That is what we need to do with ourselves occasionally. We need to take a journey from our self-absorbed centre, and see ourselves with a fresh eye and an unprejudiced judgment.
I have seen no story of the war which, within its limits, has pleased me more than that which Mr. Alfred Noyes told in the newspapers in his fascinating description of his visit to the Fleet. It was a story of the battle of Jutland. “In the very hottest moment of this most stupendous battle in all history,” he says, “two grimy stokers’ heads arose for a breath of fresh air. What domestic drama they were discussing the world may never know. But the words that were actually heard passing between them, while the shells whined overhead, were these: ’What I says is, ’e ought to have married ‘er.’”
If you don’t enjoy that story you will never understand the English spirit. There are some among us who never will understand the English spirit. In the early days of the war an excellent friend of mine used to find a great source of despair in “Tipperary.” What hope was there for a country whose soldiers went to battle singing “Tipperary” against a foe who came on singing “Ein’ feste Burg”? Put that way, I was bound to confess that the case looked black against us. It seemed “all Lombard Street to a China orange,” as the tag of other days would put it. It is true that, for a music-hall song, “Tipperary” was unusually fresh and original. Contrast it with the maudlin “Keep the home fires burning,” which holds the field to-day, and it touches great art. I never hear it even now on the street organ without a certain pleasure—a pleasure mingled with pain, for its happy lilt comes weighted with the tremendous emotions of those unforgettable days. It is like a butterfly caught in a tornado, a catch of song in the throat of death.
But it was only a music-hall song after all, and to put it in competition with Luther’s mighty hymn would be like putting a pop-gun against a 12-inch howitzer. The thunder of Luther’s hymn has come down through four centuries, and it will go on echoing through the centuries till the end of time. It is like the march of the elements to battle, like the heaving of mountains and the surge of oceans. In nothing else is the sense of Power so embodied in the pulse of song. And the words are as formidable as the tune. Carlyle caught their massive, rugged strength in his great translation:
A safe stronghold our God
A trusty shield and weapon;
He’ll help us clear from all the ill
That hath us now o’ertaken....