Essays

Sir Walter Scott on Nationalism

Sir Walter Scott

by John I. Johnson

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
“This is my own, my native land!”
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d,
From wandering on a foreign strand?
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.

–Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), from The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto vi, Stanza i (1805).

Interestingly, “Breathes there a man” was quoted in full on the final page (62) of Review of the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace, arranged by the National Council of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions, and held in New York City, March 25, 26, and 27, 1949, published by the anti-Communist Committee on Un-American Activities of the U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., in 1950.

William Pierce’s self-chosen epitaph is well-known to regular readers of this site: “Cattle die, and kinsmen die, and so must one die oneself, but there is one thing I know which never dies, and that is the fame of a dead man’s deeds.”

As he explained on a September 2000 broadcast of American Dissident Voices:

Here’s a guideline: the things that are important are the things that endure, the things that last, the things that are immortal. A thousand years ago our ancestors in Europe didn’t have quite the same notion of the immortal soul that the mainstream Christians do today, but they believed in immortality nevertheless. One of their most often quoted religious sayings, which expresses very concisely their idea of immortality, comes from that part of the Elder Edda known as Hávamál. The saying is: “Cattle die, and kinsmen die, and so must one die oneself, but there is one thing I know which never dies, and that is the fame of a dead man’s deeds.”

Well, that’s a little poetic, but it expresses clearly the notion that more lasting, and therefore more important, than our possessions and our friends and our pleasures in life — even than life itself — is the reputation that we make for ourselves and our lasting accomplishments. Many things are implied by this single idea: for example, the conviction that it is better to live an honorable life, to live nobly, than it is to be rich. Or the conviction that it is better to live a useful and purposeful life than merely a comfortable life, and that one’s purpose in life — the purpose or cause to which one consecrates his life — ought to be something which lasts beyond the life of the individual.

One can consecrate his life to the service of an idea — an ideology — and many have done that in the past. But it is better, I think, to serve the race in which an idea is incarnate, the race which gives life to the idea, the immortal race of which the individual is only a mortal part. Much more important than paying our bar bill at the country club is having some influence on the type of world our people will live in a thousand years from now, making some contribution now to that world. That’s what gives our lives lasting value. That’s what gives us immortality.

Note that two complementary aspects of a single idea are expressed in these two poetic fragments — Hávamál’s and Scott’s. Hávamál emphasizes the immortality of the principled man, Scott the “forfeit of fair reknown,” the “double death” of the purely selfish:

High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.

* * *

Source: Author

For Further Reading

Previous post

Put on Your Yarmulke!

Next post

Knowledge and Discipline

No Comments Yet

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Slander, crude language, incivility, off-topic drift, or remarks that might harm National Vanguard or its users may be edited or deleted, even if unintentional. Comments may be edited for clarity or usage.