Saturday, August 20, 2022

Saturday Snippet: By Jingo, we'll do it!


The term "Jingoism" has become an epithet for hard-line, extreme nationalism, and as such has fallen out of favor.  However, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was common among all levels of British society, and was the philosophy that informed much of the British Imperial system and its colonies.  (America had its own version of Jingoism:  among others, see the works and speeches of President Theodore Roosevelt for a multitude of examples.)

Rudyard Kipling was a British Jingoist in that sense, although he was much more than a mere mindless puppet of Imperial propaganda.  Another well-known British poet of the era was Sir Henry Newbolt.  Some of his poems became immensely popular in the mid- to late Victorian era, and are still in circulation to this day.  I'd like to mention two of them this morning, plus one that's less well-known, but was a major formative influence in my childhood.

The Duke of Wellington is alleged to have said that the Battle of Waterloo was won "on the playing fields of Eton".  That's dubious, to say the least, but the British Empire at its height was very conscious of the public school ethos and sporting outlook in which many of its servants and officers had been raised.  Newbolt expressed that in his 1892 poem "Vitaï Lampada".

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night —
Ten to make and the match to win —
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red, —
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; —
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks,
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

This is the word that year by year
While in her place the School is set
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind —
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

A tradition much older than British colonialism is the legend of Drake's Drum.  The actual drum is still preserved, although in climate-controlled storage rather than on public display - what one sees in the museum is a carefully constructed replica.  The legend lives on to this day, as you can read at the link above.  Newbolt enshrined it in his 1897 poem, "Drake's Drum".

Drake he's in his hammock an' a thousand miles away,
(Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?)
Slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,
An' dreamin' arl the time O' Plymouth Hoe.
Yarnder lumes the Island, yarnder lie the ships,
Wi' sailor lads a-dancing' heel-an'-toe,
An' the shore-lights flashin', an' the night-tide dashin',
He sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago.

Drake he was a Devon man, an' ruled the Devon seas,
(Capten, art tha' sleepin' there below?)
Roving' tho' his death fell, he went wi' heart at ease,
A' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe.
"Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
Strike et when your powder's runnin' low;
If the Dons sight Devon, I'll quit the port o' Heaven,
An' drum them up the Channel as we drumm'd them long ago."

Drake he's in his hammock till the great Armadas come,
(Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?)
Slung atween the round shot, listenin' for the drum,
An' dreamin arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe.
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound,
Call him when ye sail to meet the foe;
Where the old trade's plyin' an' the old flag flyin'
They shall find him ware an' wakin', as they found him long ago!

The poem became instantly popular with the navy-oriented British public, and continues to be read and performed.  It's been put to music in both classical and folk settings.  There's even a Morris dance of that name.

A third poem by Newbolt had a major influence in the colonies, particularly the British Raj, celebrating as it did the life and death of a famous yet mysterious explorer and Imperial agent, George W. Hayward.  He was one of the leading lights of the so-called "Great Game" intrigue in Central Asia between Russia and Britain.  It was widely presumed that he was lured and/or betrayed to his death in 1870 by local rulers who were upset by his activities, which they saw as destabilizing their own power base and instigating unrest in the area.  We'll never know for sure.  A recent book, "Murder in the Hindu Kush:  Life and Death in the Great Game", gives fascinating details of his life and work.

Newbolt honored Hayward's life and death in his poem, "He Fell Among Thieves".  It's clearly fanciful and sanitized compared to the brutal reality of his death, but that was the way of it in that day and age.  It's remained in my mind ever since I first read it.

Ye have robb’d,’ said he, ‘ye have slaughter’d and made an end,
  Take your ill-got plunder, and bury the dead:
What will ye more of your guest and sometime friend?’
  ‘Blood for our blood,’ they said.

He laugh’d: ‘If one may settle the score for five,
  I am ready; but let the reckoning stand till day:
I have loved the sunlight as dearly as any alive.’
  ‘You shall die at dawn,’ said they.

He flung his empty revolver down the slope,
  He climb’d alone to the Eastward edge of the trees;
All night long in a dream untroubled of hope
  He brooded, clasping his knees.

He did not hear the monotonous roar that fills
  The ravine where the Yassîn river sullenly flows;
He did not see the starlight on the Laspur hills,
  Or the far Afghan snows.

He saw the April noon on his books aglow,
  The wistaria trailing in at the window wide;
He heard his father’s voice from the terrace below
  Calling him down to ride.

He saw the gray little church across the park,
  The mounds that hid the loved and honour’d dead;
The Norman arch, the chancel softly dark,
  The brasses black and red.

He saw the School Close, sunny and green,
  The runner beside him, the stand by the parapet wall,
The distant tape, and the crowd roaring between,
  His own name over all.

He saw the dark wainscot and timber’d roof,
  The long tables, and the faces merry and keen;
The College Eight and their trainer dining aloof,
  The Dons on the daïs serene.

He watch’d the liner’s stem ploughing the foam,
  He felt her trembling speed and the thrash of her screw.
He heard the passengers’ voices talking of home,
  He saw the flag she flew.

And now it was dawn. He rose strong on his feet,
  And strode to his ruin’d camp below the wood;
He drank the breath of the morning cool and sweet:
  His murderers round him stood.

Light on the Laspur hills was broadening fast,
  The blood-red snow-peaks chill’d to a dazzling white;
He turn’d, and saw the golden circle at last,
  Cut by the Eastern height.

‘O glorious Life, Who dwellest in earth and sun,
  I have lived, I praise and adore Thee.’
        A sword swept.
Over the pass the voices one by one
  Faded, and the hill slept.

You'll have noted the public school references, which can be read in the light of the first poem above.

Well, there you are.  A dose of Jingoism to start your weekend.



Old NFO said...

The Brits have some 'interesting' traditions... Hidebound as hell, and percolating through even today.

NobobyExpects said...

Harry Flashman met Yakub Beg at the time of the Crimean War. Bit later, and he could have met Hayward too!

buddy larsen said...

Q: "Do you enjoy Kipling?"
A: "Can't say, I've never kippled."