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THE PHILIPPICA

O saying, he went to his desk, where he kept the best productions of his pupils in their different subjects, and, searching through the successful poetical exercises, he took out one entitled Philippica, and as he saw that the subject of the poem was the naval attack on England atrociously undertaken by Philip, King of Spain, and so successfully and worthily resisted. These names roused their attention, and with great eagerness they wished to examine the book for themselves; but the master, turning over the first page and pointing to the second, told them that there was to be found the poetical explanation of the title, which he would read to them:

I sing Hesperian pomp and boast, blue
spacerspacerspacerA tyrant’s threats and guile;
I sing that might fleet and host
That came from a far distant coast
spacerspacerspacerTo conquer Britain’s isle; 5
I sing the puny barques so brave
That stoutly fought their isle to save
spacerspacerspacerFor their pure maiden Queen.
O God on high, my Muse inflame!
From Thy right hand the victory came; 10
spacerspacerspacerHenceforth on Thee we’ll lean.

“The plot begins with a council of the heathen gods, who, having anxiously observed the advance and increase of the true religion in Germany, and yet more in England, meet to check this progress by all possible means. After various opinoins had been heard, Jupiter at length determined that Philip of Spain should be incited against England, and that Mars should be commissioned to carry out that purpose.” Having tuned over a page or two, blue he stopped at a certain passage, and thus began:

When this was done, Jove rose from his high throne,
Dismissing all to earth, their destined goal,
And left Olympus empty. Far and wide they go,
Urged on by sovran will; and first of all 15
Mars, glad of evil work, lays down his spear,
His golden belt unclasps, and from his side
Withdraws his sheath and sword. He next puts off
His helmet, greaves, and all war’s armoury,
But still his godlike form, ethereal, kept, 20
For this he needed for his ruthless plan,
Adding thereto the outspread starry wings
And all the effulgence of the angelic host—
A seeming messenger from Heaven’s high throne.
Next seeks he cruel poison, devils’ broth 25
(Nectar, by some, the draught is falsely named),
Bubbling with pride, by Furies all concoct,
But by his art in golden chalice hid.
In such guise armed, forthwith his chariot steeds
He seeks. They long in irksome rest had stood 30
Together yoked, close by the temple walls
That crown the Olympian height; eager to start,
They, struggling, rampant, toss the fiery spume,
Champing their curbs; forth from their eyes
A depth of heavenly light shone all aglow, 35
While their wide nostrils smote the ambient air. blue
spacerBut now, their master seen, a joyful neigh
Of welcome greets him as he takes his seat
To guide the rapid wheels; the reins are loosed,
And through the yielding air headlong they plunge, 40
Speeding their flight with feet and wings alike
All unrestrained, and thus more quickly pass
The mid-aërial space in course direct;
Now leaving ’neath them the Thessalian hills,
Now borne with equal speed across the waves 45
Of Adria. Soon Mars descries afar
The heights of Rome, and wide Hesperian fields blue
Where Tiber flows between; he hastens then
Across the open sea that midmost lies
’Twixt lower Gaul and that more western coast 50
To which his course was bent, passing the isles
Whom men the rocky Baleares call,
Nor drawing rein till in high flight he stops
Above the golden spires of rich Madrid.
But now the hemisphere of impious Night, 55
Had foully hid the landscape all around
And westward chased the flying hours of Day
From out the sky; then on a dusky cloud,
Mars leaves his wingèd steeds and aëry car,
And seeks below the palace of the King. 60
Chalice in hand, with deadly poison charged,
He straightway stands beside the Royal bed,
Whose sumptuous pillars, all inlaid with gold,
Sparkled with studding gems, the coverlets,
Lay thick with golden threads inwrought—the spoil 65
Of barbarous lands; but such things brought not sleep.
With brain alert, and vexed with mighty cares,
The King, in restless thought, from side to side
Did turn, in ever querulous recount
Of his long list of woes: “Belgium is lost,” 70
He moans, “and much besides. Ah! what remains
Of that great host once mine? What warriors brave
Have I for ever lost in one sad war!
Nor hath my craft or might availed me aught.”
So spake the King; and this, with troubled mind, 75
Did chafe and fret. But now a youthful shape
Meets his astonished gaze, anon he hears
Ethereal words borne in upon his sense:
spacer“O Philip, dear to God! the special care
Of those immortal powers who dwell above! 80
Great King! to whose proud sceptre’s ruling might
The twin Hesperian realms obedience pat, blue
To Sardinia, Sicily, and Solyma
All honour yield, with part of Almany,
Aye, more, for now beyond the western seas 85
A new and golden world has owned they sway.
Dost thou not see why Belgic tribes, alone
Of all thy vassals, dare to scorn thy will,
Resist, and hold their own? ’Tis Albion’s isle
That is thy foe. ’Tis Albion’s hate to thee 90
That ever does and ever will uphold
Those rebels in their pride. Her shouldst thou strike,
And with the avenging hand of war lay waste
Her Saxon homes; yea, with that self-same blow
Thy rebels daunt. Lo, now, the Eternal God, 95
Who dwells beyond the starry space, hath sent
Me as His messenger with high commands.
The Pope, thy Holy Father, hath his ban
On that most execrable kingdom set, blue
To thee an easy prey; all Europe next 100
Shall yield, till, last, the world itself be thine.”
spacer He ended, and at once the nectar poured,
A potion full, between the open jaws
Of Spain’s great monarch, who lay wondering, mute,
While Mars resought his dusky cloud above. 105
But soon the King, all trembling, found his voice,
And cried: “O Saint, or Angel from on high,
Or, as I think, the Word of God Himself,
In Thee I trust; I follow Thy commands,
For such brook no delay. My plans, me’anwhile, 110
And means, do Thou, O God, protect, and I
Will many a temple raise to Thy great Name
In subject lands, and fill with choirs and priests
And all the panoply of festal rites.
Lead forth to battle these my sons; lead forth 115
Thy armèd hosts; for Thou the prompter art,
The chiefest and the first. Command success,
And let the end fulfil Thy promise given.”
spacerSuch prayers flew up, I fear, in vain, for Mars
With face averse pursued his aëry way. 120
Now more and more the cursed potion works,
Burning incessant in the monarch’s breast.
His eyes grow wild; his brain to ecstasy
Seems rapt by that one maddening draught.
Half crazed, he rushes forth; his every word 125
Breathes rage and blood, and vast, obdurate pride.
“To arms!—to arms!” he cries, and seeks the camp.
With all the confidence of victories won,
His brave old warriors to their posts he sends,
And eager youths. By his fire-darting eyes 130
The very air around doth seem infect,
And war’s dire fever is imbreathed by all.
Just so it is when Heaven’s hurled lightning falls,
Striking the withered top of some tall oak;
The crackling branches burst ablaze, and then 135
From tree to tree the bickering flames rage on,
Devouring all the wood; next, open-mouthed,
They seize the ripened corn—and easy prey—
While darkening smoke creeps on from field to field
The beasts, both tame and wild, rush madly on, 140
And all the hills glow red in awful glare. blue

Being now tired with the exertion of reading, he rested his voice a little, and, marking the place with his thumb, he put the book down on the table for a while, and began to say…“Our poet, in these lines I have just read, seems to take the Gentile gods to grace his triumph. He does not proscribe them, he does not exclude them, but manifests them openly conquered and chained down with all their crimes thick upon them....As for the gods of the heathen, they are declared both in the Old Testament and in the New to be devils, and yet they are always called gods. Thus Beelzebub, the god of Ekron, is commonly considered the chief of the devils, as Jupiter is of the heathen gods. The witch of Endor, also, is not mentioned as being possessed by Satan, but by the Delphian Apollo...” With this he took up his manuscript, and having read a few lines about the Spanish preparations, he moved on to another page, and began the account:

The fleet draws near, and soon there comes in sight
The goal of Spain’s fell rage, the wished-for prize
Of all this great endeavour—Britain’s isle,
Rising defiant from the swelling waves 145
That break in foam along her sinuous shore,
Quite safe, though foes surround, For Christ above,
Marking these plans of hate, allows success
And lulls to easy confidence, until,
The end in view, He wields His sovran power 150
And makes the glorious issue all His own.
So calling forth Architheus, the chief
Of all the godlike Powers, this spake Heaven’s Lord:
spacer“O thou, of all My captains mightiest,
To whom the care of Mine elect is given, 155
See how Hell rages; see how Philip, armed
To blot out sea-girt Britain’s name and fame,
Doth threaten sore, unless I intervene.
Call out, at once call out thy hosts; turn back
This mighty fleet; this spawn of Hell impede 160
With Heaven-sent chains; that so they fear to meet
The unequal fight, beset by shadowy forms,
By cries and horrors vague; while all the winds
Do drive them pitiless across the deep
To Gallic quicksands and Hibernian rocks, 165
Batavian waves and Caledonian seas,
To all a booty and an easy prey.
So perish men who Me and Mine provoke.”
spacerThus spake He briefly; more He did not add,
For time was ripe. Nor did He wait reply. 170
Forthwith the Archangel winged his rapid flight
Through all the courts of Heaven, and summoned forth
The leaders and their vast confederate hosts,
All anxious to obey supreme command.
Tall Syntheus leads the way; his right hand grasps 175
A spear immense, His quiver-bearing host
Him follow close behind. Next Zatheus
On fiery steed his flaming sword uplifts,
And pricking forth. with golden rein in hand,
He urges on his numerous chivalry. 180
All eager for the fray, they form themselves
In martial order fair. Now comes their chief,
Architheus, on two-horsed chariot borne.
In radiant sheen, soaring the air sublime,
His brow with laurel crowned, while in his hand 185
He waves the iron sceptre of his rule. blue
His joyful office is to guard and keep
All meek and pious souls, but ’neath his feet
The proud to crush. Along with him there came
A throng of angel-comrades, crowned in light 190
And clad in radiant sheen, like unto gold.
Their numbers fill the sacred fields of Heaven;
Their chariots ride upon the hastening winds.
On all sides, up they flew like sparks, as when,
In night’s thick, darksome gloom, the Chalybes, blue 195
Amid their cave-like forge, some huge red mass
Of glowing iron, with alternate strokes,
On groaning anvil weld.
spacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacer But now has Christ
Refulgent with Eternal Majesty,
At Heaven’s high gate His throne set up. 200
His royal crown He word, and in His face
Shone pure humanity. With His right hand
He held His honoured sceptre, and His left
Bore up His ransomed world. Around there stood
His faithful ministers, His chieftains holy. 205
First stands Ergotheus, in council wise,
With torch in hand. This made his diadem
One blaze of light. His flowing cloak was girt
With golden cincture, drawn beneath his arms,
Broidered with rich inlay. His comrades too 210
Were in like guise. But one above the rest
Stood out pre-eminent Mystotheus,
The sacred bard, in radiant cloud ensphered.
And next God’s messenger Opsitheus,
The angel of His Presence, brightly limbed, 215
Ethereal, as all the angels are,
But hid from view by glare of fiercest flame,
Red-glowing, dense; as when the sun, new-risen, blue
Leaving with joy his chamber in the east,
Shoots out his upward beams of liquid light, 220
And seems a fountain pouring forth the day,
Unveiling earth to all men’s longing eyes;
Then soon these upward-streaming rays of light
Are conquered and submerged; for fiercer flames
Burst forth, and lo! one universal glare. 225
Next come behind a chosen band of youths,
His guards and satellites. Their breasts are bare,
Onward they fly, their King in burning rows
Encompassing, the while they echo forth
One joyful concent of celestial song. 230
As when swans, sated, in long order rise blue
From off their feeding-grounds to meet the skies,
Then hear we, from their numerous liquid throats,
An airy charm of such melodious notes,
So high-resounding that it seems to be 235
A challenge to the stars’ sweet harmony.
So passed the angelic throng. Doritheus next
In order came; his brow with garland wreaths
Was crowned; his hands loaden with fairest fruit—
God’s gift to man. Netheless, such cates as these blue 240
Can never vie with God’s great gift of Grace,
Can never equal his who followed next—
Charitheus; his form sublime, his face
Upon their shoulders nought by airy wings.
As fair and smooth as ever virgin had, 245
While on his neck his golden hair fell back,
And all his visage glowed with rosy light.
Yet reached not even he to that great form
Supreme, the image true of God Himself,
Autotheus, a form no mortal men 250
Could gaze on unabashed, nor hosts of Hell.
Such was this vast ethereal host, and such
Heaven’s fiery vigour that within them lay.
With conquering might they drive the rebels down
To Tartarus, and gladly thus fulfil 255
With godlike strength the Eternal Father’s will.

“This theme is somewhat novel,” said the tutor, “and has hardly ever been attempted by any Christian poet as yet; still, it rests on the very ancient foundation of revealed truth…And now, since I cannot send you away without hearing of the naval victory and the wonderful issue of it all, I will give you the main points from another Book of the Philippica:”

With massy timbered sides, the ships of Spain blue
High on the surface of the burdened deep
All lumbering lie. In order close they form,
Together chained; curved in such crescent shape 260
As wears the Cynthian Queen of Night, ere yet
Her face is seven nights old, or when her month
Wanes to the end. Forthwith in speediest sail
This crescent fleet opes wider still her horns,
As gaping to enclose the opposing barques, 265
And, with insatiate maw, engorge them down.
So, when some whirlpool, with vast, foaming ring
In middle channel roars, the raging gulf
Sucks underneath all things that venture near,
Then finny tribes and heedless keels alike 270
Go twisting down into the jaws of Hell.
To meet such ponderous strength, how vain
The attempt of Albion’s barques! So here and there
The little fleet tacks round her mightier foe,
Plaguing from far, with cautious arts of war, 275
Spain’s wooden castles huge. Just so we see blue
Some hungry wolf with restless prowl beset
Hibernian cows. They, in a circle driven,
Stand closely packed, unanimous; their young,
Not used to fight, retreat, with lowings soft, 280
Behind the rampart of their mothers’ horns—
Horns wildly tossing with unwonted ire.
The agile wolf, all frustrate of his prey,
Prowls famished round; he would not go unfed,
Yet dares not meet that curved line of rage. 285
Christ, seeing this, determines now to help
The weaker side. Forthwith He moves their minds
To fill some keels with fiery pitch
And blasting-dust, dark-colour’d, sulphurous;
Then next He calls from His attendant train 290
Dositheus, of all the angel-gods
Most swift of wing, to whom He thus began:
spacer“Go, speedy one, go, cleave thy rapid course
Through intervening clouds to Terror’s cave.
Thence call him forth, and bid him scatter far 295
The chained and ironed fleet of cruel Spain.”
Thus Christ commanded, and the angel sped,
Quicker than eye could follow, through the air,
Most like to flash of thought; instant he flew,
And summoned Terror from his dark abode. 300
Far from all places known to men, his cave,
Of amplitude almost immense, was fixed
In those far limits of the Arctic seas
Where dwells perennial Night. Huge beetling crags
Loomed all around; uplifted, imminent, 305
They seemed about to fall on that strange shore
Beneath, where sea-calves played, and unlicked bears ,blue
And many a monstrous form of Nature’s sport,
While harpy-footed vampires fluttered by, 310
Foreboding ill. Around the entrance stand
A crowd of lemures, ghosts, and spectres dim. blue
There, too, were evil signs and prodigies,
And dangers hazardous to fame and life,
With cowering Fear, and Horror brooding vast.
Lo, last there rushes forth, roused by the call
Of such a summoner, an awful Form, 315
A phantom, monstrous, volant, bodiless,
Of terrors all compact—the King himself.
Him thus the heavenly messenger addressed:
spacer“Dire King of Terrors, leave thy hollow cave;
Disperse the Spanish fleet. Thus Christ commands. 320
So take thou in thy charge, and arm at once,
With all the arts thou hast, those ships of fire,
The last resource to weary Britons left.”
Than these no words could better please or move
The grisly King. Then, overjoyed to take 325
His share in such wild deeds, the awful Shape,
As answer, raised a peal most horrible
Of echoing laughter long and loud, far worse
Than rumbling roar of twin contending seas,
Of when the pregnant thunder-clouds displode 330
From hill to hill. A tremor ran along
The Arctic ground; the mountain tops were rent
By that dread peal; it flawed the eternal ice,
Thick as it lay upon the Cronian Sea; blue
E’en Heaven itself did tremble to the pole. 335
Not so the angel; he, all undismayed
By any earthly sound, led on the way
Across the waste of unfrequented seas,
Until they found their quest. Terror at once
His post as pilot takes. Instead of sails, 340
He fits his craft with swift aërial wings,
And steers direct for the Hesperian fleet.
spacerLike arrows from the bow, or weapons hurled
By strong right hand, the fiery vessels sped,
And as they drove a passage through the fleet, 345
Terror on both sides scatters fiery arms
And flaring torches and black sulphurous dust,
And with them Panic Fear. Then, last of all,
He shows, in all his horrid guise, himself,
Roughly importunate, the while he shakes 350
His iron wings before their shuddering face, blue
Daunting their heart. They turn in haste
To quit their anchorage, courting such winds
As best they may. No thought of victory now,
Or mad desire for glory or for gain; 355
That awful Shape still drives them on and on,
Possessed by unimaginable fears.
Brave Albion’s sons, when first they saw their foes
(Of blackest night begot) in such sad plight,
Their forces ranged; and then with one consent 360
Their whole flotilla follows up the foes
Close on his broken rear. He, sore dismayed,
And still in middle danger set by fire
And flames and Terror’s breathèd spell, now hears
As well the shouts and taunts of the pursuing fleet, 365
And more: loud guns belch forth their sulphurous blasts
(In happier times unknown), sending withal blue
Their balls of massive ruin through the sides
Of many a galleon huge. Within is heard
The piteous groan of wounded men; without 370
The waves are all pollute with impious blood;
While still th’ unceasing hail of shot and shell
And fire comes pouring in. And now the flames
Seize on the pennons fluttering to the breeze,
And now the mast of some great ammiral blue 375
Falls with a mighty crash. The stricken sea
Resounds. Dark Night is all ablaze with flame.

“Here we meet Terror personified and clothed in poetic garb…”

Finis