'ane and Baruch with equal pleasure. But, if judged by the rules of the old French theory of poetry, Thalaba is no more an epic poem than Peau d'ane. The versification presents a whimsical mixture of every kind of metre, from lines of fourteen feet, to lines consisting of a single monosyllable, and the irregular stanzas do not succeed each other regularly, as in the ode or the dithyrambic. This variegated versification, if I may so express myself, is favourable to every variety of style, and after a lyric flight the poet descends to the modest level of a narrator. After a page full of unmeaning and artificially condensed words, there comes a brilliant description, an energetic apostrophe, or, by an unexpected transition, the chaste and solemn graces of genuine epic composition.
The poem opens with the following sweet picture:—
How beautiful is night!
A dewy freshness fills the silent air;
No mist obscures, no little cloud
Breaks the whole serene of heaven;
In full-orbed glory the majestic moon
Rolls through the dark blue depths;
Beneath her steady ray
The desert circle spreads,
Like the round ocean, girdled with the sky.
How beautiful is night!
The silence is interrupted by the wandering footsteps of a woman, who is flying with her son over the desarts of Arabia, and the boy is soon left crying in the wilderness, over the lifeless remains of his mother. This child is Thalaba, who by a miracle has escaped from a murderer who has sacrificed his father, an old Arab, named Hodeisa, and all his race. The murderer is the agent of a party of magicians, who dwell in the caverns of Domdaniel, at the bottom of the ocean, and who have been informed that their destroyer is to spring up from the race of Hodeisa. The conflicts between Thalaba and these magicians form the subject of the poem, and at length the young hero penetrates into the retreat of his enemies, and, like another Samson, perishes along with them beneath the ruins of their cavern.
Such a story, of course, requires to be supported by all sorts of poetic accessories, and it is but rendering justice to Mr. Southey to say, that be has ably availed himself of the rich colouring of oriental imagery, scenery, and costume. He has, at the same time produced the most varied contrasts, in the incidents and episodes. Along with the luxuriant imagery, and the continued succession of extraordinary adventures which the poem presents, the author has interwoven pathetic descriptions of the simple scenes of his hero's childhood. Thalaba is picked up by a good old Arab, who conveys him to his patriarchal tent, where he brings him up along with his daughter. The chaste felicity of our first parents is not more interesting than the affection of these two children of the desart. What Voltaire said of love, as it is painted by Milton, is perfectly applicable to Southey's Thalaba: in other poems it is a weakness, but in this it is a virtue. The angelic purity of Oneiza, and her cruel destiny, have inspired the poet with some of his most tender and brilliant passages. Thalaba delivers his mistress from the profane Paradise of Aloadin, and prevails on her to marry him before the accomplishment of his mission. She reluctantly consents. The nuptial ceremonies are minutely described, hymns of joy are sung, and the book ends with these verses:—
And now the marriage feast is spread,
And from the finished banquet now
The wedding guests are gone....
Who comes from the bridal chamber?
It is Azrael, the angel of death.
The next book opens with Thalaba mourning over the tomb of Oneiza, exposed to the fury of the tempest. There he is met by the father of his bride, and the shade of Oneiza rises up to console him, and encourage him to proceed on his holy enterprise. He sets out on his lonely way, and on the first night of his wandering, he is hospitably received by a venerable dervise. As they are sitting at their humble repast, a nuptial procession passes by with dance and song. The old dervise pronounces a blessing on the joyous party, but Thalaba looked on, "breathed a low, deep groan, and hid his face.
The little episode of Laila is, also, extremely pleasing. Amidst a desart of snow, a sudden light breaks upon the eyes of Thalaba. He advances, and discovers that this light proceeds from
A little lowly dwelling-place
Amid a garden, whose delightful air
Felt mild and fragrant, as the evening wind
Passing in summer o'er the coffee-groves
Of Yemen, and its blessed bowers of balm.
A fount of fire that in the centre play'd,
Rolled all around its wond'rous rivulets,
And fed the garden with the heat of life.
He enters and finds a damsel sleeping, who afterwards informs him, that she was placed there by her father, a magician, who "saw a danger in bet, horoscope," and hid her in that solitude. He has also constructed a guardian of the garden, which is a brazen figure, grasping a thunderbolt. As soon as Thalaba appears,
The charmed image knew Hodeirah's son,
And hurled the lightning at the dreaded foe.
He is saved by means of an enchanted ring which he has in his possession. But the old magician appears, and tells Thalaba, that he must either sacrifice the innocent girl or perish himself. Laila throws her arms round her father's neck. Her face is turned to Thalaba. The wind agitating the fiery fountain casts a broad light over her features; her eyes rolling with horror watch every movement of Thalaba. He refuses to stain his hands in the blood of innocence. The magician exulting, draws his dagger. All is accomplished. Laila, who rushes between them to save the youth, receives the fatal blow. She falls, and Azrael receives her parting soul from the hands of Thalaba.
We cannot close this brief analysis, without transcribing one of the many beautiful pictures with which the poem abounds. It is a description of Alaodin's paradise: —
And oh! what odours the voluptuous vale
Scatters from jasmine bowers,
From yon rose wilderness,
From clustered henna, and from orange groves
That with such perfume fill the breeze,
As Peris to their sister bear,
When from the summit of some lofty tree
She hangs, encaged, the captive of the Dives.
They from their pinions shake
The sweetness of celestial flowers;
And as her enemies impure
From that impetuous poison far away
Fly groaning with the torment, she the while
Inhales her fragrant food.
Such odours flowed upon the world,
When at Mohammed's nuptials, word
Went forth in heaven to roll
The everlasting gales of paradise
Back on their living hinges, that its gales
Might visit all below: the general bliss
Thrill'd every bosom, and the family
Of man, for once, partook a common joy.
The author of Lalla Rookh has written nothing which more perfectly breathes the spirit of oriental poetry.
In Madoc, another of Southey's poems, the scene is partly laid in Britain, and partly in America.
Madoc, as well as Thalaba, occasionally presents traces of affected simplicity, false energy, artificial enthusiasm, laboured style, tediousness, prolixity, and an unnecessary profusion of harsh sounding names. But yet it cannot be denied that the author has happily succeeded in combining the inspirations of the three great poets, Ossian, Milton, and Alonzo d'Ercilla. Southey's Welsh bards are more natural and less monotonous than the Caledonian bards of Macpherson, in their descriptions of scenery, and in their warlike and festive hymns. The laureate has happily retraced some of those images which constitute the charm of the melancholy song of Selma. His Ossianic harp breathes forth the music of a new world, where he seems to have discovered chords hitherto unknown to Christian bards. Its inspirations are addressed to savages, but for the purpose of refining their feelings, and not for the celebration of sanguinary obsequies. The episode of Caradoc may almost be regarded as an allegory.
Two chiefs, the Nisus and Euryalus of the Indians, make a nocturnal sortie, and in the neighbourhood of the Christian camp, surprise a sleeping warrior, whom Thalaba, surnamed the Tiger of War, proposes to sacrifice, in the hope that an offering of human blood will propitiate the gods, and he the pledge of his nation's success. He creeps like a serpent to the spot, where Caradoc, in his slumbers, is dreaming of his native home, and the blue eyed maid whom he loves. He raises his lance and is about to strike his victim, when suddenly the morning breeze, gently sweeping the strings of the Cambrian warrior's harp, produces heavenly strains of melody. The savage stops, looks round him with amazement; no mortal is near him; and in a moment all is silent. The aerial music again falls on his astonished ear, and then again suddenly ceases. The savage for the first time feels the influence of terror. He thinks a friendly genius watches over the stranger, and he shrinks confounded from the fulfilment of his murderous purpose.
This invisible protection of the harp, is a beautiful poetic idea. The captivity of Hoel and Madoc, and their deliverance by a priestess of the false gods; and the death of Coatel and her lover, are incidents which excite the liveliest interest. In several energetic passages, and also where the poet expresses religious sentiments, he soars to a level with Milton; but when he describes the manners of the savages, their councils of war, the religious ceremonies, their combats, and the magnificent scenery of the new world, he approximates to the style of Alonzo de Ercilla, while at the same time, he evinces more correct judgment, and purer taste, than the Spanish poet.
The history of Madoc is founded on a tradition which attributes the discovery of the American continent in the twelfth century to a Welch prince, who fled from his native land to avoid civil war and the hatred of a cruel brother. The posterity of the Welch adventurers who at that period emigrated to the New World, are said still to exist on the banks of the Missouri. Nearly about the same time, the Aztecas, an American tribe, forsook their original country and founded the Mexican empire, so called in honour of their tutelary deity Mexitly. Their emigration is, by Southey, connected with the adventures of Madoc, and the poet describes their superstitions, such as the Spaniards found them among their descendants. This poem was criticised with unjust severity in the Edinburgh Review, in an article written by Jeffrey. A burlesque description is given of the events and characters; but Voltaire made parodies almost as grotesque on Homer and Milton. It will readily be supposed that prejudices were raised against a poem which was treated thus by the reviewers. A great portion of readers are often satisfied with the mere analysis of a work. It is convenient for ignorance to meet with ready made opinions, and mediocrity is always gratified at the opportunity of aiming a blow at genius. But who can he insensible to the aptitude of numbers expressing ideas by sounds in the subjoined passage?
'Tis pleasant, by the cheerful hearth, to hear
Of tempests, and the dangers of the deep,
And pause at times, and feel that we are safe;
Then listen to the perilous tale again
And with an eager and suspended soul,
Woo terror to delight us; but to hear
The roaring of the raging elements,
To know all human skill, all human strength,
Avail not; to look round and only see
The mountain wave incumbent, with its weight
Of bursting waters, o'er the reeling bark....
O! God, this is indeed a dreadful thing!
And he who hath endured the horror once
Of such an hour, doth never hear the storm
Howl round his home, but he remembers it,
And thinks upon the suffering mariner!
The poem which followed Madoc, in spite of all its magnificence, could not dazzle the critics who had parodied Southey's three preceding works. The Curse of Kehama would be the most extravagant of poems, but that the author has so completely thrown aside his European character, and so happily identified himself with his subject, that the work appears like a brilliant version of one of the numerous national epopees of the Brahmins, transmitted to Europe by the college of Calcutta. The author must be regarded as singularly successful in having excited any other sentiment than curiosity by a work borrowed from the most fanciful of mythologies, in which we are by turns transported from heaven to hell; and the principal characters of which are a king endowed with almost all the attributes of the gods, a man struck by a singular curse, a wandering spectre, a witch, a glendoveer, a genius, and other super-human beings of various orders. The only creature who belongs to this world is frequently transported into the invisible regions, and is at length admitted to the rank of the immortal genii. The interest of the poem arises out of the sweetest of mortal affections, that which is a virtue among all nations, namely, filial piety. Kaylial is the poet's grand talisman; he frequently appears like one of Raphael's virgins singularly placed among the extravagant figures of a Chinese skreen. Kehama, the proud and ambitious tyrant of India, also rises to a level with the gloomy energy and infernal majesty of Milton's Satan.
The story is founded on a singularity in the religious faith of the Hindoos, who believe that prayers, seconded by penance and sacrifices, have a power independent of the motives of him by whom they are addressed to heaven. To use the term employed by Mr. Southey in his prefatory remarks, they are bills drawn upon the gods, the payment of which cannot be refused. The wicked in this manner may obtain a degree of power which renders them formidable to the deities themselves.
Thus does the Rajah Kehama, the hero of Southey's poem, threaten to usurp the prerogatives of the gods, and to render them obedient to his sovereign caprice. In the meanwhile, however, he is visited by some of the misfortunes incident to human nature. Arvalan, his only son, is killed by a peasant, to whose daughter he attempted to offer violence. The poem opens with a description of the magnificent funeral of Arvalan. Kehama orders his guards to conduct to his presence Ladurlad, the peasant, and his daughter Kaylial, on whom he has vowed to take revenge. Kaylial, however, clings to the statue of Manataly, the tutelary goddess of the poor, which stands on the banks of the Ganges, where the funeral rites are celebrated. A thousand arms, obedient to the tyrant's voice, endeavour to tear her away; but the offended deity hurls the image into the water, and with it the suppliant Kaylial, and the satellites who presumed to lay their sacrilegious hands upon her. Kehama then turns to the father and summoning all his power for one great effort of malice, pronounces on him the curse whence the poem derives its name. A charm is to preserve him from the effects of wounds and violence, sickness, infirmity, and old age; but he is doomed not to be wet with water, nor fanned with wind; and to pass his days without sleep, with a fire in his heart and in his brain.
Ladurlad wanders horror-struck and solitary along the banks of the river, and he soon observes the image of Manataly floating on the stream, with his daughter still clinging to it. The curse pronounced by Kehama gives him the power of rescuing Kaylial. The flood separates at his approach and he bears his daughter in safety to the shore. However he soon feels all the misery of the lot to which he is doomed; and Kaylial is haunted by the spectre of Arvalan. The good genius by whom she is protected falls a victim to the Rajah; and the latter is, by a last sacrifice, on the point of attaining the climax of his ambition. He raises an axe, to slaughter a wild horse, which would be profaned if touched by a mortal hand, when a man rushes wildly forward, regardless of the arrows and javelins which fall like hail around him, and by touching the steed, destroys the virtue of the sacrifice. This is no other than Ladurlad, who, by the curse, is rendered invulnerable to the further vengeance of Kehama. The prince vents his fury on his own guards, whose massacre is described in strains of energetic poetry.
Ladurlad quits the scene of carnage, and wanders back to the happy home of his youth. His emotions, his recollections, and the impressions excited by every object he beholds have furnished the subject of one of those scenes in which Southey excels, and the natural colouring of which is indeed more charming than all the magical decorations of his ideal world. Ladurlad subsequently enjoys some cessation from his misery on Mount Meru, under the protection of Indra. But his trials, and those of his daughter, return as soon as Arvalan discovers their retreat. The Glendoveer Eremia himself solicits the aid of Ladurlad and his daughter. He is a captive in the tomb of Baly, an ancient monarch, whose temple was formerly buried beneath the ocean. The description of this sub-marine city presents a novel and beautiful picture.
Their golden summits in the noon-day light,
Shone o'er the dark-green deep that roll'd between;
For domes are pinnacles, and spires were seen
Peering above the sea — a mournful sight!
Well might the sad beholder ween from thence
What works of wonder the devouring wave
Had swallowed there, when monuments so brave
Bore record of their old magnificence.
And on the sandy shore, beside the verge
Of ocean, here and there a rock-hewn lane
Resisted in its strength the surf and surge
That on their deep foundations beat in vain.
In solitude the ancient temples stood
Once resonant with instrument and song,
And solemn dance of festive multitude;
Now as the weary ages pass along,
Hearing no voice save of the ocean flood,
Which roars for ever on the restless shores;
Or, visiting their solitary caves,
The lonely sound of winds, that moan around,
Accordant to the melancholy waves.
But we cannot follow Ladurlad into the empire of the ocean, or accompany him in the other miraculous pilgrimages which he makes in company with his daughter, and the Glendoveer whom he has released. Mr. Southey's fertile imagination has painted all in glowing colours, the Padalon, the Pandaemonium of the Hindoos, and Mount Calavry, or their Elysium. Suffice it to say, that the impious Kehama at length meets with his merited punishment, and the patience and piety of the fair Kaylial are rewarded.
We might multiply extracts to an endless length; for there are in every canto many passages of striking beauty; such as the sacrifice of the wives of Arvalan, and particularly the lovely Nealliny, the description of a morning and evening scene in Hindostan, the banian tree and the elephant, the grove in which Kaylial worships the gods, her prayer to Manataly, her declarations of filial piety, her somewhat mystical love for the glendoveer, her first interview with the shade of her mother, etc.
Roderick the Last of the Goths is not the most brilliant or varied of the Laureate's compositions, though it was produced in the full maturity of his genius, and has been highly admired by all classes of readers. The gentle affections are not indeed excluded from this poem; but its interest is derived from emotions of a more energetic nature. Impassioned exaltation distinguishes all the characters, and even their virtues have an air of fanaticism. Had Sir Walter Scott undertaken the task of relating the same events, pourtraying the same characters, describing the poetic land of Spain, the christian and moorish knights, their costumes, manners, and conflicts, how much would the picture have gained in brilliancy of colouring, spirit, and picturesque contrast! How many graceful and natural details would have amused the reader, without diverting his attention from the main circumstances of the story. Some troubadour of the "gaya ciencia" would have mingled with the clang of arms and the cries of fury and revenge, some of those melting strains which would have delighted the lady and her youthful pages, and have won even a smile from the aged warrior. But the author of Roderick is merely an inspired monk, who records of love only its regrets, and makes his warriors fight only under the banner of the cross. His poetry is energetic, noble, frequently sublime, but always solemn; and in its harmonious rhythm, one might almost recognise a resemblance to the monotonous music of the convent bells. Yet this religious character has its appropriate effect in the poem. Spain is contending with the infidels for the recovery of her faith and her glory. The proud enemy of her triumphs perseveres in his cruelty and oppression. His shouts of victory are threats. The vanquished overwhelmed with disgrace, scarcely venture to utter a complaint. They stifle the voice of vengeance until the signal for insurrection shall be given. At length hatred and resentment burst forth, and a deadly war ensues.
On his return from Spain and Portugal, Southey admirably represented the character and opinions of a Spaniard, but a Spaniard of the nineteenth century, in his amusing letters of Don Manuel Espriella. He afterwards studied what he terms the monkish spirit, to qualify himself to attack catholicism with her own arms in the Quarterly Review. He was at the same time deeply imbued with the fanaticism of the sectaries of Joanna Southcote and Wesley, of whom he became the biographer. All this serves to explain the natural way in which he maintains the character of the enthusiastic monk its lion Roderick. His profound knowledge of Spanish literature, and particularly of the chronicles, also proved a powerful aid to him. Roderick is a Spanish, and above all a catholic poem; the protestant poet has no existence but on the title page. The principal idea of the work is romantic, but original. A remnant of grandeur, and glory, elevate the character of the fallen king. His penitence in the desart, his mysterious return among his subjects, the trials of his new mission, the immense sacrifice his devotedness costs him, the powerful influence of his presence, and the last exploit of his enthusiasm and valour, all serve to invest him with the attributes of superhuman heroism. The characters of Julian and his daughter are not less happily conceived, and their various interviews with the king are very impressive. Adosinda, the Judith of the poem, is pourtrayed with infinite ability, and among the secondary characters, what a high degree of interest is excited by the good Severian, whom Homer might have envied for his Odyssey, and the mother of Roderick, who is so worthy to share all his sacrifices, and whose pious tears gain a celestial crown for her throned son!
We feel for Roderick as for our brother man, and remember while we lament his miseries, that they might have been ours. Here criticism is silent, for the errors are too slight for animadversion, and unmixed praise is generally heard with suspicion. We have only, however, to look into the poem to produce abundant confirmations of our opinion. Take a few specimens. How exquisitely touching is the account given of the fugitive monarch's remorse and penitence.
He had not wept till now, and at the gush
Of these first tears, it seem'd as if his heart,
From a long winter's icy thrall let loose,
Had open'd to the genial influences
What a glowing picture of sun-rise is presented to its at the commencement of the third book.
'Twas now the earliest morning; soon the sun,
Rising above Albardos, pour'd his light
Amid the forest, and with ray aslant
Entering its depth, illumed the branchless pines,
Brighten'd their bark, tinged with a redder hue
Its rusty stains, and cast along the floor
Long lines of shadow, where they rose erect,
Like pillars of the temple.
We will quote yet another passage. The fallen king, after a long seclusion, ventures from his solitude, when a Moor, touched by his apparent wretchedness, offers him money.
With a look of vacancy
Roderic received the alms; his wandering eye
Fell on the money, and the fallen king,
Seeing his own royal impress on the piece,
Broke out into a quick convulsive voice,
That seemed like laughter first, but ended soon
In hollow groans supprest: the mussulman
Shrunk at the ghastly sound, and magnified
The name of Allah as he hasten'd on.
A christian woman spinning at her door
Beheld him, and with sudden pity touch'd,
She laid her spindle by, and running in,
Took bread, and following after call'd him back,
And placing in his passive hands the loaf,
She said, "Christ Jesus for his mother's sake
Have mercy on thee!" With a look that seemed
Like idiocy, he heath her, and stood still,
Staring awhile, then bursting into tears,
Wept like a child, and thus relieved his heart,
Full even to bursting else with swelling thoughts.