American Book of Golden Deeds - James Baldwin

"A Knight Without Reproach"

For nearly four hundred years Greece had been subject to Turkey. The Greeks were oppressed and enslaved by their cruel conquerors; they scarcely dared to call their lives their own. At length, in 1821, they resolved to endure oppression no longer. Hopeless as their cause seemed to be, they took up arms and began a way for independence. The Turks were strong and pitiless; the Greeks were poor and weak, and yet they fought bravely for their country and their homes.

The war had been going on for two or three years, when a stranger appeared in Greece who at once attracted much attention. He was a young man of twenty-three or twenty-four. He was very tall and handsome. His long hair was black, his blue eyes were very large, his face was beaming with kindliness and courage.

It was soon learned that this stranger was a young American surgeon and that his name was Samuel G. Howe. He had come to Greece to give such assistance as he could to those who were fighting for liberty.

He began work at once, trying to establish hospitals for the wounded and the sick. He went from one battlefield to another, doing all in his power to relieve the suffering and dying soldiers. Then, when matters seemed to be most desperate, he shouldered a musket and went forth to share with the patriot Greeks the dangers and hardships of war.

He soon learned, however, that a stronger foe than the Turks was threatening the Greeks. That foe was hunger. The war had required so many men that there was now no one left to till the fields. The vineyards had been neglected and trampled down. The cattle had been driven off and butchered. Unless help came, the Greeks would be conquered by starvation.

The young surgeon was not a man to hesitate. He hurried back to America. In letters to the newspapers, in public speeches and personal appeals, he made known the sad condition of the Greeks. Thousands of Americans came forward with gifts of money and food and clothing. A ship was loaded with these generous offerings, and Dr. Howe sailed with it for Greece.

How the poor people of that unfortunate land blessed the stranger who brought this much-needed relief! He gave the food to the famishing, he placed the money in the hands of those who would use it the most wisely for the good of all. The whole nation thanked him.

For a long time after the Greeks had won their independence they remembered with love the brave, handsome American who had done so much to aid them. One story, in particular, they liked to tell and tell again. It was of a Greek soldier, whose life the American had saved on the battlefield, and who always afterward followed him about like an affectionate dog. The poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, who knew and loved Dr. Howe, has repeated this story in the following verses, in which he also briefly alludes to the hero's later services in behalf of humanity:—

"Oh, for a knight like Bayard,

Without reproach or fear!

My light glove on his casque of steel,

My love-know on his spear!

"Oh, for the white plume floating

Sad Zutphen's field above,—

The lion heart in battle,

The woman's heart in love!

"But now life's slumberous current

No sun-bowed cascade wakes;

No tall, heroic manhood

The level dullness breaks.

"Oh, for a knight like Bayard,

Without reproach or fear!

My light glove on this casque of steel,

My love-knot on his spear!"

Then I said, my own heart throbbing

To the time her proud pulse beat,

"Life hath its regal natures yet,

True, tender, brave, and sweet.

"Smile not, fair unbeliever!

One man at least I know

Who might wear the crest of Bayard

Or Sidney's plume of snow.

"Once, when over purple mountains

Died away the Grecian sun,

And the far Cyllenian ranges

Paled and darkened, one by one,—

"Fell the Turk, a bolt of thunder,

Cleaving all the quiet sky,

And against his sharp steel lightnings

Stood the Suliote but to die.

"Woe for the weak and halting!

The crescent blazed behind

A curving line of sabers,

Like fire before the wind.

"Last to fly and first to rally,

Rode he of whom I speak,

When, groaning in his bridle-path,

Sank down a wounded Greek,—

"With the rich Albanian costume

Wet with many a ghastly stain,

Gazing on earth and sky as one

Who might not gaze again!

"He looked forward to the mountains,

Back on foes that never spare;

Then flung him from his saddle,

And placed the stranger there.

" 'Allah! Hu!' Through flashing sabers,

Through a stormy hail of lead,

The good Thessalian charger

Up the slopes of olives sped.

"Hot spurred the turbaned riders,—

He almost felt their breath,

Where a mountain stream rolled darkly down

Between the hills and death.

"One brave and manful struggle,—

He gained the solid land,

And the cover of the mountains,

And the carbines of his band."

"It was very great and noble,"

Said the moist-eyed listener then,

"But one brave deed makes no hero;

Tell me what he since hath been."

"Wouldst know him now? Behold him,

The Cadmus of the blink,

Giving the dumb lip language,

The idiot clay a mind.

"Walking his round of duty

Serenely day by day,

With the strong man's hand of labor

And childhood's heart of play.

"True as the knights of story,

Sir Lancelot and his peers,

Brave in his calm endurance

As they in tilt of spears.

"Wherever outraged Nature

Asks word or action brave,

Wherever struggles labor,

Wherever groans a slave,—

"Wherever rise the peoples,

Wherever sinks a throne,

The throbbing heart of Freedom finds

An answer in his own.

"Knight of a better era,

Without reproach or fear!

Said I not well that Bayards

And Sidneys still are here?"