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Roderick: The Last of the Goths. By ROBERT SOUTHEY, Esq., Poet Laureate, and Member of the Royal Spanish Academy. 4to. pp. 477. London: 1814.*
THIS is the best, we think, and the most powerful of all Mr. Southey's poems. It abounds with lofty sentiments, and magnificent imagery; and contains more rich and comprehensive descriptions-more beautiful pictures of pure affection and more impressive representations of mental agony and exaltation than we have often met with in the compass of a single volume.
A work, of which all this can be said with justice, cannot be without great merit; and ought not, it may be presumed, to be without great popularity. Justice, however, has something more to say of it: and we are not quite sure either that it will be very popular, or that it deserves to be so. It is too monotonous too wordy
and too uniformly stately, tragical, and emphatic. Above all, it is now and then a little absurd - and pretty frequently not a little affected.
The author is a poet undoubtedly; but not of the
I have, in my time, said petulant and provoking things of Mr. Southey- and such as I would not say now. But I am not conscious that I was ever unfair to his Poetry and if I have noted what I thought its faults, in too arrogant and derisive a spirit, I think I have never failed to give hearty and cordial praise to its beauties-and generally dwelt much more largely on the latter than the former. Few things, at all events, would now grieve me more, than to think I might give pain to his many friends and admirers, by reprinting, so soon after his death, any thing which might appear derogatory either to his character or his genius; and therefore, though I cannot say that I have substantially changed any of the opinions I have formerly expressed as to his writings, I only insert in this publication my review of his last considerable poem: which may be taken as conveying my matured opinion of his merits - and will be felt, I trust, to have done no scanty or unwilling justice to his great and peculiar powers.
TOO UNIFORMLY SOLEMN.
highest order. There is rather more of rhetoric than of inspiration about him and we have oftener to admire his taste and industry in borrowing and adorning, than the boldness or felicity of his inventions. He has indisputably a great gift of amplifying and exalting; but uses it, we must say, rather unmercifully. He is never plain, concise, or unaffectedly simple, and is so much bent upon making the most of every thing, that he is perpetually overdoing. His sentiments and situations are, of course, sometimes ordinary enough; but the tone of emphasis and pretension is never for a moment relaxed; and the most trivial occurrences, and fantastical distresses, are commemorated with the same vehemence and exaggeration of manner, as the most startling incidents, or the deepest and most heart-rending disasters. This want of relief and variety is sufficiently painful of itself in a work of such length; but its worst effect is, that it gives an air of falsetto and pretension to the whole strain of the composition, and makes us suspect the author of imposture and affectation, even when he has good enough cause for his agonies and raptures.
How is it possible, indeed, to commit our sympathies, without distrust, to the hands of a writer, who, after painting with infinite force the anguish of soul which pursued the fallen Roderick into the retreat to which his crimes had driven him, proceeds with redoubled emphasis to assure us, that neither his remorse nor his downfal were half so intolerable to him, as the shocking tameness of the sea birds who flew round about him in that utter solitude! and were sometimes so familiar as to brush his cheek with their wings?
406 SOUTHEY'S RODERICK
-TOO EMPHATIC AND VERBOSE.
His punishment, and was he fallen indeed
Below fallen man, below redemption's reach, . .
This, if we were in bad humour, we should be tempted to say, was little better than drivelling; - and certainly the folly of it is greatly aggravated by the tone of intense solemnity in which it is conveyed: But the worst fault by far, and the most injurious to the effect of the author's greatest beauties, is the extreme diffuseness and verbosity of his style, and his unrelenting anxiety to leave nothing to the fancy, the feeling, or even the plain understanding of his readers-but to have every thing set down, and impressed and hammered into them, which it may any how conduce to his glory that they should comprehend. There never was any author, we are persuaded, who had so great a distrust of his readers' capacity, or such an unwillingness to leave any opportunity of shining unimproved: and accordingly, we rather think there is no author, who, with the same talents and attainments, has been so generally thought tedious or acquired, on the whole, a popularity so inferior to his real deservings. On the present occasion, we have already said, his deservings appear to us unusually great, and his faults less than commonly conspicuous. But though there is less childishness and trifling in this, than in any of his other productions, there is still, we are afraid, enough of tediousness and affected energy, very materially to obstruct the popularity which the force, and the tenderness and beauty of its better parts, might have otherwise commanded.
There is one blemish, however, which we think peculiar to the work before us; and that is, the outrageously religious, or rather fanatical, tone which pervades its whole structure: the excessive horror and abuse with which the Mahometans are uniformly spoken of on account of their religion alone; and the offensive frequency and familiarity with which the name and the sufferings of our Saviour are referred to at every turn of the story. The spirit which is here evinced towards the Moors, not only by their valiant opponents, but by the author when
TOO BITTER ON THE MOORS.
speaking in his own person, is neither that of pious reprobation nor patriotic hatred, but of savage and bigotted persecution; and the heroic character and heroic deeds of his greatest favourites are debased and polluted by the paltry superstitions, and sanguinary fanaticism, which he is pleased to ascribe to them. This, which we are persuaded would be revolting in a nation of zealous Catholics, must be still more distasteful, we think, among sober Protestants; while, on the other hand, the constant introduction of the holiest persons, and most solemn rites of religion, for the purpose of helping on the flagging interest of a story devised for amusement, can scarcely fail to give scandal and offence to all persons of right feeling or just taste. This remark may be thought a little rigorous by those who have not looked into the work to which it is applied - For they can have no idea of the extreme frequency, and palpable extravagance, of the allusions and invocations to which we have referred. One poor woman, for example, who merely appears to give alms to the fallen Roderick in the season of his humiliation, is very needlessly made to exclaim, as she offers her pittance,
"Christ Jesus, for his Mother's sake,
Have mercy on thee."
and soon after, the King himself, when he hears one of his subjects uttering curses on his name, is pleased to say,
"Oh, for the love of Jesus curse him not!
Whereupon, one of the more charitable auditors rejoins, "Christ bless thee, brother, for that Christian speech!"
-and so the talk goes on, through the greater part of the poem. Now, we must say we think this both indecent and ungraceful; and look upon it as almost as exceptionable a way of increasing the solemnity of poetry, as common swearing is of adding to the energy of dis
QUESTIONABLE CHOICE OF SUBJECT.
We are not quite sure whether we should reckon his choice of a subject, among Mr. Southey's errors on the present occasion; - but certainly no theme could well have been suggested, more utterly alien to all English prejudices, traditions, and habits of poetical contemplation, than the domestic history of the last Gothic King of Spain, -a history extremely remote and obscure in itself, and treating of persons and places and events, with which no visions or glories are associated in English imaginations. The subject, however, was selected, we suppose, during that period when a zeal for Spanish liberty and a belief in Spanish virtue, spirit and talent, were extremely fashionable in this country; and before "the universal Spanish people" had made themselves the objects of mixed contempt and compassion, by rushing prone into the basest and most insulted servitude that was ever asserted over human beings. From this degradation we do not think they will be redeemed by all the heroic acts recorded in this poem, the interest of which, we suspect, will be considerably lowered, by the late revolution in public opinion as to the merits of the nation to whose fortunes it relates. After all, however, we think it must be allowed, that any author who interests us in his story, has either the merit of choosing a good subject, or a still higher merit; - and Mr. Southey, in our opinion, has made his story very interesting. Nor should it be forgotten, that by the choice which he has made, he has secured immense squadrons of Moors, with their Asiatic gorgeousness, and their cymbals, turbans, and Paynim chivalry, to give a picturesque effect to his battles, and bevies of veiled virgins and ladies in armour,—and hermits and bishops, and mountain villagers, and torrents and forests, and cork trees and sierras, to remind us of Don Quixote, - and store of sonorous names: - and altogether, he might have chosen worse among more familiar objects.
The scheme or mere outline of the fable is extremely short and simple. Roderick, the valiant and generous king of the Goths, being unhappily married, allows his affections to wander on the lovely daughter of Count