Page images
PDF
EPUB

PREFACE.

THE title of historical ballads hardly applies to the present book, as only a few poems, for which we are indebted to Mrs. Harcourt Mitchell, deserve that title. The selection has been made from poetry which can scarcely be understood by children below the highest standards, and the extracts have been chosen with a view both to illustrating history and to character, besides giving some idea of the feelings with which historical events have been viewed.

Those from the historical plays of Shakespeare have been supplemented by scenes from Sir Henry Taylor's “Edwin the Fair," Sir Walter Scott's “Homildon Hill,” Mr. Tom Taylor's “Joan of Arc,” Dean Milman's "Anne Boleyn," and Sir Aubrey de Vere's "Queen Mary.” It is hoped that these will be found useful, both as reading lessons and as helping to give the spirit of the characters with which they are concerned.

It is, however, to be borne in mind that, in many respects, the poetical aspect of English history is the

traditional one, and is often at issue with the political point of view. The facts are not in all cases borne out by research into contemporary documents, and the characters appear in different lights. It is quite possible that, in the case of many of the personages mentioned, both the poetical view and the documentary description may be true, showing different sides of the same nature; and, at any rate, the poetical point of view has been that of almost all past literature, and the knowledge of it is quite as essential to cultivation of mind as is that of the demonstrable fact.

An index of all the poetry belonging to the series is appended, arranged chronologically for the convenience of those who may wish to use the verses, in order to illustrate lessons on history.

C. M. YONGE.

HISTORICAL POETRY.

CARACTACUS.

50.

a

This is a scene from a tragedy imitated from the old Greek poets by William Mason, in 1759, on the defeat and imprisonment of Caradoc, or Caractacus, the brave chief of the Silures, a tribe inhabiting what is now called Shropshire, where a loose stone rampart on a hill near the confluence of the rivers Colne and Teine is still called Caer Caradoc, and is supposed to have been the place of the chief's last stand. He was delivered up to the Romans by his step-mother Cartismandua, after he had escaped the slaughter of the battle ; but this is not here hinted at. It was Ostorius who defeated him, but Mason uses the name of the commander-in-chief, Aulus Didius. The scene is in the sacred isle of Mona, or Anglesea, where the chorus of Druids and bards are mourning over the son of Caractacus, who has just died of his wounds, attended by his sister and Elidurus, the son of Cartismandua. The Romans break in upon their lament.

AULUS DIDIUS.

Ye bloody priests!
Behold we burst on your infernal rites,
And bid you pause. Instant restore our soldiers,

1

1

Captives about to be sacrificed.

B

1

Nor hope that superstition's ruthless step
Shall wade in Roman gore. Ye savage men,
Did not our laws give licence to all faiths ?
We would o'erturn your altars, headlong heave
These shapeless symbols of your barbarous gods,
And let the golden sun into your caves.

CHORUS.
Servant of Cæsar, has thine impious tongue
Spent the black venom of its blasphemy?
It has. Then take our curses on thine head,
Even his fell curses who doth reign in Mona,
Vicegerent of those gods thy pride insults.

AULUS DIDIUS. Bold priest, I scorn thy curses and thyself. Soldiers, go search the caves and free the prisoners : Take heed ye seize Caractacus alive. Arrest yon youth-load him with heaviest ironsHe shall to Cæsar answer for his crime.

ELIDURUS.
I stand prepared to triumph in my crime.

AULUS DIDIUS. 'Tis well, proud boy! Look to the beauteous maid, That tranced in grief bends o'er yon bleeding corseRespect her sorrows!

1 This was true.

The Archdruid.

« PreviousContinue »