‘The Old Squire’, The Bulletin, 28 May 1908
â€˜As it is in the Days of Now,â€™ Black Death, conquest, despotism, famine, Henry Lawson (1867-1922), honour, ingratitude, justice, king, knight, knighthood, loyalty, neglect, noble, pestilence, plague, Old Swithin, rescue, service, sickness, siege, Sir William, squire, Swithin, sword, Virland (Old Estonia).
The Bulletin, which was resolutely “anti-imperialist” in its outlook, published a range of verses, ballads and other “poems in which the Middle Ages were represented as despotic and barbaric” (Louise D’Arcens, Old Songs in the Timeless Land: Medievalism in Australian Literature 1840-1910, Turnhout, Brepols, 2011, p.143). While ‘The Old Squire’ doesn’t do this explicitly, it is undeniably a “tale of faithful service unrewarded” (D’Arcens, p.144). Here we again follow the adventures of Sir William, Henry Lawson’s cuckolded knight from ‘As it is in the Days of Now’ (See http://ausmed.arts.uwa.edu.au/items/show/1020). Sir William, his squire, the King and the narrator ride into Virland with the intention of conquering the City, only to find the inhabitants suffering in the throes of the Black Death. Sir William is portrayed in the poem as arrogant and thoughtless for failing to appreciate the longstanding and faithful service of his squire, Old Swithin. After dutifully clearing out the dead from the City, Swithin collapses after trying to rescue a child from plague infested quarters. He is portrayed as noble in character but, unjustly, not in name; instead, ‘His heart was ever pained, / because of that old knighthood / that he should once have gained’. When his worth is finally recognised and the King attempts to knight him at the end of the poem, it is too late for he is already dead. While not an outright attack on all authority, this poem “implicitly condemns aristocratic arrogance and the [...] inequity of the feudal system” (D’Arcens, p.144).
28 May 1908, p.40