London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1928. First illustrated edition. Tall octavo (9 inches tall), original gilt russet cloth, top edge gilt, uncut. Mild tanning to blank flyleaves, gentle wear to corners and, slight fraying to head of the spine. A near-fine copy. Item #763
"AND THOUGH THEY SCATTER NOW AND GO / IN SOME FAR CENTURY, SAD AND SLOW / I HAVE A VISION AND I KNOW / THE HEATHEN SHALL RETURN" First illustrated edition of G.K. Chesterton's enduring Ballad of the White Horse, one of the last great epic poems in the English language. Chesterton's recounting of the martial exploits of the Saxon King Alfred was first published in 1911, "the only one of his works that he felt worthy enough to dedicate to his wife" (Ahlquist, Lecture 21). The poetic legend of a medieval king demonstrates the bonding appeal of national mythmaking across the ages and the Ballad of the White Horse has found lasting appeal, especially in times of conflict. Chesterton's short Prefatory note discusses the historical function of legend in establishing a common tradition: "Alfred has come down to us in the best way (that is, by national legends) solely for the same reason as Arthur and Roland and the other giants of that darkness, because he fought for the Christian civilization against the heathen nihilism." Robert Austin illustrated Methuen's tenth edition (published in October 1928), gracing Chesterton's poem with distinctive black-and-white headpieces, decorated initials, and half titles. The text consists of a lengthy Dedication, followed by eight books: I. The Vision of the King, II. The Gathering of the Chiefs, III. The Harp of Alfred, IV. The Woman in the Forest, V. Ethandune: The First Stroke, VI. Ethandune: The Slaying of the Chiefs, VII. Ethandune: The Last Charge, VIII. The Scouring of the Horse.
Charles Williams spoke for many of his generation when he called White Horse "one of the greatest of modern poems. Mr. Williams is among the very few, I think, who see that the greatness of the poem and the author's incessant fighting in the modern battle are essentially connected. He writes of battles as one engaged in them, whence arises the whiff of reality that made one critic exclaim of the Ballad of the White Horse that there has been no better fighting since Homer. His poems are always full of the voice of battle, they invariably deal with crises. But in reality, it is only of one battle and of one crisis he writes, and that of the present crisis of European civilization and the battle to save it. His poetry, by reason of this, becomes something more than just poetry. It is a proclamation, a manifesto, a challenge, a war-cry. One goes to it as he goes to Dante or to Virgil or to Homer primarily to find the living soul, the aspirations, the hopes of a people" (Calvert Alexander). Bound with a publisher's catalogue, Methuen's General Literature. The tenth edition also included 100 copies printed on hand-made paper and signed by Chesterton. Alexander. The Catholic Revival, Sullivan. G.K. Chesterton: A Bibliography, 25.