David Gwynn—Hero or ‘ Boasting Liar’?

(From ‘ Historical Problems ’)


A galley lie ’ ye call my tale ; but he1
Whose talk is with the deep kens mighty tales.2
The man, I say, who helped to keep you free3
Stands here, a truthful son of truthful Wales.4
Slandered by England as a loose-lipped liar,5
Banished from Ireland, branded rogue and thief,6
Here stands that Gwynn, whose life of torments dire7
Heaven sealed for England, sealed in blood and fire8
Stands asking here Truth’s one reward, belief !9


I see—I see ev’n now—those ships of Spain10
Gathered in Lisbon Bay to make the spring,11
I feel the curséd oars, I toil again,12
And trumpets blare, and priests and choir-boys sing ;13
And morning strikes with many a golden shaft,14
Through ruddy mist, four galleys rowing out,15
Four galleys built to pierce the English craft,16
Each swivel-gunned for raking fore and aft,17
Snouted like sword-fish, but with iron snout.18


And one we call The Princess, one The Royal,19
Diana one ; and last that fell Basana20
Where I am toiling, Gwynn, the true, the loyal21
Thinking of mighty Drake and Gloriana.22
By Finisterre God sends a hurricane ;23
Down comes the captain, and quoth he to me24
His Hell-lit eyes blistered with spray and rain25
‘Freedom and gold are thine, and thanks of Spain,26
If thou canst take the galley through this sea.’27
A fleuron glyph is placed before a footnote.
Professor Laughton’s introduction to ‘ State Papers relating to the defeat of the Spanish
Armada’ lends a revived interest to David Gwynn’s ‘ galley yarn,’ which the Professor repu-
diates. It is treated by Motley as an important episode in the great naval struggle between
England and Spain.


Ay ! ay !’ quoth I. The fools unlock me straight,28
And soon ’tis I give orders to the Don,29
Laughing within to hear the laugh of Fate :30
Soldiers must go below,’ quoth I, ‘ each one !’31
Death whispers thus : ‘ While soldiers sit below32
’Twixt slaves, whose hate turns nails and teeth to knives,33
Seize thou the muskets ; turn them on the foe ;34
But watch with me, before thou strike the blow,35
Till thou canst free the stoutest from their gyves.’36


The four queen-galleys pass Cape Finisterre :37
The Armada, dreaming but of ocean storms,38
Thinks not of British slaves with shoulders bare39
Chained, bloody-whealed, and pale on galley forms.40
Each, as he rows, hath this my whispered plan41
Deep-scriptured in his brain in words of fire :42
‘Rise every man, and tear to death his man,43
Yea, tear as only galley captives can,44
When “ God’s Revenge ” sings loud to Ocean’s lyre.’45


Past Ferrol Bay I see each galley stoop,46
Shuddering before the Biscay demon’s breath47
Down goes a prow—down goes a gaudy poop :48
The Don’s Diana bears the Don to death,’49
Quoth I, ‘ and, see the Princess plunge and wallow50
Down purple troughs o’er snowy crests of foam :51
See ! see ! the Royal, how she tries to follow52
By many a glimmering crest and shimmering hollow,53
Where gull and petrel scarcely dare to roam.’54


And now Death signs to me mid Ocean’s din :55
The captain sees the skeleton and pales ;56
And when the slaves cry ‘ Ho for Drake and Gwynn !’57
Teach them,’ quoth I, ‘ the way we swim in Wales !58
Sweet strokes are they we deal for old love’s sake59
When slaves are turned to lords, and lords to slaves,60
When captives hold the whip, let drivers quake !61
Make every Don, athirst for blood of Drake,62
Toast England’s Queen in wine of foaming waves.’63


Far off, the Royal’s captain sees the strife ;64
Her slaves see too—see Freedom coming on.65
Ye scourge in vain,’ quoth I, ‘ scourging for life66
Slaves who shall row no more to save the Don.’67
Captives,’ I cry, ‘ your hour is coming swift :68
Through David Gwynn God frees you from your pain ;69
Show Heaven and me your lives are worth the gift !’70
Full soon the captured Royal rides adrift :71
Ask Gwynn, quoth I, ‘ for four queen-galleys, Spain72


Spain, who shalt tell, with ashen lips of dread,73
The Welshman’s tale—shalt tell in future days74
How Gwynn, the galley slave, once fought and bled75
For England, when she moved through perilous ways !’76
And, now, ye Plymouth seamen, heroes sprung77
From loins of men whose spirits haunt the sea,78
Doth England, she who loves the loudest tongue,79
Remember sons of hers whose deeds are sung80
By yon green billows sworn to hold her free ?81


To think the great new thought or do the deed82
That gilds with richer light the mother-land,83
Or lend her strength of arm in hour of need,84
When eyes of Doom gleam fierce on every hand,85
Is bliss to him whose bliss is working well86
Is goal and guerdon, too, though boasters loud87
Make brazen music for the leaden crowd,88
Dazzled and deafened by the babbler’s spell.89