Thursday, 24 April 2014

'And shall Trelawny Die?'

From the radio this morning came the stirring sound of a Cornish male voice choir belting out the county's 'national anthem', Trelawny. This was in honour of Cornwall having been granted national minority status under EU rules (so the rest of us will no longer be able to persecute this oppressed minority with impunity). Trelawny (or The Song of the Western Men), long believed to be of ancient origin, was actually written by the Victorian parson-poet Robert Stephen Hawker, and the Trelawny in question could be one of two rebellious Cornishmen, both of whom fell foul of the English and were imprisoned.

'A good sword and a trusty hand!
A merry heart and true!
King James's men shall understand
What Cornish lads can do!
And have they fixed the where and when?
And shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!
Chorus
And shall Trelawny live?
And shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!
Out spake their Captain brave and bold:
A merry wight was he:
Though London Tower were Michael's hold,
We'll set Trelawny free!
'We'll cross the Tamar, land to land:
The Severn is no stay:
With "one and all," and hand in hand;
And who shall bid us nay?
Chorus
And shall Trelawny live?
And shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!
And when we come to London Wall,
A pleasant sight to view,
Come forth! come forth! ye cowards all:
Here's men as good as you.
'Trelawny he's in keep and hold;
Trelawny he may die:
Here's twenty thousand Cornish bold
Will know the reason why
Chorus
And shall Trelawny live?
And shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!'

Hawker of Morwenstow was, even by the standards of Victorian parson-poets, a prime fruitcake, though some of the stories about him - dressing up as a mermaid, excommunicating his cat for mousing on a Sunday - are probably mythical. He certainly dressed in a  most unclerical manner, sporting a claret-coloured coat, a fisherman's jersey and sea-boots, and a kind of poncho made from a yellow blanket, in imitation (he claimed) of the Welsh saint Padam. And he talked to the birds, entertained his nine cats in the church, and had a lively belief in the 'little people' and a Lord Emsworth-like attachment to his pet pig. He spent much time writing, brooding - and smoking opium - in a driftwood hut (now known as Hawker's Hut, and the National Trust's smallest property) overlooking the Atlantic breakers.
  But if Hawker was eccentric - and addicted to opium - it is hardly surprising. His Cornish parish was poor, weatherbeaten and extremely remote (there was no railway at all into Cornwall until 1859: Wilkie Collins's early Rambles Beyond Railways describes what it was like to travel there in the earlier 1850s). The worst of it was that Morwenstow was a notorious haunt of wreckers, happy to lure ships onto the treacherous rocks of the coastline, regardless of the cost in human lives. Hawker, humanely determined to give every drowned man a Christian burial, had to cope with the grisly consequences of these frequent wrecks, as well as witnessing the hopeless struggles of drowning men just off the rocky shore. Despite these tribulations, he produced several volumes of  antiquarian studies and verse, including the first part of an Arthurian epic, The Quest of the Sangraal, that was praised by Tennyson. He also, in 1843, instituted the Harvest Festival as we know it today - a tradition no more ancient than The Song of the Western Men.




7 comments:

  1. Hehe. So funny that now I can take legal action for being a cornish pasty. Oh arrr bugger that give I my scrumpy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yea verily, and I could now be prosecuted for my unkind remarks in the past about said pasties. Dear o dear...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very Poldarkian, will Truro have it's own bourse one wonders and where will it all end? this deconstruction of the geopolitical, nay tribal potpourri that is the very essence of twenty first century Wielka Brytania, I must unearth those share certificates, the ones for Wheal Jane, a sound and wise investment, what what!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Strange "pagan" (not sure what Daphne du Maurier was up to there) and wrecking, Cornish clergyman concealed behind the veneer of genteel respectability in BBC's recent Jamaica Inn too . And an interlude on discrimination against the Cornish in their self-parodying (almost wrote elf-parodying!) recent comedy W1A too. What's going on? Is Cornwall the new ethnic battleground? Will Putin come to their rescue?

    ReplyDelete