The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected. — G. K. Chesterton

English Literature for Boys and Girls - H. E. Marshall




Barbour—"The Bruce,"


THE END OF THE STRUGGLE



" 'Twas in spring, when winter tide

With his blasts, terrible to bide

Was overcome; and birdies small,

As throstle and the nightingale,

Began right merrily to sing,

And to make in their singing

Sundrie notes, and varied sounds,

And melody pleasant to hear,

And the trees began to blow

With buds, and bright blossom also,

To win the covering of their heads

Which wicked winter had them riven,

And every grove began to spring."


It was in spring that Bruce and his men gathered to the island of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland, and there Bruce made up his mind to make another fight for the crown. A messenger was therefore sent over to the mainland, and it was arranged that if he found friends there, if he thought it was safe for the King to come, he should, at a certain place, light a great fire as a signal. Anxiously Bruce watched for the light, and at last he saw it. Then joyfully the men launched their boat, and the King and his few faithful followers set out.

"They rowéd fast with all their might,

Till that upon them fell the night,

That it wox mirk in great manner

So that they wist not where they were,

For they no needle had, nor stone,

But rowéd always in one way,

Steering always upon the fire

That they saw burning bright and clear.

It was but adventure that them led,

And they in short time so them sped

That at the fire arrived they,

And went to land but mair delay."

On shore the messenger was eagerly and anxiously awaiting them, and with a "sare hert" he told the King that the fire was none of his. Far from there being friends around, the English, he said, swarmed in all the land.

"Were in the castle there beside,

Full filléd of despite and pride."

There was no hope of success.

"Then said the King in full great ire,

'Traitor, why made thou on the fire?'

'Ah sire,' he said, 'so God me see

That fire was never made on for me.

No ere this night I wist it not

But when I wist it weel I thoecht

That you and all your company

In haste would put you to the sea.

For this I come to meet you here,

To tell the perils that may appear.' "

The King, vexed and disappointed, turned to his followers for advice. What was best to do, he asked. Edward Bruce, the King's brave brother, was the first to answer.

"And said, 'I say you sickerly,

There shall no perils that may be

Drive me eftsoons into the sea;

Mine adventure here take will I

Whether it be easeful or angry.'

'Brother,' he said, 'since you will so

It is good that we together take

Disease and ease, or pain or play

After as God will us purvey.' "

And so, taking courage, they set out in the darkness, and attacked the town, and took it with great slaughter.

"In such afray they bode that night

Till in the morn, that day was bright,

And then ceaséd partly

The noise, the slaughter, and the cry."

Thus once again the fierce struggle was begun. But this time the Bruce was successful. From town after town, from castle after castle the enemy was driven out, till only Stirling was left to the English. It was near this town, on the field of Bannockburn, that the last great struggle took place. Brave King Edward I was dead by this time, but his son, Edward II, led the army. It was the greatest army that had ever entered Scotland, but the Scots won the day and won freedom at the same time. I cannot tell you of this great battle, nor of all the adventures which led up to it. These you must read in other books, one day, I hope, in Barbour's Bruce itself.

From the day of Bannockburn, Barbour tells us, Robert the Bruce grew great.

"His men were rich, and his country

Abounded well with corn and cattle,

And of all kind other richness;

Mirth, solace, and eke blithness

Was in the land all commonly,

For ilk man blith was and jolly."

And here Barbour ends the first part of his poem. In the second part he goes on to tell us of how the Bruces carried war into Ireland, of how they overran Northumberland, and of how at length true peace was made. Then King Robert's little son David, who was but five, was married to Joan, the seven-year-old sister of King Edward III. Thus, after war, came rest and ease to both countries.

But King Robert did not live long to enjoy his well-earned rest. He died, and all the land was filled with mourning and sorrow.

" 'All our defense,' they said, 'alas!

And he that all our comfort was,

Our wit and all our governing,

Is brought, alas, here to ending;


. . . . . .


Alas! what shall we do or say?

For in life while he lasted, aye

By all our foes dred were we,

And in many a far country

Of our worship ran the renown,

And that was all for his person.' "

Barbour ends his book by telling of how the Douglas set out to carry the heart of the Bruce to Palestine, and of how he fell fighting in Spain, and of how his dead body and the King's heart were brought back to Scotland.

Barbour was born about six years after the battle of Bannockburn. As a boy he must have heard many stories of these stirring times from those who had taken part in them. He must have known many a woman who had lost husband or father in the great struggle. He may even have met King Robert himself. And as a boy he must have shared in the sorrow that fell upon the land when its hero died. He must have remembered, when he grew up, how the people mourned when the dead body of the Douglas and the heart of the gallant Bruce were brought home from Spain. But in spite of Barbour's prayer to be kept from saying "ought but soothfast thing," we must not take The Bruce too seriously. If King Robert was a true King he was also a true hero of romance. We must not take all The Bruce as serious history, but while allowing for the truth of much, we must also allow something for the poet's worship of his hero, a hero, too, who lived so near the time in which he wrote. We must allow something for the feelings of a poet who so passionately loved the freedom for which that hero fought.


BOOKS TO READ


There is, so far as I know, no modernized version of The Bruce, but there are many books illustrative of the text. In this connection may be read () Robert the Bruce (Children's Heroes Series), by Jeannie Lang; Scotland's Story, by H. E. Marshall; The Lord of the Isles, by Sir Walter Scott; Castle Dangerous, by Sir Walter Scott; "The Heart of the Bruce" in Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers, by Aytoun. () The most available version of The Bruce in old "Inglis," edited by W. M. Mackenzie.



Contents

Front Matter

In the Listening Time
Cattle Raid of Cooley
Sorrows of Story-Telling
A Literary Lie
Story of Fingal
Old Welsh Stories
The Story of Arthur
The Reading Time
"The Passing of Arthur"
Adventures of an English Book
The Story of Beowulf
The Father of English Song
How Caedmon Sang
The Father of English History
Alfred the Great
When English Slept
Havelok the Dane
About some Song Stories
"Piers the Ploughman"
"Piers the Ploughman" (cont)
The Bible came to the People
Chaucer—Bread and Milk
Chaucer—"Canterbury Tales"
Chaucer—Tabard Inn
First English Guide-book
Barbour—"The Bruce"
"The Bruce" (cont)
A Poet King
The Death of the Poet King
Dunbar—Thistle and Rose
Sign of the Red Pale
Beginning of the Theater
How the Shepherd Watched
The Story of Everyman
How a Poet Comforted a Girl
The Renaissance
Land of Nowhere
Death of Sir Thomas More
The Sonnet Came to England
Beginning of Blank Verse
"Shepherd's Calendar"
Spenser—"Faery Queen"
Spenser—His Last Days
About the First Theaters
Shakespeare—The Boy
Shakespeare—The Man
"Merchant of Venice"
Jonson—"Man in his Humor"
Jonson—"The Sad Shepherd"
Raleigh—"The Revenge"
Raleigh—"History"
Bacon—New Ways of Wisdom
Bacon—The Happy Island
About some Lyric Poets
Herbert—Parson Poet
Herrick and Marvell
Milton—Sight and Growth
Milton—Darkness and Death
Bunyan—Pilgrim's Progress"
Dryden—New Poetry
Defoe—First Newspapers
Defoe—"Robinson Crusoe"
Swift—"Journal to Stella"
Swift—"Gullivers Travels"
Addison—"The Spectator"
Steele—Soldier Author
Pope—"Rape of the Lock"
Johnson—Days of Struggle
Johnson—End of Journey
Goldsmith—The Vagabond
"Vicar of Wakefield"
Burns—The Ploughman Poet
Cowper—"The Task"
Wordsworth—Poet of Nature
Wordsworth and Coleridge
Coleridge and Southey
Scott—Awakening of Romance
Scott—"Wizard of the North"
Byron—"Childe Harold"
Shelley—Poet of Love
Keats—Poet of Beauty
Carlyle—Sage of Chelsea
Thackeray—The Cynic?
Dickens—Smiles and Tears
Tennyson—Poet of Friendship