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Fear in her heart all is not as it seems;
Then from unsettled slumber start, and hear
Kehama was begun in 1801-2, resumed in 1806, and completed in 1809. Madoc had been written before Kehama was begun; but mistaking it in those days for the greatest poem he should ever write, he laid it aside till he should have time to reconstruct and in great part to rewrite it; and it was not published till 1805. It has the merit of a varied melody and an easy, fluent and graceful narrative diction; but of his long poems it was the least successful.
Roderick was the most so. Perhaps the moral grandeur of the theme may have given it that pre-eminence, as much as its tragic interests. The subjugation, for a season, of a whole people, resulting from a single and momentary sin of the passions,-what may be charitably called a casualty of sin,-on the part of an otherwise virtuous sovereign,-the slaughter of the Christians by the Moors in the eight days' fight on the banks of Chrysus, -the unknown and almost unwilling escape of the King when the battle was over, his deep remorse and self-inflicted penance of years in a solitary hermitage whilst supposed to have been killed, the dream in which his mother appeared to him and bade him to go forth and deliver his country from the Moors, -his departure and encounter with Adosinda, sole survivor of the massacre of Auria,-her story and the passion for revenge, both personal and patriotic, with which it inspired him,—are all sublimely conceived and admirably told. Scarcely less so are his adventures when, wasted by austerities and in the habit of a priest, he passed through the country on his mission, meeting many old friends, but known for the man he was only by his dog,—his ultimate triumph over the Moors in the battle in which, on the inadvertent utterance of his once familiar war-cry, he was enthusiastically recognised by his army,—and thereupon his instant disappearance, whither no one knew, till, after the lapse of some centuries, a humble tomb was discovered within a hermitage in the neighbourhood of Viseu with his name inscribed upon it.
In the versification, Southey has availed himself with singular skill of names belonging to three languages, Spanish, Moorish and
Gothic, to vary his rhythmic effects. English itself is a language derived from divers roots, and therefore, if competently dealt with, the more capable of composite and contrasted melodies. But auxiliaries from even one alien tongue may do excellent service; as Milton well knew when he sounded his roll-call of devils in the first book of Paradise Lost. The concluding lines of the passage which follows will exemplify the advantage taken by Southey of Spanish names in Roderick :
'So saying Adosinda left the King
Alone amid the ruins. There he stood,
The holy Bierzo his obedient way.
Sil's ample stream he crossed, where thro' the vale
The picturesque element enters largely into Roderick; and in poems of such length, descriptions of natural scenery are invaluable as resting-places. Rest from action and passion,-rest even from intellectual effort,-cannot be dispensed with after prolonged strains in one or another mood of emotion or exaltation; nor is it to be obtained in any better way than by occupying the mind's eye with natural beauty and the mind's ear with the gentle melodies
by which it is most aptly accompanied. This exercise of art is nowhere more conspicuous than in. Roderick.
Of minor poems Southey wrote many more than he had any desire to write. And how he came to write them is easily explained. In his first youth he says he often walked the streets for want of a dinner, not having eighteen pence for the ordinary nor bread and cheese at his lodgings. After twenty-one years of age he had a family to provide for, as well as certain relatives whom he could not allow to suffer from penury, though some of them may have deserved so to suffer. In 1835, when he was sixty-one years of age, he writes to Sir R. Peel (in a letter declining the offer of a baronetcy 2), 'Last year for the first time in my life I was provided with a year's expenditure beforehand.' Under such circumstances, much as it may have been his desire to write only from impulse and aspiration, it was his duty to write for money too. In his earlier years minor poems were marketable ; a large proportion of his ballads and metrical tales were written for the Morning Post at a guinea a week; and when they were republished in a book, it was still for money, and with the motto, • Nos haec novimus esse nihil.' There was no humiliation in this, and he knew that there was none. When he found his means again failing in 1807, he writes that, if necessary, he will seek inore review employment, write in more magazines, and scribble verses for the newspapers; adding, 'as long as I can keep half my time for labours worthy of myself and of posterity I shall not teel debased by sacrificing the other, however unworthily it may be employed.' And the fact is that, laborious and exuberant as he was from first to last, the great works which he was always longing and preparing, and in his sanguine heart hoping, to accomplish,— the history of Portugal, the history of English Literature, and the history of the Monastic Orders, were postponed again and again and for ever.
As time passed on, his poetry, whether written for the market or not, became less saleable; and in 1820 he writes to Landor,— 'My poems hang on hand. I want no monitor to tell me it is time to leave off. I shall force myself to finish what I have begun, and then-good night. Had circumstances favoured I might have done more in this way, and better. But I have done enough to be remembered among poets, though my proper place will be
2 Life and Letters, vol. vi. p. 256.
1 Letter to G. Bedford.
among the historians, if I live to complete the works upon yonder shelves-which most unhappily he did not.
Every generation has a pet poet or two of its own; and the generation which had now arisen worshipped a Muse instinct with amorous or personal passion,-a Muse of a very different order from Southey's. His Clio, even in his first youth, had administered a scornful rebuke when he uttered a few words that seemed akin to sentimental softness :-
'I spake. when Lo!
That was not the way he went; but in his own way and in some of his poems-certainly in Roderick-passion, though governed and severe, and couchant, as it were, in the language of reserve, is by no means wanting; and how far it would be a mistake to assume that, because he was of a happy and cheerful temperament, he was a stranger to imaginative emotion, may be gathered from what he says of himself in a letter to Landor :-'You wonder that I can think of two poems at once. It proceeds from weakness, not from strength. I could not stand the continuous excitement which you have gone through in your tragedy: in me it would not work itself off in tears; the tears would flow while in the act of composition, and would leave behind a throbbing head and a whole system in the highest state of nervous exciteability, which would soon induce disease in one of its most fearful forms. From such a state I recovered in 1800 by going to Portugal and suddenly changing climate, occupation, and all internal objects; and I have kept it off since by a good intellectual regimen '.' How much reason he had to be careful was shown by the disease of the brain which followed his domestic calamities, and brought his literary life to a close at sixty-five years of age.
Of poetic passion then there was enough and to spare in his nature, though he took no pleasure in it, or none which he could afford to indulge. But along with this there was an imaginative vehe
Life and Letters, vol. iii. p. 300.
mence and power partaking of passion, which, on one occasion at least, he did not care to keep within the bounds of his 'intellectual regimen.' He had a passionate hatred of Bonaparte, growing out of moral as well as political and patriotic feelings, and no doubt exasperated by the antagonism of those who fell down in worship before the wonders of his success. Wordsworth has told us,
How an accurséd thing it is to gaze
On prosperous tyrants with a dazzled eye,'—
and on one of the two occasions on which Southey and Byron met, Bonaparte was spoken of; and when Byron gave some indications of the dazzled eye, Southey replied that Bonaparte was 'a mean tyrant.' But his meanness was by no means the worst part of him. Some of his political murders, secret or avowed, were regarded by Southey (justly, may it not be said?) as private and personal crimes for which it was right that, when circumstances rendered it possible, he should be made to answer with his life. He writes to Landor (9th March 1814),- For five years I have been preaching the policy, the duty, the necessity, of declaring Bonaparte under the ban of human nature.' These feelings and opinions gave birth to the Ode written during the Negociations for Peace in 1814; and since Milton's immortal imprecation,
Avenge, oh Lord, thy slaughtered Saints whose bones
there has been no occasional poem equal to it in grandeur and power. Nor any indeed equal to it in art; witness the expressive change of tone and temper when, at the fifth line of the third stanza, the denunciations are arrested for a few moments, and a vision arises of what the tyrant's career might have been had he chosen the better part.
Occasional poems on great public events are very rarely great poems. The facts are too strong for the imaginative effects, and take the place of them. But there is one other of Southey's,— that on the death of the Princess Charlotte,—with the grace and beauty of which no facts could compete.
Of the minor poems other than occasional, the varieties are too numerous to be even so much as indicated here; but some of them are examples of the humour, sometimes light and playful, sometimes grotesque, which was strongly characteristic of Southey. Humour is an element which cannot but widen the field of a poet's