Since there is room in this volume for more verses than Colonel Hay’s 1, I have added to them a few poems by Sir Walter Scott; the first written in 1811 at the time of the struggle with Napoleon in the Peninsula, the second in 1815, after Waterloo. Thus there is over all this volume a thin haze of battle through which we see only the finer feelings and the nobler hopes of man. The day is to come when war shall be no more, but wars have been and may again be necessary to bring on that day; and it is of such war, not untinged with the light of heaven, that we have passing shadows in this little book.
“The Vision of Don Roderick; a Poem, by Walter Scott, Esq.,” was printed at Edinburgh by James Ballantyne & Co. in 1811. They are the present representatives of that firm by whom it is here reprinted. It was originally inscribed “to John Whitmore, Esq., and to the Committee of Subscribers for relief of the Portuguese Sufferers, in which he presides,” as a “poem composed for the benefit of the Fund under their management.”
The Legend of Don Roderick will be given in the next volume of our “Companion Poets,” for Robert Southey founded upon it a Romantic Tale in Verse, which is one of the best tales of the kind in the English language. Southey’s tale of Roderick himself was written at the same time when Walter Savage Landor was writing a play upon the subject, and Scott was, in the piece here reprinted, making it the starting-point of a vision of the war in the Peninsula. The fatal palace of Don Roderick may have been a fable connected with the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. The fable, as translated by Scott from a Spanish History of King Roderick, was this: -
“One mile on the east side of the city of Toledo, among some rocks, was situated an ancient Tower of magnificent structure, though much dilapidated by time, which consumes all: four estadoes (i. e., four times a man’s height) below it, there was a Cave with a very narrow entrance, and a gate cut out of the solid rock, lined with a strong covering of iron, and fastened with many locks; above the gate some Greek letters are engraved, which, although abbreviated, and of doubtful meaning, were thus interpreted, according to the exposition of learned men: – The King who opens this cave and discovers the wonders will discover both good and evil things. Many kings desired to know the mystery of this Tower, and sought to find out the manner with much care; but when they opened the gate, such a tremendous noise arose in the Cave that it appeared as if the earth was bursting; many of those present sickened with fear, and others lost their lives. In order to prevent such great perils (as they supposed a dangerous enchantment was contained within), they secured the gate with new locks, concluding, that though a king was destined to open it, the fated time was not yet arrived. At last King Don Rodrigo, led on by his evil fortune and unlucky destiny, opened the Tower; and some bold attendants whom he had brought with him entered, although agitated with fear. Having proceeded a good way, they fled back to the entrance, terrified with a frightful vision which they had beheld. The King was greatly moved, and ordered many torches, so contrived that the tempest in the cave could not extinguish them, to be lighted. Then the King entered, not without fear, before all the others. He discovered, by degrees, a splendid hall, apparently built in a very sumptuous manner; in the middle stood a Bronze Statue of very ferocious appearance, which held a battle-axe in its hands. With this he struck the floor violently, giving it such heavy blows that the noise in the Cave was occasioned by the motion of the air. The King, greatly affrighted and astonished, began to conjure this terrible vision, promising that he would return without doing any injury in the Cave, after he had obtained sight of what was contained in it. The Statue ceased to strike the floor, and the King, with his followers, somewhat assured, and recovering their courage, proceeded into the hall; and on the left of the Statue they found this inscription on the wall: Unfortunate King, thou hast entered here in an evil hour. On the right side of the wall the words were inscribed: By strange Nations thou shalt be dispossessed, and thy subjects foully degraded. On the shoulders of the Statue other words were written, which said, I call upon the Arabs. And upon his heart was written, I do my office. At the entrance of the hall there was placed a round bowl, from which a great noise, like the fall of waters, proceeded. They found no other thing in the hall, – and when the King, sorrowful and greatly affected, had scarcely turned about to leave the Cavern, the Statue again commenced its accustomed blows upon the floor. After they had mutually promised to conceal what they had seen, they again closed the Tower, and blocked up the gate of the Cavern with earth, that no memory might remain in the world of such a portentous and evil-boding prodigy. The ensuing midnight, they heard great cries and clamour from the Cave, resounding like the noise of Battle, and the ground shaking with a tremendous roar; the whole edifice of the old Tower fell to the ground, by which they were greatly affrighted, the Vision which they had beheld appearing to them as a dream.”
Scott’s poem on the Field of Waterloo was written to assist the Waterloo subscription.
“Quid dignum memorare tuis, Hispania, terris,
Vox humana valet!” – CLAUDIAN.
The following Poem is founded upon a Spanish Tradition, bearing, in general, that Don Roderick, the last Gothic King of Spain, when the invasion of the Moors was depending, had the temerity to descend into an ancient vault, near Toledo, the opening of which had been denounced as fatal to the Spanish Monarchy. The legend adds, that his rash curiosity was mortified by an emblematical representation of those Saracens who, in the year 714, defeated him in battle, and reduced Spain under their dominion. I have presumed to prolong the Vision of the Revolutions of Spain down to the present eventful crisis of the Peninsula, and to divide it, by a supposed change of scene, into, THREE PERIODS. The FIRST of these represents the Invasion of the Moors, the Defeat and Death of Roderick, and closes with the peaceful occupation of the country by the victors. The SECOND PERIOD embraces the state of the Peninsula when the conquests of the Spaniards and Portuguese in the East and West Indies had raised to the highest pitch the renown of their arms; sullied, however, by superstition and cruelty. An allusion to the inhumanities of the Inquisition terminates this picture. The LAST PART of the Poem opens with the state of Spain previous to the unparalleled treachery of BUONAPARTE, gives a sketch of the usurpation attempted upon that unsuspicious and friendly kingdom, and terminates with the arrival of the British succours. It may be further proper to mention, that the object of the Poem is less to commemorate or detail particular incidents, than to exhibit a general and impressive picture of the several periods brought upon the stage.
EDINBURGH, June 24, 1811.
Lives there a strain, whose sounds of mounting fire
May rise distinguished o’er the din of war;
Or died it with yon Master of the Lyre
Who sung beleaguered Ilion’s evil star?
Such, WELLINGTON, might reach thee from afar,
Wafting its descant wide o’er Ocean’s range;
Nor shouts, nor clashing arms, its mood could mar,
All, as it swelled ’twixt each loud trumpet-change,
That clangs to Britain victory, to Portugal revenge!
Yes! such a strain, with all o’er-pouring measure,
Might melodise with each tumultuous sound
Each voice of fear or triumph, woe or pleasure,
That rings Mondego’s ravaged shores around;
The thundering cry of hosts with conquest crowned,
The female shriek, the ruined peasant’s moan,
The shout of captives from their chains unbound,
The foiled oppressor’s deep and sullen groan,
A Nation’s choral hymn, for tyranny o’erthrown.
But we, weak minstrels of a laggard day
Skilled but to imitate an elder page,
Timid and raptureless, can we repay
The debt thou claim’st in this exhausted age?
Thou givest our lyres a theme, that might engage
Those that could send thy name o’er sea and land,
While sea and land shall last; for Homer’s rage
A theme; a theme for Milton’s mighty hand -
How much unmeet for us, a faint degenerate band!
Ye mountains stern! within whose rugged breast
The friends of Scottish freedom found repose;
Ye torrents! whose hoarse sounds have soothed their rest,
Returning from the field of vanquished foes;
Say, have ye lost each wild majestic close
That erst the choir of Bards or Druids flung,
What time their hymn of victory arose,
And Cattraeth’s glens with voice of triumph rung,
And mystic Merlin harped, and grey-haired Llywarch sung?
Oh! if your wilds such minstrelsy retain,
As sure your changeful gales seem oft to say,
When sweeping wild and sinking soft again,
Like trumpet-jubilee, or harp’s wild sway;
If ye can echo such triumphant lay,
Then lend the note to him has loved you long!
Who pious gathered each tradition grey
That floats your solitary wastes along,
And with affection vain gave them new voice in song.
For not till now, how oft soe’er the task
Of truant verse hath lightened graver care,
From Muse or Sylvan was he wont to ask,
In phrase poetic, inspiration fair;
Careless he gave his numbers to the air,
They came unsought for, if applauses came:
Nor for himself prefers he now the prayer;
Let but his verse befit a hero’s fame,
Immortal be the verse! – forgot the poet’s name!
Hark, from yon misty cairn their answer tost:
“Minstrel! the fame of whose romantic lyre,
Capricious-swelling now, may soon be lost,
Like the light flickering of a cottage fire;
If to such task presumptuous thou aspire,
Seek not from us the meed to warrior due:
Age after age has gathered son to sire
Since our grey cliffs the din of conflict knew,
Or, pealing through our vales, victorious bugles blew.
“Decayed our old traditionary lore,
Save where the lingering fays renew their ring,
By milkmaid seen beneath the hawthorn hoar,
Or round the marge of Minchmore’s haunted spring;
Save where their legends grey-haired shepherds sing,
That now scarce win a listening ear but thine,
Of feuds obscure, and Border ravaging,
And rugged deeds recount in rugged line,
Of moonlight foray made on Teviot, Tweed, or Tyne.
“No! search romantic lands, where the near Sun
Gives with unstinted boon ethereal flame,
Where the rude villager, his labour done,
In verse spontaneous chants some favoured name,
Whether Olalia’s charms his tribute claim,
Her eye of diamond, and her locks of jet;
Or whether, kindling at the deeds of Græme,
He sing, to wild Morisco measure set,
Old Albin’s red claymore, green Erin’s bayonet!
“Explore those regions, where the flinty crest
Of wild Nevada ever gleams with snows,
Where in the proud Alhambra’s ruined breast
Barbaric monuments of pomp repose;
Or where the banners of more ruthless foes
Than the fierce Moor, float o’er Toledo’s fane,
From whose tall towers even now the patriot throws
An anxious glance, to spy upon the plain
The blended ranks of England, Portugal, and Spain.
“There, of Numantian fire a swarthy spark
Still lightens in the sunburnt native’s eye;
The stately port, slow step, and visage dark,
Still mark enduring pride and constancy.
And, if the glow of feudal chivalry
Beam not, as once, thy nobles’ dearest pride,
Iberia! oft thy crestless peasantry
Have seen the plumed Hidalgo quit their side,
Have seen, yet dauntless stood – ’gainst fortune fought and died.
“And cherished still by that unchanging race,
Are themes for minstrelsy more high than thine;
Of strange tradition many a mystic trace,
Legend and vision, prophecy and sign;
Where wonders wild of Arabesque combine
With Gothic imagery of darker shade,
Forming a model meet for minstrel line.
Go, seek such theme!” – the Mountain Spirit said.
With filial awe I heard – I heard, and I obeyed.
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