The Song of the Western Men


WHEN the vicar of Morwenstow liked, he could fire off a pungent epigram.
Many of these productions exist; but, as most of them apply to persons
or events with whom or with which the general reader has no
acquaintance, it is not necessary to quote them. Some also are too
keenly sharpened to bear publication.

The Hon. Newton Fellowes[35] canvassed for North Devon, at the time when
the surplice controversy was at its height, and went before the electors
as the champion of Protestantism, and “no washing of the parson’s
shirt.”

On the hustings he declared with great vehemence that he “would never,
never, never allow himself to be priest-ridden.” Mr. Hawker heard him,
and, tearing a leaf from his pocket-book, wrote on it:—

Thou ridden ne’er shalt be, by prophet or by priest:
Balaam is dead, and none but he would choose thee for his beast!

And he slipped the paper into the hand of the excited but not eloquent
speaker.

He had a singular facility for writing off an epigram on the spur of the
moment. In the midst of conversation he would pause, his hand go to the
pencil that dangled from his button-hole, and on a scrap of paper, the
fly-leaf of a book, or a margin of newspaper, a happy, brilliant epigram
was written on some topic started in the course of conversation, and
composed almost without his pausing in his talk.

Many of his sayings were epigrammatical. On an extremely self-conceited
man leaving the room one day, after he had caused some amusement by his
self-assertion, Mr. Hawker said: “Conceit is the compensation afforded
by benignant Nature for mental deficiency.”

His “Carol of the Pruss,” 1st Jan., 1871, is bitter:—

Hurrah for the boom of the thundering gun!
Hurrah for the words they say!
“Here’s a merry Christmas for every one,
And a happy New Year’s Day.”
Thus saith the king to the echoing ball:
“With the blessing of God we will slay them all!”

“Up!” saith the king, “load, fire and slay!”
’Tis a kindly signal given:
However happy on earth be they,
They’ll be happier in heaven.
Tell them, as soon as their souls are free
They’ll sing like birds on a Christmas-tree.

Down with them all! If they rise again,
They will munch our beef and bread:
War there must be with the living men;
There’ll be peace when all are dead!
This earth shall be our wide, wide home:
Our foes shall have the world to come.

Starve, starve them all, till through the skin
You may count each hungry bone!
Tap, tap their veins, till the blood runs thin,
And their sinful flesh is gone!
While life is strong in the German sky,
What matters it who besides may die?

No sigh so sweet as the cannon’s breath,
No music like to the gun!
There’s a merry Christmas to war and death,
And a happy New Year to none.
Thus saith the king to the echoing ball:
“With the blessing of God we will slay them all!”

Sir R. Vyvyan and Sir C. Lemon were standing for East Cornwall in the
Conservative and Church interest. The opposition party was that of the
Dissenters; and their cry was “Down with the Church!” Thereupon Mr.
Hawker wrote the lines:—

Shall the grey tower in ruin bow?
Must the babe die with nameless brow?
Or common hands in mockery fling
The unblessed waters of the spring?
No! while the Cornish voice can ring
The Vyvyan cry, “Our Church and King!”

Shall the grey tower in ruin stand
When the heart thrills within the hand,
And beauty’s lip to youth hath given
The vow on earth that links for heaven?
Shall no glad peal from church-tower grey
Cheer the young maiden’s homeward way?
No! while the Cornish voice can ring,
And Vyvyan cry, “Our Church and King!”

Shall the grey tower in ruins spread?
And must the furrow hold the dead
Without the toll of passing knell,
Without the stolèd priest to tell
Of Christ the first-fruits of the dead,
To wake our brother from his bed?[36]
No! while the Cornish voice can ring,
And Vyvyan cry, “Our Church and King!”

When the Irish Church was disestablished, the vicar was highly incensed,
and at the election of 1873 voted for the Conservative candidate instead
of holding fast in his allegiance to the Liberal. But when the Public
Worship Bill was taken up by Mr. Disraeli, and carried through
Parliament by the Conservative government, his faith in the Tory prime
minister failed as wholly as it had in the leader of the Liberal party;
and he wrote the following bitter epigram on the two prime ministers:—

An English boy was born, a Jew, and then
On the eighth day received the name of Ben.
Another boy was born, baptised, but still
In common parlance called the People’s Will!
Both lived impenitent, and so they died;
And between both the Church was crucified.
Which bore the brand, I pray thee, tell me true—
The wavering Christian, or the doubtful Jew?

There is another epigram attributed to him, but whether rightly or not I
am not in a position to state:—

Doctor Hopwood,[*] the vicar of Calstock,[*] is dead;
But, _De mortuis nil nisi bonum_, is said.
Let this maxim be strictly regarded, and then
Doctor Hopwood will never be heard of again!

The following pretty lines were addressed to a child, the daughter of an
attached friend, who was budding into beautiful womanhood. It was
written in 1864.

The eyes that melt, the eyes that burn,
The lips that make a lover yearn,—
These flashed on my bewildered sight
Like meteors of the northern night.

Then said I, in my wild amaze,
“What stars be they that greet my gaze?”
Where shall my shivering rudder turn?
To eyes that melt, or eyes that burn?

Ah! safer far the darkling sea
Than where such perilous signals be;
To rock and storm and whirlwind turn
From eyes that melt, and eyes that burn.

A lady was very pressing that he should write something in her album—she
thought his poems so charming, his ballads so delicious, his epigrams so
delightful, etc. Mr. Hawker was impatient at this poor flattery, and,
taking up her album, wrote in it:—

A best superfine coat 5 5 0
A pair of kerseymere small-clothes 2 14 0
A waistcoat with silk buttons 1 10 0
─────────────────────────────────────────────
£9 9 0

Mr. Hawker was a poet of no mean order. His “Quest of the Sangreal,”
which is his most ambitious composition, is a poem of great power, and
contains passages of rare beauty. It is unfortunate that he should have
traversed the same ground as the Poet Laureate. The “Holy Grail” of the
latter has eclipsed the “Quest” of the vicar of Morwenstow. But, if the
two poems be regarded without previous knowledge of the name of their
composers, I am not sure that some judges would not prefer the
masterpiece of the Cornish poet to a piece in which Lord Tennyson
scarcely rises to his true level. In his “Quest of the Sangreal” alone
does the vicar of Morwenstow show his real power. His ballads are
charming; but a ballad is never, and can never be, a poem of a high
order; it is essentially a popular piece of verse, without any depth of
thought; pleasing by its swing and spirit, but not otherwise a work of
art or genius. Mr. Hawker was too fond of the ballad. His first
successes had been won in that line, and he adhered to it till late. A
few sonnets rise to the level of sonnets, also never a very exalted one.
His “Legend of St. Cecily” and “St. Thekla,” somewhat larger poems, are
pleasing; but there is nothing in them which gives token of there lying
in the breast of the Cornish vicar a deep vein of the purest poetical
ore. That was revealed only by the publication of “The Quest of the
Sangreal,” which rose above the smaller fry of ballads and sonnets as an
eagle above the songsters of the grove.

And yet this poem, belonging to the first order, as I am disposed to
regard it, is disappointing—there is not enough of it. The poem is
charged with ideas, crowded with conceptions full of beauty; but it is a
torso, not a complete statue.

The subject of the poem is the Sangreal[37], the true blood of Christ,
gathered by Joseph of Arimathea in a golden goblet from the side of the
Saviour as He hung on the cross. This precious treasure he conveyed to
Britain, and settled with it at Avalon, or Glastonbury.

There it remained till

Evil days came on,
And evil men: the garbage of their sin
Tainted this land, and all things holy fled.
The Sangreal was not. On a summer eve
The silence of the sky brake up in sound;
The tree of Joseph glowed with ruddy light;
A harmless fire curved like a molten vase
Around the bush——

and all was gone.

After the lapse of centuries King Arthur sends his knights in quest of
the miraculous vessel. There is a long account given by Arthur of its
history, then of the drawing of the lots by his knights to decide the
directions in which they are to ride in quest of it, then of the knights
departing, and a description of the blazon and mottoes on their shields;
and then—after some 400 lines has led us to the beginning of the Quest,
and we expect the adventures of Sir Percival, Sir Tristan, Sir Launcelot
and Sir Galahad—it all ends in a vision unrolled before the eyes of King
Arthur, of the fate of Britain, in about eighty lines.

We are disappointed; for Sir Thomas Malory’s “Morte d’Arthur” supplies
abundant material for a long and glorious poem on the achievements of
the four knights.

The Poet Laureate’s “Holy Grail” did not appear till 1870, or we might
suppose that the Cornish poet shrank from treading on the same ground.
When we turn over Sir Thomas Malory’s pages, it is with a feeling of
bitter regret that we have not his story glorified by Mr. Hawker’s
poetry. The finding of the Grail by Sir Galahad, his coronation as King
of Sarras, and his death, were subjects he could have rendered to
perfection.

The name of the poem is a misnomer. There is no quest, only a starting
on the quest.

But, in spite of this conspicuous fault, “The Quest of the Sangreal” is
a great poem, containing passages of rare beauty. Of Joseph of Arimathea
Mr. Hawker says,—

He dwelt in Orient Syria, God’s own land,
The ladder-foot of heaven; where shadowy shapes
In white apparel glided up and down.
His home was like a garner full of corn
And wine and oil—a granary of God.
Young men, that no one knew, went in and out
With a far look in their eternal eyes.
All things were strange and rare: the Sangreal
As though it clung to some ethereal chain,
Brought down high heaven to earth at Arimathèe.

The idea of the poet:—

The conscious water saw its God, and blushed—

in reference to the miracle at Cana, occurs with a change in Mr.
Hawker’s verses, with reference to the Last Supper:—

The selfsame cup, wherein the faithful wine
Heard God, and was obedient unto blood.

After the loss of the Holy Grail:—

The land is lonely now: Anathema.
The link that bound it to the silent grasp
Of thrilling worlds is gathered up and gone:
The glory is departed, and the disk
So full of radiance from the touch of God.
This orb is darkened to the distant watch
Of Saturn and his reapers when they pause,
Amid their sheaves, to count the nightly stars.

The Eastward craving of Mr. Hawker, the point to which his heart and
instincts turned, find expression in this poem repeatedly:—

Eastward! the source and spring of life and light.
Thence came, and thither went, the rush of worlds
When the great cone of space was sown with stars.
There rolled the gateway of the double dawn
When the mere God shone down a breathing man.
There, up from Bethany, the Syrian twelve
Watched their dear Master darken into day.

——-

Sir Galahad holds the Orient arrow’s name,
His chosen hand unbars the gate of day.
There glows that Heart, filled with his mother’s blood,
That rules in every pulse the world of man,
Link of the awful Three, with many a star.
O blessed East! ’mid visions such as thine,
’Twere well to grasp the Sangreal, and die.

In one passage Mr. Hawker seems to be speaking the feeling of loneliness
that he ever felt in his own heart: he was, as he says in one of his
letters, “the ever alone.”

Ha! sirs, ye seek a noble crest to-day—
To win and wear the starry Sangreal,
The link that binds to God a lonely land.
Would that my arm went with you like my heart!
But the true shepherd must not shun the fold;
For in this flock are crouching grievous wolves,
And chief among them all my own false kin.
Therefore I tarry by the cruel sea
To hear at eve the treacherous mermaid’s song,
And watch the wallowing monsters of the wave,
’Mid all things fierce and wild and strange—_alone_!
Ay! all beside can win companionship:
The churl may clip his mate beneath the thatch,
While his brown urchins nestle at his knees;
The soldier gives and grasps a mutual palm,
Knit to his flesh in sinewy bonds of war;
The knight may seek at eve his castle-gate,
Mount the old stair, and lift the accustomed latch,
To find, for throbbing brow and weary limb,
That paradise of pillows, one true breast.
But he, the lofty ruler of the land,
Like yonder Tor, first greeted by the dawn,
And wooed the latest by the lingering day,
With happy homes and hearths beneath his breast,
Must soar and gleam in solitary snow:
The lonely one is ever more the king!

Here are some beautiful lines on Cornwall:—

Ah! native Cornwall! throned upon the hills,
Thy moorland pathways worn by angel feet,
Thy streams that march in music to the sea,
’Mid Ocean’s merry noise, his billowy laugh!
Ah, me! a gloom falls heavy on my soul:
The birds that sang to me in youth are dead.
I think, in dreamy vigils of the night,
It may be God is angry with my land—
Too much athirst for fame, too fond of blood,
And all for earth, for shadows, and the dream,
To glean an echo from the winds of song!

Mr. Hawker’s poems were republished over and over again, with a few, but
only a few, additions.

The pieces written by him as a boy, _Tendrils, by Reuben_, were never
reprinted, nor did they deserve it. He saw that clearly enough.

In 1832 he published his _Records of the Western Shore_; in 1836, the
second series of the same. In these appeared his Cornish ballads.

They were republished in a volume entitled _Ecclesia_, in 1841; again,
with some additions, under the title, _Reeds Shaken by the Wind_, in
1842; and the second cluster of the same in 1843.

They again appeared with “Genoveva,” in a volume called _Echoes of Old
Cornwall_, in 1845. “Genoveva” is a poem founded on the beautiful story
of Geneviève de Brabant, and appeared first in _German Ballads, Songs_,
etc., edited by Miss Smedley, and published by James Burns, no date.

His _Cornish Ballads_, and the _Quest of the Sangreal_, containing
reprints of the same poems, came out in 1869. The _Quest of the
Sangreal_ was first published in 1864.

In 1870 he collected into a volume, entitled _Footprints of Former Men
in Cornwall_, various papers on local traditions he had communicated to
_Once a Week_, and other periodicals.

Of his ballads several have been given in this volume. Two more only are
given here; one, “The Song of the Western Men,” which deceived Sir
Walter Scott and Lord Macaulay into the belief that it was a genuine
ancient ballad.

Macaulay says, in speaking of the agitation which prevailed throughout
the country during the trial of the seven bishops, of whom Trelawney,
Bishop of Bristol, was one, “The people of Cornwall, a fierce, bold and
athletic race, among whom there was a stronger provincial feeling than
in any other part of the realm, were greatly moved by the danger of
Trelawney, whom they reverenced less as a ruler of the Church, than as
the head of an honourable house, and the heir, through twenty descents,
of ancestors who had been of great note before the Normans set foot on
English ground. All over the country the peasants chanted a ballad, of
which the burden is still remembered:—

And shall Trelawney die? and shall Trelawney die?
Then thirty thousand Cornish boys will know the reason why!

The miners from the caverns re-echoed the song with a variation:—

Then thirty thousand underground will know the reason why!

The refrain is ancient, but the poem itself was composed by Mr. Hawker.
This is its earliest form: it afterwards underwent some revision.

THE SONG OF THE WESTERN MEN.

A good sword and a trusty hand,
A merry heart and true,
King James’s men shall understand
What Cornish lads can do.
And have they fixed the where and when,
And shall Trelawney die?
Then twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!
What! will they scorn Tre, Pol and Pen,
And shall Trelawney die?
Then twenty thousand underground
Will know the reason why!

Out spake the captain brave and bold,
A merry wight was he:
“Though London’s Tower were Michael’s hold,
We’ll set Trelawney free.
We’ll cross the Tamar hand to hand,
The Exe shall be no stay;
We’ll side by side, from strand to strand,
And who shall bid us nay?”
What! will they scorn Tre, Pol and Pen,
And shall Trelawney die?
Then twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

And when we come to London Wall,
We’ll shout with it in view,
“Come forth, come forth, ye cowards all!
We’re better men than you!
Trelawney, he’s in keep and hold,
Trelawney, he may die;
But here’s twenty thousand Cornish bold
Will know the reason why!”
What! will they scorn Tre, Pol and Pen,
And shall Trelawney die?
Then twenty thousand underground
Will know the reason why!

The other is a touching little ballad, the lament of a Cornish mother
over her dead child; which well illustrates the sympathy which always
welled up in the kind vicar’s heart when he met with suffering or
sorrow:—

They say ’tis a sin to sorrow,
That what God doth is best;
But ’tis only a month to-morrow
I buried it from my breast.

I know it should be a pleasure
Your child to God to send;
But mine was a precious treasure
To me and to my poor friend.

I thought it would call me mother,
The very first words it said:
Oh, I never can love another
Like the blessed babe that’s dead!

Well, God is its own dear Father;
It was carried to church, and blessed;
And our Saviour’s arms will gather
Such children to their rest.

I will check this foolish sorrow,
For what God doth is best;
But oh, ’tis a month to-morrow
I buried it from my breast!

The following beautiful verses, of very high order of poetical merit,
have not previously been published:—

A THOUGHT.

[30th Aug. 1866. Suggested by Gen. xviii. 1-3.]

A fair and stately scene of roof and walls
Touched by the ruddy sunsets of the West,
Where, meek and molten, eve’s soft radiance falls
Like golden feathers in the ringdove’s nest.

Yonder the bounding sea, that couch of God!
A wavy wilderness of sand between;
Such pavement, in the Syrian deserts, trod
Bright forms, in girded albs, of heavenly mien.

Such saw the patriarch in his noonday tent:
Three severed shapes that glided in the sun,
Till, lo! they cling, and, interfused and blent,
A lovely semblance gleams, the three in one!

Be such the scenery of this peaceful ground,
This leafy tent amid the wilderness;
Fair skies above, the breath of angels round,
And God the Trinity to beam and bless!

This poem was sent to an intimate friend with this letter:—

DEAR MRS. M——,—I record the foregoing thought for you, because it
literally occurred to me as I looked from the windows of your house,
across the sand towards the sea. Forgive the lines for the sake of
their sincerity, etc….

He wrote a poem of singular beauty on the auroral display of the night
of 10th Nov. 1870, which was privately printed. In it he gave expression
to the fancy, not original, but borrowed from Origen, or from North
American Indian mythology, that the underworld of spirits is within this
globe, and the door is at the North Pole, and the flashing of the lights
is caused by the opening of the door to receive the dead. The following
passage from his pen refers to the same idea:—

CHURCHYARDS.—The north side is included in the same consecration
with the rest of the ground. All within the boundary, and the
boundary itself, is alike hallowed in sacred and secular law. It is
because of the doctrine of the Regions, which has descended
unbrokenly in the Church, that an evil repute rests on the northern
parts. The East, from whence the Son of Man came, and who will come
again from the Orient to judgment, was, and is, his own especial
realm. The dead lie with their feet and faces turned eastwardly,
ready to stand up before the approaching Judge. The West was called
the Galilee, the region of the people. The South, the home of the
noonday, was the typical domain of heavenly things. But the North,
the ill-omened North, was the peculiar haunt of evil spirits and the
dark powers of the air. Satan’s door stood in the north wall,
opposite the font, and was duly opened at the exorcism in baptism
for the egress of the fiend. When our Lord lay in the sepulchre, it
was with feet towards the east, so that his right hand gave
benediction to the South, and his left hand reproached and repelled
the North. When the evil spirits were cast out by the voice of
Messiah, they fled, ever more, northward. The god of the North was
Baalzephon. They say that at the North Pole there stands the awful
gate, which none may approach and live, and which leads to the
central depths of penal life.

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