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14                              G.   K.   CHESTERTON
to be recited by a narrator—as, for instance, the Reynard
the Fox of John MasefielcL Such a ballad needs move-
ment and excitement and a high theme, and all these Ches-
terton brought to his Ballad of the White Horse. It is cer-
tainly one of the first and the most widely quoted of all such
English ballads of this century.
On a number of hill-sides in the West Country are to be
seen effigies of White Horses. Of these some are indeed
modern and uninteresting imitations, but two, one at Eding-
ton in Wiltshire and one at Uffington in Berkshire, are of
immemorial antiquity. Chesterton in his Ballad tells the
story of the fight for the defence of England between the
Christian King, Alfred, and the invading heathen Danes,
of the battle of Ethandune, or Edington, Alfred's final
victory, and of the acceptance of Christian baptism by
Guthrum, the Danish King.
In the early stages of the war the prospects of victory are
all on the Danish side. Our Lady appears to Alfred in a
vision and says to him,
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And tie sea rises higher.
Alfred accepts this as good news. For now at least he can
know that he follows the Christian cause for its own sake
and not for any worldly advantage that he may hope to get
out of it Disguised as a harper, he goes to the Danish
camp. On his way there he passes the White Horse and
sees that the Danes have neglected to keep it scoured. In
the Danish camp he finds the Danes, singing and telling
stories to one another. Harold, one of the young chieftains,
is boasting frantically of the loveliness of a life of victorious
For Rome was given to rule the world
And got of it little joy—
But we, but we shall enjoy the world
The whole huge world a toy.