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Poor, shabby, sickly stuff, as much like simply because they have “'scaped a sea stave as rose-water is like oil of them oft" by "swift swimming;" but vitriol.
we hasten to add that their craft is a Seeing that nearly seven centuries merchantman and not a Queen's ship. have sped since England first drew up Pepys has preserved a nautical ballad a code of naval laws, and Edward I as- of yet earlier date, descriptive of a fight sumed "the sovereign lordship of the between Lord Howard and Sir Andrew sea of England and of the isles within Barton, a Scottish pirate, from which the same," it is strange that almost un- we learn that the naval force of Engtil yesterday the deeds of British sail. land consisted at that time of but two ors remained unsung. Our earlier poets ships of war. In the “Reliques" of seem to have felt
Percy there is a sea stave called “The
Winning of Cales," or Cadiz, but it is Of the sea a reverential fear,
a dull effusion. Shakespeare has given and to have kept aloof, even in imagi. us many snatches of old lyrics, but not nation, from its terrors and grandeur. one genuine song of the sea, with the That among the poems of Chaucer and exception, perhaps, of Stephano's ditty Gower we should find no songs of the in "The Tempest":sea is less surprising than their absence from our rich treasury of old-world The master, the swabber, the boat. ballads. Many a Robin Hood ballad swain, and I, holds its place in our folklore; there is
The gunner, and his mate,
Lov'd Mall, Meg, and Marian, and no lack of local traditions or of poetic
Margery, effusions bearing upon political events
But none of us card for Kate, etc. now many centuries old; but we have not one single old-time ditty commem- Notable sea songs surely must have orating an adventurous voyage or been made and trolled in the spacious gallant sea deed, the sights our mari- times of Queen Bess; but we know ners saw under the glitter of the South- them not. Stuart times produced none, ern Cross, or the perils they grappled if we except a well-known ballad by with in the white North. Englishmen Lord Buckhurst, afterwards 'Earl of in those days sailed far, and must have Dorset, which has ever since been pophad many such tales to tell; but for ular, no less for its lively wit and centuries their prowess was untold in breezy flavor than on account of the verse. All we possess is a scrap or two circumstances under which it was comof doggerel, with here and there a posed. “To all you ladies now on land" passing allusion in the pages of Dray- was written while the fleets of Eng. ton or Spenser. The poets, almost to a land and Holland, commanded by the man, have ignored the most valorous Duke of York and "foggy Opdam," fights in which the fleets of England were lying within gunshot of each othhave been engaged and have sung er off Harwich, on the evening of June naught in honor of the many bold and 3d, 1665. Dr. Johnson, however, asromantic expeditions that left her serts that Dorset "only retouched or shores.
finished it on the memorable evening; One of the earliest proper sea songs but even this," he graciously adds, is a roystering ditty in the comedy of "whatever it may subtract from his fa“Common Conditions" (1576), in which cility, leaves him his courage." How. the sailors make boast of the extreme ever this may be, the ballad is such as swiftness of their ship rather than of we should expect from an accomplished their own valor. They fear no foe, courtier and cavalier:
To all you ladies now on land,
Mariner's Glee" (temp. James I), the We men at sea indite;
first stanza of which runs:But first would have you understand, How hard it is to write.
We be three poor mariners, The Muses now, and Neptune, too,
Newly come from the seas; We must implore to write to you,
We spend our lives in jeopardy, With a fa, la, la, la, la.
While others live at ease. If as a composition Dorset's stanzas cannot vie with Theodore Körner's
Parker's song seems to have com
mended itself to the author of "Hohen“Sword Song," written by a camp fire two hours before he fell, we must re
linden," who not only wrote for the member that Dorset was a poet rather
air to which it was sung his fiery than a sailor, serving as a volunteer on
stanzas, “Ye Mariners of England"board ship, according to a custom by
the most robust and truly national which it was no uncommon thing for
lyric in our language—but incorporated a high-born civilian
therein the refrain "When the stormy officer to take charge of a fleet; to-day
winds do blow." he might be in command of a regiment
The arrival of William at Torbay in of horse, to morrow of a three decker,
the Brill was the occasion of a sea Under Cromwell something of the old
song telling of how “the conquering
hero came" over the subject waters, Viking spirit blazed up, and in the intervals of its psalm-singing the country
and of his welcome “on the British adressed itself to the preservation of
shore." Four years later appeared a
more muscular specimen in commemothat “sovereignty of the seas" which Grotius disputed and Selden defended.
ration of Russell's victory at La Hogue. Yet Blake and his fellows went to their
It is a right vigorous ballad from the graves unsung. The only extant sea
pen of an anonymous writer, who was ballad of the Protectorate is one by evidently no mealy-mouthed minstrel, Martyn Parker, a cockney rhymer,
but a man used to the expression of his who wrote also “The King shall enjoy thoughts in forcible language. Succeedhis own again." His verses, which ing years produced little in praise of the are in Pepys's collection, are entitled
sea, seeing that the army had the pick “Saylers for my Money; a new ditty
of the laurels, and “The British Grencomposed in the praise of Saylers and
adiers” was a standing dish. Two ditsea affairs, briefly showing the nature
ties by John Gay belong, however, to
this period, “Black-eyed Susan," a song of so worthy a calling and effects of their industry, to the tune of the
rather of Cupid than Neptune, and *Jovial Cobbler.'” The poetaster makes
• 'Twas when the seas were roaring;" his sailors sing of the “cares and the
each undeniably the work of a landsfears” of their calling in a strain cal
man, and suited rather for a spinet culated to arouse the wrath of Dibdin,
than for the “rough and tumble" acand barely reaches mediocrity in four
companiment of wind and wave. teen stanzas, of which the opening lines
The Electors of Hanover cared only are the most familiar:
for the sea as a troublesome line of de
marcation, beyond which lay their Ye gentlemen of England,
home. The navy cost money, and WalWho live at home at ease, pole ignored it. But the popular feelAh! little do you think upon
ing clung fast to the old love. Stories The dangers of the seas.
of gallant deeds at sea were still the Sentiments identical with those of "A tradition, the delight and the heritage
keynote of one of the most stirring sea staves ever penned:
of every English home. And so when Vernon made his dash upon Portobello the nation went half crazy. Woe to the householder who was tardy in lighting up! Woe to the niggard who grudged his penny for the bonfire! Bartlemy Fair was crowded with effigies in wax of the hero of the hour, and on every tongue was the carol:
Cease, rude Boreas, blust'ring railer!
List, ye landsmen, all to me! Messmates, hear a brother sailor
Sing the dangers of the sea!
Admiral Vernon was a brave fellow, He took the town of Portobello; With six ships he took the prize, And this must open all your eyes.
The fame of his exploit lived long in the land, and at least a dozen years later Hogarth painted a one-eyed sailor with six bits of tobacco pipe before him, showing a barber in a pothouse how Portobello was won.
We possessed no real national song of the sea until James Thomson received a commission to write words for a musical medley at the Prince of Wales's private theatre.' The result was “Rule, Britannia," set to music by Arne, and touched up afterwards by Lord Bolingbroke. So the watchword song of Britons all over the earth was written to the order of a prince who had no English sympathies, and whose nautical knowledge was bounded by trips from Whitehall to Twickenham, in company with pretty ambassadresses. Not much later appeared “Hearts of Oak,” rugged and homely lines, instinct with fine national sentiment, and thoroughly attune with the sailor's sympathies. It is a fitting song for the lips of a Viking crew sailing south, and laughing at the thought of defeat, and is to be admired the more as the production of no sea-nurtured poet, but of a drawing-room darling, a prince of the stage, David Garrick. An equally fine piece is “The Storm," by Falconer of Leith, whose opening lines strike the
A few years afterwards the very popular "Bay of Biscay 0” was produced by Andrew Cherry, and the coarse "Old Commodore," by Mark Lonsdale; while it is to Cowper that we owe the fine lament on "The loss of the Royal George," and the gloomy ballad of “The Castaway," with its personal allegory underlying an incident in Anson's voyage to the Horn. The former of these pieces is worthy of a place next “Hohenlinden," and makes us regret that the patriotic haretaming poet was not a dweller by the sea. With his chafing spirit craving for excitement, Cowper surely would have made no contemptible ocean poet, though it may be difficult to identify the bard of "loud hissing urns," and tea-cups and sofas, with the singer of Kempenfelt's sad dirge.
Just in the nick of time, at the outburst of enthusiasm which greeted the French war, came one with songs of dare-devil courage, rollicking humor and tender pathos. In 1745 was born Charles Dibdin, Tyrtæus of our fleet, the Allan Ramsay of the shepherds of the sea, whose fame has mocked at the vicious onslaughts of Lord Jeffrey, in whose judgment the songs of the sailor's laureate were mere ebullitions of slang.
Dibdin's influence upon the navy, as all men know, has not been unchal. lenged. Some have dubbed him a char. latan, and have declared that by his songs he has never given a sailor to the service. Captain Chamier, however, the author of "Ben Brace," thought otherwise, when he asserted that Eng. land can never pay her debt to Dibdin, whose songs breathe the very inspira
1 At Cliefden, in Buckinghamshire, on the 1st of August, 1740.
tion that our seamen need. Herman Melville, too, in "The White Jacket," declares that notwithstanding their savor of fatalism, his verses "breathe the very poetry of ocean." The truth is that Dibdin drew an idealized picture of a sailor's life and character, at a time when the blood of the country was at fever heat after a series of unparalleled victories; when a prince of the blood trod the quarter deck, and Nelson was hailed as the god of war. Anxious to "point a moral and adorn a tale," he cared little for strict adherence to technical truth; since his songs were sung as much on land as at sea, everybody knew them, and found in them an attractive mirror of "a life on the ocean wave."
His contemporaries did not know, as we know, that while the poet grossly exaggerated both the virtues and vices of sailors, his heroes were no more fair types of the real live British tar than was Fenimore Cooper's Chingachcook or Leather-stocking a type of the red man and the trapper of North Ameri
Pitt, however, regarded him as a useful recruiting officer, and we may suppose that many an emotional landsman of tender age succumbed to the powerful influence of his verse. The need of men at this time was sore and constant.
Everybody was possessed by the wholesome conviction that upon the navy alone depended safety from invasion. And yet ships of war went to sea in nine cases of ten undermanned, notwithstanding the merciless razzias of the press-gangs. There was need of a poet to soften realities. Tyranny and injustice went hand in hand with a terribly hard discipline; a hundred years ago a sailor's life was a difficult and bitter thing; and the pen of Dibdin was just the instrument needed to stir a
feeling of enthusiastic pride in the navy and to impress the British public with a notion that life on board a man-o'-war was the most enviable state of existence possible.
Dibdin, who was no slave to an overexacting conscience, was petted by ministers and encouraged to write glowing songs in praise of the fleet; wherefore he wrote and failed not of his reward in the shape of a temporary pension. The popularity of some of his songs has but little declined, while Jack's hardships, of which they make no mention, are now to be found only the pages
of fiction. Mutatis mutandis, the colors in which Dibdin painted a sailor's life afloat are as true at the end of this century as they were false at its beginning.
Though the surroundings and treatment of our bluejackets are to-day very different, the men themselves have changed so little both in esprit de corps and professional peculiarities
of thought, word and deed that Dibdin's stock beau idéal of a seaman remains what it was, intensely melodramatic and hopelessly unreal. Among other faults in his songs we note their frequent coarseness, their exuberance of nautical technicalities (with which, as a matter of fact, no one but a Commodore Trunnion ever interlarded his speech), and his glaring errors in the use of common sea terms. An amusing example of his inaccuracy is seen in the original edition (since amended) of his "Poor Jack," in which he wrote:
2 Captain Griffiths, R.X., in a pamphlet published in 1829 "On the Abolition of Impressment,” wrote, “In the whole of our service we
can hardly recount half a dozen bona fide volun. teers."
Greenwich Pensioner," set to the old Inimitable in his own line and air of “The Plough Boy,” occurs the without a worthy rival, even the most phrase:
trifling of his ditties are characterized
by a manly earnestness, and if marred That time, bound straight to Portugal, by meretricious sentimentality Right fore and aft we bore.
bright with a hundred touches of un
affected pathos. Singing ever in praise And in "Jack in his Element" he per
of duty and patriotism, he exalts also petrated:
such qualities as valor, self-reliance,
endurance, mercy and resignation. PerThe flowing sails we tars unbend To lead a roving life,
haps he would have been a greater In every man we find a friend,
man if he had written less; for while In every port a wife.
we admire his genius and his choice
of themes, we are of opinion that most A yet more absurd slip is in the "Flow- of his thirteen hundred songs might be ing Can:"
burnt to morrow without any serious
loss either to literature in general or to The cadge to weigh,
his own fame in particular. The sheet belay,
His best do not number a score. Who He does it with a wish;
can read "Poor Tom Bowling," written To heave the lead, Or to cat-head
on the occasion of his brother's death, The pond'rous anchor fish.
without feeling the influence of its
pathetic simplicity and felicitous tenIt is superfluous to object that to derness? Words, sentiment and melody "fish" the anchor to the cat-head would (for Dibdin was no mean musician) aro be an act of no less egregious folly all in perfect keeping, and the result than an attempt to cat-head the fish. is a song that will last as long as Eng.
The sentimentality of Dibdin led him land does. Of his other serious pieces now and again to singular freaks of we give highest place to “The Shipfancy. In his ballad of "Ben Back- wreck," a composition in which Dibdin stay," wherein the sailor is said to rises to a loftier plane of poetic feelbrave "for the love of Anna" the fright- ing, and a higher elevation of tone, ful storm, it is also stated that he than in most of his other lyrics. The “thought of Anna, sigh'd and died,” conception is dramatic, the incideuts and that he wore her miniature round are natural and correctly detailed, with his neck. The idea is sufficiently the aid of vivid and appropriate amusing of a tarry topman mournfully imagery. contemplating the effigy of his only love It is especially as the writer, not of during the progress of a gale. We one only, but of a series of worthy sea fancy that he would far more likely songs that Charles Dibdin stands alone have been found tattooed from top to in the gallery of British poets. "The toe with a portrait gallery of the loves Arethusa," with its delightful colloquy which literally were too often but skin between the skipper of the saucy deep. Fanny on his larboard leg, as frigate and the Frenchman on La Belle blue as powder and indigo could make Poule, a song which our grandfathers her; Betsy on his breast, and Susan on often listened to from the lips of Inclehi's starboard arm, with clasped hands don, was written by Prince Hoare, as and coupled hearts galore.
Irishman, who never wrote anything Reversing the medal, let us give Dib- else half so good. "Harry Bluff," an
his due as an admirable song writ- anonymous ditty, was immensely pop