PATRIOTISM AND POETRY
AN ADDRESS BY SIR HAROLD E. BOULTON, BART., C.B.E., M.V.O., M.A., ETC.
1st November, 1928.
PRESIDENT FENNELL introduced the speaker, who was received with hearty applause, and said : I am obliged to begin this conversation by quoting a very old tag : "Let me make the songs of a nation, and let who will make its laws." This remark was made by a very wise old Scotsman somewhere in the fifteenth century, and it is not so ridiculous or so unpractical as the light-thinking modern man might at first sight think. You must remember that when the remark was made there was no press; means of communication were very difficult; and how were the sentiments of a people to pass from one part of the community to another, and to reach those in high quarters, except through the ballad-mongers and the song-singers ? That is why that remark is full of profundity; and I hope to make you believe today that although in the days of modern society it is not quite so true as it was then, there is a certain amount of truth in it, yet.
I can go back, and I hope I do not bore you too much in reminding you that the Spartans, in the days of their greatest prosperity, and their greatest warlike efforts, were always inspired by a particular bard whose name was Tyrtaeus, who wrote their national songs, who went into battle with them, and who led them to victory.
There is in the British Museum a long poem-indeed a ballad of forty-two verses, with music complete, a fine-sounding tune, which was the tune that Tallifer, the bard of William the Conqueror, sang to the victorious troops at the battle of Hastings. He went with William the Conqueror into the battle singing this tremendous song, and it so happened that he was killed in the battle. So, all the way through history, we find songs that have had a tremendous effect upon the times in which they were sung or produced. Might I remind you that in a later age Sir Philip Sidney said that when he wanted to feel like a brave soldier and go into battle the ballad, "Chevy Chase" was to him like a trumpet-call.
There is another song called the " Ribald Laird," a skit on James the Second of England and the Seventh of Scotland, and which had more to do with driving that king off his throne than anything else. It is a wonderful old tune. The reason we do not use the song now is that it is so full of contemporary political allusions that it does not appeal to us.
I need hardly remind you of the tremendous effect upon history the "Marsellaise" has had. That magnificent tune, with the stirring words, has probably caused more bloodshed than any one knows. It has inspired people to go into war and into revolutions more than any tune you can possibly think of. That is a modern instance.
Now, what I should like to get at is, how this affects the modern Canadian tunes. Well, I suppose everybody in this room has an enthusiasm for some tune which comes from England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales, those old countries, which just brings the lump to his throat at times. I expect that some of you have a mixed history to look back upon, and you may be the inheritor, perhaps, of more than the tunes of England and Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Well, you have a great heritage there, and whether they be battle-tunes or not-of course they are not all battle-tunes-they do appeal to your consciousness, and they do rouse you up to higher thoughts from your ordinary life; and some day or other, when Canada is a hundred years older, it will have a tremendous line of national tunes which will take their places. Personally I expect all of you have a certain kindness for some of those great tunes from the Old Country, and they have had perhaps more effect on your life than you realize at first sight.
I will just run over those four countries-England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales-as briefly as I can.
I have spoken of the song that was sung at the battle of Hastings. There is a very beautiful old tune of an anniversary thought commemorating the battle of Agincourt. Then when you come to a later period in England, of which I am now talking, you find that the sea-songs are supreme. At the time of Nelson you find old songs like "Hearts of Oak" and " Ye Mariners of England" and "The Bay of Biscay" and "Tom Bowling." Such songs at that time kept up popular enthusiasm. It is a curious thing to note, in this connection, that there seems to be no great song about the Duke of Wellington. Neither is there about the Duke of Marlborough. I think the reason is that after the Armada was taken the army was not big enough, and the British people, as a whole, thought about themselves very much more as a naval power than as a military power. So there is no song about Wellington, and the only song about Marlborough is a French skit, sung to the tune of "He's a Jolly Good Fellow" ("Marlborough et son Guerre.")
The English sea-songs are pre-eminent. To come down to modern history. If anyone thinks of the late war nobody remembers anything that is very likely to live; that is, as far as I know. There is "Tipperary," and a beautiful song called "Roses of Picardy "; but I suppose that now society is so complex, and the war was such a horrible thing, that finally no light-hearted lyrical writer that knows anything about it could really write anything. It is too horrible for words, and for musical words. Perhaps that is the reason we have nothing about it.
Well, of course our patriotism is not only affected by martial songs, but all the sweet, genial country songs like "The Pale-faced Daughter of Arlington," and songs of the towns, like "Sally in our Alley," and there are splendid songs you all know which certainly have an effect upon our lives. Now I pass very quickly to Scotland, which has really more wealth of song than England. It is purely owing to the fact that it is divided into different compartments, which are no longer water-tight, but once were; that is, the Highlands and Lowlands. You have the Lowlands, which have been longer subjected to modern civilization, where you have beautiful songs like " Annie Laurie " and " Jock o' Hazeldean " and " Jessie, the Flower of Dumblane," and all sorts of songs like that. Then you have the really stirring songs of the Highlands, such as "A Chlanna Chuinn Cuimhnichibh" (Harlaw), "The Emigrant's Lament," and hundreds of others of which I could tell you. You have those two separate compartments producing an infinite amount of lovely melodies. Then you have a sort of combination of the two when you get a tune like "Scots Wha Ha'e," which is pervaded somewhat with the keen Celtic fervour, and yet has got the more Anglo-Saxon southern lilt in it. It is a song that must have had a tremendous effect upon people in the tartan kilt. You have that song at every St. Andrew's gathering every year, and can note the effect when it is sung; and I think that every Englishman, when he hears "Scots Wha Ha'e" properly sung, is glad that his ancestors were beaten at Bannockburn. (Hear, hear, and laughter.) Then the other great song that everybody has cribbed is "Auld Lang Syne." All over the English-speaking world you find people spoiling the beautiful Scotch Doric of Burns with the English accent, and singing "Old Lang Syne." I think that is a good instance where knowledge of song occasionally has a part in one's ordinary life.
With regard to Ireland, there is a tremendous wealth of beautiful melodies. Many of them have not been put yet to Anglo-Saxon words, and therefore we do not know about them. Of course at the beginning of the nineteenth century there was Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, and he wrote many things that this audience knows, like "The Minstrel Boy" and "The Harp that Once. through Tara's Hall," and later on there are one or two quite modern ones. I dare say you know that beautiful air, " Mavourneen"; that was quite a modern one (Lady Dufferin) which shows that they are still able to have songs that are modern. "The Wearing of the Green" was written quite in the middle of the nineteenth century, and I have been told that Queen Victoria loved to listen to that song, as well as to her favourite Scottish Jacobite songs-of which I could talk to you for half an hour-although both abused the House of Hanover for all they were worth. (Laughter.)
Now Wales remains. Wales had not really very much striking music, as you would think from the place they occupy at the front of the stage in the musical
world, because the truth of it is that they are the best executants of music in the British Isles. (Hear, hear.) Every Welshman can sing and take part in a song without seeing any music, and does so at once. And they have kept on that wonderful old British festival which is now known in English as the Eistedfodd. It is because they are the best executants that they have kept music alive, but I do not think they have so many notable tunes as you get out of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Now, this is something we have to thank the Welsh for, that not only in Great Britain but in Canada and other parts of the Empire they have kept the national festivals. The Eistedfodd has not only been taken up in other parts of Great Britain, but owing to the foresight of the Canadian Pacific Railway and other people here, you are now getting a series of festivals-your French Festival in Quebec, the Scottish Festival at Banff, an English Festival at Halifax, and there is to be a Sea-song Festival at Vancouver, and so on. National song is to be kept alive in that way, by copying the Welsh in the way they conduct their festivals; so that we owe a debt of gratitude to them.
With regard to Canada itself, of course, I should have said that you have got all those backgrounds to go upon-England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales-for moulds, until you are old enough to have a national song and music of your own. But there is one great factor I think I might mention, that is, the extraordinary and illimitable wealth of the French-Canadian songs. It is only lately, if I might say it with due deference, that the English-speaking Canadian has had any knowledge of the immense wealth of the French folksong and folk literatures of the French-Canadians. Indeed they have the richest inheritance. Long before the Anglo-Saxon became a Canadian the French were here, and in the three hundred years they have been here they have preserved the beautiful old French songs which they brought with them, and they have also in these three hundred years created quite a lot of very excellent French-Canadian songs-logging songs, love songs, and so on-which are quite good folk-songs, and they have been long enough here to have good folksongs of their own, apart from what they brought from France.
In view of this background of English, Irish, Scotch, Welsh and French-Canadian song, it is obvious that the dream I have often had will be realized, of a really Canadian School of Music. (Applause.)
You have already one or two very good English-speaking Canadian composers-I will not mention names, because it would be invidious to do so. There are one or two very good French composers, and some day or other they will create a School of Music for Canada. I want to make this point: in a really national music the more sophisticated action like opera or symphonies, or anything you like, to be really national, must be founded upon the folk-song of the country which it represents. All the best national music must draw its own inspiration from its own proper background. In this connection you have only to think of Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, Maskagni, and so on.
Now, the English-speaking national music of Canada has not got very far. It is interesting that its beginnings are inextricably mixed up with French Canada; and this is as it should be. In the first French-Canadian song we really know-" Row, Brothers, Row, the Stream Runs Fast"-the words were written by our Anglo-Irish poet, Thomas Moore, and the music was, of course, a French-Canadian tune. I am going to pass over the "Maple Leaf "-which is Anglo-Saxon, or English, or Scotch, or whatever you like to call it-and come on to " O Canada." Now, the tune of " O Canada," which was written by a French-Canadian in 1880, is, to my mind, the most splendid tune, almost, in the world; I think it is equal to the " Marseillaise." (Applause.) Now, that splendid tune was first written by a French-Canadian; he then got a French-Canadian poet to write the words to it. Of course there have been various translations. Well, the French-Canadian poet was reflecting French Canada in 1880, therefore those words are not of much use to us now, even in the English translation. There have been many attempts to make a proper song to go to that irregular tune, and I do not think we have quite arrived at it yet; but some day that will occur. But you have there one of the most splendid melodies in the world.
Then to speak of the imperial field. Recollect what Canada is going to do in the future. Having a National School of Music-which of course you must have, for you are a virile nation, and must have a Music School of your own-there is no reason why Canada and South Africa and Australia and New Zealand and India, and other parts of the Empire, should not themselves conceive the almost impossible dream of a great Imperial School of Music. Think of the poet and the composer who are going to write the really imperial song f Now, when that song has been written I shall certainly be gathered to my fathers with as much content as you will go about your business when I tell you that this is the end of my address. (Laughter and loud applause.)
PROF. WRONG expressed the thanks of the Club to the speaker for his interesting address.