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The name of Don Roderick is now become familiar to the ear, as having formed the subject of one of the poems of Walter Scott. It is not impossible but some of our readers may hastily conjecture that the present production,--the first that Mr. Southey has given to the public since his promotion to the honours of the Laureatship, is intended as a rival essay. This, howcver, is by no means the case. In one instance only do the two poems possess any points of resemblance, and this occurs in the scene of the confession of Roderick, and even in this instance, as Mr. Southey himself observes, “if the contrast had been intentional, it could not have been more complete."
The Roderick of Walter Scott is a personage who seems solely introduced to give effect to the political feelings of the day, that they may not appear in their cold realities, but derive some borrowed interest from the medium through which they are viewed -and this medium is the hacknied and elaborate strain of longdrawn prophecy. Mr. Southey's object seems to have been to display the intensity of passion, and the action of the severest virtue. Accordingly he has described a man, who, though he might, perhaps, have pleaded some excuse in palliation of a guilty act, yet nobly scorns to lay any “ flattering unction to his soul” that might cheat him into self-forgiveness. He rises superior to the frailties of his nature, flies to solitude to weep over his failings, to obtain a thorough knowledge of his own heart and to train himself to the virtue of self-controul. This accomplished, he again emerges into society with his nature sublimed and purified; and becomes a voluntary victim for the salvation of his country.
But we proceed to give an outline of the story, and shall accompany our observations with such extracts as may give the reader some idea of the manner in which the poem is executed.
In a short preface, Mr. Southey informs us that an enmity had subsisted between the royal families of Chindasuintho and Wamba, and that this was a principal cause of the destruction of the kingdom, the latter party having assisted in betraying their country to the Moors for the gratification of their own revenge. Theodofred and Favila were younger sons of King Chindasuintho; King!Witiza, who was of Wamba's family, put out the eyes of Theodofred, and murdered Favila at the instigation of that Chieftain's wife, with whom he lived in adultery. Pelayo, the son of Favila and afterwards the founder of the Spanish monarchy, was driven into exile. Roderick, the son of Theodofred, recovered the throne, and retaliated upon Witiza the
cruelty inflicted upon his father, but through a mistaken clemency, he spared Orpas, the brother of the tyrant, as being a priest, and Ebba and Sisibert, the produce of the adulterous connection of Witiza with the mother of Pelayo. These, uniting with count Julian, the powerful governor of Andalusia, invited the Moors to the invasion of Spain—they obeyed the call, and after a continued battle of eight days defeated the Spaniards on the plains of Xeres. It should have been premised that the principal motive that led to this act of treason was a thirst of vengeance for the violated honour of count Julian's daughter, by Roderick.
The poem opens with a rapid detail of Roderick's crime-the invasion of the Moors, and the disastrous event of the battle on the plains of Xeres. Here we are introduced to the hero, who appears in a very interesting point of view.
“ Bravely in that eight days' fight
Of lightning, smote him.”
happily availed himself of this humbling act to give us a clear and powerful view of the character of his hero.
Romano (for such is the name of the monk) takes too deep an interest in the fate of his royal penitent, to leave him : the Moorish army is heard advancing, and they continue their flight till they reach a hermitage situated on a rock that overlooks the western ocean.
The 2nd canto paints Roderick in solitude. This gives the poet an opportunity to describe the struggles of his mind and the various temptations that assail him ; which he has done with all the touches of a master, experienced in tracing the secret workings of the heart, and of those compunctious visitings, to which a soul like Roderick’s must have been the prey. At one moment self-love prompts him to palliate his crime; the next the sad consequences of his guilt both to himself and his bleeding country rush upon his mind, and tempt him to suicide. Romano dies, and exhausted by one of these mental conflicts, Roderick had stretched himself upon the grave of his departed friend, where, praying for consolation, he falls asleep. He then hears in a dream
« That voice
His headstrong youth.” His mother stands before him in chains ; then suddenly her form seems arrayed in splendour, she bears a shield, and glitters in arms.
From the visionary tumult of a battle whose cry is “Spain and Victory,” he awakes,
“ And finds himself upon that lonely grave,
In moonlight, and in silence.” The vision works upon his mind, he interprets it into a revelation of the will of heaven. It bids him also indulge the hope that his mother Rusilla yet lives, and he resolves to leave his solitude and once more seek the redemption of Spain.
The 3rd canto represents Roderick as again returned to society. He has spent twelve months in solitude, and the poet gives a highly striking and characteristic description of the effect which the sight of objects, to which he had so long been a stranger, has upon his mind;
“ The sound, the sight
Of anger, shame and anguish in the Goth.
-One stopt him short,
In hollow groans supprest." On his way to Coimbra his eyes are struck with the desolation of his country, and he is gradually prepared to meet the horrors that mark the ruined Auria ; all this is painted with a force and truth which bespeak no common artist. Here he meets with a female, the only survivor of this scene of carnage, who relates her history, which makes a deep impression on his heart, and tends to confirm him in his purpose.
purpose. Adosinda so the heroine is named-struck with the effect her story has upon Roderick, joins with him in a solemn vow to devote her life to avenge the wrongs of her country. Adosinda demands his name, but he evades the disclosure, and accepts from her the surname of Maccabee. They then part—she to the mountains to arouse the vassals of her father's house, and he to bear her commands to the Abbot of St. Felix. He reaches the monastery and finds Odoar the prelate, and Urban, archbishop of Toledo, in deep consultation. He relates what he had wite nessed at Auria, and according to Adosinda's instructions enquires whom among the Barons they judge most worthy of the
The deep interest he takes in the cause, added to the familiar manner in which he speaks of the characters of the various chieftains, excites their surprise; they demand his name, but only obtain in return the appellation he had lately received from Adosinda : the scene is thus described :
• Odoar and Urban eyed him while he spake,
Had penitence and anguish deeply drawn
Might else have sprinkled there."
In the 5th canto we find him on his way to Cordoba. He meets with a party of travellers at an Inn, who are mourning over their respective sorrows and calling down imprecations on the soul of Roderick as the author of their calamities. Roderick's solemn entreaty that they would not curse that sinful soul, which Jesus suffered on the cross to save, attracted the sympathy of an old man, in whom he discovers Siverian the favorite servant of his mother, and his own foster father. The sight of this man in a distant part of the country, excites Roderick’s alarm for the safety of his mother; his fears represent her as dead, and he weeps to think he shall never hear her pronounce his forgiveness. He summons up resolution to enquire in the following pathetic lines;
« With that he bent
Where he might weep unseen.”