Glasgow Herald, 12 April 1900 p. 10

It is perhaps too soon to put a fair valuation upon Can Rawnsley’s war-ballads, partly because they lack the halo of romance which memory confers upon the most commonplace incidents of the national and even the local life of the past. The incidents in the South African War which have caught the fancy and touched the heart of the Keswick poet are treated with spirit and sympathy, but it was, we suppose, inevitable that they should have to some extent the effect of newspaper paragraphs about things of yesterday. As a matter of fact, some of the newspaper descriptions of the battles and their peculiar details have been far more effective than much of the verse which they have inspired. The ancient poets and rhymers, no doubt, often wrote their songs and ballads in the heat of the events which they celebrate. But much of the early minstrelsy has an air of having been written on events remembered long after their occurrence or heard in the form of oral tradition. It is probable, for instance, there existed old songs lamenting the disaster of Flodden; but the two songs on the same theme—those by Miss Jane Elliot and Mrs Cockburn—which are so well known, were written some 200 years after the battle in which the Flowers of the Forest suffered so dreadfully, and afflicted all Scotland with centuries of sadness. The blow was perhaps too stunning to allow of immediate and pure poetic effort; and it was not until the historic calamity had, in a sense, become a romantic memory, and ceased to be an intolerable mental burden, that it became possible to transmute the nation’s lingering sorrow into pathetic and durable song. Bannockburn had much longer to wait for its predestined poet. There had no doubt been poetic references to the great fight of liberation in June, 1314, as, for instance, in Barbour’s Bruce. But no less than 479 years had to elapse before Burns flashed out his immortal ode in September, 1793. It was worthwhile for Bannockburn to wait all that time for such a splendid glorification. In modern days great or sensational events find ready poets, who too often treat them in rhymes that fit the hour and perish with it. Wh have, however, had poets who made great deeds live again in great verse; and of this high breed of singer, the late laureate was our noblest example. The present war has called forth much verse and some good poetry, but none really great. Poets who rush and gush on this subject are not likely to produce good work, especially on vital points that are scarcely ripe for treatment—which may be ripe perhaps twenty, fifty, or a hundred years hence, when South Africa has found its permanent position in the British Empire, and when the historic and poetic facts and ideas can be seen in proper perspective. But, of course, the living ? when strongly moved by passing events, must sing or choke. There were poets before Homer, but Homer’s theme was at least 700 years old when he wrote the Ilian and the Odyssey. We have many living poets, but no Homer has yet risen to sing in adequate numbers the great war which ended with Waterloo, and of which Napoleon and Wellington were the heroes. The comment on that is that the epic, as a poetic form, is dead beyond the possibility of revival. Perhaps—but after all who knows? Certainly not we of the present generation. Many poets are embodying in verse some of the incidents of the present war; but a time may come, many years hence, when the subject will be treated in a manner worthy of its far-reaching greatness. In the meantime we must be content with the well-meant lyrical utterances of the hour, while yet the wonderful and picturesque events of the new Iliad are being enacted. Of Canon Rawnsley’s book of ballads it may be said that they present some of the incidents of the war with much spirit and pathos; and it is certain that some of them will find a permanent place in military anthologies. The best example of the poet’s work is, to our liking, the piece which describes “The Burial of General Wauchope” at Modder River, December 13, 1899. It is only truth to say that the unmerited fate of this noble leader of the Highland Brigade has thrilled the heart, not only of the Queen’s Highland soldiers, but of the whole nation.

There is one special merit in Canon Rawnsley’s book. His ballads are not fanciful, but are based upon facts, properly authenticated by the war correspondents, from whose writings relative passages are quoted. Some of these prose paragraphs have all the effect of real poetry.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 27 June 1900, p. 7

Ballads of the War.—Canon Rawnsley has a nice skill in ballad-making; and he has been busy since the war began. His “Ballads of the War” deserve a general welcome. He gives us ample variety. There are stirring ballads dealing with such incidents as that of the “Wounded Piper of Elandslaagte” and “How the Naval Guns Came to Ladysmith.” There are sonnets dealing rather with the conscience and thoughts of the nation at home than with incidents of the field. There are shorter poems concerned with persons and incidents in the strife. Canon Rawnsley knows how to write a ballad with swing and fire as well as pathos in it; how to touch the chords that lie deeper within us; and how happily to hit off the national feeling towards a hero or a sufferer. If sometimes it looks as though he had lent momentary attention to the cunning lie which writes this struggle down as a “capitalists’ war,” the Imperial spirit is always strong within him. A sonnet on the Queen’s visit to Netley, suggested by a Highlander’s words, will serve as a specimen of the contents of this volume:--

They spake not, but their wounds were eloquent
    As there they stood in hospital array,
    The pain of sword and bullet passed away
While on from ward to ward Victoria went;
And here she thanked them for their brave intent,
    There for some tender question would she stay;
    Here speak with sorrow of the battle day,
There smile such smile as more than praises

Lady revered, for whom all men endure
    The heat of onset gladly, and the cold
        Of loss and failure, love is ever green
    To crown your royal head with more than gold;
When all the thrones are shaken yours is sure,
        Seeming so much more mother than a Queen.