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the colonial expansion which was going on all the time, and had a significance, both instant and distant, for Hodge and his lord alike.
It is to be concluded from these ungracious cavils that our author is so completely possessed by a single aspect of his theme that the obliteration of the peasant which he asserts seems almost to involve a brief eclipse of the poet-a misadventure which I am bound to lament. Beautiful, then, is the quick reaction of such a passage as that beginning:
'When winds are high and lands adust,
And day no longer than the night,
When grass-spears dimple the earth's crust,
George Fox and Bunyan and Wesley, to whom our author's impulsive homage is given, are become the peasant's priests and prophets in Book IX, of which these are the opening lines; and Mr Hewlett's method is seen approaching its best exercise in the ardour of his contrast of them with the high world' of the Walpoles and the Gunnings, and quite at its best in the harmony of historic fact with the liberty of poetry in the tenth Book, The Last Theft.' The iniquities of Enclosure Acts may seem dull matter for the Muse, but what is not dull in Cobbett's prose is assuredly not dull in our author's indignant verse; and this Book at least is exempt from the defect of which I have now to speak.
For, as the chronicle draws nearer to modern times, to that great glory or great disaster, the transformation to industrialism, it is inevitable that difficulties should darken the author's path; his problem being always, I take it, to preserve his story as a romance and prevent its degradation into a verse tract, since a narrative poem without the touch of romance would be as a smoky It is a town lacking the winnowing of the winds. serious problem for a poet facing the stark social conditions of the 18th and 19th centuries, and it is easy to note passages where the dangers have pressed irresistibly.
'When Arthur Young, Concerned with economic ruin, Cried up the properties of dung
Which in hedg'd land your yield quadruples,
The Open Lands must go, all said;
This was no age for reverent scruples;
Saint Use-and-Wont was dying or dead.'
The Muse, he says, abridges all that we need not understand, and the abridgment here can hardly be too severe for the ends of poetry, yet easily too severe for the purposes of the political case.' The heading of Book XI is Waterloo and Peterloo, and there is far more romance in Waterloo than in Peterloo; but Mr Hewlett's scheme demands that Peterloo shall be predominant. Hence there is a somewhat close and dusty air of defunct politicians and faded issues in this Book. Even when he speaks of the great figures it is with a desire to dismiss them quickly, as in his disdainful phrase of 'the wooden Duke,' the scorner of those who served him; although it is true that adoration speaks when he turns from Wellington to another:
What, in a word, he has failed to do is to convince us that it is possible to treat strictly political issues in any manner of poetry but satirical; for the idealism which is so active in the earlier Books of The Song of the Plow' is defeated in the political murkiness of the 18th and 19th centuries. He opens his twelfth Book exquisitely with:
'O quiet land I love so well,
By woody holt or grassy swell,
Or where the sun strikes new-turn'd loam
To gleaming bronze, or by the shore
And see the wrinkl'd sand grow frore.'
But can he lyricise the breaking up of the old Poor Law, or the tyranny of the Trade Unions, or the contentions of Free Trade and Tariff Reform? It is even
this and much more that he has tried, for his Muse believes nothing to be impossible, and even sings of A.D. 1851:
'Yet trade goes briskly; we grow rich
You'll hear enough your thoughts to kindle.
To hymn the triumph of the spindle
If our thoughts refuse to kindle it is from no want of good will, but from a mere lugubrious dampness. Seventy years ago our hearts might have burned within us, but 1921 sees us sure of nothing, suspicious of every triumph, and prone to lament the things once praised. But when Mr Hewlett himself, out of mere human hatred, grows satirical, he becomes more and not less a poet, forgetting his text and denouncing what he hates, the copulation of original sin and the printing press' that resulted in the modern newspaper.
'Out then, ye Dungflies, buzz and breed;
Base is the slave whom doubts deter:
Men whisper rumours-why not bray 'em?
It is the sign of his profound sincerity that this contemptuous invocation leads him at once and quite naturally to a sadder and fonder appeal.
'The land is sick and full of fears.
What have we made of you, O Earth,
In his earlier pages Mr Hewlett has shown the life of the peasant as wholly divorced from the life of those called great, but in his later Books he shows-perhaps not quite intentionally but I think none the less trulythe gradual intermixture of lower with upper, mass
with class; turning the many small lights of the story upon the slow emergence of Hodge, and his first participation in the conscious life of the race. That, indeed, is his great theme, developed from the chaos of obscure beginnings into the more assured movement of our own time. If it be a reproach to history when history becomes partisan and historians human, the reproach loses its slight sting when it is turned against a poet; and whatever we have found to regret in the later Books of this chronicle is due rather to the intractable nature of the subject than to the author's failure to keep his own eye and heart engaged. Not a word, however, may be uttered by me except in praise of the Envoy, 'New Domesday.' There he looks upon Hodge and the world from his intimate corner of southern England, and sees him called to take a part in a larger quarrel than his own quarrel of centuries. Hodge, he says, knew little of chancelleries and international wrangles, but knew one certain thing-'The mighty have oppressed the weak.' I wish I had space to quote the passages which have moved my own mind, but it must be enough to say that the song rises with the event, and to add a single passage without comment.
'As up by Kennetside I rode
From Newbury to Savernake,
I thought what sounds had charged her flood
This funded earth had echoed back,
And rested there.
Then, where the forest on the ridge
Thrusts his green shoulder to the plain,
I saw the end of Privilege.'
It would be a half-excusable mistake, though still a
mistake, if The Song of the Plow' were to be visited in time to come for the birds singing thus sweetly in its branches; for the attraction of such music, with its traditional echoes and familiar refrains, is permanent and irresistible.
I have preferred, in this rapid sketch of a sketch, to regard 'The Song of the Plow' in relation to its subject rather than in its purely aesthetic character, but under each aspect it is a fruitful matter for meditation. Under the former, it represents the influence of a great inspiration upon a writer who, among many admirable efforts, has nowhere else found a theme to exercise and exalt his finest powers; and under the purely æsthetic aspect it represents an attempt to widen and invigorate the body of native poetry by means of the intensest of English subjects and the most individual of English verse. French influence, which has been so readily admitted into recent English verse, and classic influences, which have so strongly marked Mr Hewlett's own earlier poetry, are here absent; and whatever success has been achieved in 'The Song of the Plow-and it is considerable-is a success of English poetry at once in the strictest and the widest sense of the term.
'The Village Wife's Lament' is a poem of another form and a smaller scope, but, like The Song of the Plow,' it is written to fulfil a purpose not purely and not at all consciously æsthetic; and so it might share the neglect or the censure of those whose standards are purely æsthetic. It is a dramatic ballad, and the author does not hold himself answerable for all that it expresses concerning aggressive war; but his village wife is made to utter thoughts which he believes to be common to people of her inexpressive kind. 'If I know anything of village people I know this, that they shape their lives according to Nature, and are outraged to the root of their being by the frustration of Nature's laws and the stultification of man's function in the scheme of things.' It is, then, a poet's business to divine the inarticulate, the thoughts which lie too deep for syllabling; and such an attempt is made here.
In a recent Prolegomena to the Ballad' our author has stated his own attitude more plainly, saying that