Kurosawa films show us that such a worldview was not restricted to the Western world alone. Yet the relevance of this code in the Occident, and in historical fiction, is the theme of this post in particular.
In Ben-Hur, both the film and the book, the Israelite nobleman who gives the story its title is fortunate enough to have a Navy tribune for a guardian plus "fairy godsire". Both men meet on a galley, as a rower and the captain, respectively. It is during a confrontation against some pirates that Quintus Arrius, determined not to lose the battle, attempts to commit ritual suicide. Ben-Hur, ignorant of the military's code of honour, saves the officer's life and gives him both a new outlook and a foster son.
A prudent man was Arrius--prudent, and of the class which, while enriching the altars, was of opinion, nevertheless, that the favor of the blind goddess (Lady Fortune) depended more upon the votary's care and judgment than upon his own gifts and vows.
Knowledge leaves no room for chances. Having begun with the chief of the rowers, the sailing-master, and the pilot, in company with the other officers--the commander of the marines, the keeper of the stores, the master of the machines, the overseer of the kitchen or fires--he passed through the several quarters. Nothing escaped his inspection. When he was through, of the community crowded within the narrow walls he alone knew perfectly all there was of material preparation for the voyage and its possible incidents; and, finding the preparation complete, there was left him but one thing further--thorough knowledge of the personnel of his command. As this was the most delicate and difficult part of his task, requiring much time, he set about it his own way.
The cabin, it should be stated, was the central compartment of the galley, in extent quite sixty-five by thirty feet, and lighted by three broad hatchways. A row of stanchions ran from end to end, supporting the roof, and near the centre the mast was visible, all bristling with axes and spears and javelins. To each hatchway there were double stairs descending right and left, with a pivotal arrangement at the top to allow the lower ends to be hitched to the ceiling; and, as these were now raised, the compartment had the appearance of a skylighted hall.
The reader will understand readily that this was the heart of the ship, the home of all aboard--eating-room, sleeping-chamber, field of exercise, lounging-place off duty--uses made possible by the laws which reduced life there to minute details and a routine relentless as death.
At the after-end of the cabin there was a platform, reached by several steps. Upon it the chief of the rowers sat; in front of him a sounding-table, upon which, with a gavel, he beat time for the oarsmen; at his right a clepsydra, or water-clock, to measure the reliefs and watches. Above him, on a higher platform, well guarded by gilded railing, the tribune had his quarters, overlooking everything, and furnished with a couch, a table, and a cathedra, or chair, cushioned, and with arms and high back--articles which the imperial dispensation permitted of the utmost elegance.
Thus at ease, lounging in the great chair, swaying with the motion of the vessel, the military cloak half draping his tunic, sword in belt, Arrius kept watchful eye over his command, and was as closely watched by them. He saw critically everything in view, but dwelt longest upon the rowers. The reader would doubtless have done the same: only he would have looked with much sympathy, while, as is the habit with masters, the tribune's mind ran forward of what he saw, inquiring for results.
The spectacle was simple enough of itself. Along the sides of the cabin, fixed to the ship's timbers, were what at first appeared to be three rows of benches; a closer view, however, showed them a succession of rising banks, in each of which the second bench was behind and above the first one, and the third above and behind the second. To accommodate the sixty rowers on a side, the space devoted to them permitted nineteen banks separated by intervals of one yard, with a twentieth bank divided so that what would have been its upper seat or bench was directly above the lower seat of the first bank. The arrangement gave each rower when at work ample room, if he timed his movements with those of his associates, the principle being that of soldiers marching with cadenced step in close order. The arrangement also allowed a multiplication of banks, limited only by the length of the galley.
As to the rowers, those upon the first and second benches sat, while those upon the third, having longer oars to work, were suffered to stand. The oars were loaded with lead in the handles, and near the point of balance hung to pliable thongs, making possible the delicate touch called feathering, but, at the same time, increasing the need of skill, since an eccentric wave might at any moment catch a heedless fellow and hurl him from his seat. Each oar-hole was a vent through which the laborer opposite it had his plenty of sweet air. Light streamed down upon him from the grating which formed the floor of the passage between the deck and the bulwark over his head. In some respects, therefore, the condition of the men might have been much worse. Still, it must not be imagined that there was any pleasantness in their lives. Communication between them was not allowed. Day after day they filled their places without speech; in hours of labor they could not see each other's faces; their short respites were given to sleep and the snatching of food. They never laughed; no one ever heard one of them sing. What is the use of tongues when a sigh or a groan will tell all men feel while, perforce, they think in silence? Existence with the poor wretches was like a stream under ground sweeping slowly, laboriously on to its outlet, wherever that might chance to be.
Here, we see the galley as a societal microcosm: "the community crowded within the narrow walls", like Othello's outpost, the HMS Surprise, the Animal Farm, or the Nostromo in Alien (compare "Das Galley"!): the few officers as the elite, the foremen as the middle class, the many rowers and privates on the lower rungs. Quintus at the top, unaware of the debacle that lurks a stone throw away. His quarters are "of the utmost elegance", yet harsh and austere. He is a responsible commander. He believes in Lady Fortune's favour. Quintus Arrius thus resembles Jean 't Serclaës de Tilly, whose case we will deal with in the second half of this post.
There is no wiser providence than that our occupations, however rude or bloody, cannot wear us out morally; that such qualities as justice and mercy, if they really possess us, continue to live on under them, like flowers under the snow. The tribune could be inexorable, else he had not been fit for the usages of his calling; he could also be just; and to excite his sense of wrong was to put him in the way to right the wrong. The crews of the ships in which he served came after a time to speak of him as the good tribune. Shrewd readers will not want a better definition of his character.
Still, there is a heart beating in that scarred and frozen bosom of his. And, like for Othello and Tilly, it takes a disgrace, social death, to realize it.
For once the tribune was at loss, and hesitated. His power was ample. He was monarch of the ship. His prepossessions all moved him to mercy. His faith was won. Yet, he said to himself, there was no haste--or, rather, there was haste to Cythera; the best rower could not then be spared; he would wait; he would learn more.
He is "monarch" of the galley: he represents authority in this "community crowded within narrow walls", like Othello at Hussif or Tilly within the League. He has learned to play the power game, that of social ladders and chains of command, like any other flag officer during wartime. Self-controlled, disciplined, modest, austere, stern, and yet he feels a little stir, a twinge in his left breast, on the eve of battle...
To the convicts, on the other hand, the confrontation may be the golden ticket to freedom:
A battle, it should be observed, possessed to the slaves of the oar an interest unlike that of the sailor and marine; it came, not of the danger encountered but of the fact that defeat, if survived, might bring an alteration of condition--possibly freedom--at least a change of masters, which might be for the better.
There is a stir in the air, the pirates are coming... Everyone on board is tense, from the monarch of the community to the meanest of his motley crew of subjects.
At every turn of the oar, one of the convicts looked towards the tribune, who, his simple preparations made, lay down upon the couch and composed himself to rest. Then the tribune stirred--sat up--beckoned to the second-in-command.
Every soul aboard, even the ship, awoke. Officers went to their quarters. The marines took arms, and were led out, looking in all respects like legionaries. Sheaves of arrows and armfuls of javelins were carried on deck. By the central stairs the oil-tanks and fire-balls were set ready for use. Additional lanterns were lighted. Buckets were filled with water. The rowers in relief assembled under guard in front of the foreman. As Providence would have it, Ben-Hur was one of the latter. Overhead he heard the muffled noises of the final preparations--of the sailors furling sail, spreading the nettings, unslinging the machines, and hanging the armor of bull-hide over the side. Presently quiet settled about the galley again; quiet full of vague dread and expectation, which, interpreted, means READY.
Quintus knows what is coming up next... yet he feels that twinge... call it intuition...
No pause, no stay! Forward rushed the Astroea; and, as it went, some sailors ran down, and plunging the cotton balls into the oil-tanks, tossed them dripping to comrades at the head of the stairs: fire was to be added to other horrors of the combat.
Directly the galley heeled over so far that the oarsmen on the uppermost side with difficulty kept their benches. Again the hearty Roman cheer, and with it despairing shrieks. An opposing vessel, caught by the grappling-hooks of the great crane swinging from the prow, was being lifted into the air that it might be dropped and sunk.
The shouting increased on the right hand and on the left; before, behind, swelled an indescribable clamor. Occasionally there was a crash, followed by sudden peals of fright, telling of other ships ridden down, and their crews drowned in the vortexes.
Nor was the fight all on one side. Now and then a Roman in armor was borne down the hatchway, and laid bleeding, sometimes dying, on the floor.
Sometimes, also, puffs of smoke, blended with steam, and foul with the scent of roasting human flesh, poured into the cabin, turning the dimming light into yellow murk.The Astroea all this time was in motion. Suddenly she stopped. The oars forward were dashed from the hands of the rowers, and the rowers from their benches. On deck, then, a furious trampling, and on the sides a grinding of ships afoul of each other. For the first time the beating of the gavel was lost in the uproar. Men sank on the floor in fear or looked about seeking a hiding-place. In the midst of the panic a body plunged or was pitched headlong down the hatchway.
He had become a half-naked carcass, a mass of hair blackening the face, and under it a shield of bull-hide and wicker-work--a barbarian from the white-skinned nations of the North whom death had robbed of plunder and revenge. How came he there? An iron hand had snatched him from the opposing deck--no, the Astroea had been boarded! The Romans were fighting on their own deck!
Arrius was hard pressed--he might be defending his own life!
The rowers on the benches were paralyzed; men running blindly hither and thither; only the drummer on his seat imperturbable, vainly beating the sounding-board, and waiting the orders of the tribune--in the red murk illustrating the matchless discipline which had won the world.
The young Israelite, left fatherless at an early age, feels sorry for the endangered commander:
But at last he had seen it in the promise of the tribune. What else the great man's meaning? And if the benefactor so belated should now be slain! The dead come not back to redeem the pledges of the living. It should not be--Arrius should not die. At least, better perish with him than survive a galley-slave.
The youth sees the veteran as a "great man", "belated", and hopes that he should not be slain.
He is completely unaware of how Arrius will perceive himself: the respected and honoured warrior's lengthy career shattered by chance at one fell swoop.
The Astroea, meanwhile, sinks down into Neptune's locker, as Ben struggles for survival in pursuit of Quintus:
The influx of the flood tossed him like a log forward into the cabin, where he would have drowned but for the refluence of the sinking motion. As it was, fathoms under the surface the hollow mass vomited him forth, and he arose along with the loosed debris. In the act of rising, he clutched something, and held to it. The time he was under seemed an age longer than it really was; at last he gained the top; with a great gasp he filled his lungs afresh, and, tossing the water from his hair and eyes, climbed higher upon the plank he held, and looked about him.
A quick intelligence told him that they were ships on fire. The battle was yet on; nor could he say who was victor. Within the radius of his vision now and then ships passed, shooting shadows athwart lights. Out of the dun clouds farther on he caught the crash of other ships colliding. The danger, however, was closer at hand. When the Astroea went down, her deck, it will be recollected, held her own crew, and the crews of the two galleys which had attacked her at the same time, all of whom were ingulfed. Many of them came to the surface together, and on the same plank or support of whatever kind continued the combat, begun possibly in the vortex fathoms down. Writhing and twisting in deadly embrace, sometimes striking with sword or javelin.
About that time he heard oars in quickest movement, and beheld a galley coming down upon him. The tall prow seemed doubly tall, and the red light playing upon its gilt and carving gave it an appearance of snaky life. Under its foot the water churned to flying foam.
He struck out, pushing the plank, which was very broad and unmanageable. Seconds were precious--half a second might save or lose him. In the crisis of the effort, within arm's reach, a helmet shot up like a gleam of gold. Next came two hands with fingers extended--large hands were they, and strong--their hold once fixed, might not be loosed. Ben-Hur swerved from them appalled. Up rose the helmet and the head it encased--then two arms, which began to beat the water wildly--the head turned back, and gave the face to the light. The mouth gaping wide; the eyes open, but sightless, and the bloodless pallor of a drowning man--never anything more ghastly! Yet he gave a cry of joy at the sight, and as the face was going under again, he caught the sufferer by the chain which passed from the helmet beneath the chin, and drew him to the plank.
The man was Arrius, the tribune.
For a while the water foamed and eddied violently about Ben-Hur, taxing all his strength to hold to the support and at the same time keep the Roman's head above the surface. The galley had passed, leaving the two barely outside the stroke of its oars. Right through the floating men, over heads helmeted as well as heads bare, she drove. A muffled crash, succeeded by a great outcry, made the rescuer look again from his charge. A certain savage pleasure touched his heart--the Astroea was avenged.
After that the battle moved on. Resistance turned to flight. But who were the victors? Ben-Hur was sensible how much his freedom and the life of the tribune depended upon that event. He pushed the plank under the latter until it floated him, after which all his care was to keep him there. The dawn came slowly. He watched its growing hopefully, yet sometimes afraid. Would it bring the Romans or the pirates? If the pirates, his charge was lost.
At last morning broke in full, the air without a breath. Off to the left he saw land, too far to think of attempting to make it. Here and there men were adrift like himself. A galley up a long way was lying to with a torn sail hanging from the tilted yard, and the oars all idle. Still farther away he could discern moving specks, which he thought might be ships in flight or pursuit, or they might be white birds a-wing.
An hour passed thus. His anxiety increased. If relief came not speedily, Arrius would die. Sometimes he seemed already dead, he lay so still. He took the helmet off, and then, with greater difficulty, the cuirass; the heart he found fluttering. He took hope at the sign, and held on. There was nothing to do but wait, and, after the manner of his people, pray.
The throes of recovery from drowning are more painful than the drowning. These Arrius passed through, and, at length, to Ben-Hur's delight, reached the point of speech.
Gradually, from incoherent questions as to where he was, and by whom and how he had been saved, he reverted to the battle. The doubt of the victory stimulated his faculties to full return, a result aided not a little by a long rest--such as could be had on their frail support. After a while he became talkative.
"Our rescue, I see, depends upon the result of the fight. I see also what thou hast done for me. To speak fairly, thou hast saved my life at the risk of thy own. I make the acknowledgment broadly; and, whatever cometh, thou hast my thanks. More than that, if fortune doth but serve me kindly, and we get well out of this peril, I will do thee such favor as becometh a Roman who hath power and opportunity to prove his gratitude. Yet, yet it is to be seen if, with thy good intent, thou hast really done me a kindness; or, rather, speaking to thy good-will"--he hesitated--"I would exact of thee a promise to do me, in a certain event, the greatest favor one man can do another--and of that let me have thy pledge now.""It cannot be," he proceeded, "that thou hast not heard of Cato and Brutus. They were very great men, and never as great as in death. In their dying, they left this law--A Roman may not survive his good-fortune. Art thou listening?"
"A Roman in triumph would have out many flags. She must be an enemy. Hear now," said Arrius, becoming grave again, "hear, while yet I may speak. If the galley be a pirate, thy life is safe; they may not give thee freedom; they may put thee to the oar again; but they will not kill thee. On the other hand, I--"
The tribune faltered.
"Perpol!" he continued, resolutely. "I am too old to submit to dishonor. Let them tell how Quintus Arrius, as became a Roman tribune, went down with his ship in the midst of the foe. This is what I would have thee do. If the galley prove a pirate, push me from the plank and drown me. Dost thou hear? Swear thou wilt do it."
Arrius remained passive.He tossed the ring away. Arrius heard the splash where it struck and sank, though he did not look.
"Thou hast done a foolish thing," he said; "foolish for one placed as thou art. I am not dependent upon thee for death. Life is a thread I can break without thy help; and, if I do, what will become of thee? Men determined on death prefer it at the hands of others, for the reason that the soul which Plato giveth us is rebellious at the thought of self-destruction; that is all. If the ship be a pirate, I will escape from the world. My mind is fixed. I am a Roman. Success and honor are all in all. Yet I would have served thee; thou wouldst not. The ring was the only witness of my will available in this situation. We are both lost. I will die regretting the victory and glory wrested from me; thou wilt live to die a little later, mourning the pious duties undone because of this folly. I pity thee."
Ben-Hur saw the consequences of his act more distinctly than before, yet he did not falter.
"In the three years of my servitude, O tribune, thou wert the first to look upon me kindly. When I caught thee, blind and sinking the last time, I, too, had thought of the many ways in which thou couldst be useful to me in my wretchedness, still the act was not all selfish; this I pray you to believe. Moreover, seeing as God giveth me to know, the ends I dream of are to be wrought by fair means alone. As a thing of conscience, I would rather die with thee than be thy slayer. My mind is firmly set as thine; though thou wert to offer me all Rome, O tribune, and it belonged to thee to make the gift good, I would not kill thee. Thy Cato and Brutus were as little children compared to the Hebrew whose law a Jew must obey."
The rescuers turn out to be Romans, and the outcome of the battle, to be...
"Thank thou thy God," he said to Ben-Hur, after a look at the galleys, "thank thou thy God, as I do my many gods. A pirate would sink, not save, yon ship. By the act and the helmet on the mast I know a Roman. The victory is mine. Fortune hath not deserted me. We are saved. Wave thy hand--call to them--bring them quickly. I shall be duumvir, and thou! I will take thee with me. I will make thee my son. Give thy God thanks, and call the sailors. Haste! The pursuit must be kept. Not a robber shall escape. Hasten them!"
Judah raised himself upon the plank, and waved his hand, and called with all his might; at last he drew the attention of the sailors in the small boat, and they were speedily taken up.
Arrius was received on the galley with all the honors due a hero so the favorite of Fortune. Upon a couch on the deck he heard the particulars of the conclusion of the fight. When the survivors afloat upon the water were all saved and the prize secured, he spread his flag of commandant anew, and hurried northward to rejoin the fleet and perfect the victory. In due time the fifty vessels coming down the channel closed in upon the fugitive pirates, and crushed them utterly; not one escaped. To swell the tribune's glory, twenty galleys of the enemy were captured.
Though Othello the Moor and Tilly the Old Walloon are not that fortunate upon falling from grace.
Both of them are found in the same predicament as Arrius: "I am too old to submit to dishonour. I will die regretting the victory and glory wrested from me".
Their stories of disgrace, however, are tragic, with ritual suicide for a coda. The Ringstetten Saga singles out Tilly's (and later, Wallenstein's) fate as a "tragedy", following Northrop Frye's Mythos of Autumn: the cathartic story of a successful individual's gradual downfall.
One of the main sources for The Ringstetten Saga, Swinborne's poem Gustavus Adolphus, laid the foundations for the "tragic" character arcs of Tilly and Wallenstein. The falling action of the veteran's tragedy, his fall from grace, starts at Breitenfeld:
In vain with frantic, desperate energy Does Tilly, though himself despairing, try His ranks to rally, and avoid defeat, Tis now too late for orderly retreat. Upon one flank Gustavus, conquering, wheel'd, His own lost cannon on the other peal'd Their loudest thunders, belch'd their ceaseless shot, Honour and order, discipline forgot,
His panic-stricken regiments heed him not ; For on their front advances Gustav Horn Whose men the whole day long had patient borne Their fiercest onslaughts now their turn is come, The trumpets sound, in thunder rolls the drum, And on they charge charge home the Austrians run ; The victory is gain'd, the field is won !
And Tilly ! he who ne'er had known defeat, . How did the ever-conquering leader meet This new experience ? Chose he there to die, Himself unconquer'd, though his veterans fly ; Was he as calm, as dauntless, in that hour That shatter'd all his fame his vaunted power, As he had ever been in victory ? The soldier give his due He meant to be, And was 'twas not in him to fly the field, He could not win nor knew he how to yield. Stern and determined, see him at the head Of men as stern and brave, whom he had led Ever to victory they would now be true Even to death a grizzled, gallant few, Veterans of many a hard contested day, All, like their leader, grown in conquest gray, With death familiar long, no fear they know, They will not flinch from any mortal foe. On them concentred their own cannon play, Advance they cannot, fast they melt away, They may not stand and live, they will not turn, All offers of surrender quarter spurn. In sheer amaze the Swedes before them halt, In admiration, ev'n forbear to assault, To slaughter such brave men ; but, while they wait, Hoping they yet may yield, ere 'tis too late,
Again the shout of "Magdeburg" is heard; "Remember Magdeburg!" as Eric spurr'd Straight at Count Tilly with the German horse, Out leap a score of warriors, bar the course, With their own bodies break his onset's force, The Swedes press in, soon are those veterans sped, To the last man they fall but Tilly fled. The victory is complete : upon the field, Among the dead and dying, Gustave kneel'd, His soul in fervent thanks to Him outpour'd, Who is the Lord of Hosts Who guides the sword ; While Luther's grand old hymn of joy and praise, " Now let us all thank God," the soldiers raise, Far o'er the battlefield the strains resound, Loud peal the joyous bells for miles around : From every village, hamlet, steeple, rung, Gustavus' praise is borne on every tongue ; For far and wide the countryside rejoices, And wives' and mothers', maidens', children's voices Unite, in glad thanksgiving, loud to sing Praise to the Lord! Long live the Lutheran King !
On the other hand, the Leaguers' leader is wounded,
routed, getting through excruciating pain,
recovering all winter long, shedding tears mixed
with blood. And thus, when spring comes, the League sets up
the last stand across the Lech:
IN seething flood the Lech stream flows, Swollen by the melting snows, And on either bank lie in hostile rank The Swedes and their long-sought foes. For while Ferdinand treated with Wallenstein, Gustavus had broke up his camp on the Rhine ; With the earliest spring the victorious King Had order'd his generals their troops to combine, Intending to fling The whole weight of his might, As soon as the weather fresh movements allow'd, Upon the League's Leader, Bavaria proud, Compel him a battle decisive to fight; And then to push on, when the battle was won.
At Donauwerth the Danube's cross'd, And Tilly still is backward forced, But holds fast to the line Of the river Lech, encamp'd at Rain, And, all its bridges breaking down, Commands the stream to Augsburg town. And thus the King and Tilly lay On either bank in stern array ; The Catholics in their camp secure, The Lutherans chafing at delay, Of victory sure, If only they could find a way To deal a blow upon the foe :
But the flooded river's rapid flow No hope affords Of crossing swords. For weeks to come the melting snow Upon the mountains at its source...
Impassable are all the fords, And, except the King, No one had ever dreamed A bridge across the stream to fling ; And it had seem'd Sheer madness to attempt to cross Full in front of Tilly's force, His strong position to attack With a foaming river at their back To bar retreat, And turn repulse into defeat.
And at the Council Gustav call'd The dauntless Horn himself demurr'd, The fearful risk even him appall'd Whose courage dangers only spurr'd, Constrain'd the veteran to point out What would result in case of rout : The soldiers by the river hemm'd, Whose raging flood could not be stemm'd Even by the strongest swimmer's skill, The musket fire would quickly kill ; The batteries in front would mow Whole regiments down in ghastly row, The bravest could but die ; And panic-stricken, then, the rest In wild disorder backward press'd, Could neither stand nor fly ; And those who escaped the foeman's shot Would find as desperate a lot The choice betwixt a bloody grave,
Or, what would scarce be better hap, Inglorious ending to the brave, A struggling death beneath the wave. Thus Horn and all the generals speak, Nor to disguise their fears they seek, For they had proved, In many a hard-contested fight, That they could face even death unmoved ; And long ago had earn'd the right, The right that only veterans share, Whose courage is beyond dispute, What younger soldiers would not dare, Of long experience 'tis the fruit,
To express outright their anxious fears, Relying on their fame and years ; Of cautious prudence unashamed, Since cowardice may not be named, Even under breath, To veterans who can smile at death. But Gustav, with a kindling eye, Thus to his generals made reply :
"In safety, and the Elbe, the Rhine, And other rivers mightier far Than this Lech stream, on aid Divine Relying still throughout the war, Who also but the other day To cross the Danube found a way ; What, Generals! shall we now despair? That God, who aye was with us there, Will still attend our course. What though the foe Holds yonder hill in mighty force? What though an angry stream in flood Covers his front and both his flanks ? What though well-mask'd by underwood His troopers line the opposing banks; Is he on that account secure ? Are his defences refuge sure ?
Or, were he confident of right, As confident as we,
Would he then need such broken reed As heartless Tilly still to use? Who grandest talents dared abuse, Whom Magdeburg's dread curse pursues,
Converting victory Which waited ever on his arms, Through conscience-stricken dire alarms, Into defeat, And almost hurling from its seat By memories of his awful crime, Damn'd, doubly damn'd throughout all time, His tottering reason. With caution we have not to do Bavaria, Austria we pursue, In season, out of season, Until the victory is gain'd, Until our object is attain'd, Our Lutheran Faith to us secured, And Europe's liberties assured !
" Though caution we may cast away Prudence shall still our councils sway. Fear not that we shall lose the day ! For I have been In person to the river's bound, And carefully have look'd around, I have mark'd we hold the higher ground. 'Tis easy seen Our cannoneers their shot will throw To more advantage than the foe. No matter though In boiling flood the river runs, We will fling a trestle-bridge across, Which, cover'd by a hundred guns, Will soon transport our storming force. Once over, who can doubt that we Shall soon achieve the victory!" Astonish'd, Maximilian sees The Swedes erecting batteries,
And Tilly soon becomes aware That their carpenters a bridge prepare, And that the Hero-King designs To cross in force, And attack him in his guarded lines Deem'd inexpugnable. A year ago he had thought the foe Foolhardy, who had dared to throw Himself against his might at all, Hoping a battle to provoke ; But what of him who meant to fall Upon his camp, by a master stroke To carry all before him still ? His camp is rear'd upon a hill
Whence every shot will tell ; The winding river's horseshoe bend Its front and both its flanks defend, And tangled growth and marshy ground Its strong entrenchments quite surround, Themselves an obstacle To impede and stay the floundering course Of those who should the river cross. A year ago, from every foe Tilly had deem'd the place secure ; Ceaseless assault it would undergo, Against tenfold odds he might endure, Of victory in the outcome sure. But he was now no more the man Who ever-conquering overran The Lutheran land, Seeming even Fortune to command ; His powers were dead, His genius fled,
At Magdeburg appall'd away; Self-confidence he lost For ever after Leipzig's day, And though his courage he regain'd, It was but a courage forced, The gloomy courage of despair, To desperation strain'd, In which true valour had no share. All day the Swedish cannon roar'd, All day an iron storm they pour'd, Across the swollen flood ; All day the axe and hammer blows, As o'er the stream the work arose, Resounding on the wood, Swell'd still the mighty volume's sound Thunder'd from all the guns around. And 'twas a weird sight, The skeleton bridge seen through the smoke, At intervals throughout the night, As oft the breeze the canopy broke That o'er the waters hung ; The torches flaring on the wave, As plank on plank was further flung, A ghostly, flickering radiance gave, Through the dense, stifling, sulphurous air, Flash'd fiercely from the cannon there.
The carpenters upon the planks, Looming like spectres from the banks Huge forms and ill-defined,
Seem'd beings of another world.
So to the clashing battle shock These fiendlike spirits wing their flight, Eager to see The most of human misery ; Eager to hear The horrid sounds of human woe, Of hate and fear, The piercing shriek on mortal blow ; Gloating on parting agony, The death-pangs near, On the trickling of the life-drop's flow, The glazing of the starting eye, On the rending clutch, convulsive grasp, The struggling breath, the dying gasp, On all the horrors pain can show That make it terrible to die. Through many a veteran's heated brain These weird tales of the camp-fire pass'd, As, through the night, their eyes they strain Upon the bridge now rising fast, And shuddering think, As, standing guard upon the brink, They watch for the signs of coming dawn. Where may be they When once again another morn, Another day, shall have pass'd away ; And what the outcome of the fight When eve shall darken into night. Though Tilly had before them fled, His former fame was by no means dead,
And well the soldiers knew It was a daring thing to do, To attack him on his chosen ground, By art entrench'd, by river bound, Which river, trenches, they must cross Full in the front of his ambush'd force. As well might hunter dare, From his cavern lair, to oust the bear,
As for them to venture there Across the flood where Tilly stood So savagely at bay :
But they for the King they loved would bleed, Would follow where he chose to lead, And doubtless gain the day. Not theirs, the coward's craven fear. The dread of foeman's steel ; They would not flinch from death when near, Yet could they not but feel This was the hazard of the die Then on to death or victory ! The morning broke, the camp awoke, The clanging weapons rang, As at the trumpets' stirring notes The Lutherans from their slumbers sprang : Loud beats the rolling drum, Up to the bridge the stormers come, And from the cannons' blacken'd throats The deafening thunder roars, And thick upon the opposing shores An iron hail The deadly grapeshot pours. They pass the bridge, they do not fail.
They leap upon the bank With axe and spade, And now in duly ordered rank, As though upon parade, Throw out a trench, it is quickly done, Erect a palisade, And, Hurrah ! the bridge-head's won ! But where is Tilly all these hours? And Maximilian where ? Now is the time to launch their powers Upon that handful there, To concentrate their fire upon The rising palisade, To aim their cannon every one Full on the bridge-head laid, Till not a stick shall stand, And, ere supports can come to aid, To annihilate that gallant band. But nought is done, The thunders of the Swedish shot, Sustain'd till every piece is hot. And till the marksmen tire. Bavaria's batteries answer not ; Silent is every gun ; Mayhap until the foe comes nigher His cannoneers reserve their fire. For sure, behind that frowning work Which the Swedes must shortly storm, Ten thousand varied deaths must lurk, In every ghastly form ! Silent the sullen fortress lies, It will soon re-echo to the cries Of wrath and agony;
And shouts of triumph and despair Will mingle with the death-shriek there, And the faint, feeble, heaven-sent prayer In last extremity, With piteous moans, heartrending groans, And curses loud and deep, where, trodden in a shapeless heap, The wounded, helpless, lie, And all the horrid, awful sounds With which the battlefield resounds, when, in the earthquake of the soul, Reason loses all control, Revenge and passion, fury, hate, Vile passions of our fallen state, Usurp its place...
But to the fight! Still Tilly's might Is held within the work. And silence reigns along the line. What can be the foe's design ? Is it that his forces lurk In ambush in the underwood, Till the Swedes have cross'd the flood, Waiting till the last are near To attack them in the rear, And break the bridge behind ? It was plain such fears pass'd through his mind For the King was loath to fling His troops upon the work in storm; But cautiously they form In firm array, and feel their way. Advancing higher, Still cover'd by their cannons' fire. Yet, as they closer press, The frowning lines seem tenantless ; For the foe Does not show,
And to their deafening cannonade He answers not with a single shot ;
And no attack is made Upon their flank, though gain'd the spot Where ambush might have hidden ; Nor yet on their rear docs a force appear ; So the stormers now are bidden, As the column's head approaches near To the rampart there, To prepare ; And then the word is given, With a shout that mounts to heaven Out of the ranks at once they fall, Into the ditch, over the wall They rush, and the work is crown'd.. No shots resound, Not the death-dealing musket's rattle, Nor yet the cannon's deeper boom, No awful sounds of raging battle That knell the warrior's doom ; But a ringing cheer Their fellows hear, And the stormers soon again appear. The camp was empty, in the night Bavaria had taken flight, Deeming the battle lost, Though not a single Swede had cross'd
And the bridge-head was not won, For Tilly, badly wounded, fell, And Altringer was hit as well, And nothing could be done, So deadly was the Swedish fire, Their batteries being placed the higher. Forced to look idly on, His cannon silenced, while the bridge Rose rapidly, Bavaria knew
To suffer enemies pouring in
Each fertile vale, each wooded ridge, Safe from the invaders hitherto, Would now be overrun, And his capital laid bare. Vet to stand he did not dare To await the morrow's dread attack ; Though his camp was fortified, And guarded well on every side. Rather than fight, In the dead of night, he to Ingolstadt fell back: And the Swedes to their amazement found The foe had vanish'd from the ground, Which, had he held, Might have repell'd. So strong was it in every part, Even their conquering Monarch's art. Gustavus saw with wondering pride The vast camp's natural strength ; As critically the place he eyed, The stretching breastwork's length, he could no more amazement hide. But loudly cried : " Had I been Maximilian, Ne'er had I given up for lost So strong a post, So long as I had troops to man I had held the wall ! Never, even had a cannon ball Carried away both beard and chin, Had I given up the place at all, To suffer enemies pouring in
To penetrate, Like a full flooding tide, O'erleaping barriers, spreading wide, Into the heart of my estate ! These lines, the key to his own land, Could almost any force withstand ; And bid defiance to our might, Had they been only held aright!" As soon as it was clear There was no longer aught to fear From the Duke's retreating force, And as soon as Gustave knew It were useless to pursue, Since the foe the Danube cross, And at Ingolstadt in safety lie Within the walls, Which by their strength assault defy, On Augsburg next he falls ; From the Bavarians wrests the place, And, leaving there a garrison, His course next hastens to retrace, And presses on Without delay, by another way, Siege now to Ingolstadt to lay. Soon after his arrival there, On the fourteenth day Since Tilly had his wound received, The veteran General pass'd away, The Catholic cause, his dying care,
For it alone he grieved.
His hurt was mortal, near his end, But few short hours had he to spend ; Yet, face to face with death, With utterance scant, and failing breath, He begg'd Bavaria to attend To his last, his best advice, How now Gustavus to withstand : The Danube's stream he must command,
And there await, Whatever might be Munich's fate, Although the King Would overrun his defenceless State, The succours Wallenstein would bring. There only could he be secure ; Its situation would assure Communications still ; Betwixt Friedland's rising camp at Znaym And Regensburg at any time, His scouts could pass at will. Once master of the place, the Swede Might vainly at its ramparts bleed, In vain the town blockade, For Friedland's troops would haste to aid ; And, once combined, The Swedish King his match would find. Thus the great Catholic General died, Humbled his pride, Within a close beleaguer'd town, In which he was compell'd to hide From fickle Fortune's frown, He whom for such a lengthen'd while She favour'd ever with her smile ; His spirit broken by defeat, His conqueror's triumph all complete, His failing cause at lowest ebb;
And yet in death his only thought How to burst through the tightening web, How best the enemy might be fought, His army into safety brought. In his eye's dying gleam Once more his genius reign'd supreme ! Had he but fought for a better cause, His name had through the ages shone The ablest general of these wars, Who ever still the victory won, Until Gustavus rose. The scourge and terror of his foes, The ruthless cause of the nations' woes, Which, though they mounted high to Heaven, Had they been all he had been forgiven. The Church that did his service claim, Which by his sword The peoples' blood outpour'd, Must bear the blame, the lasting shame, Till time shall be no more, And then must answer to its Lord For its part in this cruel war. Count Tilly's dazzling victories Had blotted out his cruelties From the world's eyes, Which, widely open to success, Are ever blinded by distress, But there are crimes which even condemn The man who has committed them, And, however great, However glorious his fame, Howe'er exalted be his name, His guilt perpetuate ;
And after Magdeburg's dread day From reeking Tilly pass'd away, Not only victory, But with it, too, the world's applause, Till even Holy Church saw cause Her champion to deny. And heap upon his guilty head The blood she herself had really shed. For, of the two, The Romish Church had more to do With the carnage of that day ; Be hers the guilt Of all the innocent blood there spilt, Who encouraged him to slay, Who heartless taught, Were but her own advantage sought, Whatever means to bear were brought The end would justify. No matter who their doom might share, He must not rebel heretics spare.
What though the innocent die? Let Magdeburg example set, A wholesome terror to beget,
This, plainly understood,
Would be the means of saving life, And would put an end to further strife, And stay the flow of blood. The foul rebellion nearly broke By past reverses in the war, Stamp'd out by one relentless stroke, Its overthrow complete With Magdeburg's defeat, Would rear its head no more !
Tilly had been in youth A Jesuit, forsooth, But soon the Order he forsook, And service under Alva took, Because he own'd as truth That he would higher fame attain, His Faith would more by his genius gain, In the fierce trade of war, Than by the subtleties of his brain, Though versed in churchman's lore: That he would prove an apter tool, Nurtured in Alva's bloody school, With an iron hand To carry out Rome's dread command, To extend her cruel rule ; And would in the field find wider scope, And gain far more renown, Than ever he could dare to hope Clad in the chasuble and cope, Or in the schoolman's gown.
But, ere on him our judgment's pass'd, Upon his bloody creed Our burning censure must be cast ; That such a man could need His very virtues prostitute, To sink the genius to the brute. Virtues he had we may admire, And qualities which all desire ; Oh ! had he not been Jesuit bred, In nobler cause his blood had shed, He had been high renown'd, To victory his troops he had led, Had himself with glory crown'd, And won the warrior's deathless fame, But second to Gustav his name.
He fought for neither power nor pelf, All selfish motives could disclaim, Refusing honours for himself, To bigotry his sword he gave While Gustav battled for the Right, To advance the glorious Gospel Light. Sad, sad that he so brave, So talented, for Priestcraft's night, For Romish error's deadly blight, Should aye fanatically fight. To be cursed in his grave, And have all ages crying shame On Magdeburg's destroyer's name. While Tilly lies within the town Dying slowly of his wound, A swifter fate well-nigh befalls The King outside the walls, For a shot of four-and-twenty pound, Brought both the horse and rider down. And loud the outcry rose A cry of anguish from the Swedes, " The King is hit, he bleeds ! "- A shout exultant from their foes, Who concentrated all their shot, From every gun, upon the spot. But the ball had spent its force Upon Gustavus' favourite horse, And the King arose unharm'd, Another charger soon bestrode, Back to his people safely rode, And them rejoicing show'd They had no cause to be alarm'd For their loved Monarch's sake ; By trusty followers begirt, Their dangers he would still partake : Though smear'd with dirt he was unhurt, He had ventured too near, there was nothing to fear They might answer the foe Who had aimed the blow With a ringing Swedish cheer.
Thus dies Count Tilly, attended by Gustavus's surgeon
(the Swedish ruler, though wounded himself, sees such a
deed as "a greater need"), confronted with his war crimes,
and finally reconciled with himself, kissing his beloved
rosary. Both his generals and Gustavus himself shed tears.
The funeral procession towards the linden chapel, at the end of
the story arc, set to the Requiem mass, is perhaps the most