« PreviousContinue »
another, who had forgotten the name of Milton, but recollected him by the title of The Poet.
" It must not be omitted, that the groves near this village are famous for nightingales, which are so elegantly described in the Pensieroso. Most of the cottage windows are overgrown with sweet-briars, vines, and honeysuckles : and that Milton's habitation had the same rustic ornament, we may conclude from his description of the lark bidding him good-morrow,
Through the sweetbriar, or the vine,
Or the twisted eglantine : for it is evident that he meant a sort of honeysuckle by the eglantine, though that word is commonly used for the sweetbriar, which he could not mention twice in the same couplet.”
THE BATTLE OF CRESSY.
“ I REMEMBER,” said the Bachelor, in speaking of the military achievements of the English nation, “ I remember to have heard a remark once made which struck me at the time as having something in it of novelty; and yet, though I have often since turned and turned it over and over again in my mind, I have never been able to discover that it has any foundation in fact, or, in truth, any meaning at all. It was made in a party where the conversation was about the superior poetical circumstances of an
cient warfare compared with those of modern battle. "The poetry is not in the circumstances,' said one of the gentlemen, but in the more animated way in which our ancestors were accustomed to consider the details of bravery and adventure. Why our ancestors should have done so I cannot understand, nor do I believe they did ; but still there is no denying that the incidents of knightly enterprise belonging to their times possess a degree of interest which I doubt if it be possible to confer on the military exploits of any modern hero; and all this I conceive to be chiefly owing to the panoply and paraphernalia of their warfare affording scope for livelier sallies of fancy in description.”
“ Perhaps,” replied Egeria, after pondering some time, “ there is something in the observation, if we could but know what was passing in the gentleman's mind when he made it. In the battle-tales of antiquity there is a degree of vivacity arising from the narrations having been chiefly gathered from actors in the scenes, very different from the calm official formality of our gazette-accounts, which, though also from actors, are yet written, as it were, in a uniform and prescribed style. Buonaparte is almost the only modern who has stampt the impress of his own mind on the reports of his transactions. His bulletin, after his return from the Russian campaign, is quite poetical. Lord Nelson also, on one or two great occasions, broke out from the Whitehall-style, and betrayed the depth of his feelings.You should therefore bear in mind, that the tameness of modern history, with respect to military achievements, arises, beyond all doubt, from the
official forms in which the information concerning them is conveyed.
66 As to the panoply and paraphernalia of ancient battles being more picturesque than those of modern warfare, I am not inclined to admit. The sea-fights of our own time have been immeasurably more magnificent, both in outline and detail, than any possible combustion that could arise among the galleys of the ancients; and if there was of old the sounding of shields, have we not added the thunder of cannon and bombs, and rockets too as frightful as comets, to say nothing of the explosion of mines and magazines ? The grandeur of the battles of the ancients and of our ancestors consists in the exertions of individual valour; every thing is particular, and the art of the poet in describing them lies in the interest with which he invests the enterprises of single warriors. But modern war is a superb generality-all is shrouded in smoke~each particular battle is a thunder-cloud, wherein one sees but the glancing of fires, and hears but the rattling of successive peals ; the interest, therefore, of modern war in description must lie in something very different from those sort of minute details and individual exploits which constitute the charm and sublimity of Homeric battles. In the battle of Waterloo, it is not to be doubted that the men felt as proudly as ever their forefathers did at Cressy or at Agincourt; but it would not be easy to give an account of their disciplined fortitude that would possess the spirit and liveliness of Froissart's picture of the renowned field of Cressy. Look at Lord Berner's translation of the passage, and I think you will agree with me that it is not by such details that a modern battle is to be described." " When the French king saw the Englishmen, his blood changed; and he said to his marshals, “ Make the Genoese go on before and begin the battle, in the name of God and St Denis. There were of the Genoese cross-bows about a fifteen thousand, but they were so weary of going a-foot that day, a six leagues, armed with their cross-bows, that they said to their constables, • We be not well ordered to fight this day, for we be not in the case to do any great deed of arms; we have more need of rest. These words came to the Earl of Alençon, who said, “A man is well at ease to be charged with such a sort of rascals, to be faint and fail now at most need. Also, the same season, there fell a great rain, and an eclipse, with a terrible thunder ; and, be. fore the rain, there came flying over the battles a great number of crows for fear of the tempest coming. Then anon the air began to wax clear, and the sun to shine fair and bright, the which was right in the Frenchmen's eyen, and on the Englishmen's back. When the Genoese were assembled together, and began to approach, they made a great leap and cry to abash the Englishmen, but they stood still and stirred not for all that. Then the Genoese again, the second time, made another leap and a fell cry, and stepped forward a little, and the Englishmen removed not one foot. Thirdly, again they leaped and cried, and went forth till they came within shot ; then they shot fiercely with their cross-bows. Then the English archers stepped forth one pace, and let fly their arrows so wholly and thick that it seemed snow. When the Genoese felt the arrows piercing through heads and arms and breasts, many of them cast down their cross-bows, and did cut their strings, and returned discomfited. When the French king saw them flee away, he said, “Slay these rascals, for they shall let and trouble us without reason.' Then ye should have seen the men-at-arms dash in among them and killed a great number of them, and ever still the Englishmen shot whereas they saw the thickest press ; the sharp arrows ran into the men-at-arms and into their horses ; and many fell horse and men among the Genoese ; and when they were down, they could not relieve again; the press was so thick that one overthrew another. And also, among the Englishmen, there were certain rascals that went on foot with great knives, and they went in among the men-at-arms, and murdered many as they lay on the ground, both earls, barons, knights, and squires, whereof the King of England was after displeased, for he had rather they had been taken
prisondispleased, tops, whereof them both earls,murdered
THERE were two subjects on which the Bachelor and his Egeria seldom agreed,—the comparative merits of the ancients and moderns, and the genius of Shakspeare. In the course of the foregoing pages we have had occasion, at different times, to advert to their sentiments with regard to the former, and we now intend to shew something of what they severally thought respecting the latter.
The Nymph, one evening after they had returned home from the theatre, said, somewhat petulantly,
“ Well! let the players and play-going gentry say what they will, the dramas of that same glorified