« PreviousContinue »
Government became the topic of discussion. Our host remarked that many of his friends, although patriotic and loyal men, were not so clear on the subject of putting down the rebellion as he could wish them to be. Upon this I remarked I did not feel disposed to argue the question in debate, but, if permitted, I would arouse their patriotic sympathies in behalf of the Government and its defenders by an invocation to duty and principle in the shape of an oath; or, in other words, I would “swear them all,”—as I possessed authority, in a poetic sense, and had the documents in my pocket. This proposition caused some astonishment, but it was agreed that I should administer the oath. I stood in the centre of a large drawing-room, or parlor, the gentlemen standing around me, and there I read the poem which is the subject of these remarks.
Intense silence pervaded the assembly during my recital, and at the close of it the entire group seemed spellbound; tears were streaming down the cheeks of many, while others, with a solemnity that marked the absorbing interest awakened by the poet, turned and grasped the hands of their neighbors. The host turned to the side-board in silence, and, as each guest raised his glass to his lips, there was a pause and a look, which seemed to render audible the words, “We swear!” while the bowed heads and measured steps of the retiring auditors as clearly expressed the sentiment of their hearts as though their tongues
had uttered it. General McCook was much affected by the recitation; and the unexpected mention of his murdered brother's name caused the gallant and impulsive soldier to shed tears, at once tender and bitter.
Who shall say that such an incident was not calculated to confirm the faith of the true patriot, and to cause the disaffected or wavering man to think more deeply of his duty to his country and his allegiance to that Government under whose protection he enjoys those precious rights to secure which his forefathers fought and bled, and for whose perpetuation he will be held responsible by his own posterity?
BY THOMAS BUCHANAN READ.
“Hamlet.-Swear on my sword.
Ye freemen, how long will ye stifle
The vengeance that justice inspires ?
In defence of your homes and your fires !
Swear firmly to serve and uphold,
“Swear! Oh, swear!”
In this moment, who hesitates, barters
The rights which his forefathers won;
Transmitted from sire to son.
And swear on your sword and your gun;
As huge and as strong as Stonehenge,
And then, with sword, fire, and halter,
fathers are lying, “Swear! Oh, swear!”
By the tombs of your sires and brothers,
The host which the traitors have slain; By the tears of your sisters and mothers,
In secret concealing their pain; The grief which the heroine smothers
Consuming the heart and the brain; By the sigh of the penniless widow,
By the sob of our orphans' despair, Where they sit in their sorrowful shadow, Kneel, kneel, every freeman, and swear!
Swear! And hark! the deep voices replying From graves where your fathers are lying,
"Swear! Oh, swear!”
"On mounds which are wet with the weeping
Where a nation has bow'd to the sod, Where the noblest of martyrs are sleeping,
Let the wind bear your vengeance abroad, And your firm oaths be held in the keeping
Of your patriot hearts, and your God; Over Ellsworth, for whom the first tear rose,
While to Baker and Lyon you look,
fathers are lying, “Swear! Oh, swear!”
With his martial cloak around him."
To stand upon what has been a great battle-field, but what is now a vast cemetery,—to view the countless mounds of the humble many and the decorated resting-places of the more worldly-gifted few, and there solemnly to reflect upon the many ills that flesh is heir to,-is to feel that war is the monster evil that afflicts our race; but when we look for the cause from which arose the outpouring of that vial of wrath, and the upheaving of that before peaceful sod, then do we know that civil war is the lower pit of that lowest hell depicted by the poet.
As the spectator casts his saddened eye over the rural Golgotha, his mind, refusing to dwell too long on the stern mementoes of human passion and frailty, arrests the thought of the present, and he turns and gazes down the yistas of the past. His fancy starts at the trumpet's blast, while the strife of battle and the roar of its fatal engines are conjured up to his mind's eye and ear, realizing all the terrors of the dreadful scene. Then with an excited imagination he sits down to think upon the seeming hollowness of glory and the folly of war. When he reflects, however, upon the causes of that strife, the fruits of which are before him, he feels that the pride of national honor inspired the brave men who opposed that horde of rebels and of traitors, and drove them back to starve and die amid that desolation their own misguided counsels had produced. Then he feels that love of country is pride, just pride; that a nation to fulfil its mission must protect its honor and repel its assailers. This is war, just war! and war is glory,-glory is the shroud as well as the banner of the hero who dies contending for his country and his God! How natural, then, is the reaction of the mind when,- leaving the sad spectacle on which his eyes have rested and over which his thoughts have wandered, -he feels his cheek glow with a just indignation at the guilt of the traitorous foe, and his heart throb with gratitude for the heroism of the loyal dead, whose glory is his country's glory and whose deeds are the embodiment of patriotism and honor. Such are the pictured scenes and solemn thoughts held up to our mental gaze in the mirror of Mr. Janvier's poem entitled “Gettysburg."
The cemetery and the battle-field are before us, and we are compelled to bow to the solemnity of the one, while we are startled and fired with the tramp and shock of the other.
I have been impressed with awe, overwhelmed with pity and grief, and excited to all the fierceness of strife, at its recital. Alternating between tears and curses, I have risen from its perusal, and felt that only a Christian spirit and a poetic inspiration combined could produce such effects upon one who has not been unaccustomed to restrain his emotions. Since my judgment first led me to admire this production of Mr. Janvier, I have found, by the intensified attention of the audiences and they have been many and large) to whom I have recited the poem, that they responded to my own appreciation of the sentiment; while the applause that followed at the close of the recital always spoke for their estimation of the poet and the poetry.
There are few writers who possess such exquisite and delicate perceptions of the pure and the beautiful as the gentleman who is the subject of my remarks. His numbers