Library of Alexandria
SOME say that when that box was opened wherein lay ready the evils of the world (and a woman opened it) Hope flew out at last. That is a Pagan thing to say and a hopeless one, for the true comfort that remained for men, and that embodied and gave reality to their conquering struggle against every despair, was surely Song. If you would ask what society is imperilled of death, go to one in which song is extinguished. If you would ask in what society a permanent sickness oppresses all, and the wealthy alone are permitted to make the laws, go to one in which song is a fine art and treated with criticism and used charily, and ceases to be a human thing. But if you would discover where men are men, take for your test whether songs are always and loudly sung. Sailors sing. They have a song for work and songs for every part of their work, and they have songs of reminiscence and of tragedy, and many farcical songs; some brutal songs, songs of repose, and songs in which is packed the desire for a distant home. Soldiers also sing, at least in those Armies where soldiers are still soldiers. And the Line, which is the core and body of any army, is the most singing of them all. The Cavalry hardly sing, at least until they get indoors, for it would be a bumping sort of singing, and gunners cannot sing for noise, while the drivers are busy riding and leading as well. But the Line sings; and if you will consider quickly, all the great armies of the world, and consider them justly, not as the pedants do, but as men do who really feel the past, you would hear mounting from them always continual song. Those men who marched behind Cæsar in his triumph sang a song, and the words of it still remain (so I am told); the armies of Louis XIV and of Napoleon, of the Republic, and even of Algiers, made songs of their own which have passed into the great treasury of European letters. And though it is difficult to believe it, it is true, the little troops of the Parliament marching down the river made a song about Mother Bunch, coupled with the name of the Dorchester Hills; but I may be wrong. I was told it by a friend; he may have been a false friend. They sang in the Barons’ wars; they sang on the way to Lewes. They sang in that march which led men to the assault at Hastings, for it was written by those who saw the column of knights advancing to the foot of the hill that Taillefer was chosen for his great voice and rode before the host, tossing his sword into the air and catching it again by the hilt (a difficult thing to do), and singing of Charlemagne and of the vassals who had died under Roncesvalles.