305. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 11 April [1798]

305. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 11 April [1798] ⁠* 

The Ring. [1] 


Petrarch [2]  heard the story at Aix. [3]  I found it in Pasquiers Recherches de la France. [4] 


It was strange that he loved her, for youth was gone by
And the bloom of her beauty was fled;
Twas the glance of the harlot that gleamd in her eye,
And all but the monarch disgusted descry
The art that had tinged her cheek red.

Yet he thought with Agatha none might compare,
That Kings might be proud of her chain,
The court seemd a desert if she were not there,
None else he thought <She only was> lovely, she only was fair,
Such dotage possessd Charlemagne.

The soldier, the statesman, the courtier, the maid
Alike this their rival detest,
And the good old Archbishop who ceasd to upbraid
Shook his grey head in sorrow, & silently prayd
To sing her the requiem of rest.

A joy ill dissembled soon gladdens them all,
For Agatha sickens & dies,
And now they are ready with bier & with pall,
The tapers gleam gloomy amid the high hall,
And the bell it tells long thro the skies.

They came, but he sent them in anger away,
For she should not be buried, he said,
And, despite of all counsel, for many a day
Arrayd in her costly apparel she lay
And he would go sit by the dead.

The cares of the kingdom demand him in vain,
The army in vain ask their Lord.
The Lombards, the fierce misbelievers of Spain
Now revenge the realms of the proud Charlemagne,
And still he unsheathes not the sword.

The soldiers they clamour, the priests bend in prayer
In the quiet retreats of the cell;
The Physicians to counsel together repair.
They pause & they powder, at last they declare
That his senses are bound by a spell.

With relics protected & confident grown
And telling devoutly his beads,
The Archbishop prepares him, & when it was known
That the King for awhile left the body alone
To search for the spell he proceeds.

Now careful he searches with tremulous haste
For the spell that bewitches the King,
And under the tongue for security placed,
Its margin with mystical characters faced,
At length he discovers a ring.

On his finger he slipt it & hastened away,
The monarch reentered the room,
The enchantment was ended, & suddenly gay
He bade the attendants no longer delay
But bear her with speed to the tomb.

Now merriment, joyaunce & feasting again
Enlivend the palace of Aix,
And now by his heralds did King Charlemagne,
Invite to his palace the courtier train
To hold a high festival day.

And anxiously now for the festival day
The highly born maidens prepare;
And now, all apparelled in costly array
Exulting they come to the palace of Aix,
Young & aged, the brave & the fair.

Oh happy the damsel who mid her compeers
For a moment engaged the King’s eye!
Now glowing with hopes, & now feverd with fevers
Each maid or triumphant or jealous appears
As noticed by him or past by.

And now as the evening approachd, to the ball
In anxious suspense they advance;
Each hoped the Kings choice on her beauties might fall
When lo, to the utter confusion of all,
He askd the Archbishop to dance.

The damsels they laugh & the barons they stare
Twas mirth & astonishment all.
And the Archbishop started & mutterd a prayer,
And wrath at receiving such mockery there
Withdrew him in haste from the hall.

The moon dimpled over the water with light
As he wandered along the lake side,
When lo! where beside him the King met his sight
O turn thee Archbishop – my joy & delight!
Oh turn thee my charmer! he cried.

Oh come where the feast & the dance & the song
Invite thee to mirth & to love.
Or – at this happy moment away from the throng
To the shade of yon wood let us haste along,
The moon never pierces that grove.

Amazement & anger the prelate possest
With terror his accents he heard;
Then Charlemagne warmly & eagerly prest
The Archbishops old withered hand to his breast,
And kissd his old grey grizzle beard

Let us well then these fortunate moments employ
Cried the Monarch with passionate tone –
Come away then dear charmer – my angel – my joy –
Nay – struggle not now – tis in vain to be coy –
And remember that we are alone.

Blessed Mary protect me! the Archbishop cried
What madness is come to the King!
In vain to escape from the monarch he tried
When luckily he on his finger espied
The glitter of Agathas ring.

Overjoyed the old Prelate rememberd the spell
And far in the lake flung the ring,
The water closed round it, & wonderous to tell
Released from the cursed enchantments of hell
His reason returned to the King.

But he built him a palace there close by the bay,
And there did he stablish his reign,
And the traveller who will may behold at this day
A monument now in the ruins at Aix,
Of the spell that possessd Charlemagne.


I do not think the Diablerie Tudesque [5]  palling, but certainly it is better if we can to do without it. you shall have my Maniac story [6]  as soon as it is written.

God bless you


R S.

Wednesday 11. April.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr MP./ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmarks: [partial] B/ AP/ 12; AP/ 12/ 98
Endorsement: Mr. Wynn
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4819E. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Published under the signature ‘Walter’ (probably a version of ‘Wat Tyler’, a favourite pseudonym of Southey’s) in the Morning Post, 22 February 1798. The poem was later renamed ‘King Charlemain’. BACK

[2] Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374). BACK

[3] The German city of Aix-la-Chapelle, or Aachen, was the birthplace of Charlemagne (742–814; King of the Franks 768–814), founder of the Holy Roman Empire. BACK

[4] Etienne Pasquier (1529–1615), Les Recherches de la France, 3 vols (Paris, 1611), II, p. 272; Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 71. BACK

[5] As defined in Thomas James Mathias (1753/4–1835; DNB), The Pursuits of Literature. A Satirical Poem in Four Dialogues. With Notes, 8th edn (London, 1798), pp. 123–124 n. (y). BACK

[6] Probably ‘Jaspar’; see Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn [21 April 1798], Letter 303. BACK