Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Philip Van Artevelde”

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Sir Henry Taylor 1800–86

From “Philip Van Artevelde”


I NEVER look’d that he should live so long.

He was a man of that unsleeping spirit,

He seem’d to live by miracle: his food

Was glory, which was poison to his mind

And peril to his body. He was one

Of many thousand such that die betimes,

Whose story is a fragment, known to few.

Then comes the man who has the luck to live,

And he ’s a prodigy. Compute the chances,

And deem there ’s ne’er a one in dangerous times

Who wins the race of glory, but than him

A thousand men more gloriously endow’d

Have fallen upon the course; a thousand others

Have had their fortunes founder’d by a chance,

Whilst lighter barks push’d past them; to whom add

A smaller tally, of the singular few

Who, gifted with predominating powers,

Bear yet a temperate will and keep the peace.

The world knows nothing of its greatest men.


There was a time, so ancient records tell,

There were communities, scarce known by name

In these degenerate days, but once far-fam’d,

Where liberty and justice, hand in hand,

Order’d the common weal; where great men grew

Up to their natural eminence, and none,

Saving the wise, just, eloquent, were great;

Where power was of God’s gift, to whom he gave

Supremacy of merit, the sole means

And broad highway to power, that ever then

Was meritoriously administer’d,

Whilst all its instruments from first to last,

The tools of state for service high or low,

Were chosen for their aptness to those ends

Which virtue meditates. To shake the ground

Deep-founded whereupon this structure stood,

Was verily a crime; a treason it was,

Conspiracies to hatch against this state

And its free innocence. But now, I ask,

Where is there on God’s earth that polity

Which it is not, by consequence converse,

A treason against nature to uphold?

Whom may we now call free? whom great? whom wise?

Whom innocent? the free are only they

Whom power makes free to execute all ills

Their hearts imagine; they alone are great

Whose passions nurse them from their cradles up

In luxury and lewdness,—whom to see

Is to despise, whose aspects put to scorn

Their station’s eminence; the wise, they only

Who wait obscurely till the bolts of heaven

Shall break upon the land, and give them light

Whereby to walk; the innocent,—alas!

Poor innocency lies where four roads meet,

A stone upon her head, a stake driven through her,

For who is innocent that cares to live?

The hand of power doth press the very life

Of innocency out! What then remains

But in the cause of nature to stand forth,

And turn this frame of things the right side up?

For this the hour is come, the sword is drawn,

And tell your masters vainly they resist.


Down lay in a nook my lady’s brach,

And said—my feet are sore,

I cannot follow with the pack

A hunting of the boar.

And though the horn sounds never so clear

With the hounds in loud uproar,

Yet I must stop and lie down here,

Because my feet are sore.

The huntsman when he heard the same,

What answer did he give?

The dog that ’s lame is much to blame,

He is not fit to live.


Quoth tongue of neither maid nor wife

To heart of neither wife nor maid,

Lead we not here a jolly life

Betwixt the shine and shade?

Quoth heart of neither maid nor wife

To tongue of neither wife nor maid,

Thou wag’st, but I am worn with strife,

And feel like flowers that fade.


Dire rebel though he was,

Yet with a noble nature and great gifts

Was he endow’d,—courage, discretion, wit,

An equal temper, and an ample soul,

Rock-bound and fortified against assaults

Of transitory passion, but below

Built on a surging subterranean fire

That stirr’d and lifted him to high attempts.

So prompt and capable, and yet so calm,

He nothing lack’d in sovereignty but the right,

Nothing in soldiership except good fortune.

Wherefore with honor lay him in his grave,

And thereby shall increase of honor come

Unto their arms who vanquish’d one so wise,

So valiant, so renown’d.