Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
From “Philip Van Artevelde”
Sir Henry Taylor (1800–86)

I NEVER look’d that he should live so long.
He was a man of that unsleeping spirit,
He seem’d to live by miracle: his food
Was glory, which was poison to his mind
And peril to his body. He was one        5
Of many thousand such that die betimes,
Whose story is a fragment, known to few.
Then comes the man who has the luck to live,
And he ’s a prodigy. Compute the chances,
And deem there ’s ne’er a one in dangerous times        10
Who wins the race of glory, but than him
A thousand men more gloriously endow’d
Have fallen upon the course; a thousand others
Have had their fortunes founder’d by a chance,
Whilst lighter barks push’d past them; to whom add        15
A smaller tally, of the singular few
Who, gifted with predominating powers,
Bear yet a temperate will and keep the peace.
The world knows nothing of its greatest men.

There was a time, so ancient records tell,
There were communities, scarce known by name
In these degenerate days, but once far-fam’d,
Where liberty and justice, hand in hand,
Order’d the common weal; where great men grew
Up to their natural eminence, and none,        25
Saving the wise, just, eloquent, were great;
Where power was of God’s gift, to whom he gave
Supremacy of merit, the sole means
And broad highway to power, that ever then
Was meritoriously administer’d,        30
Whilst all its instruments from first to last,
The tools of state for service high or low,
Were chosen for their aptness to those ends
Which virtue meditates. To shake the ground
Deep-founded whereupon this structure stood,        35
Was verily a crime; a treason it was,
Conspiracies to hatch against this state
And its free innocence. But now, I ask,
Where is there on God’s earth that polity
Which it is not, by consequence converse,        40
A treason against nature to uphold?
Whom may we now call free? whom great? whom wise?
Whom innocent? the free are only they
Whom power makes free to execute all ills
Their hearts imagine; they alone are great        45
Whose passions nurse them from their cradles up
In luxury and lewdness,—whom to see
Is to despise, whose aspects put to scorn
Their station’s eminence; the wise, they only
Who wait obscurely till the bolts of heaven        50
Shall break upon the land, and give them light
Whereby to walk; the innocent,—alas!
Poor innocency lies where four roads meet,
A stone upon her head, a stake driven through her,
For who is innocent that cares to live?        55
The hand of power doth press the very life
Of innocency out! What then remains
But in the cause of nature to stand forth,
And turn this frame of things the right side up?
For this the hour is come, the sword is drawn,        60
And tell your masters vainly they resist.

Down lay in a nook my lady’s brach,
And said—my feet are sore,
I cannot follow with the pack
A hunting of the boar.        65
And though the horn sounds never so clear
With the hounds in loud uproar,
Yet I must stop and lie down here,
Because my feet are sore.
The huntsman when he heard the same,        70
What answer did he give?
The dog that ’s lame is much to blame,
He is not fit to live.

Quoth tongue of neither maid nor wife
To heart of neither wife nor maid,        75
Lead we not here a jolly life
Betwixt the shine and shade?
Quoth heart of neither maid nor wife
To tongue of neither wife nor maid,
Thou wag’st, but I am worn with strife,        80
And feel like flowers that fade.

Dire rebel though he was,
Yet with a noble nature and great gifts
Was he endow’d,—courage, discretion, wit,
An equal temper, and an ample soul,        85
Rock-bound and fortified against assaults
Of transitory passion, but below
Built on a surging subterranean fire
That stirr’d and lifted him to high attempts.
So prompt and capable, and yet so calm,        90
He nothing lack’d in sovereignty but the right,
Nothing in soldiership except good fortune.
Wherefore with honor lay him in his grave,
And thereby shall increase of honor come
Unto their arms who vanquish’d one so wise,        95
So valiant, so renown’d.


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