Military exploits and quotes

Today is the anniversary of two military events that had nothing to do with the Regency period: In 1415, Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt, one of the attempts by England to get a foothold in France (and am I the only person who prefers the Olivier version over the Branagh film?).

And in 1854, thanks to bungled orders, political infighting among officers, and the famed stiff upper lip, the Charge of the Light Brigade took place, when the 13th Hussars charged directly into enemy guns during the Crimean War; as a French general commented, “C’est magnifique mais ce ne pas la guerre.” (Roughly translated as: it’s magnificent, but not war. Well, it sounds better in French.)

I’d hazard a guess that we remember these events by the two poets who immortalized them rather by the history. Here’s an excerpt from the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech by Shakespeare:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Tennyson, another master of the soundbite, immortalized the Charge of the Light Brigade, a peom that, if you are an English person of a certain age, you had drummed into you at school, or at least the more quotable bits of it:

Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Would we remember these two events–the English tried for a couple more centuries to claim bits of France, but failed; and the famous Charge was a tactical blunder of monumental stupidity–if it weren’t for the poets?

What are your favorite quotes? Any from romance?

Jane Lockwood is blogging over at History Hoydens today and there’s a contest! Also don’t forget to sign up for the Riskies newsletter at riskies@yahoo.com.

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Diane Gaston
15 years ago

Janet, I caught a PBS documentary on The Charge of the Light Brigade. It came down to the failings of three men, probably the worst to be in their positions of command, that resulted in the foolish and tragic event.
The fated regiment of the Charge was present at Waterloo – one of my heroes was in that regiment.

I’ve never seen the Olivier version of Henry V. I do like the Branagh one, though. Did you know that it has a young Christian Bale in it?

Tracy Grant
15 years ago

How interesting the Agincourt and the Charge of the Light Brigade were on the same day. Interesting side not teo Diane’s comment about the fated regiment being present at Waerloo– Fitzroy Somerset, who was Wellington’s miliary secretary and lost his arm at Waterloo, was commander of the British forces in the Crimean War (he was Lord Raglan by then). He’s made cameo appearances in a couple of my books.

Most of my favorite quotes are from plays, not books, I realize–a lot from Shakespeare, which frequently find their way into my books (Charles and Mélanie in particularly frequently quote Shakespeare as a sort of personal code).

A few favorite quotes that come to mind from various sources (I wasn’t actually trying for romantic quotes, but a lot of the ones that came first to mind are):

“I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.”

“Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out ‘Olivia!’ O, You should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth,
But you should pity me! “

“My bounty is as boundess as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

“I believe life is for living, don’t you?”
“It’s difficult to imagine what else one would do with it.”

“love that… over-throws life. Unbiddable, ungovernable – like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture.”

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

I used bits of the “once more unto the breach” speech from Henry V when one of my characters was…wait for it…storming a breach. Terribly original of me, I know. 😉

Keeping on a military note, I stumbled across a poem by A.E. Housman, “The Recruit,” which perfectly fits a soldier character from my WIP. If and when I get around to collaging him, I’m going to include this verse:

And you will list the bugle
That blows in lands of morn,
And make the foes of England
Be sorry you were born.

(I’ve been meaning to collage my major characters ever since attending Jenny Crusie’s collaging workshop at the Surrey conference last year, but I’ve somehow never gotten around to doing it yet.)

One of my favorite romantic poems is John Donne’s “The Good Morrow,” since it’s such a wonderful description of love’s fulfillment, the point where you know THIS person is THE person. An excerpt:

If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.

Cara King
15 years ago

To answer your questions:

1. I do know folks who like the Olivier version better, but I prefer Branagh’s.

2. I don’t think those battles would be remembered by any but a small handful were it not for the plays and poems about them!

3. Much easier to remember quotes from plays and poetry than from novels! Some of my favorite quotes, because I’m weird:

from Wilde:

She was a good cook, as cooks go, and as cooks go, she went.

The good ended happily, and the bad, unhappily. That is what fiction means.

And Diane — I love the scene with Christian Bale in Henry V! It also had Judi Dench in it, for good measure, among other great folks.


Keira Soleore
15 years ago

As poems go, Daffodils and Solitary Reaper are at the top.

For sound bites though, Blake’s my favorite.

“To see the world in a grain of sand / And to see heaven in a wild flower / Hold infinity in the palm of your hands / And eternity in an hour.”

Even the cadence of those words has me sighing. I miss reading poetry aloud and memorizing it. My thanks, Janet.

Then there’s the ever irreverant Shaw: “Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

Pam Rosenthal
15 years ago

I used the The Good-Morrow in The Slightest Provocation. Both the part Susan quoted, and the opener:

I wonder by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved?

The poem is a kind of doubling of discovery and retrospect, appropriate for my book, which tells the story of a marriage by jumping from present to past and back. And it’s a poem my husband and I often refer to, to marvel at the paradoxes of constancy and change, being together and separate.

And speaking of marvels, I’m hoping to title my next with a phrase from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” but it’s not official (my editor has warned me not to print up any tee-shirts), and so I’m not telling which phrase.

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

St. Crispin was said to be the patron saint of shoemakers. 🙂 Every year in Scarborough and also in parts of Northumberland and Sussex, a feast with flambeaux torches are held to honor him.

Pam, I love learning about all these various allusions and inclusions from Provocation. There are so many things I’m finding out that I didn’t catch in my first reading. Now that I’m better informed, I’m sure the second reading is going to be a lot more enjoyable.

15 years ago

I don’t mean to be contrary, but while I agree that few but military history buffs would remember the Charge of the Light Brigade if it were not for Tennyson, Agincourt (by contrast) was a big honking deal. The throne of France was occupied by the king of England for decades, and the English continued to hold the upper hand over the French until internal divisions, changes in military technology, shifting tactics of the French, and other factors (e.g., Joan of Arc) finally turned the tide.

The fact that England didn’t hold on to France in the long term doesn’t mean that Agincourt wasn’t important. Germany didn’t manage to hold on to the parts of Europe they had conquered, but I think few would claim that WWII wasn’t important.

I think Shakespeare chose Agincourt for the backdrop of one of his plays because of the importance, and dramatic outcome, of the battle. The Charge of the Light Brigade was a relatively minor incident in one battle of a relatively unimportant war. Like “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” its importance has been magnified to later students of history because of a poem written about it. I don’t think that’s the case with Agincourt.


Tracy Grant
15 years ago

I was thinking much the same thing, Todd. We spent quite a bit of time on Agincourt and its repercussions when I was studying 15ht century British history in college. It was certainly a much-remembered event in Shakespeare’s time, and Henry V was an idealized hero. I’ve often thought part of what Shakespeare was doing in the play was examining the real man and the real events behind the heroic myth that had grown up.

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