A LAY OF THE FIRST CRUSADE.*
THE author of this poem has taste, talent, and culture, and pro- bably wants nothing so much as a little experience of life, which might have led him to build, even in a work of imagination, on more solid sympathies of some kind, than those which he mostly requires of us for the early Crusaders. We undoubtedly owe much respect to his heroes ; we owe much, in our days of sects and nationalities, to the flame of generous zeal and comprehensive public spirit which their enterprises kindled in Christian Europe ; we owe some respect to any spirit of self-denying enterprise that we may see largely replaced among ourselves by the mere rage for indolent monetary speculation. But we shall mistrust the admonitions of an uncritical panegyrist of religious wars, we can laugh at his intimations that modern industry and burgher- like prudence are incompatible with the generous feelings that belonged to the old feudal oligarchies, and we can scarcely, in an author who is our contemporary, endure a constant affirmation of the old prejudice that the Mumulmans are " Paynims," or pagans. It is singular indeed that Mr. Stigand allows the champions of the Crescent no atom of the gallantry and virtue with which even Tasso and the old ballad writers often credited them. Having said this, we must own that Athendis contains more evidences of honest enthusiasm for the best maxims of chivalry than we were disposed to imagine from the tone, in which the author first addresses us in behalf of the ancient sentiments whose decay he
As regards the structure of Mr. Stigand's composition, we are some time left in doubt whether it is meant for an epic poem or a poetical novel, but on the whole, we prefer to consider it as a series of narratives which may be annexed, or rather prefixed, to the history and episodes of Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, much as in Greek literature the Methomerica have been added to the Iliad, or say the tales of Troilus and Penthesilea, and it might have been the quarrel of Ajax and Ulysses to the wrath of Achilles and the fall of Hector. And it must indeed be owned that he has imitated many of Tasso's incidents, transferring them to the period glanced over in stanza vi. of the Italian poem (we cannot quote bole's version, which is too hazy here, as usual, even in an historic point of view) :—
" Gil '1 sesto anno volgea, ch'in oriente Passb il campo cristiano all alta impresa ;
E Nicea per assalto e la potente, Antiochia con arte area gin presa, L'evea poscia in battaglia incontro a gente, Di Persia innumerable difesa."
Of course he delineates, conformably to Tasso, the principal Christian chiefs, as Godfrey, Raymond of Toulouse, Tancred (though not in love yet), and Bohemond, whom he disparages. more than Tasso did for his worldly prudence. In Duke Robert he takes a natural interest (though hating other Normans with peculiar vehemence), and he tells a tale with some liveliness of his fiery temper and generous repentance. But besides this, his heroine has much the same part to play as Armida, and his hero gets into disgrace, like Rinaldo, through a rash challenge. Then we retrace Tasso in some smaller incidents, the reception of a Moslem embassy proffering alliance on conditions which are judged disgraceful ; and even the destruction of a Danish prince
Atheruits ; or, Us First Crusade. By Wham Stigand. London : Hoxon and Co 1866.
and his army, who are surrounded by the infidels while advancing to the relief of Antioch. But we must dwell awhile on this episode, which is among those most enriched by suggestions from the annals of modern warfare and by touches of sentiment, in which antique and modern elements are beautifully and singularly blended. Ta.sso mentions one warrior whose wife accompanied him to the field ; but our author has mingled this circumstance with the campaign of Prince Eric (the counterpart of Sveno), and drawn from the combination a sterner tragic narrative than Tasso would have cared to present to us. We will venture to quote a stanza on the early loves of this heroic pair, as it is con- ceived, in spite of the subject, with some degree of character and originality :—
" Theirs was the love frank, free, sincere, and strong,
Of noble souls who answer each to each, As well timed cadence to heroic song, Or clearest echo unto noble speech ; Love such as scheming hearts can never reach, Of virtue, beauty, fair unconscious birth ; As pure as adamant from flaw or breach, Which knows no fear, distrust, or wanton mirth, Based on strong manly truth and woman's noblest worth."
What then?—such characters might have adorned a modern English, or at least Irish, novel ; but the period of the Crusades had peculiar trials for them. They are not all told in the next follow- ing lines :—
" Thus when young Eric went, the heathen foe
To combat and to win his crown again,
She shed no tears,—she could not love him so,—
Loved she not Christ still more ?—nor did she strain Love's oaths and protests to exalt the pain Of separation. Silently she pray'd For grace to Heav'n its own cause to sustain."
Here we must explain that Erie had been receiving his education at the Imperial Court, while his father, King Olaf, had been over- come and slain in battle by the Pagan party among the Danes. After the farewells and two years of warfare Eric returns to Worms as a victorious Sovereign, and solemn preparations are made in the cathedral for the union of so deserving and popular a suitor with his Adelaide, a Burgundian princess. The proceedings encounter an interruption, which is dramatically represented as most sudden and astounding :—
" And now from out the throng'd bright multitude
All eyes hung centred on the bridal pair, Who at the altar in meek triumph stood, And there was silence deep—the very air Was still with expectation ; but no prayer Of priest was heard, nor choral voices sang.
As all began within their hearts to bear A sense of wonder, from the pulpit sprang A voice which in all ears with fervid accents rang."
"'Is this a time to wed, and to be wed, To bind the soul more close to earth's dull clod, When Christ's blood has anew been freely shed In that far land which His dear footsteps trod; Where gore of martyrs clamours from the sod For vengeance, and their children wail and groan For help against the enemies of God ?
Say, is Christ's honour less prized than your own ? 0 warriors ! are ye slow to war for Christ alone ? ' "
The speaker is now described after the familiar pattern of the coadjutors of Peter the Hermit, and we hear him greeted with the usual applausive sound of "Dieu le veut" (or, "Dier to veut," as we find it written). In this conjuncture Eric and Adelaide soon under- stand each other's minds: They kneel and entreat the monk to sanction their both going to the Holy Land ; and then presumably the marriage vows are completed, when a vow has been sponta- neously added to them which monks have sometimes urged on such a pair where there was less occasion for it :— "And kneeling down by Eric's side, she spoke,
0 holy sir ! refuse not thou to me The Cross. Ah ! do not, for sweet Jesu's sake.
Spotless we swear our plighted troth shall be Until Christ's ensign wave triumphantly On Zion's hill. Au! let me bear a part
In Erie's vow, and undivided we
Shall surely serve Christ better than apart, When absence shall have wrung the strength of each lone heart.'"
The troop Eric raises in his native country numbers four thousand, exclusive of bowmen, &c., and other wives or maids who would share his vows. They make their way to Constantinople, and
Through Anatolia and the torrid wild Of Phrygia, through the gorges dark and steep Of the Cilician pass Reach'd the famed gulf of Issus, where the deep Ran purple with the blood of Persia's best."
They presently meet a large body of Moslem troops, whom they repulse, but cannot destroy. The combat is renewed on three successive days ; on the fourth Eric hears that another army of ten thousand men is advancing against him. He then takes measures to enable his wounded men and the women in his camp to retire to Christian towns ; but Adelaide will not leave his vicinity ; she, too, has taken the vows of the Cross upon herself, and will retire before no peril. Then the poet describes, even in that heart-wringing hour, a moment of sublime luxury, which their love and mutual esteem afford them :—
"She paused, and Eric look'd on her, and saw Her face with white angelic lustre beam, And on both sides immeasurable awe Descended, and as men when drowning seem Beneath the waves to see as in a dream Their whole past flash'd up in one swift expanse, As landscapes start forth in the lightning's gleam, So they, wrapt deep in soft inwoven trance, Their lives' whole beauty saw in one absorbing glance ; "For in that moment's wrapt communion all
The buried hours their ravish'd sweetness brought,—
The honey'd hours of woodland, town, and hall, When from the bloom of intertwining thought The winged instants sweetest fragrance caught, Like humming bees to hive them in the soul ;
But in them yet a sense diviner wrought—
A faith sublime in that supreme controul Which wafts the thundercloud to its appointed goal."
Another battle follows. The ranks of the Danes are further thinned, and their enemies, Trojan-like, begin to bring up fire to the defences. Then Eric turns to the tower where Adelaide is tending a dying man ; he returns according, to his promise, that he may save her from dishonour by killing her. His resolution falters awhile, but our poet will not spare him, nor will Adelaide.
"Once he essays
In vain, and stoops, and o'er her forehead chill Presses his burning lips with a half broken will.
"But she moved not at his caress, but hung Stone still, expectant, murm'ring clear and slow, Have courage.' "
Her words prevail, and she expires with the words of the Roman matron on her lips, and more, it may be thought, like an antique Roman than a Christian Dane. But the poet writes of the scene with an unfaltering conscience, not as Miss Rossetti wrote of the Tower of Jhansi,—
" Close his arm about her now, Close her cheek to his, Close the pistol to her brow— God, forgive them this !"
But there is another fine touch given to the close of the tragedy. Eric throws the body of his wife on a burning waggon, and returns to the fight with Berserker fury. He falls, but his corpse also is seized by his followers, who, having borne it to the pyre (we must remember his vow in the monk's presence),—
" To save the slain From Paynim insult threw it on the fire.
Fulfilling thus the need of love's untold desire."
We have in this episode, though not original in details, a remark- ably powerful combination of tragic elements. We are less impressed by a love tale which occupies more space in the volume, but as the poem is not so completed that it may not admit of a sequel, though none is expressly promised us, we shall not at present enter into an account of the general plan of the poem.
We could further quote with pleasure, if space would allow it, some of Mr. Stigand's battle scenes, which are vividly and richly described, so that it is almost surprising to think that most of the elements so well combined in them must have been derived from the study of literature, and few corrected by personal experience, in which even modern modes of fighting could not help much. We must also express our general admiration of the graces of his style, which is pure and polished, sometimes for awhile tardily meditative, but rich and vigorous in the more important passages. It is never quaint nor abrupt, above all never turbid with shallow excitement, as the manner is of those who have nothing better to write of than their own touristic indulgences, or athletic prowess, or even, suadente diaboln, their ambitions to be the coming poet.