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Remembering Sir Henry Newbolt: An Essay and Bibliography MICHAEL BRIGHT Eastern Kentucky University NOT LONG AGO I was looking for works by Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938) at a local antiquarian book fair and had had no luck as I went from one stall to the next. Finally, the proprietor of one of these met my inquiry with a look of recognition and replied, 'Yes, as a matter of fact I do. You see," he explained, "my speciality is unread poets." It was something of a bitter-sweet experience. Here was a man operating a sort of shelter, providing refuge for the unloved and abandoned, yet my pleasure at discovering such a sanctuary was tempered by the fact, previously suspected but never before spoken, that a particular favorite languished on the dusty shelves of the unread. Newbolt was not always unread. In 1897 he achieved an overnight success with Admirals All and Other Verses, a slim volume of twelve poems that went through twenty-one editions in a year and that led to inevitable comparisons with Kipling. Both writers were imperialists and both celebrated in ballads the military might by which the Empire was gained, increased, and maintained. But Newbolt was no mere nautical Kipling, for the subjects of his early poems tended to be famous sailors of the past—"Admirals All"—rather than nameless Tommies of the present. And consonant with this difference in subject matter was a difference in style, Newbolt writing of his admirals with a degree of dignity, though still robust and with plenty of gusto, while Kipling chose a colloquial style more appropriate to the rank and file. It is the difference between the Colonel's lady and Judy O'Grady. When Robert Bridges first read "Drake's Drum," one of these twelve poems, he told Newbolt that he would never write anything better, and, indeed, for many readers he never did. It is easy to see why the poem had such an immediate and lasting appeal: Drake he's in his hammock an' a thousand mile away (Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?), Siting atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay, An, dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe. 155 ELT: Volume 33:2, 1990 Yarnder lûmes the Island, yarnder lie the ships, Wi' sailor lads a dancin' heel-an'-toe, An' the shore-lights flashin', an' the night-tide dashin', He sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago. Upon his death Drake sends his drum back to England and promises to answer its call should he be needed again to defend his country against invaders. The idea is reminiscent of King Arthur's return, but for Newbolt it is a way of expressing a heroic tradition linking past and present. This theme, along with a commemoration of heroism, appears in much of Newbolt's work, especially the early poems. Newbolt came to be known as "the author of 'Drake's Drum,'" and to his delight, for it was a poem upon which he prided himself. Say what you will of me, he once wrote a friend, "but remember to add that I did give my Country a Legend of real value" (Later Life, 224). At the end of World War I, the strength of the legend was confirmed by officers aboard The Royal Oak, who heard the beating of a mysterious drum— Drake's drum it was supposed—upon the occasion of the German fleet's surrender. The other poem from this volume by which Newbolt came to be known was "Vitaï Lampada." It was to become for Newbolt what "The Charge of the Light Brigade" had been for Tennyson: immensely popular but not a poem upon which its author wished his reputation to rest. In later years, when he discovered that Canadian audiences were less interested in listening to his lectures on poetry than in hearing him recite "Play up! play up! and play the game!" Newbolt remarked ruefully that this poem was his Frankenstein's monster. "If it must go down to my credit," he once wrote, "I hope that Posterity won't take it for my idea of Poetry!" (Later Life, 224). Posterity unfortunately...


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