Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

tains by the same rugged paths, and had paused and knelt on the same sunny slopes from which the wayfarer catches the first view of the eternal city. On recrossing the Alps, Canute did not make his way direct to England, but went into Denmark, where he stayed several months, having apparently still some troubles and difficulties to settle in that country, where his countrymen complained more than once of the partiality he showed to the English. He, however, dispatched the abbot of Tavistock with a long letter of explanation, command, advice, and exhortation, appressed to “Egelnoth the Metropolitan, to Archbishop Alfric, to the bishops and chiefs, and to all the nation of the English, both nobles and commoners, greeting.” This interesting letter, remarkable for its mildness and simplicity, appears to have been carefully treasured. It is given entire by that best of English chroniclers William of Malmesbury, who was born about the time of the Norman conquest, and the substance of it is given by several old Danish and Norwegian chroniclers. It has been well said that it contrasts singularly with the early education of the son of the fierce and heathen Sweyn, and with the first acts of Canute's own reign. It begins with explaining the spiritual motives of his late pilgrimage, and the nature of the spiritual power of the successor of St. Peter. It then continues:– “And be it known to you all, that at the solemn festival of Easter there was held a great assemblage of illustrious persons; to wit, the Pope John, the Emperor Conrad, and the chiefs of all the nations (omnes principes gentium) from Mount Garganus to our own northern sea. They all received me with distinction, and honoured me with rich presents. I have received vessels of gold and silver, and cloaks and garments of great price. I discoursed with the lord pope, the lord emperor, and the other princes, on the grievances of my people, English as well as Danes. I endeavoured to obtain for my people justice and security in their journeys to Rome; and above all, that they might not henceforward be delayed on the road by the shutting up of the mountain-passes, the erecting of barriers, and the exaction of heavy tolls. My demands were granted both by the emperor and King Rudolph, who are masters of most of the passes; and it was enacted that all my people, as well merchants as pilgrims, should go to Rome and return in full security, without being detained at the barriers, or forced to pay unlawful tolls. I also complained to the lord pope that such enormous sums had been extorted up to this day from my archbishops, when, according to custom, they went to the Apostolic See to obtain the pallium ; and a decree was forthwith made that this grievance likewise should cease. Wherefore I return sincere thanks to God that I have successfully done all that I intended to do, and have fully satisfied all my wishes. And now, therefore, be it known to you all, that I have dedicated my life to God, to govern my kingdoms with justice, and to observe the right in all things. If in the time that is past, and in the violence and carelessness of youth, I have violated justice, it is my intention, by the help of God, to make full compensation. Therefore I beg and command those unto whom I have intrusted the government, as they wish to preserve my good will, and save their own souls, to do no injustice either to poor or rich. Let those who are noble and those who are not, equally obtain their rights, according to the laws, from which no deviation shall be allowed, either from fear of me, or through favour to the powerful, or for the purpose of supplying my treasury. I want no money raised by injustice.” It is said that after the visit to Rome Canute was milder and juster than he had been before, and that inasmuch as he was concerned he acted up to the spirit of his famous letter. He reigned four or five years longer, and these appear to have been years of tranquillity and happiness for England. No power from beyond sea could touch our coast or dispute the sovereignty of the ocean with his fleets; and the turbulent and marauding Scots, Cumbrians, and Welsh were chastised and kept in awe by his English militia. Malcolm, the Scottish king, is said to have become his liegeman, or to have acknowledged his supremacy. The “Basileus” or emperor of the Anglo-Saxons—for this was the title which Canute took to himself in the latter part of his reign—could thus boast that the English, the Scotch, the Welsh, the Danes, the Swedes, and the Norwegians were his subjects; and he was called the “King of Six Nations.” Throughout Europe he was looked upon as the greatest of modern sovereigns. Conrad the emperor, who claimed to be the representative of the imperial Caesars, and supreme head of the Christianised and holy Roman empire, might make a show of prouder titles, but in extent of real dominion, in wealth and power, Conrad was as nothing compared with Canute, the descendant of the pirates of Denmark. The ability, the energy, the industry, which could keep such vast and distant countries together, and bring so many barbarous, warlike, and cruel people within the pale of Christendom, must have been altogether extraordinary. The disseverance which immediately followed his death is a proof that the union depended on the personal character and genius for government of Canute the Great. In England he had the rare art and happiness to make a conquered people forget that they had been conquered, and that he was a conqueror and an alien. When the first cruel excesses were over, and when his throne was established in peace, the Anglo-Saxons appear to have ceased to consider him as a foreigner. The chroniclers scarcely ever allude to his foreign birth: with them he is “Rex Noster— our King; our King, just and good ; our pious King,” &c. No doubt his accomplishments as a poet in the Anglo-Saxon language aided in bringing about this advantageous and rare result, which must have been further promoted by his reverence for the old Anglo-Saxon laws, by his zeal for the Christian religion, and by his exceeding liberality to the Anglo-Saxon church. It was after his return from Rome and when he was in the plenitude of his power, that the following universally known incident is related of him and his flattering courtiers. One day, disgusted with their extravagant adulations, he determined to read these courtiers a practical lesson. He caused his golden throne to be placed on the verge of the sands on the sea-shore as the tide was rolling in with its resistless might, and putting his jewelled crown upon his head, and seating himself upon the throne, he addressed the ocean, and said—“Ocean . The land on which I sit is mine, and thou art a part of my dominion; therefore rise not, but obey my commands, nor presume to wet the edge of my royal robe.” He sat for some time silent with his eye fixed on the broad water as if expecting obedience; but the sea rolled on in its immutable course, succeeding waves broke nearer and nearer to his feet, the spray flew in his face, and at length the skirts of his garment were wetted and his legs were bathed by the waves. Then, rising and turning to his flatterers, Canute said—“Confess now how frivolous and vain is the might of an earthly king compared to that Great Power who rules the elements, and says unto the ocean, Thus far shalt thou go and no farther " The monks conclude the epilogue by saying that he forthwith took off his crown, and depositing it in the cathedral of Winchester, never wore it again.

26.-EARL GODWIN. REv. J. WHITE.

[In giving the first of a series of Dramatic Scenes from English History, written expressly for this work, the Editor desires to prefix a few observations as to the general purpose, both of the original and the selected scenes. Coleridge has a fine poetical dream of the advantages of rendering our National History popular through the stage —“In my happier days, while I had yet hope and onward-looking thoughts, I planned an historical drama of King Stephen, in the manner of Shakspere. Indeed, it would be desirable that some man of dramatic genius should dramatize all those [reigns] omitted by Shakspere, as far down as Henry VII. Perkin Warbeck would make a most interesting drama. A few scenes of Marlowe's Edward II. might be preserved. * * * * It would be a fine national custom to act such a series of dramatic histories in orderly succession, in the yearly Christmas holidays; and could not but tend to counteract that mock cosmopolitism which under a positive term really implies nothing but a negation of, or indifference to, the particular love of country."

That “some man of dramatic genius should dramatize all those reigns omitted by Shakspere," is, the Editor fears, a vain hope. That managers of our theatres should “act such a series of dramatic histories in orderly succession, in the yearly Christmas holidays," is scarcely to be expected, even if they had the dramas at hand to act. But it is possible that this beautiful illusion of Coleridge may be realized to a limited extent, by collecting together a series of historical scenes “in orderly succession." Thereal difficulty in fully carrying such a series through the history of England, before and after the reigns to which Shakspere has given an unfading lustre, consists in the painful inferiority of most of our historical dramatists, as compared with Shakspere, rather than in the total want of dramas having relation to those reigns which he has not touched. We chiefly allude to the dramatists after the Restoration—the poets of the so-called Augustan age, who saw the value of English historical subjects, but dealt with them in a prosaic spirit. Dryden and Rowe, we fear, are scarcely exceptions; the revival of Hughes, or Rymer, or Ravenscroft, or A. Hill, or Bancroft, or Lord Orrery, or A. Phillips, or Crowne, or Jerningham, or Banks, or Brooke, would not be a propitious advent for poetry or patriotism. But although, as a whole, no existing drama (perhaps with the exception of Marlowe's Edward II. considerably altered) could take the highest rank in such a series of dramatic histories as Coleridge contemplated, there are some which supply detached Scenes of great merit, and which may be selected to exhibit some continuous pictures of English history. The wonderful series of histories which Shakspere has left us of the “division and dissention of the renowned houses of Lancaster and York,"—a series written, most probably, upon a plan of connexion, has no gaps to be filled up. For nearly a hundred years the course of events rolls on in almost unbroken succession, exhibiting the most striking actions and characters which our history can supply. But even in a selection of Scenes from other dramatic poets of various periods, imperfect as it may be, the true life of history may be preserved; and the end may be steadily kept in view which Coleridge has described as the chief object of the historical drama which Shakspere realized,—“that of familiarizing the people to the great names of their country, and thereby of exciting a steady patriotism, a love of just liberty, and a respect for all those fundamental institutions of social life which bind men together."

The Editor will necessarily have obligations to recent historical plays, without which this selection would be somewhat meagre. These afford some Scenes, which, in many of the essentials of poetry, may be placed, without disadvantage, side by side with passages from the earlier dramatists. The nature of this work, as well as the Editor's respect for the rights of literary property, will prevent him abusing the privilege of quotation from these sources.

In the original Scenes he has the especial aid of his friend the Rev. JAMES WHITE, from

one of whose dramas an extract has been given in “Half-Hours with the best Authors." The subjects which will be thus treated, are chiefly those which have been passed over by dramatic writers of adequate power, or wholly neglected. These new passages will aim at conveying the broad historical truth in a picturesque form.]

Hardicanute, son of Canute the Great and Emma of Normandy, died in 1042, leaving Edward Atheling, his half brother-afterwards known as Edward the Confessor, heir to the English crown. At this time almost all the wealth and power of the kingdom were in the hands of Earl Godwin and his sons. Little was wanted to their ambition but the name of king; and Edward who was of a weak and superstitious character, would willingly have resigned his pretensions and immured himself in a monastery. But opposition was made to Godwin's designs by some of the other nobles, (particularly by Leofric, Earl of Mercia), and he suddenly changed his plans. When Edward sought an interview, on Hardicanute's death, and begged his protection, and license to depart for Normandy, where his youth had been passed, the English Earl insisted on his taking possession of his inheritance, and promised to support him against all enemies, on condition that he would marry his daughter, Edith the Fair, and so become connected with his family. This agreement was fulfilled, and Edward mounted the throne.

A Hall in Godwin's House. A crowd of his adherents—Harold, Leofric, Thurkell,
Godwin.
The passing bell is heard—it stops.
Godwin. So sleeps the king; the last of foreign kings

The Dane shall squeeze no more the English grape
Into his cup. In Hardicanute's tomb
Lies English slavery, never on this soil

To plant its pestilental foot.

Thurkell. Amen
Godwin. Who speaks the word 7

Thurbell. Thurkell the Dane.
Godwin. And you, -

With your wild locks still powder'd by the salt
Of Baltic waves, and your rough throat still dry
With pirate shouting, join you in our pray'r?
Thurkell. Aye; for the Baltic wave that dashed its foam
Among these locks is long since sunk to rest;
The pirate cry has ceased ; I have a home
On English ground; the land that gives me food
Is all I own for country. Dane no more
I'm English all, and so—God save the Earls
Adherents. The earl the earl | God save the English earl
Godwin. You're silent Leofric; has your heart grown cold
To Godwin 7
Leofric. There is not a pulse in it all
That thrills not like a harp-string at the name.
Honour I owe you ; gratitude I owe ;
Respect and truest service—but no more.

Godwin. Well man, they'll do till we make further claim—
I heard no words that took a higher flight
Than blessings on my head ; and you are silent.
My fair-hair'd Harold, Leofric is your friend
But not your father's friend. He shared your sports
From boyish days. He has kept by your reeking side,
When your hot charger shook the Norsemen's lines
Swept the same seas with you, with emulous flag;
Drank with you, sung with you, laughed and frowned as you did;
And now he grudges to these grizzling locks
A blessing-a poor blessing.

Leofric. Oh not so
Harold, I need not these appealing looks,—
Nor memory of our old companionship,
Nor the dear household thoughts that nestle here
Like building swallows when their flight is done—
Nor voice of the past; nor future hope, but thus
On bended knee, with hand held up to heaven,
God bless Earl Godwin, guard of the English throne

Thurkell. Guard of a few crossed sticks and a plain board
Covered with red brocade,-a noble State
Heaven send a joiner, for the poor old chair
Is ricketty grown.

Leofric. It grows to nobleness
When justice fills it. English Edward lives
Son of our English Ethelred, with blood
Ripen'd to redness in the veins of Kings,
Since Ella's forehead throbb'd beneath the crown.

Harold. A likely king, if dancing earn’d a throne.
Why man this scented, feather'd popinjay
Scarce knows the stiff old Saxon for a king,
But clips in French ;-amongrel tongue it is—
Fit but for women's lips to gossip with.

Leofric. He's rightful lord, dear Harold—

Harold. He a lord
A lady he is, for never a beard has he—
Or a lean friar, for after trying an hour
To pinch his waist, and step on his toe points
Like his French kinswomen, down he'll fall in ashes
And lie all night before a niche in a wall—
Then forth he'll trip again, with paint on his cheeks,
And if you show him a shield of stout old brass,
Dinted with Scottish blows—mercie quoth he,
These ugly dints have spoilt a looking glass;
And then he combs his hair, and from his hand
Pulls he a glove, thin as a gossamer,
And look, says he, how brown this hand hath grown
When its as white as milk. Be king who likes
I'm subject of a man

Leofric. Be false who likes
I’m true to Edward.

« ForrigeFortsett »