Page:Studies of a Biographer 4.djvu/67

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53
SOUTHEY'S LETTERS

and man which reigned in these pieces' (Thalaba, Joan of Arc, and so forth), 'full of soft pity, like the wailings of a mother, and yet with a clang of chivalrous valour finely audible, too.' So Professor Dowden tells us that Southey's heroes embody his native stoicism; he had been an enthusiastic reader of Epictetus in early youth, and his great characters are models of fortitude and self-devotion under overpowering difficulties. I do not doubt that this ought to be felt; only it must be confessed that it has to struggle with certain difficulties. Boys (I can answer for one case) used to read Thalaba and The Curse of Kehama, as they read the Arabian Nights, which does not embody stoical morality. The pleasure came from the curious stories of eccentric mythology which Southey had extracted from his multifarious reading. The first motive of these poems was not the setting forth of moral ideals, but the illustration of ancient mythologies. After the days of childish simplicity all this 'machinery ' is apt to reveal its comic side. Kehama, as it may now be necessary to mention, is a wonderful Hindoo prince, who has become an 'almighty man' by performing certain rites of mysterious efficacy. He uses his power to curse his enemy,