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Spain's era of conquest and the ghosts of great days in other centuries, as they search the ruins for relics of the city they knew. Left of us was the salient, studded with broken villages that became household names during the two epic Battles of Ypres. The brown soil was dirty, shell-ploughed, and altogether unlovely. Those strange markings, which from our height looked like the tortuous pathways of a serpent, were the trenches, old and new, front line, support, and communication. Small saps projected from the long lines at every angle. So complicated was the jumble that the sinister region of No Man's Land, with its shell holes, dead bodies, and barbed wire, was scarcely distinguishable. A brown strip enclosed the trenches, and wound northward and southward. Its surface had been torn and battered by innumerable shells. On its fringe, among the copses and crests, were the guns, though these were evidenced only by an occasional flash. Behind, in front, and around them were those links in the chain of war, the oft-cut telephone wires. The desolation seemed utterly bare, though one knew that over and under it, hidden from eyes in the air, swarmed the slaves of the gun, the rifle, and the bomb. Following the belt of wilderness southward, we were obliged to veer to the right at St. Eloi, so as to round a sharp bend. Below the bend, and on the wrong side of it, was the Messines Ridge, the recent capture of which has straightened the line as far as Hooge, and flattened the Ypres salient out of existence as a salient. Next came the torn and desolate outline of Plug Street Wood, and with it reminiscences of a splendid struggle against odds when the 1915 shell shortage hampered the early armies. Armentières appeared still worthy to be
called a town. It was battered, but much less than Ypres—possibly because it was a hotbed of German espionage until last year. The triangular denseness of Lille loomed up from the flat soil on our left. As we passed down the line the brown band narrowed until it seemed a strip of discolored water-marked ribbon sewn over the mosaic of open country. The trench lines were monotonous in their sameness. The shell-spotted area bulged at places, as for example Festubert, Neuve Chapelle (of bitter memory), Givenchy, Hulluch, and Loos. Lens, well behind the German trenches in those days, showed few marks of bombardment. The ribbon of ugliness widened again between Souchez and the yet uncaptured Vimy Ridge, but afterwards contracted as far as Arras, that ragged sentinel of the war frontier. At Arras we entered our own particular province, which, after months of flying over it, I knew better than my native county. Gun flashes became numerous, kite balloons hung motionless, and we met restless aeroplane formations engaged on defensive patrols. With these latter on guard our chance of a scrap with roving enemy craft would have been remote; though for that matter neither we nor they saw a single black-crossed machine throughout the afternoon. From Gommecourt to the Somme was an area of concentrated destruction. The wilderness swelled outwards, becoming twelve miles wide at parts. Tens of thousands of shells had pocked the dirty soil, scores of mine explosions had cratered it. Only the pen of a Zola could describe adequately the zone's intense desolation. Those ruins, suggestive of abandoned scrap-heaps, were formerly villages. They had been made familiar to the world through matter-of-fact reports of attack and counter attack, capture and recapture. Each had a tale to tell of systematic bombardment, of crumbling walls, of wild hand-to-hand fighting, "of sudden evacuation and occupation. Now they were nothing but useless piles of brick and glorious names—Thiepval, Pozières, La Boiselle, Guillemont, Flers, Hardecourt, Guinchy, Combles, Bouchavesnes, and a dozen others. Of all the crumbled roads the most striking was the long, straight one joining Albert and Bapaume. It looked fairly regular for the most part, except where the trenches cut it. Beyond the scrap heap that once was Pozières two enormous quarries dipped into the earth on either side of the road. Until the Messines explosion they were the largest mine craters on the western front. Farther along the road was the scene of the first tank raids, where on September 16 the metal monsters waddled across to the gaping enemy and ate up his pet machine gun emplacements before he had time to recover from his surprise. At the road's end was the forlorn stronghold of Bapaume. One by one the lines of defense before it had been stormed, and it was obvious that the town must fall, though its capture was delayed until months later by a fierce defense at the Butte de Warlencourt and elsewhere. The advance towards Bapaume was of special interest to R.F.C. squadrons on the Somme, for the town had been a troublesome center of anti aircraft devilries. Our field guns now being too close for Herr Archie, he had moved to more comfortable headquarters. Some eight miles east of Bapaume the Bois d'Havrincourt stood out noticeably by reason of its curious shape, which was that of an enormous Ace of Spades. Around Old Mossy Face, as the wood was then known in R.F.C. messes, were clustered many Boche aerodromes. Innumerable duels
had been fought in the air country between Mossy Face and the lines. Every fine day the dwellers -in the trenches before Bapaume saw machines swerving round each other in determined effort to destroy. This region was the hunting ground of many dead notabilities of the air, including the Fokker stars Boelcke and Immelmann, besides British pilots as brilliant but less advertised. Below the Pozières-Bapaume road were five small woods, grouped like the Great Bear constellation of stars. Their roots were feeding on hundreds of dead bodies, after each of the five —Trones, Mametz, Foureaux, Delville, and Bouleaux—had seen wild encounters with bomb and bayonet beneath its dead trees. Almost in the same position relative to the cluster of woods as is the North Star to the Great Bear, was a scrap heap larger than most, amid a few walls yet upright. This was all that remained of the fortress of Combles. For two years the enemy strengthened it by every means known to military science, after which the British and French rushed in from opposite sides and met in the main street. A few minutes down the line brought our machine to the sparkling Somme, the white town of Péronne, and the then junction of the British and French lines. We turned northwest and made for home. Passing over some lazy sausage balloons, we reached Albert. Freed at last from the intermittent shelling from which it suffered for so long, the town was picking up the threads of activity. The sidings were full of trucks, and a procession of some twenty lorries moved slowly up the road to Bouzincourt. As reminder of anxious days, we noted a few skeleton roofs, and the giant Virgin Mary in tarnished gilt, who, after withstanding bombardments sufficient to have wrecked a cathedral,
leaned over at right angles to her I entered the mess: "Came in with pedestal, suspended in apparently drift-dud pressure-right wings fell miraculous fashion by the three re- off as he dived—weak factor of safety maining girders. We flew once more -side-slipped away from Archieover a countryside of multi-colored vertical gust–choked on the fine crops and fantastic woods, and so to adjustment-made rings round the Hun the aerodrome.
-went down in flames near Douai."
The machine that "went down in Snatches of familiar flying-talk, flames near Douai” was piloted by the unheard during the past ten days of man whose puppy I had brought leave, floated from the tea-table as from England.
SEPTEMBER A CENTURY AGO.
Yet, Freedom, yet thy banner, torn
but flying, Streams like the thunder storm against
the wind; Thy trumpet voice, though broken now
and dying, The loudest still the tempest leaves
behind; Thy tree hath lost its blossoms, and
the rind, Chopp'd by the axe, looks rough and
little worth, But the sap lasts, and still the seed
fruit bring forth.
Few of us can remember a September like that of the present year and none of us desires to see another autumn of this bitter struggle for liberty in Europe. Things may not have moved in the West as rapidly as some lovers of the good cause had hoped, but they have moved to a harvest; there is a prospect of days when our civilization may at last reap security and new strength from the sacrifices which have been made for the sake of freedom. If men are ever to have their wisdom judged by their hopes, it is surely at an hour like this. Hope is a form of faith, and although neither hope nor faith depends on sight, on visible results and tangible gains. nevertheless both win and are designed to win confirmation from facts; both justify themselves from those facts of achievement which they have themselves helped to create in the outer world as they have acted on their principles and trusted to their intuitions. This is the position which we occupy at the present phase of the Great War. What has been done and won in the field, particularly during the past six months, enhances the moral confidence of those who have staked their all upon the issue. It enables them to apply Byron's lines to the immediate situation:
These were September lines of 1817. Byron was in a sour mood against England, partly for private reasons, partly because he shared the suspicion and resentment felt by liberalminded men against the reactionary policy after Waterloo. The earlier part of the year had been marked by the suppression of the Habeas Corpus Act, after the famous, or infamous, Green-Bag inquiry. It remained to be seen, Byron wrote to his friend Hobhouse in sending him the fourth canto of Childe Harold, whether England had acquired anything more than a permanent army and a suspended Habeas Corpus. Byron doubted it.
Hence his rather gloomy lines. It must be allowed, however, that there was a real menace to freedom in September, 1817, a menace which was not military but political. The measures taken by the Government to suppress what was believed to be sedition seemed to endanger liberty; they were, at any rate, dictated often by fear, and fear is never more stupid and cruel than in the seat of authority. Things never went in England to the bloody extremes which stained the Bourbon restoration in France. Peterloo was bad, but it was nothing compared to the reign of terror which had lasted at Lyons all this summer, and which Marmont only succeeded in stopping early in September. Still, the position of English politics was critical enough. Mr. Thursfield, in his sketch of Peel, declares that this period was “one of the most disastrous in the modern history of England,” and, as a similar crisis may soon be upon ourselves, it is profitable to note his reasons. “The Ministry were strong in the prestige acquired by a war triumphantly waged and a peace honorably concluded, but their title on any other ground to the confidence and respect of their countrymen was slender. They could not understand that methods of government which are tolerated during a prolonged struggle for national existence, become intolerable as soon as the strain of the conflict is relaxed. They did not perceive that new ideas were striving for expression in the national life, that new classes had risen to importance in the State.” In addition to this, the economic situation was pressing on the lower classes with such rigor that political disaffection seemed to many to present the one chance of securing room to breathe in England. Distress and hardship seethed into violence now and then. This was the
situation which evidently was in Living AGE, Vol. VIII, No. 383.
Byron's mind as he wrote the fourth canto of Childe Harold in far-off Venice. We share his confidence that the cause of freedom will survive the storms of peace, for not the most pessimistic among us would contemplate the possibility that our statesmen after the war could fall as low as Eldon, Vansittart, and Sidmouth; but, meantime, we can say his lines over to ourselves, when Freedom is still menaced by a military tyranny in Europe.
Another English man of letters was in Italy. Landor, who hated political tyranny as keenly as Byron, was at Como, where Southey, the conservative poet laureate, had just paid him a visit. Poor Southey was in low spirits. He was still mourning the death of his bright boy, Herbert, and he had been vexed by the unauthorized publication of a youthful, semi-republican poem on Wat Tyler, out of which his adversaries had ungenerously made capital in the spring of the year. As Professor Dowden argues, “there was nothing in the poem that could be remembered with shame, unless it is shameful to be generous and inexperienced at the age of twenty. But England in 1817 seemed charged with combustibles, and even so small a spark as this was not to be blown about without a care. The Prince Regent had been fired at; there were committals for treason; there were riots in Somersetshire; the swarm of Manchester Blanketeers announced a march to London; before the year was out, Brandeth and his fellows had been executed at Derby.” It was decidedly awkward for the poet laureate to be quoted as a firebrand, even from a poem which he had repudiated long ago. He defended himself, and he was defended both inside and outside the House of Commons, but the incident preyed upon his mind, and he went abroad that summer for relief. We can only imagine the conversation between the two men on the banks of Lake Como, but Southey would not depart uncomforted. “That deep-mouthed Boeotian Savage Landor” had a chivalrous regard for Southey; indeed, he preferred him as a poet to Scott and even to Coleridge. It was during this month, too, that Coleridge came into indirect touch with things Italian, when he struck up a friendship on the seashore at Littlehampton with an English clergyman who turned out to be a translator of Dante. The Rev. H. F. Cary had published his version of the Divina Commedia three years before, in complete form, but it had not won its way to the general public. It was a good hour for him when he met Coleridge, for the poet recommended the book in his lectures next winter, and Cary's fame was established. A third edition was required by the year 1831. So Coleridge was able to do more for Cary than another friend of the translator had been able to do ten years earlier. When Scott visited Miss Seward at Lichfield, in May, 1807, she showed him the passage in Dante, where Michael Scott is mentioned; and the version used was Cary's, for although the second and third parts were not issued till 1814, the Inferno had appeared in 1806. But Scott did not appreciate Dante. He told Miss Seward that the plan of the Divina Commedia seemed to him unhappy, and “the personal malignity and strange mode of revenge presumptuous and uninteresting.” No one who thought thus of Dante would kindle over a translator of Dante, and Cary had to wait for the more sympathetic Coleridge. Eighteen hundred and seventeen was, for Coleridge himself, a year of prose rather than of poetry. Perhaps it was during September that he wrote his lines on The Knight's Tomb, the
last three of which were to be misquoted admiringly in Ivanhoe three years later:
The Knight's bones are dust,
Scott said he borrowed the verses “from a contemporary poet who has written but too little,” and this made Coleridge sure who was the author of the Waverley novels. But during this very month a shrewd American at Abbotsford was already satisfying his mind on the same point. Washington Irving arrived at Scott's house on August 30th, and he spent the first few days of September there, noting the originals of Edie Ochiltree and Dominie Sampson, and feeling that “many of the rich antiquarian humors of Monkbarns were taken from'' his host's own “richly compounded character.” Lockhart has quoted amply from Irving's charming account of his visit, but there is one incident which is worth mentioning, in the light of today. Scott showed his friend the tower of Bemerside, the baronial residence of the Haigs, or De Hagas, one of the oldest families on the border, and pointed to it as a proof that Thomas the Rhymer had been a true prophet when he sang:
Betide, betide, whate'er betide, Haig shall be Haig of Bemerside.
The Haigs, said Scott, had retained their ancient stronghold through all the vicissitudes of the centuries. “Prophecies, however,” Irving reflected, “often insure their own fulfilment. It is very probable that the prediction of Thomas the Rhymer has linked the Haigs to their tower, as their rock of safety, and has induced them to cling to it, almost superstitiously, through hardships and inconveniences that would otherwise have caused its abandonment.” Irving's record of these September days at Abbotsford