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ART. II.-1. Lyra Heroica : a Book of Verse for Boys.
Selected and arranged by WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY.
Sixth edition. London: David Nutt. 1900. 2. Patriotic Songs : a Book of English Verse. Selected and
arranged by ARTHUR STANLEY, with an introduction by the Right Reverend J. E. C. WELLDON. London:
C. Arthur Pearson, Limited. 1901. 3. Pro Patria et Reginâ. Being Poems from Nineteenth
Century writers in Great Britain and America. Collected and edited by Professor KNIGHT, St. Andrews. Glasgow :
James Maclehose & Sons. 1901. 4. Ballads of the Brave. Selected and arranged by
FREDERICK LANGBRIDGE. London: Methuen & Co. 1890. 5. Songs of England's Glory. London: Isbister. 1902. Most things in the world may be brought within the scope
- of Drama, whether the theatre or the novel be the vehicle of the Muse. Subjects adapted to Epic or Lyrical Poetry are more rare. The toils and struggles of ordinary life, business, politics, law, commerce, afford no inspiration, although, as Shakespeare proved in his sonnets, they can be made to supply imagery. Walter Landor makes Pericles say to Thucydides, in the sweet presence of Aspasia, speaking of History, “Let the books of the Treasury lie closed as ‘religiously as the Sibyl's; leave weights and measures in *the market-place, Commerce in the harbour, the Arts in the light they lore, Philosophy in the shade; place History on her rightful throne and, at the sides of her, Eloquence ‘and War. The poetic Trinity is Wisdom, with Love on her right hand and War on her left.
The Epic has its own themes, high and rare. There must be a labour so heroic as to afford a foundation for many a canto, whether it is the destruction of Troy, or the return of a man to his own country; or the foundation, by long effort and resistance to temptations, of an eternal city; or the passage from Earth through Hell and Purgatory to the heights of Heaven; or the Fall and Rise of Man. This is the supreme Poetry, and near akin to the noblest History. It is poetry so great that, as Milton saw, no man can write it unless his own life is a poem. His soul must be like a star and dwell apart. And in Epics the noblest parts are those which describe not outward war, or outward love, but those which penetrate the deep-sea levels of thought and feeling. The Homeric poems (or, at least, the Iliad '), true as they are to elemental feelings, and spacious and glancing as the sea, are yet books for boys when compared with the · Æneid' and with the Divine Comedy.' Virgil's Epic is like a great question; Dante's like a great answer.
Minor poetry may be broadly covered by the term Lyrical, as distinguished from Epic and Dramatic. It, too, derives its inspiration from Wisdom, Love, and War, distinct or blended. Chirpings in verse about the Seasons, incorrect when read beyond the Equator, or descriptions of natural scenery, are not poetry at all, but soulless chimeras, abound though they do in our magazines. To draw, as Wordsworth does, the still, sad music of humanity' from the instrument of Nature is a very different thing. As Wisdom, or Religion, is the highest atmosphere in which man breathes, so Lyrical poetry inspired by this motive attempts the highest flight. It is not, probably, the earliest flight. War, said the Greek Philosopher, is the father of all things. It is the begetter of the earliest poetry all the world over. Rude chants reciting deeds of battle, like the war-dance of many tribes, were intended to stir up the emotions to a kind of intoxication necessary, in addition to love of clan, to make men run counter to the instinct of individual self-preservation, and face violent death. In later days long discipline and training, as a supplement to love of country, took the place of excited emotions; and now in civilised war even the nerve-exciting drum is heard no more. The next developement of poetry may have been the chant intended to propitiate the tribal gods. Later still came, probably, the poetry used to store up and hand down, in a form easy for memory, the precepts of wisdom and the customs of the people. And lastly was born the love poetry inspired by the desire to seduce the heart of woman when she could no longer be acquired by the easier methods of force or purchase. So Poetry was launched on its main tracks of War, Religion and Wisdom, and Love.
Each passing Age has, in poetry as in other respects, arrayed these themes in the dress woven out of its own thought and feeling. We propose in this article to discuss some of the changes in that region where the dominant motive of poetry is War. The source of War, at least of any which rises higher than the will of a tyrant, or the desire of a combination of bandits for booty, is the love of clan, city, or nation. In this sense it might be said of War, as Dante wrote over the gates of Hell, ‘Love made me. In
the order of Providence, it may be, the love of one's clan or country is a step to lead to higher sympathies, which will in the end make war impossible. Wordsworth says, in his 'Laodamia,' of the passion of man and woman :
* Learn, by a mortal yearning, to ascend
Towards a higher object. Love was given,
That self might be annulled.' The same thing might be said of the passion for one's race or country. This cannot be other than a noble love, so long as men remember that it is not their final end, and do not let it degenerate into idolatry, nor confuse it with desire to stand well with their compatriots; and so long as they recognise that love of country is not, any more than selfinterest or kingmanship, to outweigh love of justice and truth.
The early war poetry is that of the clansman with a gift of expression who took part in the fight, shared in the pursuit and the slaughter, and afterwards at the banquets of the Chief recited the fierce joys of the battle. So, probably, arose the old war ballads of the South and the North. Dull or non-essential stanzas dropped out as the songs, not then fixed in writing, passed from memory to memory; the most spirited and striking stanzas, by reason of their superior fitness to live, survived, and were improved by the working of many minds; and at last, in Greece, arose a Homer who codified all these fragments into a great epic. These are the poems of the races who fight con amore. The stakes in those ancient wars were the carrying into captivity or the extermination of the conquered. The victors entered into the land of the enemy to possess it. War, with all its most cruel incidents, no more afflicted consciences untroubled by the Sermon on the Mount than does now the competition of Commerce. The fierce joy of the ancient fighters burns in the magnificent Hebrew ballad of Jael and Sisera :
They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. The river Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength. ... Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kepite be; blessed shall she be above women in the tent. He asked water, she gave milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workman's hammer ; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and smitten through his temples. At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down; ... where he bowed, there he fell down dead. The mother of Sisera looked out at a window and cried through the lattice, “Why is his chariot long in coming ? why tarry the wheels of his chariot ?" Her wise ladies answered her, yea she returned answer to herself : “ Have they not sped ? have they not divided the prey—to every man a damsel or two, to Sisera a prey of divers colours, à prey of divers colours of needlework ? ... So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord !”.
Here is the pure war spirit, not softened but heightened by religion, and heightened to an extraordinary degree. There is not an Arab in all Arabia who would not condemn the treacherous murder of Sisera, both because it is contrary to the wildest morality to offer hospitality to a man and then slay him in his sleep, and because there was ‘peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. Heber, like Piet de Wet, had severed his • tent from the Kenites. Did Heber, we wonder, approve of Jael's act, as much as did the singers, Deborah and Barak? Women were ever less restricted by law than men, and break it more readily either for a good cause or a bad one.
The pure delight in battle and in utter destruction of the foe resounds in the Homeric poems, though in them the harshness of war is tempered by a certain religious chivalry, such as Achilles showed towards Priam, which is not found in Semitic war. As Art arose, with its instinctive abhorrence of brutalities, the poetry of war became more abstract. Virgil's fights are anæmic reproductions of those in the Iliad. One feels that war was altogether repugnant to his gentle, civilised, and profound spirit :
• Nos alias hinc ad lacrymas eadem horrida belli
Fata vocant. The horror of the miserable half-century between Sulla's march on Rome and the battle of Actium is audible, like a sigb, in those words. Horace, though a man of peace, had seen some real fighting, and had seen it with disgust. His references to war are often fine, but they are of the distant landscape kind, and he avoids details as sedulously as a well-bred poet of the reign of Anne.
In the chants of the barbarians returns the voice of those who delight in war. The bards of the Norsemen and Danes, and of the unconverted Saxons, were as ruthless in song as were their folk in fight and massacre and devastation. The Christian religion softened the people and the song. Chivalry was the compromise between delight in war and a religion of love and forgiveness of enemies. War in the Middle Ages was still cruel, as we learn from Froissart: not only the burning and pillaging of a country, but worse brutalities were the incidents of any English expedition into France in the reign of Edward III. Yet war was bound by some rules, and was tempered by pity. The English and Lowland Scotch fighting was between near cousins, and was carried on in a sportsmanlike spirit:
· The Percy leaned upon his brand
And saw the Douglas dee;
And said, “Woe is me for thee!
"" To have saved thy life, I would have given
My landes for years three;
Was not in the North country.”
Three years' rental was a handsome valuation of a foeman's merit.
Here we are far indeed from the spirit of Jews in the days of the Judges, from that of Danes and pagan Saxons, or from that of the Indian Mutiny. English and Scottish opponents, Froissart tells us, were wont to exchange congratulations after a satisfactory encounter. There was more ferocity in Scottish family feuds than in Warden raids, and these feuds inspired the most vivid poetry. Their savage spirit lives in the sixteenth-century ballad of • Edom of Gordon,' perhaps the strongest of its kind. How firmly the note of approaching woe is struck in the first stanza:
"It fell about the Martinmass,
When the wind blew shrill and cauld,
“We maun draw to a hauld.” i
That hot Northern blood which in later times, following the channels opened for it by great Englishmen, has found its vent in every quarter of the world, drove its possessors, so long as it was pent up at home by Southron force, into many a stormy love passion, and many a bloody deed of hate and revenge. Every glen had its tale of dule and
sorrow. The Gaelic chants of the Highland clans have vanished, but the incessant broils of the Lowlands have
VOL. CXCVI. NO, COCCI.