Library Of The World's Best Literature, Ancient And Modern, Vol 3

Part 8 out of 11

We were just speculating as to the position of the rhinoceros, and
thinking how uncommonly unpleasant it would be should he obtain our
wind, when whiff! whiff! whiff! We heard the sharp whistling snort, with
a tremendous rush through the high grass and thorns close to us; and at
the same moment two of these determined brutes were upon us in full
charge. I never saw such a scrimmage; _sauve qui peut_! There was no
time for more than one look behind. I dug the spurs into Aggahr's
flanks, and clasping him round the neck, I ducked my head down to his
shoulder, well protected with my strong hunting cap, and I kept the
spurs going as hard as I could ply them, blindly trusting to Providence
and my good horse, over big rocks, fallen trees, thick kittar thorns,
and grass ten feet high, with the two infernal animals in full chase
only a few feet behind me. I heard their abominable whiffing close to
me, but so did my horse also, and the good old hunter flew over
obstacles that I should have thought impossible, and he dashed straight
under the hooked thorn bushes and doubled like a hare. The aggageers
were all scattered; Mahomet No. 2 was knocked over by a rhinoceros; all
the men were sprawling upon the rocks with their guns, and the party was
entirely discomfited. Having passed the kittar thorn, I turned, and
seeing that the beasts had gone straight on, I brought Aggahr's head
round, and tried to give chase, but it was perfectly impossible; it was
only a wonder that the horse had escaped in ground so difficult for
riding. Although my clothes were of the strongest and coarsest Arab
cotton cloth, which seldom tore, but simply lost a thread when caught in
a thorn, I was nearly naked. My blouse was reduced to shreds; as I wore
sleeves only half way from the shoulder to the elbow, my naked arms were
streaming with blood; fortunately my hunting cap was secured with a chin
strap, and still more fortunately I had grasped the horse's neck,
otherwise I must have been dragged out of the saddle by the hooked
thorns. All the men were cut and bruised, some having fallen upon their
heads among the rocks, and others had hurt their legs in falling in
their endeavors to escape. Mahomet. No. 2, the horse-keeper, was more
frightened than hurt, as he had been knocked down by the shoulder, and
not by the horn of the rhinoceros, as the animal had not noticed him:
its attention was absorbed by the horse.

I determined to set fire to the whole country immediately, and
descending the hill toward the river to obtain a favorable wind, I put
my men in a line, extending over about a mile along the river's bed, and
they fired the grass in different places. With a loud roar, the flame
leaped high in air and rushed forward with astonishing velocity; the
grass was as inflammable as tinder, and the strong north wind drove the
long line of fire spreading in every direction through the country.

We now crossed to the other side of the river to avoid the flames, and
we returned toward the camp. On the way I made a long shot and badly
wounded a tetel, but lost it in thick thorns; shortly after, I stalked a
nellut _(A. Strepsiceros_), and bagged it with the Fletcher rifle.

We arrived early in camp, and on the following day we moved sixteen
miles farther up stream, and camped under a tamarind-tree by the side of
the river. No European had ever been farther than our last camp,
Delladilla, and that spot had only been visited by Johann Schmidt and
Florian. In the previous year, my aggageers had sabred some of the Base
at this very camping-place; they accordingly requested me to keep a
vigilant watch during the night, as they would be very likely to attack
us in revenge, unless they had been scared by the rifles and by the size
of our party. They advised me not to remain long in this spot, as it
would be very dangerous for my wife to be left almost alone during the
day, when we were hunting, and that the Base would be certain to espy us
from the mountains, and would most probably attack and carry her off
when they were assured of our departure. She was not very nervous about
this, but she immediately called the dragoman, Mahomet, who knew the use
of a gun, and she asked him if he would stand by her in case they were
attacked in my absence; the faithful servant replied, "Mahomet fight the
Base? No, Missus; Mahomet not fight; if the Base come, Missus fight;
Mahomet run away; Mahomet not come all the way from Cairo to get him
killed by black fellers; Mahomet will run--Inshallah!" (Please God.)

This frank avowal of his military tactics was very reassuring. There was
a high hill of basalt, something resembling a pyramid, within a quarter
of a mile of us; I accordingly ordered some of my men every day to
ascend this look-out station, and I resolved to burn the high grass at
once, so as to destroy all cover for the concealment of an enemy. That
evening I very nearly burned our camp; I had several times ordered the
men to clear away the dry grass for about thirty yards from our
resting-place; this they had neglected to obey. We had been joined a few
days before by a party of about a dozen Hamran Arabs, who were
hippopotami hunters; thus we mustered very strong, and it would have
been the work of about half an hour to have cleared away the grass as I
had desired.

The wind was brisk, and blew directly toward our camp, which was backed
by the river. I accordingly took a fire-stick, and I told my people to
look sharp, as they would not clear away the grass. I walked to the foot
of the basalt hill, and fired the grass in several places. In an instant
the wind swept the flame and smoke toward the camp. All was confusion;
the Arabs had piled the camel-saddles and all their corn and effects in
the high grass about twenty yards from the tent; there was no time to
remove all these things; therefore, unless they could clear away the
grass so as to stop the fire before it should reach the spot, they would
be punished for their laziness by losing their property. The fire
traveled quicker than I had expected, and, by the time I had hastened to
the tent, I found the entire party working frantically; the Arabs were
slashing down the grass with their swords, and sweeping it away with
their shields, while my Tokrooris were beating it down with long sticks
and tearing it from its withered and fortunately tinder-rotten roots, in
desperate haste. The flames rushed on, and we already felt the heat, as
volumes of smoke enveloped us; I thought it advisable to carry the
gunpowder (about 20 lbs.) down to the river, together with the rifles;
while my wife and Mahomet dragged the various articles of luggage to the
same place of safety. The fire now approached within about sixty yards,
and dragging out the iron pins, I let the tent fall to the ground. The
Arabs had swept a line like a high-road perfectly clean, and they were
still tearing away the grass, when they were suddenly obliged to rush
back as the flames arrived.

Almost instantaneously the smoke blew over us, but the fire had expired
upon meeting the cleared ground. I now gave them a little lecture upon
obedience to orders; and from that day, their first act upon halting for
the night was to clear away the grass, lest I should repeat the
entertainment. In countries that are covered with dry grass, it should
be an invariable rule to clear the ground around the camp before night;
hostile natives will frequently fire the grass to windward of a party,
or careless servants may leave their pipes upon the ground, which fanned
by the wind would quickly create a blaze. That night the mountain
afforded a beautiful appearance as the flames ascended the steep sides,
and ran flickering up the deep gullies with a brilliant light.

We were standing outside the tent admiring the scene, which perfectly
illuminated the neighborhood, when suddenly an apparition of a lion and
lioness stood for an instant before us at about fifteen yards distance,
and then disappeared over the blackened ground before I had time to
snatch a rifle from the tent. No doubt they had been disturbed from the
mountain by the fire, and had mistaken their way in the country so
recently changed from high grass to black ashes. In this locality I
considered it advisable to keep a vigilant watch during the night, and
the Arabs were told off for that purpose.

A little before sunrise I accompanied the howartis, or hippopotamus
hunters, for a day's sport. There were numbers of hippos in this part of
the river, and we were not long before we found a herd. The hunters
failed in several attempts to harpoon them, but they succeeded in
stalking a crocodile after a most peculiar fashion. This large beast was
lying upon a sandbank on the opposite margin of the river, close to a
bed of rushes.

The howartis, having studied the wind, ascended for about a quarter of a
mile, and then swam across the river, harpoon in hand. The two men
reached the opposite bank, beneath which they alternately waded or swam
down the stream toward the spot upon which the crocodile was lying. Thus
advancing under cover of the steep bank, or floating with the stream in
deep places, and crawling like crocodiles across the shallows, the two
hunters at length arrived at the bank or rushes, on the other side of
which the monster was basking asleep upon the sand. They were now about
waist-deep, and they kept close to the rushes with their harpoons
raised, ready to cast the moment they should pass the rush bed and come
in view of the crocodile. Thus steadily advancing, they had just arrived
at the corner within about eight yards of the crocodile, when the
creature either saw them, or obtained their wind; in an instant it
rushed to the water; at the same moment, the two harpoons were launched
with great rapidity by the hunters. One glanced obliquely from the
scales; the other stuck fairly in the tough hide, and the iron, detached
from the bamboo, held fast, while the ambatch float, running on the
surface of the water, marked the course of the reptile beneath.

The hunters chose a convenient place, and recrossed the stream to our
side, apparently not heeding the crocodiles more than we should pike
when bathing in England. They would not waste their time by securing the
crocodile at present, as they wished to kill a hippopotamus; the float
would mark the position, and they would be certain to find it later. We
accordingly continued our search for hippopotami; these animals appeared
to be on the _qui vive_, and, as the hunters once more failed in an
attempt, I made a clean shot behind the ear of one, and killed it dead.
At length we arrived at a large pool, in which were several sandbanks
covered with rushes, and many rocky islands. Among these rocks were a
herd of hippopotami, consisting of an old bull and several cows; a young
hippo was standing, like an ugly little statue, on a protruding rock,
while another infant stood upon its mother's back that listlessly
floated on the water.

This was an admirable place for the hunters. They desired me to lie
down, and they crept into the jungle out of view of the river; I
presently observed them stealthily descending the dry bed about two
hundred paces above the spot where the hippos were basking behind the
rocks. They entered the river, and swam down the centre of the stream
toward the rock. This was highly exciting:--the hippos were quite
unconscious of the approaching danger, as, steadily and rapidly, the
hunters floated down the strong current; they neared the rock, and both
heads disappeared as they purposely sank out of view; in a few seconds
later they reappeared at the edge of the rock upon which the young hippo
stood. It would be difficult to say which started first, the astonished
young hippo into the water, or the harpoons from the hands of the
howartis! It was the affair of a moment; the hunters dived directly they
had hurled their harpoons, and, swimming for some distance under water,
they came to the surface, and hastened to the shore lest an infuriated
hippopotamus should follow them. One harpoon had missed; the other had
fixed the bull of the herd, at which it had been surely aimed. This was
grand sport! The bull was in the greatest fury, and rose to the surface,
snorting and blowing in his impotent rage; but as the ambatch float was
exceedingly large, and this naturally accompanied his movements, he
tried to escape from his imaginary persecutor, and dived constantly,
only to find his pertinacious attendant close to him upon regaining the
surface. This was not to last long; the howartis were in earnest, and
they at once called their party, who, with two of the aggageers, Abou Do
and Suleiman, were near at hand; these men arrived with the long ropes
that form a portion of the outfit for hippo hunting.

The whole party now halted on the edge of the river, while two men swam
across with one end of the long rope. Upon gaining the opposite bank, I
observed that a second rope was made fast to the middle of the main
line; thus upon our side we held the ends of two ropes, while on the
opposite side they had only one; accordingly, the point of junction of
the two ropes in the centre formed an acute angle. The object of this
was soon practically explained. Two men upon our side now each held a
rope, and one of these walked about ten yards before the other. Upon
both sides of the river the people now advanced, dragging the rope on
the surface of the water until they reached the ambatch float that was
swimming to and fro, according to the movements of the hippopotamus
below. By a dexterous jerk of the main line, the float was now placed
between the two ropes, and it was immediately secured in the acute angle
by bringing together the ends of these ropes on our side.

The men on the opposite bank now dropped their line, and our men hauled
in upon the ambatch float that was held fast between the ropes. Thus
cleverly made sure, we quickly brought a strain upon the hippo, and,
although I have had some experience in handling big fish, I never knew
one pull so lustily as the amphibious animal that we now alternately
coaxed and bullied. He sprang out of the water, gnashed his huge jaws,
snorted with tremendous rage, and lashed the river into foam; he then
dived, and foolishly approached us beneath the water. We quickly
gathered in the slack line, and took a round turn upon a large rock,
within a few feet of the river. The hippo now rose to the surface, about
ten yards from the hunters, and, jumping half out of the water, he
snapped his great jaws together, endeavoring to catch the rope, but at
the same instant two harpoons were launched into his side. Disdaining
retreat and maddened with rage, the furious animal charged from the
depths of the river, and, gaining a footing, he reared his bulky form
from the surface, came boldly upon the sandbank, and attacked the
hunters open-mouthed. He little knew his enemy; they were not the men to
fear a pair of gaping jaws, armed with a deadly array of tusks, but half
a dozen lances were hurled at him, some entering his mouth from a
distance of five or six paces, at the same time several men threw
handfuls of sand into his enormous eyes. This baffled him more than the
lances; he crunched the shafts between his powerful jaws like straws,
but he was beaten by the sand, and, shaking his huge head, he retreated
to the river. During his sally upon the shore, two of the hunters had
secured the ropes of the harpoons that had been fastened in his body
just before his charge; he was now fixed by three of these deadly
instruments, but suddenly one rope gave way, having been bitten through
by the enraged beast, who was still beneath the water. Immediately after
this he appeared on the surface, and, without a moment's hesitation, he
once more charged furiously from the water straight at the hunters, with
his huge mouth open to such an extent that he could have accommodated
two inside passengers. Suleiman was wild with delight, and springing
forward lance in hand, he drove it against the head of the formidable
animal, but without effect. At the same time, Abou Do met the hippo
sword in hand, reminding me of Perseus slaying the sea-monster that
would devour Andromeda, but the sword made a harmless gash, and the
lance, already blunted against the rocks, refused to penetrate the tough
hide; once more handfuls of sand were pelted upon his face, and again
repulsed by this blinding attack, he was forced to retire to his deep
hole and wash it from his eyes. Six times during the fight the valiant
bull hippo quitted his watery fortress, and charged resolutely at his
pursuers; he had broken several of their lances in his jaws, other
lances had been hurled, and, falling upon the rocks, they were blunted,
and would not penetrate. The fight had continued for three hours, and
the sun was about to set, accordingly the hunters begged me to give him
the _coup de grace_, as they had hauled him close to the shore, and they
feared he would sever the rope with his teeth. I waited for a good
opportunity, when he boldly raised his head from water about three yards
from the rifle, and a bullet from the little Fletcher between the eyes
closed the last act.


From 'The Albert Nyanza'

The name of this village was Parkani. For several days past our guides
had told us that we were very near to the lake, and we were now assured
that we should reach it on the morrow. I had noticed a lofty range of
mountains at an immense distance west, and I had imagined that the lake
lay on the other side of this chain; but I was now informed that those
mountains formed the western frontier of the M'wootan N'zige, and that
the lake was actually within a march of Parkani. I could not believe it
possible that we were so near the object of our search. The guide
Rabonga now appeared, and declared that if we started early on the
following morning we should be able to wash in the lake by noon!

That night I hardly slept. For years I had striven to reach the "sources
of the Nile." In my nightly dreams during that arduous voyage I had
always failed, but after so much hard work and perseverance the cup was
at my very lips, and I was to drink at the mysterious fountain before
another sun should set--at that great reservoir of Nature that ever
since creation had baffled all discovery.

I had hoped, and prayed, and striven through all kinds of difficulties,
in sickness, starvation, and fatigue, to reach that hidden source; and
when it had appeared impossible, we had both determined to die upon the
road rather than return defeated. Was it possible that it was so near,
and that to-morrow we could say, "the work is accomplished"?

The 14th March. The sun had not risen when I was spurring my ox after
the guide, who, having been promised a double handful of beads on
arrival at the lake, had caught the enthusiasm of the moment. The day
broke beautifully clear, and having crossed a deep valley between the
hills, we toiled up the opposite slope. I hurried to the summit. The
glory of our prize burst suddenly upon me! There, like a sea of
quicksilver, lay far beneath the grand expanse of water,--a boundless
sea horizon on the south and southwest, glittering in the noonday sun;
and on the west at fifty or sixty miles distance blue mountains rose
from the bosom of the lake to a height of about 7,000 feet above
its level.

It is impossible to describe the triumph of that moment;--here was the
reward for all our labor--for the years of tenacity with which we had
toiled through Africa. England had won the sources of the Nile! Long
before I reached this spot I had arranged to give three cheers with all
our men in English style in honor of the discovery, but now that I
looked down upon the great inland sea lying nestled in the very heart of
Africa, and thought how vainly mankind had sought these sources
throughout so many ages, and reflected that I had been the humble
instrument permitted to unravel this portion of the great mystery when
so many greater than I had failed, I felt too serious to vent my
feelings in vain cheers for victory, and I sincerely thanked God for
having guided and supported us through all dangers to the good end. I
was about 1,500 feet above the lake, and I looked down from the steep
granite cliff upon those welcome waters--upon that vast reservoir which
nourished Egypt and brought fertility where all was wilderness--upon
that great source so long hidden from mankind; that source of bounty and
of blessings to millions of human beings; and as one of the greatest
objects in nature, I determined to honor it with a great name. As an
imperishable memorial of one loved and mourned by our gracious Queen and
deplored by every Englishman, I called this great lake "the Albert
Nyanza." The Victoria and the Albert lakes are the two sources of
the Nile.



Although the prominence of Arthur James Balfour in English contemporary
life is in the main that of a statesman, he has a high place as a critic
of philosophy, especially in its relation to religion. During the early
part of his life his interests were entirely those of a student. He was
born in 1848, a member of the Cecil family, and a nephew of the Prime
Minister, Lord Salisbury. His tastes were those of a retired thinker. He
cared for literature, music, and philosophy, but very little for the
political world; so little that he never read the newspapers. This
tendency was increased by his delicate health. When, therefore, as a
young man in the neighborhood of thirty, he was made Secretary for
Scotland, people laughed. His uncle's choice proved to be a wise one,
however; and he later, in 1886, gave his nephew the very important
position of Irish Secretary, at a time when some of the ablest and most
experienced statesmen had failed. Mr. Balfour won an unexpected success
and a wide reputation, and from that time on he developed rapidly into
one of the most skillful statesmen of the Conservative party. By
tradition and by temperament he is an extreme Tory; and it is in the
opposition, as a skillful fencer in debate and a sharp critic of
pretentious schemes, that he has been most admired and most feared.
However, he is kept from being narrowly confined to the traditional
point of view by the philosophic interests and training of his mind,
which he has turned into practical fairness. Some of his speeches are
most original in suggestion, and all show a literary quality of a high
order. His writings on other subjects are also broad, scholarly, and
practical. 'A Defense of Philosophic Doubt' is thought by some
philosophers to be the ablest work of destructive criticism since Hume.
'The Foundations of Belief' covers somewhat the same ground and in more
popular fashion. 'Essays and Addresses' is a collection of papers on
literature and sociology.

[Illustration: ARTHUR J. BALFOUR]


From his Rectorial Address before the University of Glasgow

I confess to have been much perplexed in my search for a topic on which
I could say something to which you would have patience to listen, or on
which I might find it profitable to speak. One theme however there is,
not inappropriate to the place in which I stand, nor I hope unwelcome to
the audience which I address. The youngest of you have left behind that
period of youth during which it seems inconceivable that any book should
afford recreation except a story-book. Many of you are just reaching the
period when, at the end of your prescribed curriculum, the whole field
and compass of literature lies outspread before you; when, with
faculties trained and disciplined, and the edge of curiosity not dulled
or worn with use, you may enter at your leisure into the intellectual
heritage of the centuries.

Now the question of how to read and what to read has of late filled much
space in the daily papers, if it cannot strictly speaking be said to
have profoundly occupied the public mind. But you need be under no
alarm. I am not going to supply you with a new list of the hundred books
most worth reading, nor am I about to take the world into my confidence
in respect of my "favorite passages from the best authors." Nor again do
I address myself to the professed student, to the fortunate individual
with whom literature or science is the business as well as the pleasure
of life. I have not the qualifications which would enable me to
undertake such a task with the smallest hope of success. My theme is
humble, though the audience to whom I desire to speak is large: for I
speak to the ordinary reader with ordinary capacities and ordinary
leisure, to whom reading is, or ought to be, not a business but a
pleasure; and my theme is the enjoyment--not, mark you, the improvement,
nor the glory, nor the profit, but the _enjoyment_--which may be derived
by such an one from books.

It is perhaps due to the controversial habits engendered by my
unfortunate profession, that I find no easier method of making my own
view clear than that of contrasting with it what I regard as an
erroneous view held by somebody else; and in the present case the
doctrine which I shall choose as a foil to my own, is one which has been
stated with the utmost force and directness by that brilliant and
distinguished writer, Mr. Frederic Harrison. He has, as many of you
know, recently given us, in a series of excellent essays, his opinion on
the principles which should guide us in the choice of books. Against
that part of his treatise which is occupied with specific
recommendations of certain authors I have not a word to say. He has
resisted all the temptations to eccentricity which so easily beset the
modern critic. Every book which he praises deserves his praise, and has
long been praised by the world at large. I do not, indeed, hold that the
verdict of the world is necessarily binding on the individual
conscience. I admit to the full that there is an enormous quantity of
hollow devotion, of withered orthodoxy divorced from living faith, in
the eternal chorus of praise which goes up from every literary altar to
the memory of the immortal dead. Nevertheless every critic is bound to
recognize, as Mr. Harrison recognizes, that he must put down to
individual peculiarity any difference he may have with the general
verdict of the ages; he must feel that mankind are not likely to be in a
conspiracy of error as to the kind of literary work which conveys to
them the highest literary enjoyment, and that in such cases at least
_securus judicat orbis terrarum_.

But it is quite possible to hold that any work recommended by Mr.
Harrison is worth repeated reading, and yet to reject utterly the theory
of study by which these recommendations are prefaced. For Mr. Harrison
is a ruthless censor. His _index expurgatorius_ includes, so far as I
can discover, the whole catalogue of the British Museum, with the
exception of a small remnant which might easily be contained in about
thirty or forty volumes. The vast remainder he contemplates with
feelings apparently not merely of indifference, but of active aversion.
He surveys the boundless and ever-increasing waste of books with
emotions compounded of disgust and dismay. He is almost tempted to say
in his haste that the invention of printing has been an evil one for
humanity. In the habits of miscellaneous reading, born of a too easy
access to libraries, circulating and other, he sees many soul-destroying
tendencies; and his ideal reader would appear to be a gentleman who
rejects with a lofty scorn all in history that does not pass for being
first-rate in importance, and all in literature that is not admitted to
be first-rate in quality.

Now, I am far from denying that this theory is plausible. Of all that
has been written, it is certain that the professed student can master
but an infinitesimal fraction. Of that fraction the ordinary reader can
master but a very small part. What advice, then, can be better than to
select for study the few masterpieces that have come down to us, and to
treat as non-existent the huge but undistinguished remainder? We are
like travelers passing hastily through some ancient city; filled with
memorials of many generations and more than one great civilization. Our
time is short. Of what may be seen we can only see at best but a
trifling fragment. Let us then take care that we waste none of our
precious moments upon that which is less than the most excellent. So
preaches Mr. Frederic Harrison; and when a doctrine which put thus may
seem not only wise but obvious, is further supported by such assertions
that habits of miscellaneous reading "close the mind to what is
spiritually sustaining" by "stuffing it with what is simply curious," or
that such methods of study are worse than no habits of study at all
because they "gorge and enfeeble" the mind by "excess in that which
cannot nourish," I almost feel that in venturing to dissent from it, I
may be attacking not merely the teaching of common sense but the
inspirations of a high morality.

Yet I am convinced that for most persons the views thus laid down by Mr.
Harrison are wrong; and that what he describes, with characteristic
vigor, as "an impotent voracity for desultory information," is in
reality a most desirable and a not too common form of mental appetite. I
have no sympathy whatever with the horror he expresses at the "incessant
accumulation of fresh books." I am never tempted to regret that
Gutenberg was born into the world. I care not at all though the
"cataract of printed stuff," as Mr. Harrison calls it, should flow and
still flow on until the catalogues of our libraries should make
libraries themselves. I am prepared, indeed, to express sympathy almost
amounting to approbation for any one who would check all writing which
was _not_ intended for the printer. I pay no tribute of grateful
admiration to those who have oppressed mankind with the dubious blessing
of the penny post. But the ground of the distinction is plain. We are
always obliged to read our letters, and are sometimes obliged to answer
them. But who obliges us to wade through the piled-up lumber of an
ancient library, or to skim more than we like off the frothy foolishness
poured forth in ceaseless streams by our circulating libraries? Dead
dunces do not importune us; Grub Street does not ask for a reply by
return of post. Even their living successors need hurt no one who
possesses the very moderate degree of social courage required to make
the admission that he has not read the last new novel or the current
number of a fashionable magazine.

But this is not the view of Mr. Harrison. To him the position of any one
having free access to a large library is fraught with issues so
tremendous that, in order adequately to describe it, he has to seek for
parallels in two of the most highly-wrought episodes in fiction: the
Ancient Mariner, becalmed and thirsting on the tropic ocean; Bunyan's
Christian in the crisis of spiritual conflict. But there is here,
surely, some error and some exaggeration. Has miscellaneous reading all
the dreadful consequences which Mr. Harrison depicts? Has it any of
them? His declaration about the intellect being "gorged and enfeebled"
by the absorption of too much information, expresses no doubt with great
vigor an analogy, for which there is high authority, between the human
mind and the human stomach; but surely it is an analogy which may be
pressed too far. I have often heard of the individual whose excellent
natural gifts have been so overloaded with huge masses of undigested and
indigestible learning that they have had no chance of healthy
development. But though I have often heard of this personage, I have
never met him, and I believe him to be mythical. It is true, no doubt,
that many learned people are dull; but there is no indication whatever
that they are dull because they are learned. True dullness is seldom
acquired; it is a natural grace, the manifestations of which, however
modified by education, remain in substance the same. Fill a dull man to
the brim with knowledge, and he will not become less dull, as the
enthusiasts for education vainly imagine; but neither will he become
duller, as Mr. Harrison appears to suppose. He will remain in essence
what he always has been and always must have been. But whereas his
dullness would, if left to itself, have been merely vacuous, it may have
become, under cureful cultivation, pretentious and pedantic.

I would further point out to you that while there is no ground in
experience for supposing that a keen interest in those facts which Mr.
Harrison describes as "merely curious" has any stupefying effect upon
the mind, or has any tendency to render it insensible to the higher
things of literature and art, there is positive evidence that many of
those who have most deeply felt the charm of these higher things have
been consumed by that omnivorous appetite for knowledge which excites
Mr. Harrison's especial indignation. Dr. Johnson, for instance, though
deaf to some of the most delicate harmonies of verse, was without
question a very great critic. Yet in Dr. Johnson's opinion, literary
history, which is for the most part composed of facts which Mr. Harrison
would regard as insignificant, about authors whom he would regard as
pernicious, was the most delightful of studies. Again, consider the case
of Lord Macaulay. Lord Macaulay did everything Mr. Harrison says he
ought not to have done. From youth to age he was continuously occupied
in "gorging and enfeebling" his intellect, by the unlimited consumption
of every species of literature, from the masterpieces of the age of
Pericles to the latest rubbish from the circulating library. It is not
told of him that his intellect suffered by the process; and though it
will hardly be claimed for him that he was a great critic, none will
deny that he possessed the keenest susceptibilities for literary
excellence in many languages and in every form. If Englishmen and
Scotchmen do not satisfy you, I will take a Frenchman. The most
accomplished critic whom France has produced is, by general admission,
Ste.-Beuve. His capacity for appreciating supreme perfection in
literature will be disputed by none; yet the great bulk of his vast
literary industry was expended upon the lives and writings of authors
whose lives Mr. Harrison would desire us to forget, and whose writings
almost wring from him the wish that the art of printing had never been

I am even bold enough to hazard the conjecture (I trust he will forgive
me) that Mr. Harrison's life may be quoted against Mr. Harrison's
theory. I entirely decline to believe, without further evidence, that
the writings whose vigor of style and of thought have been the delight
of us all are the product of his own system. I hope I do him no wrong,
but I cannot help thinking that if we knew the truth, we should find
that he followed the practice of those worthy physicians who, after
prescribing the most abstemious diet to their patients, may be seen
partaking freely, and to all appearances safely, of the most succulent
and the most unwholesome of the forbidden dishes.

It has to be noted that Mr. Harrison's list of the books which deserve
perusal would seem to indicate that in his opinion, the pleasures to be
derived from literature are chiefly pleasures of the imagination. Poets,
dramatists, and novelists form the chief portion of the somewhat meagre
fare which is specifically permitted to his disciples. Now, though I
have already stated that the list is not one of which any person is
likely to assert that it contains books which ought to be excluded, yet,
even from the point of view of what may be termed aesthetic enjoyment,
the field in which we are allowed to take our pleasures seems to me
unduly restricted.

Contemporary poetry, for instance, on which Mr. Harrison bestows a good
deal of hard language, has and must have, for the generation which
produces it, certain qualities not likely to be possessed by any other.
Charles Lamb has somewhere declared that a pun loses all its virtues as
soon as the momentary quality of the intellectual and social atmosphere
in which it was born has changed its character. What is true of this,
the humblest effort of verbal art, is true in a different measure and
degree of all, even of the highest, forms of literature. To some extent
every work requires interpretation to generations who are separated by
differences of thought or education from the age in which it was
originally produced. That this is so with every book which depends for
its interest upon feelings and fashions which have utterly vanished, no
one will be disposed, I imagine, to deny. Butler's 'Hudibras,' for
instance, which was the delight of a gay and witty society, is to me at
least not unfrequently dull. Of some works, no doubt, which made a noise
in their day it seems impossible to detect the slightest race of charm.
But this is not the case with 'Hudibras.' Its merits are obvious. That
they should have appealed to a generation sick of the reign of the
"Saints" is precisely what we should have expected. But to us, who are
not sick of the reign of the Saints, they appeal but imperfectly. The
attempt to reproduce artificially the frame of mind of those who first
read the poem is not only an effort, but is to most people, at all
events, an unsuccessful effort. What is true of 'Hudibras' is true also,
though in an inconceivably smaller degree, of those great works of
imagination which deal with the elemental facts of human character and
human passion. Yet even on these, time does, though lightly, lay his
hand. Wherever what may be called "historic sympathy" is required, there
will be some diminution of the enjoyment which those must have felt who
were the poet's contemporaries. We look, so to speak, at the same
splendid landscape as they, but distance has made it necessary for us to
aid our natural vision with glasses, and some loss of light will thus
inevitably be produced, and some inconvenience from the difficulty of
truly adjusting the focus. Of all authors, Homer would, I suppose, be
thought to suffer least from such drawbacks. But yet in order to listen
to Homer's accents with the ears of an ancient Greek, we must be able,
among other things, to enter into a view about the gods which is as far
removed from what we should describe as religious sentiment, as it is
from the frigid ingenuity of those later poets who regarded the deities
of Greek mythology as so many wheels in the supernatural machinery with
which it pleased them to carry on the action of their pieces. If we are
to accept Mr. Herbert Spencer's views as to the progress of our species,
changes of sentiment are likely to occur which will even more seriously
interfere with the world's delight in the Homeric poems. When human
beings become so nicely "adjusted to their environment" that courage and
dexterity in battle will have become as useless among civic virtues as
an old helmet is among the weapons of war; when fighting gets to be
looked upon with the sort of disgust excited in us by cannibalism; and
when public opinion shall regard a warrior much in the same light that
we regard a hangman,--I do not see how any fragment of that vast and
splendid literature which depends for its interest upon deeds of heroism
and the joy of battle is to retain its ancient charm.

About these remote contingencies, however, I am glad to think that
neither you nor I need trouble our heads; and if I parenthetically
allude to them now, it is merely as an illustration of a truth not
always sufficiently remembered, and as an excuse for those who find in
the genuine, though possibly second-rate, productions of their own age,
a charm for which they search in vain among the mighty monuments of
the past.

But I leave this train of thought, which has perhaps already taken me
too far, in order to point out a more fundamental error, as I think it,
which arises from regarding literature solely from this high aesthetic
standpoint. The pleasures of imagination, derived from the best literary
models, form without doubt the most exquisite portion of the enjoyment
which we may extract from books; but they do not, in my opinion, form
the largest portion if we take into account mass as well as quality in
our calculation. There is the literature which appeals to the
imagination or the fancy, some stray specimens of which Mr. Harrison
will permit us to peruse; but is there not also the literature which
satisfies the curiosity? Is this vast storehouse of pleasure to be
thrown hastily aside because many of the facts which it contains are
alleged to be insignificant, because the appetite to which they minister
is said to be morbid? Consider a little. We are here dealing with one of
the strongest intellectual impulses of rational beings. Animals, as a
rule, trouble themselves but little about anything unless they want
either to eat it or to run away from it. Interest in and wonder at the
works of nature and the doings of man are products of civilization, and
excite emotions which do not diminish but increase with increasing
knowledge and cultivation. Feed them and they grow; minister to them and
they will greatly multiply. We hear much indeed of what is called "idle
curiosity"; but I am loth to brand any form of curiosity as necessarily
idle. Take, for example, one of the most singular, but in this age one
of the most universal, forms in which it is accustomed to manifest
itself: I mean that of an exhaustive study of the contents of the
morning and evening papers. It is certainly remarkable that any person
who has nothing to get by it should destroy his eyesight and confuse his
brain by a conscientious attempt to master the dull and doubtful details
of the European diary daily transmitted to us by "Our Special
Correspondent." But it must be remembered that this is only a somewhat
unprofitable exercise of that disinterested love of knowledge which
moves men to penetrate the Polar snows, to build up systems of
philosophy, or to explore the secrets of the remotest heavens. It has in
it the rudiments of infinite and varied delights. It _can_ be turned,
and it _should_ be turned into a curiosity for which nothing that has
been done, or thought, or suffered, or believed, no law which governs
the world of matter or the world of mind, can be wholly alien or

Truly it is a subject for astonishment that, instead of expanding to the
utmost the employment of this pleasure-giving faculty, so many persons
should set themselves to work to limit its exercise by all kinds of
arbitrary regulations. Some there are, for example, who tell us that the
acquisition of knowledge is all very well, but that it must be _useful_
knowledge; meaning usually thereby that it must enable a man to get on
in a profession, pass an examination, shine in conversation, or obtain a
reputation for learning. But even if they mean something higher than
this, even if they mean that knowledge to be worth anything must
subserve ultimately if not immediately the material or spiritual
interests of mankind, the doctrine is one which should be energetically
repudiated. I admit, of course, at once, that discoveries the most
apparently remote from human concerns have often proved themselves of
the utmost commercial or manufacturing value. But they require no such
justification for their existence, nor were they striven for with any
such object. Navigation is not the final cause of astronomy, nor
telegraphy of electro-dynamics, nor dye-works of chemistry. And if it be
true that the desire of knowledge for the sake of knowledge was the
animating motive of the great men who first wrested her secrets from
nature, why should it not also be enough for us, to whom it is not given
to discover, but only to learn as best we may what has been discovered
by others?

Another maxim, more plausible but equally pernicious, is that
superficial knowledge is worse than no knowledge at all. That "a little
knowledge is a dangerous thing" is a saying which has now got currency
as a proverb stamped in the mint of Pope's versification; of Pope, who
with the most imperfect knowledge of Greek translated Homer, with the
most imperfect knowledge of the Elizabethan drama edited Shakespeare,
and with the most imperfect knowledge of philosophy wrote the 'Essay on
Man.' But what is this "little knowledge" which is supposed to be so
dangerous? What is it "little" in relation to? If in relation to what
there is to know, then all human knowledge is little. If in relation to
what actually is known by somebody, then we must condemn as "dangerous"
the knowledge which Archimedes possessed of mechanics, or Copernicus of
astronomy; for a shilling primer and a few weeks' study will enable any
student to outstrip in mere information some of the greatest teachers
of the past. No doubt, that little knowledge which thinks itself to be
great may possibly be a dangerous, as it certainly is a most ridiculous
thing. We have all suffered under that eminently absurd individual who
on the strength of one or two volumes, imperfectly apprehended by
himself, and long discredited in the estimation of everyone else, is
prepared to supply you on the shortest notice with a dogmatic solution
of every problem suggested by this "unintelligible world" or the
political variety of the same pernicious genus, whose statecraft
consists in the ready application to the most complex question of
national interest of some high-sounding commonplace which has done weary
duty on a thousand platforms, and which even in its palmiest days was
never fit for anything better than a peroration. But in our dislike of
the individual, do not let us mistake the diagnosis of his disease. He
suffers not from ignorance but from stupidity. Give him learning and you
make him not wise, but only more pretentious in his folly.

I say then that so far from a little knowledge being undesirable, a
little knowledge is all that on most subjects any of us can hope to
attain; and that, as a source not of worldly profit but of personal
pleasure, it may be of incalculable value to its possessor. But it will
naturally be asked, "How are we to select from among the infinite number
of things which may be known, those which it is best worth while for us
to know?" We are constantly being told to concern ourselves with
learning what is important, and not to waste our energies upon what is
insignificant. But what are the marks by which we shall recognize the
important, and how is it to be distinguished from the insignificant. A
precise and complete answer to this question which shall be true for all
men cannot be given. I am considering knowledge, recollect, as it
ministers to enjoyment; and from this point of view each unit of
information is obviously of importance in proportion as it increases the
general sum of enjoyment which we obtain, or expect to obtain, from
knowledge. This, of course, makes it impossible to lay down precise
rules which shall be an equally sure guide to all sorts and conditions
of men; for in this, as in other matters, tastes must differ, and
against real difference of taste there is no appeal.

There is, however, one caution which it may be worth your while to keep
in view:--Do not be persuaded into applying any general proposition on
this subject with a foolish impartiality to every kind of knowledge.
There are those who tell you that it is the broad generalities and the
far-reaching principles which govern the world, which are alone worthy
of your attention. A fact which is not an illustration of a law, in the
opinion of these persons appears to lose all its value. Incidents which
do not fit into some great generalization, events which are merely
picturesque, details which are merely curious, they dismiss as unworthy
the interest of a reasoning being. Now, even in science this doctrine in
its extreme form does not hold good. The most scientific of men have
taken profound interest in the investigation of facts from the
determination of which they do not anticipate any material addition to
our knowledge of the laws which regulate the Universe. In these matters,
I need hardly say that I speak wholly without authority. But I have
always been under the impression that an investigation which has cost
hundreds of thousands of pounds; which has stirred on three occasions
the whole scientific community throughout the civilized world; on which
has been expended the utmost skill in the construction of instruments
and their application to purposes of research (I refer to the attempts
made to determine the distance of the sun by observation of the transit
of Venus),--would, even if they had been brought to a successful issue,
have furnished mankind with the knowledge of no new astronomical
principle. The laws which govern the motions of the solar system, the
proportions which the various elements in that system bear to one
another, have long been known. The distance of the sun itself is known
within limits of error relatively speaking not very considerable. Were
the measuring rod we apply to the heavens based on an estimate of the
sun's distance from the earth which was wrong by (say) three per cent.,
it would not to the lay mind seem to affect very materially our view
either of the distribution of the heavenly bodies or of their motions.
And yet this information, this piece of celestial gossip, would seem to
have been the chief astronomical result expected from the successful
prosecution of an investigation in which whole nations have interested

But though no one can, I think, pretend that science does not concern
itself, and properly concern itself, with facts which are not to all
appearance illustrations of law, it is undoubtedly true that for those
who desire to extract the greatest pleasure from science, a knowledge,
however elementary, of the leading principles of investigation and the
larger laws of nature, is the acquisition most to be desired. To him who
is not a specialist, a comprehension of the broad outlines of the
universe as it presents itself to his scientific imagination is the
thing most worth striving to attain. But when we turn from science to
what is rather vaguely called history, the same principles of study do
not, I think, altogether apply, and mainly for this reason: that while
the recognition of the reign of law is the chief amongst the pleasures
imparted by science, our inevitable ignorance makes it the least among
the pleasures imparted by history.

It is no doubt true that we are surrounded by advisers who tell us that
all study of the past is barren, except in so far as it enables us to
determine the principles by which the evolution of human societies is
governed. How far such an investigation has been up to the present time
fruitful in results, it would be unkind to inquire. That it will ever
enable us to trace with accuracy the course which States and nations are
destined to pursue in the future, or to account in detail for their
history in the past, I do not in the least believe. We are borne along
like travelers on some unexplored stream. We may know enough of the
general configuration of the globe to be sure that we are making our way
towards the ocean. We may know enough, by experience or theory, of the
laws regulating the flow of liquids, to conjecture how the river will
behave under the varying influences to which it may be subject. More
than this we cannot know. It will depend largely upon causes which, in
relation to any laws which we are even likely to discover may properly
be called accidental, whether we are destined sluggishly to drift among
fever-stricken swamps, to hurry down perilous rapids, or to glide gently
through fair scenes of peaceful cultivation.

But leaving on one side ambitious sociological speculations, and even
those more modest but hitherto more successful investigations into the
causes which have in particular cases been principally operative in
producing great political changes, there are still two modes in which we
can derive what I may call "spectacular" enjoyment from the study of
history. There is first the pleasure which arises from the contemplation
of some great historic drama, or some broad and well-marked phase of
social development. The story of the rise, greatness, and decay of a
nation is like some vast epic which contains as subsidiary episodes the
varied stories of the rise, greatness, and decay of creeds, of parties,
and of statesmen. The imagination is moved by the slow unrolling of this
great picture of human mutability, as it is moved by the contrasted
permanence of the abiding stars. The ceaseless conflict, the strange
echoes of long-forgotten controversies, the confusion of purpose, the
successes in which lay deep the seeds of future evils, the failures that
ultimately divert the otherwise inevitable danger, the heroism which
struggles to the last for a cause foredoomed to defeat, the wickedness
which sides with right, and the wisdom which huzzas at the triumph of
folly,--fate, meanwhile, amidst this turmoil and perplexity, working
silently towards the predestined end,--all these form together a subject
the contemplation of which need surely never weary.

But yet there is another and very different species of enjoyment to be
derived from the records of the past, which requires a somewhat
different method of study in order that it may be fully tasted. Instead
of contemplating as it were from a distance the larger aspects of the
human drama, we may elect to move in familiar fellowship amid the scenes
and actors of special periods. We may add to the interest we derive from
the contemplation of contemporary politics, a similar interest derived
from a not less minute, and probably more accurate, knowledge of some
comparatively brief passage in the political history of the past. We may
extend the social circle in which we move, a circle perhaps narrowed and
restricted through circumstances beyond our control, by making intimate
acquaintances, perhaps even close friends, among a society long
departed, but which, when we have once learnt the trick of it, we may,
if it so pleases us, revive.

It is this kind of historical reading which is usually branded as
frivolous and useless; and persons who indulge in it often delude
themselves into thinking that the real motive of their investigation
into bygone scenes and ancient scandals is philosophic interest in an
important historical episode, whereas in truth it is not the philosophy
which glorifies the details, but the details which make tolerable the
philosophy. Consider, for example, the case of the French Revolution.
The period from the taking of the Bastile to the fall of Robespierre is
about the same as that which very commonly intervenes between two of our
general elections. On these comparatively few months, libraries have
been written. The incidents of every week are matters of familiar
knowledge. The character and the biography of every actor in the drama
has been made the subject of minute study; and by common admission there
is no more fascinating page in the history of the world. But the
interest is not what is commonly called philosophic, it is personal.
Because the Revolution is the dominant fact in modern history, therefore
people suppose that the doings of this or that provincial lawyer, tossed
into temporary eminence and eternal infamy by some freak of the
revolutionary wave, or the atrocities committed by this or that mob,
half drunk with blood, rhetoric, and alcohol, are of transcendent
importance. In truth their interest is great, but their importance is
small. What we are concerned to know as students of the philosophy of
history is, not the character of each turn and eddy in the great social
cataract, but the manner in which the currents of the upper stream drew
surely in towards the final plunge, and slowly collected themselves
after the catastrophe again, to pursue at a different level their
renewed and comparatively tranquil course.

Now, if so much of the interest of the French Revolution depends upon
our minute knowledge of each passing incident, how much more necessary
is such knowledge when we are dealing with the quiet nooks and corners
of history; when we are seeking an introduction, let us say, into the
literary society of Johnson, or the fashionable society of Walpole.
Society, dead or alive, can have no charm without intimacy, and no
intimacy without interest in trifles which I fear Mr. Harrison would
describe as "merely curious." If we would feel at our ease in any
company, if we wish to find humor in its jokes, and point in its
repartees, we must know something of the beliefs and the prejudices of
its various members, their loves and their hates, their hopes and their
fears, their maladies, their marriages, and their flirtations. If these
things are beneath our notice, we shall not be the less qualified to
serve our Queen and country, but need make no attempt to extract
pleasure from one of the most delightful departments of literature.

That there is such a thing as trifling information I do not of course
question; but the frame of mind in which the reader is constantly
weighing the exact importance to the universe at large of each
circumstance which the author presents to his notice, is not one
conducive to the true enjoyment of a picture whose effect depends upon a
multitude of slight and seemingly insignificant touches, which impress
the mind often without remaining in the memory. The best method of
guarding against the danger of reading what is useless is to read only
what is interesting; a truth which will seem a paradox to a whole class
of readers, fitting objects of our commiseration, who may be often
recognized by their habit of asking some adviser for a list of books,
and then marking out a scheme of study in the course of which all are to
be conscientiously perused. These unfortunate persons apparently read a
book principally with the object of getting to the end of it. They reach
the word _Finis_ with the same sensation of triumph as an Indian feels
who strings a fresh scalp to his girdle. They are not happy unless they
mark by some definite performance each step in the weary path of
self-improvement. To begin a volume and not to finish it would be to
deprive themselves of this satisfaction; it would be to lose all the
reward of their earlier self-denial by a lapse from virtue at the end.
To skip, according to their literary code, is a species of cheating; it
is a mode of obtaining credit for erudition on false pretenses; a plan
by which the advantages of learning are surreptitiously obtained by
those who have not won them by honest toil. But all this is quite wrong.
In matters literary, works have no saving efficacy. He has only half
learnt the art of reading who has not added to it the even more refined
accomplishments of skipping and of skimming; and the first step has
hardly been taken in the direction of making literature a pleasure until
interest in the subject, and not a desire to spare (so to speak) the
author's feelings, or to accomplish an appointed task, is the prevailing
motive of the reader.

I have now reached, not indeed the end of my subject, which I have
scarcely begun, but the limits inexorably set by the circumstances under
which it is treated. Yet I am unwilling to conclude without meeting an
objection to my method of dealing with it, which has I am sure been
present to the minds of not a few who have been good enough to listen to
me with patience. It will be said that I have ignored the higher
functions of literature; that I have degraded it from its rightful
place, by discussing only certain ways in which it may minister to the
entertainment of an idle hour, leaving wholly out of sight its
contributions to what Mr. Harrison calls our "spiritual sustenance."
Now, this is partly because the first of these topics and not the second
was the avowed subject of my address; but it is partly because I am
deliberately of opinion that it is the pleasures and not the profits,
spiritual or temporal, of literature which most require to be preached
in the ear of the ordinary reader. I hold indeed the faith that all such
pleasures minister to the development of much that is best in
man--mental and moral; but the charm is broken and the object lost if
the remote consequence is consciously pursued to the exclusion of the
immediate end. It will not, I suppose, be denied that the beauties of
nature are at least as well qualified to minister to our higher needs as
are the beauties of literature. Yet we do not say we are going to walk
to the top of such and such a hill in order to drink in "spiritual
sustenance." We say we are going to look at the view. And I am convinced
that this, which is the natural and simple way of considering literature
as well as nature, is also the true way. The habit of always requiring
some reward for knowledge beyond the knowledge itself, be that reward
some material prize or be it what is vaguely called self-improvement, is
one with which I confess I have little sympathy, fostered though it is
by the whole scheme of our modern education. Do not suppose that I
desire the impossible. I would not if I could destroy the examination
system. But there are times, I confess, when I feel tempted somewhat to
vary the prayer of the poet, and to ask whether Heaven has not reserved,
in pity to this much-educating generation, some peaceful desert of
literature as yet unclaimed by the crammer or the coach; where it might
be possible for the student to wander, even perhaps to stray, at his own
pleasure without finding every beauty labeled, every difficulty
engineered, every nook surveyed, and a professional cicerone standing at
every corner to guide each succeeding traveler along the same well-worn
round. If such a wish were granted, I would further ask that the domain
of knowledge thus "neutralized" should be the literature of our own
country. I grant to the full that the systematic study of _some_
literature must be a principal element in the education of youth. But
why should that literature be our own? Why should we brush off the bloom
and freshness from the works to which Englishmen and Scotchmen most
naturally turn for refreshment,--namely, those written in their own
language? Why should we associate them with the memory of hours spent in
weary study; in the effort to remember for purposes of examination what
no human being would wish to remember for any other; in the struggle to
learn something, not because the learner desires to know it, because he
desires some one else to know that he knows it? This is the dark side of
the examination system; a system necessary and therefore excellent, but
one which does, through the very efficiency and thoroughness of the
drill by which it imparts knowledge, to some extent impair the most
delicate pleasures by which the acquisition of knowledge should
be attended.

How great those pleasures may be, I trust there are many here who can
testify. When I compare the position of the reader of to-day with that
of his predecessor of the sixteenth century. I am amazed at the
ingratitude of those who are tempted even for a moment to regret the
invention of printing and the multiplication of books. There is now no
mood of mind to which a man may not administer the appropriate nutriment
or medicine at the cost of reaching down a volume from his bookshelf. In
every department of knowledge infinitely more is known, and what is
known is incomparably more accessible, than it was to our ancestors. The
lighter forms of literature, good, bad, and indifferent, which have
added so vastly to the happiness of mankind, have increased beyond
powers of computation; nor do I believe that there is any reason to
think that they have elbowed out their more serious and important
brethren. It is perfectly possible for a man, not a professed student,
and who only gives to reading the leisure hours of a business life, to
acquire such a general knowledge of the laws of nature and the facts of
history that every great advance made in either department shall be to
him both intelligible and interesting; and he may besides have among his
familiar friends many a departed worthy whose memory is embalmed in the
pages of memoir or biography. All this is ours for the asking. All this
we shall ask for, if only it be our happy fortune to love for its own
sake the beauty and the knowledge to be gathered from books. And if this
be our fortune, the world may be kind or unkind, it may seem to us to be
hastening on the wings of enlightenment and progress to an imminent
millennium, or it may weigh us down with the sense of insoluble
difficulty and irremediable wrong; but whatever else it be, so long as
we have good health and a good library, it can hardly be dull.


(Popular or Communal)


The popular ballad, as it is understood for the purpose of these
selections, is a narrative in lyric form, with no traces of individual
authorship, and is preserved mainly by oral tradition. In its earliest
stages it was meant to be sung by a crowd, and got its name from the
dance to which it furnished the sole musical accompaniment. In these
primitive communities the ballad was doubtless chanted by the entire
folk, in festivals mainly of a religious character. Explorers still meet
something of the sort in savage tribes: and children's games preserve
among us some relics of this protoplasmic form of verse-making, in which
the single poet or artist was practically unknown, and spontaneous,
improvised verses arose out of the occasion itself; in which the whole
community took part; and in which the beat of foot--along with the
gesture which expressed narrative elements of the song--was inseparable
from the words and the melody. This native growth of song, in which the
chorus or refrain, the dance of a festal multitude, and the spontaneous
nature of the words, were vital conditions, gradually faded away before
the advance of cultivated verse and the vigor of production in what one
may call poetry of the schools. Very early in the history of the ballad,
a demand for more art must have called out or at least emphasized the
artist, the poet, who chanted new verses while the throng kept up the
refrain or burden. Moreover, as interest was concentrated upon the words
or story, people began to feel that both dance and melody were separable
if not alien features; and thus they demanded the composed and recited
ballad, to the harm and ultimate ruin of that spontaneous song for the
festal, dancing crowd. Still, even when artistry had found a footing in
ballad verse, it long remained mere agent and mouthpiece for the folk;
the communal character of the ballad was maintained in form and matter.
Events of interest were sung in almost contemporary and entirely
improvised verse; and the resulting ballads, carried over the borders of
their community and passed down from generation to generation, served as
newspaper to their own times and as chronicle to posterity. It is the
kind of song to which Tacitus bears witness as the sole form of history
among the early Germans; and it is evident that such a stock of ballads
must have furnished considerable raw material to the epic. Ballads, in
whatever original shape, went to the making of the English 'Beowulf,'
of the German 'Nibelungenlied.' Moreover, a study of dramatic poetry
leads one back to similar communal origins. What is loosely called a
"chorus,"--originally, as the name implies, a dance--out of which older
forms of the drama were developed, could be traced back to identity with
primitive forms of the ballad. The purely lyrical ballad, even, the
_chanson_ of the people, so rare in English but so abundant among other
races, is evidently a growth from the same root.

If, now, we assume for this root the name of communal poem, and if we
bear in mind the dominant importance of the individual, the artist, in
advancing stages of poetry, it is easy to understand why for civilized
and lettered communities the ballad has ceased to have any vitality
whatever. Under modern conditions the making of ballads is a closed
account. For our times poetry means something written by a poet, and not
something sung more or less spontaneously by a dancing throng. Indeed,
paper and ink, the agents of preservation in the case of ordinary verse,
are for ballads the agents of destruction. The broadside press of three
centuries ago, while it rescued here and there a genuine ballad, poured
out a mass of vulgar imitations which not only displaced and destroyed
the ballad of oral tradition, but brought contempt upon good and bad
alike. Poetry of the people, to which our ballad belongs, is a thing of
the past. Even rude and distant communities, like those of Afghanistan,
cannot give us the primitive conditions. The communal ballad is rescued,
when rescued at all, by the fragile chances of a written copy or of oral
tradition; and we are obliged to study it under terms of artistic
poetry,--that is, we are forced to take through the eye and the judgment
what was meant for the ear and immediate sensation. Poetry _for_ the
people, however, "popular poetry" in the modern phrase, is a very
different affair. Street songs, vulgar rhymes, or even improvisations of
the concert-halls, tawdry and sentimental stuff,--these things are
sundered by the world's width from poetry _of_ the people, from the folk
in verse, whether it echo in a great epos which chants the clash of
empires or linger in a ballad of the countryside sung under the village
linden. For this ballad is a part of the poetry which comes from the
people as a whole, from a homogeneous folk, large or small; while the
song of street or concert-hall is deliberately composed for a class, a
section, of the community. It would therefore be better to use some
other term than "popular" when we wish to specify the ballad of
tradition, and so avoid all taint of vulgarity and the trivial. Nor must
we go to the other extreme. Those high-born people who figure in
traditional ballads--Childe Waters, Lady Maisry, and the rest--do not
require us to assume composition in aristocratic circles; for the lower
classes of the people in ballad days had no separate literature, and a
ballad of the folk belonged to the community as a whole. The same habit
of thought, the same standard of action, ruled alike the noble and his
meanest retainer. Oral transmission, the test of the ballad, is of
course nowhere possible save in such an unlettered community. Since all
critics are at one in regard to this homogeneous character of the folk
with whom and out of whom these songs had their birth, one is justified
in removing all doubt from the phrase by speaking not of the popular
ballad but of the communal ballad, the ballad of a community.

With regard to the making of a ballad, one must repeat a caution, hinted
already, and made doubly important by a vicious tendency in the study of
all phases of culture. It is a vital mistake to explain primitive
conditions by exact analogy with conditions of modern savagery and
barbarism. Certain conclusions, always guarded and cautious to a degree,
may indeed be drawn; but it is folly to insist that what now goes on
among shunted races, belated detachments in the great march of culture,
must have gone on among the dominant and mounting peoples who had
reached the same external conditions of life. The homogeneous and
unlettered state of the ballad-makers is not to be put on a level with
the ignorance of barbarism, nor explained by the analogy of songs among
modern savage tribes. Fortunately we have better material. The making of
a ballad by a community can be illustrated from a case recorded by
Pastor Lyngbye in his invaluable account of life on the Faroe Islands a
century ago. Not only had the islanders used from most ancient times
their traditional and narrative songs as music for the dance, but they
had also maintained the old fashion of making a ballad. In the winter,
says Lyngbye, dancing is their chief amusement and is an affair of the
entire community. At such a dance, one or more persons begin to sing;
then all who are present join in the ballad, or at least in the refrain.
As they dance, they show by their gestures and expression that they
follow with eagerness the course of the story which they are singing.
More than this, the ballad is often a spontaneous product of the
occasion. A fisherman, who has had some recent mishap with his boat, is
pushed by stalwart comrades into the middle of the throng, while the
dancers sing verses about him and his lack of skill,--verses improvised
on the spot and with a catching and clamorous refrain. If these verses
win favor, says Lyngbye, they are repeated from year to year, with
slight additions or corrections, and become a permanent ballad. Bearing
in mind the extraordinary readiness to improvise shown even in these
days by peasants in every part of Europe, we thus gain some definite
notion about the spontaneous and communal elements which went to the
making of the best type of primitive verse; for these Faroe islanders
were no savages, but simply a homeogeneous and isolated folk which
still held to the old ways of communal song.

Critics of the ballad, moreover, agree that it has little or no
subjective traits,--an easy inference from the conditions just
described. There is no individuality lurking behind the words of the
ballad, and above all, no evidence of that individuality in the form of
sentiment. Sentiment and individuality are the very essence of modern
poetry, and the direct result of individualism in verse. Given a poet,
sentiment--and it may be noble and precious enough--is sure to follow.
But the ballad, an epic in little, forces one's attention to the object,
the scene, the story, and away from the maker.

"The king sits in Dumferling town."

begins one of the noblest of all ballads; while one of the greatest of
modern poems opens with something personal and pathetic, key-note to all
that follows:--

"My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense ..."

Even when a great poet essays the ballad, either he puts sentiment into
it, or else he keeps sentiment out of it by a _tour de force_. Admirable
and noble as one must call the conclusion of an artistic ballad such as
Tennyson's 'Revenge,' it is altogether different from the conclusion of
such a communal ballad as 'Sir Patrick Spens.' That subtle quality of
the ballad which lies in solution with the story and which--as in 'Child
Maurice' or 'Babylon' or 'Edward'--compels in us sensations akin to
those called out by the sentiment of the poet, is a wholly impersonal if
strangely effective quality, far removed from the corresponding elements
of the poem of art. At first sight, one might say that Browning's
dramatic lyrics had this impersonal quality. But compare the close of
'Give a Rouse,' chorus and all, with the close of 'Child Maurice,' that
swift and relentless stroke of pure tragedy which called out the
enthusiasm of so great a critic as Gray.

The narrative of the communal ballad is full of leaps and omissions; the
style is simple to a fault; the diction is spontaneous and free.
Assonance frequently takes the place of rhyme, and a word often rhymes
with itself. There is a lack of poetic adornment in the style quite as
conspicuous as the lack of reflection and moralizing in the matter.
Metaphor and simile are rare and when found are for the most part
standing phrases common to all the ballads; there is never poetry for
poetry's sake. Iteration is the chief mark of ballad style; and the
favorite form of this effective figure is what one may call incremental
repetition. The question is repeated with the answer; each increment in
a series of related facts has a stanza for itself, identical, save for
the new fact, with the other stanzas. 'Babylon' furnishes good instances
of this progressive iteration. Moreover, the ballad differs from earlier
English epics in that it invariably has stanzas and rhyme; of the two
forms of stanza, the two-line stanza with a refrain is probably older
than the stanza with four or six lines.

This necessary quality of the stanza points to the origin of the ballad
in song; but longer ballads, such as those that make up the 'Gest of
Robin Hood,' an epic in little, were not sung as lyrics or to aid the
dance, but were either chanted in a monotonous fashion or else recited
outright. Chappell, in his admirable work on old English music ('Music
of the Olden Time,' ii. 790), names a third class of "characteristic
airs of England,"--the "historical and very long ballads, ... invariably
of simple construction, usually plaintive.... They were rarely if ever
used for dancing." Most of the longer ballads, however, were doubtless
given by one person in a sort of recitative; this is the case with
modern ballads of Russia and Servia, where the bystanders now and then
join in a chorus. Precisely in the same way ballads were divorced from
the dance, originally their vital condition; but in the refrain, which
is attached to so many ballads, one finds an element which has survived
from those earliest days of communal song.

Of oldest communal poetry no actual ballad has come down to us. Hints
and even fragments, however, are pointed out in ancient records, mainly
as the material of chronicle or legend. In the Bible (Numbers xxi. 17),
where "Israel sang this song," we are not going too far when we regard
the fragment as part of a communal ballad. "Spring up, O well: sing ye
unto it: the princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged
it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves." Deborah's song
has something of the communal note; and when Miriam dances and sings
with her maidens, one is reminded of the many ballads made by dancing
and singing bands of women in mediaeval Europe,--for instance, the song
made in the seventh century to the honor of St. Faro, and "sung by the
women as they danced and clapped their hands." The question of ancient
Greek ballads, and their relation to the epic, is not to be discussed
here; nor can we make more than an allusion to the theory of Niebuhr
that the early part of Livy is founded on, old Roman ballads. A popular
discussion of this matter may be found in Macaulay's preface to his own
'Lays of Ancient Rome.' The ballads of modern Europe are a survival of
older communal poetry, more or less influenced by artistic and
individual conditions of authorship, but wholly impersonal, and with an
appeal to our interest which seems to come from a throng and not from
the solitary poet. Attention was early called to the ballads of Spain;
printed at first as broadsides, they were gathered into a volume as
early as 1550. On the other hand, ballads were neglected in France until
very recent times; for specimens of the French ballad, and for an
account of it, the reader should consult Professor Crane's 'Chansons
Populaires de France,' New York, 1891. It is with ballads of the
Germanic race, however, that we are now concerned. Denmark, Norway,
Sweden, Iceland, the Faroe Islands; Scotland and England; the
Netherlands and Germany: all of these countries offer us admirable
specimens of the ballad. Particularly, the great collections of
Grundtvig ('Danmarks Gamle Folkeviser') for Denmark, and of Child ('The
English and Scottish Popular Ballads') for our own tongue, show how
common descent or borrowing connects the individual ballads of these
groups. "Almost every Norwegian, Swedish, or Icelandic ballad," says
Grundtvig, "is found in a Danish version of Scandinavian ballads;
moreover, a larger number can be found in English and Scottish versions
than in German or Dutch versions." Again, we find certain national
preferences in the character of the ballads which have come down to us.
Scandinavia kept the old heroic lays (Kaempeviser); Germany wove them
into her epic, as witness the Nibelungen Lay; but England and Scotland
have none of them in any shape. So, too, the mythic ballad, scantily
represented in English, and practically unknown in Germany, abounds in
Scandinavian collections. The Faroe Islands and Norway, as Grundtvig
tells us, show the best record for ballads preserved by oral tradition;
while noble ladies of Denmark, three or four centuries ago, did high
service to ballad literature by making collections in manuscript of the
songs current then in the castle as in the cottage.

For England, one is compelled to begin the list of known ballads with
the thirteenth century. 'The Battle of Maldon,' composed in the last
decade of the tenth century, though spirited enough and full of communal
vigor, has no stanzaic structure, follows in metre and style the rules
of the Old English epic, and is only a ballad by courtesy; about the
ballads used a century or two later by historians of England, we can do
nothing but guess; and there is no firm ground under the critic's foot
until he comes to the Robin Hood ballads, which Professor Child assigns
to the thirteenth century. 'The Battle of Otterburn' (1388) opens a
series of ballads based on actual events and stretching into the
eighteenth century. Barring the Robin Hood cycle,--an epic constructed
from this attractive material lies before us in the famous 'Gest of
Robin Hood,' printed as early as 1489,--the chief sources of the
collector are the Percy Manuscript, "written just before 1650,"--on
which, not without omissions and additions, the bishop based his
'Reliques,' first published in 1765,--and the oral traditions of
Scotland, which Professor Child refers to "the last one hundred and
thirty years." Information about the individual ballads, their sources,
history, literary connections, and above all, their varying texts, must
be sought in the noble work of Professor F.J. Child. For present
purposes, a word or two of general information must suffice. As to
origins, there is a wide range. The church furnished its legend, as in
'St. Stephen'; romance contributed the story of 'Thomas Rymer'; and the
light, even cynical _fabliau_ is responsible for 'The Boy and the
Mantle.' Ballads which occur in many tongues either may have a common
origin or else may owe their manifold versions, as in the case of
popular tales, to a love of borrowing; and here, of course, we get the
hint of wider issues. For the most part, however, a ballad tells some
moving story, preferably of fighting and of love. Tragedy is the
dominant note; and English ballads of the best type deal with those
elements of domestic disaster so familiar in the great dramas of
literature, in the story of Orestes, or of Hamlet, or of the Cid. Such
are 'Edward,' 'Lord Randal,' 'The Two Brothers,' 'The Two Sisters,'
'Child Maurice,' 'Bewick and Graham,' 'Clerk Colven,' 'Little Musgrave
and Lady Barnard,' 'Glasgerion,' and many others. Another group of
ballads, represented by the 'Baron of Brackley' and 'Captain Car,' give
a faithful picture of the feuds and ceaseless warfare in Scotland and on
the border. A few fine ballads--'Sweet William's Ghost,' 'The Wife of
Usher's Well'--touch upon the supernatural. Of the romantic ballads,
'Childe Waters' shows us the higher, and 'Young Beichan' the lower, but
still sound and communal type. Incipient dramatic tendencies mark
'Edward' and 'Lord Randal'; while, on the other hand, a lyric note
almost carries 'Bonnie George Campbell' out of balladry. Finally, it is
to be noted that in the 'Nut-Brown Maid,' which many would
unhesitatingly refer to this class of poetry, we have no ballad at all,
but a dramatic lyric, probably written by a woman, and with a special
plea in the background.

[Illustration: Signature: F.B. Gummere]


1. When shawes[9] beene sheene[10], and shradds[11] full fayre,
And leeves both large and longe,
It is merry, walking in the fayre forrest,
To heare the small birds' songe.

2. The woodweele[12] sang, and wold not cease,
Amongst the leaves a lyne[13];
And it is by two wight[14] yeomen,
By deare God, that I meane.

* * * * *

3. "Me thought they[15] did me beate and binde,
And tooke my bow me fro;
If I bee Robin alive in this lande,
I'll be wrocken[16] on both them two."

4. "Sweavens[17] are swift, master," quoth John,
"As the wind that blowes ore a hill;
For if it be never soe lowde this night,
To-morrow it may be still."

5. "Buske ye, bowne ye[18], my merry men all,
For John shall go with me;
For I'll goe seeke yond wight yeomen
In greenwood where they bee."

6. They cast on their gowne of greene,
A shooting gone are they,
Until they came to the merry greenwood,
Where they had gladdest bee;
There were they ware of a wight yeoman,
His body leaned to a tree.

7. A sword and a dagger he wore by his side,
Had beene many a man's bane[19],
And he was cladd in his capull-hyde[20],
Topp, and tayle, and mayne.

8. "Stand you still, master," quoth Litle John,
"Under this trusty tree,
And I will goe to yond wight yeoman,
To know his meaning trulye."

9. "A, John, by me thou setts noe store,
And that's a farley[21] thinge;
How offt send I my men before,
And tarry myselfe behinde?"

10. "It is noe cunning a knave to ken,
And a man but heare him speake;
And it were not for bursting of my bowe,
John, I wold thy head breake."

11. But often words they breeden bale,
That parted Robin and John;
John is gone to Barnesdale,
The gates[22] he knowes eche one.

12. And when hee came to Barnesdale,
Great heavinesse there hee hadd;
He found two of his fellowes
Were slaine both in a slade[23],

13. And Scarlett a foote flyinge was,
Over stockes and stone,
For the sheriffe with seven score men
Fast after him is gone.

14. "Yet one shoote I'll shoote," sayes Litle John,
"With Crist his might and mayne;
I'll make yond fellow that flyes soe fast
To be both glad and faine."

15. John bent up a good veiwe bow[24],
And fetteled[25] him to shoote;
The bow was made of a tender boughe,
And fell downe to his foote.

16. "Woe worth[26] thee, wicked wood," sayd Litle John,
"That ere thou grew on a tree!
For this day thou art my bale,
My boote[27] when thou shold bee!"

17. This shoote it was but looselye shott,
The arrowe flew in vaine,
And it mett one of the sheriffe's men;
Good William a Trent was slaine.

18. It had beene better for William a Trent
To hange upon a gallowe
Then for to lye in the greenwoode,
There slaine with an arrowe.

19. And it is sayed, when men be mett,
Six can doe more than three:
And they have tane Litle John,
And bound him fast to a tree.

20. "Thou shalt be drawen by dale and downe," quoth the sheriffe[28],
"And hanged hye on a hill:"
"But thou may fayle," quoth Litle John
"If it be Christ's owne will."

21. Let us leave talking of Litle John,
For hee is bound fast to a tree,
And talke of Guy and Robin Hood
In the green woode where they bee.

22. How these two yeomen together they mett,
Under the leaves of lyne,
To see what marchandise they made
Even at that same time.

23. "Good morrow, good fellow," quoth Sir Guy;
"Good morrow, good fellow," quoth hee;
"Methinkes by this bow thou beares in thy hand,
A good archer thou seems to bee."

24. "I am wilfull of my way[29]," quoth Sir Guy,
"And of my morning tyde:"
"I'll lead thee through the wood," quoth Robin,
"Good fellow, I'll be thy guide."

25. "I seeke an outlaw," quoth Sir Guy,
"Men call him Robin Hood;
I had rather meet with him upon a day
Then forty pound of golde."

26. "If you tow mett, it wold be seene whether were better
Afore yee did part awaye;
Let us some other pastime find,
Good fellow, I thee pray."

27. "Let us some other masteryes make,
And we will walke in the woods even;
Wee may chance meet with Robin Hood
At some unsett steven[30]."

28. They cutt them downe the summer shroggs[31]
Which grew both under a bryar,
And sett them three score rood in twinn[32],
To shoote the prickes[33] full neare.

29. "Leade on, good fellow," sayd Sir Guye,
"Leade on, I doe bidd thee:"
"Nay, by my faith," quoth Robin Hood,
"The leader thou shalt bee."

30. The first good shoot that Robin ledd,
Did not shoote an inch the pricke froe,
Guy was an archer good enoughe,
But he could neere shoote soe.

31. The second shoote Sir Guy shott,
He shott within the garlande[34],
But Robin Hoode shott it better than hee,
For he clove the good pricke-wande.

32. "God's blessing on thy heart!" sayes Guye,
"Goode fellow, thy shooting is goode;
For an thy hart be as good as thy hands,
Thou were better than Robin Hood."

33. "Tell me thy name, good fellow," quoth Guye,
"Under the leaves of lyne:"
"Nay, by my faith," quoth good Robin,
"Till thou have told me thine."

34. "I dwell by dale and downe," quoth Guye,
"And I have done many a curst turne;
And he that calles me by my right name,
Calles me Guye of good Gysborne."

35. "My dwelling is in the wood," sayes Robin;
"By thee I set right nought;
My name is Robin Hood of Barnesdale,
A fellow thou hast long sought."

36. He that had neither beene a kithe nor kin
Might have seene a full fayre sight.
To see how together these yeomen went,
With blades both browne and bright.

37. To have seene how these yeomen together fought
Two howers of a summer's day;
It was neither Guy nor Robin Hood
That fettled them to flye away.

38. Robin was reacheles[35] on a roote,
And stumbled at that tyde,
And Guy was quicke and nimble with-all,
And hitt him ore the left side.

39. "Ah, deere Lady!" sayd Robin Hoode,
"Thou art both mother and may[36]!
I thinke it was never man's destinye
To dye before his day."

40. Robin thought on Our Lady deere,
And soone leapt up againe,
And thus he came with an awkwarde[37] stroke;
Good Sir Guy hee has slayne.

41. He tooke Sir Guy's head by the hayre,
And sticked it on his bowe's end:
"Thou has beene traytor all thy life,
Which thing must have an ende."

42. Robin pulled forth an Irish kniffe,
And nicked Sir Guy in the face,
That he was never on[38] a woman borne
Could tell who Sir Guye was.

43. Saies, Lye there, lye there, good Sir Guye,
And with me not wrothe;
If thou have had the worse stroakes at my hand,
Thou shalt have the better cloathe.

44. Robin did off his gowne of greene,
Sir Guye he did it throwe;
And he put on that capull-hyde
That clad him topp to toe.

45. "Tis bowe, the arrowes, and litle horne,
And with me now I'll beare;
For now I will goe to Barnesdale,
To see how my men doe fare."

46. Robin sett Guye's horne to his mouth,
A lowd blast in it he did blow;
That beheard the sheriffe of Nottingham,
As he leaned under a lowe[39].

47. "Hearken! hearken!" sayd the sheriffe,
"I heard noe tydings but good;
For yonder I heare Sir Guye's horne blowe,
For he hath slaine Robin Hoode."

48. "For yonder I heare Sir Guye's horne blowe,
It blowes soe well in tyde,
For yonder conies that wighty yeoman
Cladd in his capull-hyde."

49. "Come hither, thou good Sir Guy,
Aske of mee what thou wilt have:"
"I'll none of thy gold," sayes Robin Hood,
"Nor I'll none of it have."

50. "But now I have slaine the master," he sayd,
"Let me goe strike the knave;
This is all the reward I aske,
Nor noe other will I have."

51. "Thou art a madman," said the sheriffe,
"Thou sholdest have had a knight's fee;
Seeing thy asking hath beene soe badd,
Well granted it shall be."

52. But Litle John heard his master speake,
Well he knew that was his steven[40];
"Now shall I be loset," quoth Litle John,
"With Christ's might in heaven."

53. But Robin hee hyed him towards Litle John,
Hee thought hee wold loose him belive;
The sheriffe and all his companye
Fast after him did drive.

54. "Stand abacke! stand abacke!" sayd Robin;
"Why draw you mee soe neere?
It was never the use in our countrye
One's shrift another should heere."

55. But Robin pulled forth an Irysh kniffe,
And losed John hand and foote,
And gave him Sir Guye's bow in his hand,
And bade it be his boote.

56. But John tooke Guye's bow in his hand
(His arrowes were rawstye[41] by the roote);
The sherriffe saw Litle John draw a bow
And fettle him to shoote.

57. Towards his house in Nottingham
He fled full fast away,
And so did all his companye,
Not one behind did stay.

58. But he cold neither soe fast goe,
Nor away soe fast runn,
But Litle John, with an arrow broade,
Did cleave his heart in twinn.

[Footnote 8: This ballad is a good specimen of the Robin Hood
Cycle, and is remarkable for its many proverbial and
alliterative phrases. A few lines have been lost between
stanzas 2 and 3. Gisborne is a "market-town in the West
Riding of the County of York, on the borders of Lancashire."
For the probable tune of the ballad, see Chappell's 'Popular
Music of the Olden Time,' ii. 397.]

[Footnote 9: Woods, groves.--This touch of description at the
outset is common in our old ballads, as well as in the
mediaeval German popular lyric, and may perhaps spring from
the old "summer-lays" and chorus of pagan times.]

[Footnote 10: Beautiful; German, _schoen_.]

[Footnote 11: Coppices or openings in a wood.]

[Footnote 12: In some glossaries the woodpecker, but here of
course a song-bird,--perhaps, as Chappell suggests, the

[Footnote 13: _A_, on; _lyne_, lime or linden.]

[Footnote 14: Sturdy, brave.]

[Footnote 15: Robin now tells of a dream in which "they"
(=the two "wight yeomen," who are Guy and, as Professor Child
suggests, the Sheriff of Nottingham) maltreat him; and he
thus foresees trouble "from two quarters."]

[Footnote 16: Revenged.]

[Footnote 17: Dreams.]

[Footnote 18: Tautological phrase,--"prepare and make

[Footnote 19: Murder, destruction.]

[Footnote 20: Horse's hide.]

[Footnote 21: Strange.]

[Footnote 22: Paths.]

[Footnote 23: Green valley between woods.]

[Footnote 24: Perhaps the yew-bow.]

[Footnote 25: Made ready.]

[Footnote 26: "Woe be to thee." _Worth_ is the old
subjunctive present of an exact English equivalent to the
modern German _werden_.]

[Footnote 27: Note these alliterative phrases. _Boote_,

[Footnote 28: As Percy noted, this "quoth the sheriffe," was
probably added by some explainer. The reader, however, must
remember the license of slurring or contracting the syllables
of a word, as well as the opposite freedom of expansion. Thus
in the second line of stanza 7, _man's_ is to be pronounced

[Footnote 29: I have lost my way.]

[Footnote 30: At some unappointed time,--by chance.]

[Footnote 31: Stunted shrubs.]

[Footnote 32: Apart.]

[Footnote 33: "_Prickes_ seem to have been the long-range
targets, _butts_ the near."--Furnivall.]

[Footnote 34: _Garlande_, perhaps "the ring within which the
prick was set"; and the _pricke-wande_ perhaps a pole or
stick. The terms are not easy to understand clearly.]

[Footnote 35: Reckless, careless.]

[Footnote 36: Maiden.]

[Footnote 37: Dangerous, or perhaps simply backward,

[Footnote 38: _On_ is frequently used for _of_.]

[Footnote 39: Hillock.]

[Footnote 40: Voice.]

[Footnote 41: Rusty]


[This is the older and better version of the famous ballad.
The younger version was the subject of Addison's papers in
the Spectator.]

1. The Percy out of Northumberlande,
and a vowe to God mayd he
That he would hunte in the mountayns
of Cheviot within days thre,
In the magger[42] of doughty Douglas,
and all that ever with him be.

2. The fattiste hartes in all Cheviot
he sayd he would kyll, and cary them away:
"Be my feth," sayd the doughty Douglas agayn,
"I will let[43] that hontyng if that I may."

3. Then the Percy out of Banborowe cam,
with him a myghtee meany[44],
With fifteen hondred archares bold of blood and bone;
they were chosen out of shyars thre.

4. This began on a Monday at morn,
in Cheviot the hillys so he;
The chyld may rue that ys unborn,
it was the more pitte.

5. The dryvars thorowe the woodes went,
for to reas the deer;
Bowmen byckarte uppone the bent[45]
with their browd arrows cleare.

6. Then the wyld thorowe the woodes went,
on every syde shear;
Greahondes thorowe the grevis glent[46],
for to kyll their deer.

7. This begane in Cheviot the hyls abone,
yerly on a Monnyn-day;
Be that it drewe to the hour of noon,
a hondred fat hartes ded ther lay.

8. They blewe a mort[47] uppone the bent,
they semblyde on sydis shear;
To the quyrry then the Percy went,
to see the bryttlynge[48] of the deere.

9. He sayd, "It was the Douglas promys
this day to met me hear;
But I wyste he wolde faylle, verament;"
a great oth the Percy swear.

10. At the laste a squyar of Northumberlande
lokyde at his hand full ny;
He was war a the doughtie Douglas commynge,
with him a myghte meany.

11. Both with spear, bylle, and brande,
yt was a myghte sight to se;
Hardyar men, both of hart nor hande,
were not in Cristiante.

12. They were twenty hondred spear-men good,
withoute any fail;
They were borne along be the water a Twyde,
yth bowndes of Tividale.

13. "Leave of the brytlyng of the deer," he said,
"and to your bows look ye tayk good hede;
For never sithe ye were on your mothers borne
had ye never so mickle nede."

14. The doughty Douglas on a stede,
he rode alle his men beforne;
His armor glytteyrde as dyd a glede[49];
a boldar barne was never born.

15. "Tell me whose men ye are," he says,
"or whose men that ye be:
Who gave youe leave to hunte in this Cheviot chays,
in the spyt of myn and of me."

16. The first man that ever him an answer mayd,
yt was the good lord Percy:
"We wyll not tell the whose men we are," he says,
"nor whose men that we be;
But we wyll hounte here in this chays,
in spyt of thyne and of the."

17. "The fattiste hartes in all Cheviot
we have kyld, and cast to carry them away:"
"Be my troth," sayd the doughty Douglas agayn,
"therefor the tone of us shall die this day."

18. Then sayd the doughte Douglas
unto the lord Percy,
"To kyll alle thes giltles men,
alas, it wear great pitte!"

19. "But, Percy, thowe art a lord of lande,
I am a yerle callyd within my contre;
Let all our men uppone a parti stande,
and do the battell of the and of me."

20. "Nowe Cristes curse on his crowne," sayd the lord Percy,
"whosoever thereto says nay;
Be my troth, doughty Douglas," he says,
"thow shalt never se that day."

21. "Nethar in Ynglonde, Skottlonde, nor France,
nor for no man of a woman born,
But, and fortune be my chance,
I dar met him, one man for one."

22. Then bespayke a squyar of Northumberlande,
Richard Wytharyngton was his name:
"It shall never be told in Sothe-Ynglonde," he says,
"To Kyng Kerry the Fourth for shame."

23. "I wat youe byn great lordes twa,
I am a poor squyar of lande:
I wylle never se my captayne fyght on a fylde,
and stande my selffe and looke on,
But whylle I may my weppone welde,
I wylle not fayle both hart and hande."

24. That day, that day, that dredfull day!
the first fit here I fynde[50];
And you wyll hear any more a the hountyng a the Cheviot
yet ys ther mor behynde.

25. The Yngglyshe men had their bowys ybent,
ther hartes were good yenoughe;
The first of arrows that they shote off,
seven skore spear-men they sloughe.

26. Yet bides the yerle Douglas upon the bent,
a captayne good yenoughe,
And that was sene verament,
for he wrought hem both wo and wouche.

27. The Douglas partyd his host in thre,
like a chief chieftain of pryde;
With sure spears of myghtty tre,
they cum in on every syde:

28. Throughe our Yngglyshe archery
gave many a wounde fulle wyde;
Many a doughty they garde to dy,
which ganyde them no pryde.

29. The Ynglyshe men let ther bowes be,
and pulde out brandes that were brighte;
It was a heavy syght to se
bryght swordes on basnites lyght.

30. Thorowe ryche male and myneyeple[51],
many sterne they strocke down straight;
Many a freyke[52] that was fulle fre,
there under foot dyd lyght.

31. At last the Douglas and the Percy met,
lyk to captayns of myght and of mayne;
The swapte together tylle they both swat,
with swordes that were of fine milan.

32. These worthy freckys for to fyght,
ther-to they were fulle fayne,
Tylle the bloode out off their basnetes sprente,
as ever dyd hail or rayn.

33. "Yield thee, Percy," sayd the Douglas,
"and i faith I shalle thee brynge
Where thowe shalte have a yerls wagis
of Jamy our Scottish kynge."

34. "Thou shalte have thy ransom fre,
I hight[53] the here this thinge;
For the manfullyste man yet art thow
that ever I conqueryd in fielde fighttynge."

35. "Nay," sayd the lord Percy,
"I tolde it thee beforne,
That I wolde never yeldyde be
to no man of a woman born."

36. With that ther came an arrow hastely,
forthe off a myghtty wane[54];
It hath strekene the yerle Douglas
in at the brest-bane.

37. Thorowe lyvar and lunges bothe
the sharpe arrowe ys gane,
That never after in all his lyfe-days
he spayke mo wordes but ane:
That was, "Fyghte ye, my myrry men, whyllys ye may,
for my lyfe-days ben gane."

38. The Percy leanyde on his brande,
and sawe the Douglas de;
He tooke the dead man by the hande,
and said, "Wo ys me for thee!"

39. "To have savyde thy lyfe, I would have partyde with
my landes for years three,
For a better man, of hart nor of hande,
was not in all the north contre."

40. Of all that see a Scottish knyght,
was callyd Sir Hewe the Monggombyrry;
He saw the Douglas to the death was dyght,
he spendyd a spear, a trusti tree.

41. He rode upon a corsiare
throughe a hondred archery;
He never stynttyde nor never blane[55],
till he came to the good lord Percy.

42. He set upon the lorde Percy
a dynte that was full sore;
With a sure spear of a myghtte tree
clean thorow the body he the Percy ber[56],

43. A the tother syde that a man might see
a large cloth-yard and mare;
Two better captayns were not in Cristiante
than that day slain were there.

44. An archer off Northumberlande
saw slain was the lord Percy;
He bore a bende bowe in his hand,
was made of trusti tree;

45. An arrow, that a cloth-yarde was long,
to the harde stele halyde he;
A dynt that was both sad and soar
he set on Sir Hewe the Monggombyrry.

46. The dynt yt was both sad and sore,
that he of Monggombyrry set;
The swane-fethars that his arrowe bar
with his hart-blood they were wet.

47. There was never a freak one foot wolde flee,
but still in stour[57] dyd stand,
Hewyng on eache other, whyle they myghte dree,
with many a balefull brande.

48. This battell begane in Cheviot
an hour before the none,
And when even-songe bell was rang,
the battell was not half done.

49. They took ... on either hande
by the lyght of the mone;
Many hade no strength for to stande,
in Cheviot the hillys abon.

50. Of fifteen hundred archers of Ynglonde
went away but seventy and three;
Of twenty hundred spear-men of Scotlonde,
but even five and fifty.

51. But all were slayne Cheviot within;
they had no strength to stand on by;
The chylde may rue that ys unborne,
it was the more pitte.

52. There was slayne, withe the lord Percy,
Sir John of Agerstone,
Sir Rogar, the hinde Hartly,
Sir Wyllyam, the bold Hearone.

53. Sir George, the worthy Loumle,
a knyghte of great renown,
Sir Raff, the ryche Rugbe,
with dyntes were beaten downe.

54. For Wetharryngton my harte was wo,
that ever he slayne shulde be;
For when both his leggis were hewyn in to,
yet he kneeled and fought on hys knee.

55. There was slayne, with the doughty Douglas,
Sir Hewe the Monggombyrry,
Sir Davy Lwdale, that worthy was,
his sister's son was he.

56. Sir Charles a Murre in that place,
that never a foot wolde fie;
Sir Hewe Maxwelle, a lorde he was,
with the Douglas dyd he die.

57. So on the morrowe they mayde them biers
off birch and hasell so gray;


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