« PreviousContinue »
his thoughts upon the English and Scots ballads have turned to what underlies the lovely poetry in them, to the men who made them and the people for whom they were made.
'If you can happen upon a ballad plainly composed by a peasant, or for a peasant audience, you are taken immediately into the heart of a deeply interesting and most unknown people-deeply interesting because the peasantry in England by birth and birthright is aboriginal; most unknown owing to its consistent ill-treatment or neglect by the ruling races here throughout history.'
Mr Hewlett is not a peasant, but he has boldly attempted to sink his own sophisticated personality (using the phrase as inoffensively as he has used it of Clare) into the simple, dumb personality of the peasant, and give it a tongue; and thus The Village Wife's Lament,' although it is not folk-poetry in authorship, is poetry intended for the folk. Some of it the peasant might not care to read, although Mr Hewlett seems to believe that his village wife has a fondness for nature poetry such as only an eager, accomplished lyrist could sing; but the lyrical poet in Mr Hewlett will not be suppressed and needs must pour out pleasure for some who are not peasants. He is not, I believe, of those who still assert an expiring orthodoxy in the theory that folk-ballads grew mysteriously out of the communal mind, and not from the sudden imagination of a poet. But truly does he interpret the natural mind in his deliberate attempt at a narrative which shall be as native' as any ballad whose origin is distant and dark.
The village wives watch sons and husbands marching off to the war:
'The lads go by, the colours fly,
Drums rattle, bugles bray;
But woman bares a martyr breast,
Her son, a hero or a beast,
Will never be the same.'
There is the sharpest of poignance in the simple lines
of other stanzas:
'I lookt forth from my bed
To the cold square of the light-
"Show me why men must fight.”’
And more than all in a single quatrain in which the heart's impeachment is loud:
'They say, let love and light be given
So we keep Liberty:
But I say there is no more Heaven
If men must so be free.'
Is this beyond the village wife's conception? Not so, answers our author, for she is as one wise suddenly, who never understood.' It is possible to dispute the term 'dramatic,' but with that one small point conceded I think there is no other dispute.
Mr Hewlett has a religious mind, and in the grave music of his Wiltshire Plainsong' he pleads ('Dedication to the Dead'):
'Let there be one found to record
Your deeds who are content to tread
The way of death, a nameless horde,
He knows that he is called to write the holy dues of them that fought the Holy War, for he has gained by everything that the dead have lost:
'Chiefest to love that country more
Which breeds such men for such a use.'
It is a great call, and his response in these three books is to subdue himself to the task and let the breath of common aspiration, challenge, sorrow and despair speak through his lips. The task is hard, for poetry as it has developed in England is the most individual and isolated of all the arts by which the spirit of man is expressed. In other books Mr Hewlett's own style, whether of verse or prose, is bold, restless, assertive, provocative; but in these the theme has mastered him. He has heard the undertones of the dead as well as the humble living, and in his evocation of a voice he has added to the purest and oldest tradition of English poetry.
Art. 8.-MODERN DEMOCRACIES.
1. Modern Democracies. By James Viscount Bryce. Two vols. Macmillan, 1921.
THIS is a marvellous book to have been written by a man of eighty-three, as fresh, clear, and vigorous as anything which the author set down when, more than fifty years ago, he opened a new aspect of medieval history to most English readers in his famous 'Holy Roman Empire.' And this, his last book, is as useful as his first, because it helps in just the same way to define and clarify phrases, words, and ideas, which most men use as common currency without having thought out accurately their own conceptions expressed in those common terms. Republic,' 'monarchy,' 'constitution,' 'equality,' 'justice,' 'religion,' often have different meanings to different men, who fall into dispute because they fail to comprehend that they are not speaking of precisely the same things. Democracy, the catchword of this book's title, is one of the most perilous terms of all, because it has acquired in some countries associations of a social-indeed, almost of a moralcharacter, which do not accrue to it in others.
'Democracy (Lord Bryce explains) is supposed to be the product and guardian both of Equality and of Liberty, being so consecrated by its relationship to both as to be almost above criticism. Historically, no doubt, the three have been intimately connected-yet they are separable in theory, and have sometimes been separated in practice.'
The object of this great book is to strip democracy of its casual accretions of meaning, to discover its essential connotation, and, when it has been defined, to examine its strength and its weakness. Lord Bryce attacks the problem, as he himself owns, from the standpoint of an old British Liberal, reared in the atmosphere of Victorian party politics; but he is fully conscious that in some degree he is a prejudiced observer for that reason. He warns his readers of the fact, and once and again refrains from comment where the personal element must influence his outlook on British policy. He would have preferred, as he says in his introductory chapter, that
the deductions as to the working of democracy in the United Kingdom should have been made by a French or an American student of world-history.
We are bound to concede that he has made a strenuous and successful effort to curb his personal and national bias, that no one could call the book a piece of party propaganda, and that there is no attempt whatever to cloke the faults and failings of democracy. Indeed, many readers, British and American, of the more idealistic sort, will complain that they have been 'smitten in the house of a friend,' that the picture of the developments of modern democracy is in many ways depressing. The author seems to slip into the position of one defending an imperilled cause, without that bold and absolute confidence in its inevitable triumph which every Liberal would have felt in the 19th century. The key-notes of his final chapters are not enthusiastic pæans in praise of the virtues of democracy, as might have been expected; but two very sober thoughts-Is there any other form of government which can do better for the world than democracy? And if democracy be ruled a failure, what remains for the future of mankind? (II, 584). 'If the light of democracy be turned into darkness, how great is that darkness!'
The search for the essential meaning of democracy has to be made on a very broad survey. Lord Bryce sweeps his eye round all the states in which the fact or the theory of popular government has prevailed, from ancient Athens to 20th-century Chile and New Zealand. And when his enormous topic has been dealt with in chronological and regional divisions, there emerges a full logical analysis of the conceptions which contribute to, or issue from, the democratic ideal. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, the old republican watch-words, are treated in a few chapters of close thinking, which fill the reader with unbounded gratitude to the author who has dared to compress so much theory into so small a compass.
Lord Acton, as all men know, started out to write a history of the conception of Liberty, and failed to complete his task, because he tried to read every book bearing on human political thought which had ever been written. After fifty years he had not even formulated on paper a general outline of his conclusions.
The mere sight of the library which that great scholar accumulated to assist his researches explained sufficiently why those researches ended in nothing real. Hence the gratitude of the student to Lord Bryce, who has had the vigour and self-restraint to attempt the possible and the definite, and to produce chapters of moderate length, packed from end to end with historical deductions and illustrations. They can be mastered in a few hours, yet may serve as introductions to illimitable fields of inquiry. The twenty-two pages which deal with Liberty and Equality could hardly be bettered.
The system by which Lord Bryce attacks his subject is, of course, the Comparative Method,' and, in particular, what John Stuart Mill called, in his Logic,' the joint method of agreement and difference.' When a general survey has been taken of all the democratic states, and allowance has been made for the varying conditions under which each worked, there will be a residuum of common experiences.
'After the differences between one popular government and another have been accounted for, the points of similarity which remain will be what we may call democratic human nature, viz. the normal or permanent habits and tendencies of citizens living in a democracy, and of a democratic community as a whole. This is what we set out to discover' (1, 21).
It would be an endless task to draw up a mere list of democratic constitutions of all ages, after the fashion of the lost Book of Constitutions which Aristotle once compiled, and of which the section on Athens alone survives. What Lord Bryce has done is to select seven typical modern communities living, or purporting to live, under democratic conditions; he has examined the internal working of each-not merely its legislative or judicial organisation, but its press, its political parties, its attitude to religion and morality, its public opinion, its dealings with education, science, and art. They are then compared with each other, and with the ancient republics of the classical world-of which Athens is, of course, taken as the most convenient example, because we know so much more about it (thanks to Thucydides,