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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.

-Innominatus  (Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832)

Back in 1973, when I was a mere lad of 11, Cliff Robertson starred in a TV movie of the Week version of Edward Everett Hale's great novella, The Man Without a Country.  I watched transfixed.  My Mom also had a tattered copy of the book which we immediately read; it had presumably been her Dad's, a former Merchant Marine.  Ever since, this patriotic haunting tale has been one of my favorites.

Edward Everett Hale, a descendant of Nathan Hale and a leading Unitarian clergyman of his time, tells the story of Philip Nolan, a young man enamored of the charismatic Aaron Burr.  He participates in Burr's mystery shrouded empire building scheme, for which Burr was charged with treason.  While Burr and the other leaders escape punishment, Nolan is convicted.  When the presiding judge offers him an opportunity to prove his loyalty to the United States, Nolan replies in fury:

    D---n the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!

The stunned Court determines to grant his wish as his punishment.  He is placed on board a naval vessel and the crew is ordered:

    You will receive from Ltd. Neale the person of Philip Nolan, late a Lieutenant in the United
    States Army. This person on his trial by court-martial expressed with an oath the wish that he might
    never hear of the United States again. The court sentenced him to have his wish fulfilled. For the
    present, the execution of the order is entrusted by the President to this department. You will take
    the prisoner on board your ship, and keep him there with such precautions as shall prevent his
    escape.  You will provide him with such quarters, rations, and clothing as would be proper for an
    officer of his late rank, if he were a passenger on your vessel on the business of his Government.

    The gentleman on board will make any arrangements agreeable to themselves regarding his society.
    He is to be exposed to no indignity of any kind, nor is he ever unnecessarily to be reminded that he
    is a prisoner. But under no circumstances is he ever to hear of his country or to see any information
    regarding it; and you will especially caution all the officers under your command to take care that,
    in the various indulgences which may be granted, this rule, in which his punishment is involved,
    shall not be broken. It is the intention of the Government that he shall never again see the country
    which he has disowned. Before the end of your cruise you will receive orders which will give effect
    to this intention.

For the next fifty years he is transferred from ship to ship as they approach the U.S. coast, he never hears aught of the States and his books and newspapers have all reference to America carefully excised.  He grows increasingly melancholy and solitary; he is The Man Without a Country.  Finally, as he lies sick abed in his cabin which no one has ever visited, he begs his current berth's captain for information.  Captain Danforth recounts his visit to the cabin in a letter:

    Well, I went in, and there, to be sure, the poor fellow lay in his berth, smiling pleasantly as he gave
    me his hand, but looking very frail. I could not help a glance round, which showed me what a little
    shrine he had made of the box he was lying in. The stars and stripes were triced up above and
    around a picture of Washington, and he had painted a majestic eagle, with lightning blazing from
    his beak and his foot just clasping the whole globe, which his wings overshadowed. The dear old
    boy saw my glance, and said, with a sad smile, 'Here, you see, I have a country!' And then he
    pointed to the foot of his bed, where I had not seen before a great map of the United States, as he
    had drawn it from memory, and which he had there to look upon as he lay. Quaint, queer old names
    were on it, in large letters: 'Indiana Territory,' 'Mississippi Territory,' and 'Louisiana,' as I supposed
    our fathers learned such things; but the old fellow had patched in Texas, too: he had carried his
    western boundary all the way to the Pacific but on that shore he had defined nothing.  'Oh
    Danforth,' he said, 'I know I am dying. I cannot get home. Surely you will tell me something now?
    - Stop! stop! Do not speak till I say what I am sure you know, that there is not in this ship, that
    there is not in America, - God bless her! - a more loyal man than I. There cannot be a man who
    loves the old flag as I do, or hopes for it as I do. There are thirty -four stars in it now, Danforth. I
    thank God for that, though I do not know what their names are. There has never been one taken
    away; I thank God for that. I know by that, that there has never been any successful Burr. Oh,
    Danforth, Danforth,' he sighed out, 'how like a wretched night's dream a boy's idea of personal
    fame or of separate sovereignty seems, when one looks back on it after such a life as mine! But tell
    me, - tell me something, - tell me everything, Danforth, before I die!'

Danforth accedes to his request and fills him in on the events of the past half century.  A grateful Nolan asks him to look in his Bible when he passes.  Nolan dies that night and the Captain finds a sheet of paper with a request and a sketch of a headstone:

    Bury me in the sea; it has been my home, and I love it.  but will not some one set up a stone for my
    memory at Fort Adams or at Orleans, that my disgrace may not be more than I ought to bear?  Say
    on it:  'In Memory of PHILIP NOLAN, Lieutenant in the Army of the United States.  He loved his
    country as no other man has loved her; but no man deserved less at her hands.

Now, I little realized as a callow youth that this was originally an anti-Seccessionist polemic.  First published in The Atlantic in 1863, Hale wrote it in order to demonstrate, without regard to the actual issues of the Civil War, the devastating loss that Southerners would suffer by turning their backs on their country.  Of course, at the time this show was televised--in the midst of Vietnam and Watergate--American patriotism was at its nadir.  Selfish, spoiled youths were taking over their colleges, marching on Washington, turning political Conventions into battlegrounds, burning their draft cards and fleeing to Canada to avoid military service.  So, for a kid who rooted for the Guardsmen at Kent State, the story seemed as timely as the day it was published.  And the ineffably sad image of Philip Nolan, exiled at sea and bereft of news of his increasingly beloved homeland, was indelibly etched in my mind.

There are many technical criticisms that can be, and have been, lodged against this story.  It is moralistic and simplistic, with fairly little action and no great character development.  But it wields a power all out of proportion to it's breadth, depth and style.  (N.B. If you think I overstate its effect, check out this story about how Covington County, AL erected the headstone Nolan asked for as part of the Bicentennial celebration in 1976).  Once you read it, you will never forget it either.

Dorothy C. Judd adds:
When I was a child, back in the Dark Ages, before television, I first heard  the story on a radio program called "My Favorite Story." I can still hear the  "voice" of Philip Nolan and his curse in my head!  My parents, of course,  used this story, not as a political lesson, but as an object lesson: the  ultimate "think before you speak."   Even today, reading from the slim, red leather volume my son mentions, I can  feel the anguish, the loneliness, the regret which first reduced me to tears as a child.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)

  

Websites:

See also:

Sea Stories
Book-related and General Links:
    -ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA: Hale, Edward Everett
    -BIO: Edward Everett Hale
    -Edward Everett Hale House (12 Morley Street Roxbury, MA)
    -The Cambridge History of English and American Literature  VI. The Short Story § 8. Hale.
    -The Cambridge History of English and American Literature  XIII. Later Essayists § 11. Edward Everett Hale; The Man Without a Country
    -DAGERRETYPE & LETTER: (The Daguerrian Society)
    -IMAGE: Portrait of Helen Keller with Anne Sullivan and Edward Everett (American Foundation for the Blind)
    -ETEXT: The Man Without a Country
    -ETEXT: The Brick Moon, and Other Stories 1899 (U.Virginia)
    -ESSAY: The Lure, the Lock, the Key (NASA)
    -The Theoretical Ground Work For Satellites: The Early Dreamers
    -ETEXT: Challenge to the Boston Youth by Edward Everett Hale (American Heritage Library)
    -ANNOTATED ETEXT:  Edward Everett Hale The Life of Christopher Columbus from his own Letters and Journals (Self Knowledge)
    -ESSAY: Veterans deserve a monument in county (Editorial, The Andalusia Star-News, Conington County, AL)
    -ESSAY: Amarillo's Timeless Tales: Young men urged not to evade draft in Canada (The Amarillo Globe-News, Compiled by JESSICA RAYNOR  Globe-News Staff Writer)
    -ESSAY: Burton on the Bay: Rally 'Round the Flag (New Bay Times)
    -ESSAY: The good, the bad & the ugly: An opinionated, irreverent look at Boston's public art (Christopher Millis, Boston Phoenix)
 

FILM:
    -BUY IT: (Amazon)
    -INFO: Man Without a Country, The (1973) (TV)(Internet Movie database)

Comments:

At the age of 13,in 1937, I read the story of "The Man without a country" in class. It so impressed me that I wrote my first poem that I have kept and remembered. I am now 79 years old, have been retired from teaching 19 years as an English teacher. I have taught students how to write for 35 years, am now writing my autobiography, my 2nd one, on my first husband and our three daughters. My first journal, finished in 2003, was a travelogue on all the adventures my 2nd husband and I had while traveling the world for 15 years. It was this first poem I wrote that started me writing a collection of poems about, among other things, poetry to all five of my grandchildren.

- Gail (Overton) Kommer

- Aug-11-2003, 12:33

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