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406 SOUTHEY'S RODERICK — TOO EMPHATIC AND VERBOSE.
His punishment, and was he fallen indeed
Made lower than the beasts?”— p. 17. 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 oppor. tunity 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 !
Which Jesus suffer'd on the cross to save!"
“ 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
Julian; and is so far overmastered by his passion, as, in a moment of frenzy, to offer violence to her person. Her father in revenge of this cruel wrong, invites the Moors to seize on the kingdom of the guilty monarch ; -- and, assuming their faith, guides them at last to a signal and sanguinary victory. Roderick, after performing prodigies of valour, in a seven-days fight, feels at length that Heaven has ordained all this misery as the penalty of his offences; and, overwhelmed with remorse and inward agony, falls from his battle horse in the midst of the carnage: Stripping off his rich armour, he then puts on the dress of a dead peasant; and, pursued by revengeful furies, rushes desperately on through his lost and desolated kingdom, till he is stopped by the sea; on the rocky and lonely shore of which he passes more than a year in constant agonies of penitence and humiliation, — till he is roused at length, by visions and impulses, to undertake something for the deliverance of his suffering people. Grief and abstinence have now so changed him, that he is recognized by no one; and being universally believed to have fallen in battle, he traverses great part of his former realm, witnessing innumerable scenes of wretchedness and valour, and rousing, by his holy adjurations, all the generous spirits in Spain, to unite against the invaders. After a variety of trials and adventures, he at last recovers his good war horse, on the eve of a great battle with the infidels ; and, bestriding him in his penitential robes, rushes furiously into the heart of the fight, where, kindling with the scene and the cause, he instinctively raises his ancient war cry, as he deals his resistless blows on the heads of the misbelievers; and the thrilling words of “ Roderick the Goth! Roderick and victory!” resounding over the astonished field, are taken up by his inspired followers, and animate them to the utter destruction of the enemy. At the close of the day, however, when the field is won, the battle horse is found without its rider! and the sword which he wielded lying at its feet. The poem closes with a brief intimation, that it was not known till many centuries thereafter, that the
410 SOUTHEY'S RODERICK
- FLIGHT OF RODERICK.
heroic penitent had again sought the concealment of a remote hermitage, and ended his days in solitary penances. The poem, however, both requires and deserves a more particular analysis.
The First Book or canto opens with a slight sketch of the invasion, and proceeds to the fatal defeat and heartstruck flight of Roderick. The picture of the first descent of the Moorish invaders, is a good specimen of the author's broader and more impressive manner. He is addressing the rock of Gibraltar.
“ Thou saw'st the dark blue waters flash before
The blazon'd scrolls of blasphemy.”—p. 2, 3. The agony of the distracted king, as he flies in vain from himself through his lost and ruined kingdom; and the spectacle which every where presented itself of devastation and terror, and miserable emigration, are represented with great force of colouring. At the end of the seventh day of that solitary and despairing flight, he arrives at the portal of an ancient convent, from which all its holy tenants had retired on the approach of the Moors, except one aged priest, who had staid to deck the altar, and earn his crown of martyrdom from the infidel host. By him Roderick is found grovelling at the foot of the cross, and drowned in bitter and penitential
He leads him in with compassionate soothings, and supplicates him before the altar to be of comfort, and to trust in mercy. The result is told with great feeling and admirable effect: and the worthy father weeps and watches with his penitent through the night: and in the morning resolves to forego the glories of martyrdom for his sake, and to bear him company in the retreat to which he is hastening. They set out together,