Read SEA SONGS of Drake‚ Nelson and Napoleon, free online book, by Walter Runciman, on ReadCentral.com.

EXPLANATORY NOTE

These quaint old doggerel songs are taken from an admirable selection of sailor songs published by John Ashton.  The names of the writers are not given, but their strong nautical flavour and queer composition indicate their origin.  No landsman can ever imitate the sailor when the power of song or composition is on him.  He puts his own funny sentiment and descriptive faculty into his work, which is exclusively his own.

Many of the songs in Mr. Ashton’s book I have heard sung with great fervour in my early days, by a generation of men ahead of my own, who must have long since passed away.  Sometimes the audiences in the forecastle or on deck were appreciative of the efforts of the singer, but if they were not, they always had a boot or some other handy implement ready to throw at him.  The reception given to some of my own singing efforts in boyhood on these merry occasions was mixed.  Sometimes I forgot both words and tune, and had, therefore, to pass good-humouredly through the orthodox process of disapproval that was regarded as part of the entertainment.

Any song or recital concerning Nelson, Collingwood, or the later sea hero, Charley Napier, was eminently popular, and to break down in the rendering of any one of these was an offence to their exalted memories.  “The Sailor’s Grave,” which I regret is not included in Mr. Ashton’s collection, was in great demand when the sailors were in a solemn mood.  Both the words and the tune were ridiculously weird, and when it came to the details of the hero’s illness, his looks after death, the sewing up in his hammock, and the tying of two round shots at his feet for sinking purposes, the artist always sang with his hands linked in front of him and his eyes cast heavenward gazing fixedly at a spot on the ceiling.  Then came the burial verse:-

    A splash and a plunge, and his task was o’er,
    And the billows rolled as they rolled before,
    And many a wild prayer followed the brave,
    As he sunk beneath a sailor’s grave.

This verse always drew tears from the sentimentalists in the audience, and if the singer had pleased by his efforts the song ended in a roar of tumultuous applause.

I have thought it appropriate to add to these doggerel rhymes “The Battle of Copenhagen,” “The Death of Nelson,” and “The Arethusa.”  These are sea songs, not sailor’s songs, and are of distinctly greater merit, but as two of them deal with Nelson, and as all three have always been most popular, they may not be out of place here.

I

THE BATTLE OF THE NILE

    ’Twas on the forenoon, the first day of August,
    One thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight,
    We had a long pursuit after the Toulon fleet;
    And soon we let them know that we came for to fight. 
    We tried their skill, it was sore against their will,
    They knew not what to think of our fleet for a while,
    But, before the fray began, we resolved to a man,
    For to conquer or to die at the mouth of the Nile.

    When our guns began to play, with many a loud huzza,
    Resolving to conquer, or die, to a man,
    And when our sails were bending, Old England was depending,
    Waiting our return from the Mediterranean. 
    Our bull dogs they did roar, and into them did pour,
    With rattling broadsides made brave Nelson to smile,
    Gallant Nelson gave command, altho’ he’d but one hand,
    British sailors jumped for joy at the mouth of the Nile.

    Night drawing on, we formed a plan
    To set fire to one hundred and twenty guns,
    We selected them with skill, and into them did drill,
    We secured all our shipping, and laughed at the fun. 
    About ten o’clock at night, it was a broiling fight,
    Which caused us to muzzle our bull dogs for a while,
    The L’Orient blew up, and round went the cup,
    To the glorious memorandum at the mouth of the Nile.

    Kind Providence protected each minute of the night,
    It’s more than tongue can tell, or yet a pen can write,
    For ’mongst the jolly tars, brave Nelson got a scar,
    But Providence protected him thro’ that cruel fight. 
    The French may repine, we took nine sail of the line,
    Burnt and sunk all but two, which escaped for a while,
    Brave Nelson gave command, altho’ he’d but one hand,
    British sailors fought like lions at the mouth of the Nile.

    But now the battle’s o’er, and Toulon’s fleet’s no more,
    Great news we shall send unto George our King,
    All the Kingdoms in Europe shall join us in chorus,
    The bells they shall ring, and bonfires they shall blaze,
    Rule Britannia shall be sung, through country and town,
    While sailors, hand in hand, round the can do sing,
    Bonaparte got the pledge of Europe for his wage,
    And he’ll ne’er forget bold Nelson at the mouth of the Nile.

II

A NEW SONG ON LORD NELSON’S VICTORY AT COPENHAGEN

    Draw near, ye gallant seamen, while I the truth unfold,
    Of as gallant a naval victory as ever yet was told,
    The second day of April last, upon the Baltic Main,
    Parker, Nelson, and their brave tars, fresh laurels there did gain. 
      With their thundering and roaring, rattling and roaring,
      Thundering and roaring bombs.

    Gallant Nelson volunteered himself, with twelve sail form’d a line,
    And in the Road of Copenhagen he began his grand design;
    His tars with usual courage, their valour did display,
    And destroyed the Danish navy upon that glorious day. 
      With their, etc.

    With strong floating batteries in van and rear we find,
    The enemy in centre had six ships of the line;
    At ten that glorious morning, the fight begun, ’tis true,
    We Copenhagen set on fire, my boys, before the clock struck two. 
      With their, etc.

    When this armament we had destroyed, we anchor’d near the town,
    And with our bombs were fully bent to burn their city down;
    Revenge for poor Matilda’s wrongs, our seamen swore they’d have,
    But they sent a flag of truce aboard, their city for to save. 
      With their, etc.

    For the loss of his eye and arm, bold Nelson does declare,
    The foes of his country, not an inch of them he’ll spare;
    The Danes he’s made to rue the day that they ever Paul did join,
    Eight ships he burnt, four he sunk, and took six of the line. 
      With their, etc.

    Now drink a health to gallant Nelson, the wonder of the world,
    Who, in defence of his country his thunder loud has hurled;
    And to his bold and valiant tars, who plough the raging sea,
    And who never were afraid to face the daring enemy. 
      With their thundering and roaring, rattling and roaring,
      Thundering and roaring bombs.

III

THE BATTLE OF BOULOGNE

    On the second day of August, eighteen hundred and one,
    We sailed with Lord Nelson to the port of Boulogne,
    For to cut out their shipping, which was all in vain,
    For to our misfortune, they were all moored and chained.

    Our boats being well mann’d, at eleven at night,
    For to cut out their shipping, except they would fight,
    But the grape from their batteries so smartly did play,
    Nine hundred brave seamen killed and wounded there lay.

    We hoisted our colours, and so boldly them did spread,
    With a British flag flying at our royal mast head,
    For the honour of England, we will always maintain,
    While bold British seamen plough the watery main.

    Exposed to the fire of the enemy she lay,
    While ninety bright pieces of cannon did play,
    Where many a brave seaman then lay in his gore,
    And the shot from their batteries so smartly did pour.

    Our noble commander, with heart full of grief,
    Used every endeavour to afford us relief,
    No ship could assist us, as well you may know,
    In this wounded condition, we were tossed to and fro.

    And you who relieve us, the Lord will you bless,
    For relieving poor sailors in time of distress,
    May the Lord put an end to all cruel wars,
    And send peace and contentment to all British tars.

IV

THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR

Arise, ye sons of Britain, in chorus join and sing,
Great and joyful news is come unto our Royal King,
An engagement we have had by sea,
With France and Spain, our enemy,
And we’ve gain’d a glorious victory,

                Again, my brave boys.

On the 21st of October, at the rising of the sun,
We form’d the line for action, every man to his gun,
Brave Nelson to his men did say,
The Lord will prosper us this day,
Give them a broadside, fire away,

                My true British boys.

Broadside after broadside our cannon balls did fly,
The small shot, like hailstones, upon the deck did lie,
Their masts and rigging we shot away,
Besides some thousands on that day,
Were killed and wounded in the fray,

                On both sides, brave boys.

The Lord reward brave Nelson, and protect his soul,
Nineteen sail the combin’d fleets lost in the whole;
Which made the French for mercy call;
Nelson was slain by a musket ball. 

                Mourn, Britons, mourn.

Each brave commander, in tears did shake his head,
Their grief was no relief, when Nelson he was dead;
It was by a fatal musket ball,
Which caus’d our hero for to fall. 
He cried, Fight on, God bless you all,

                My brave British tars.

Huzza my valiant seamen, huzza, we’ve gain’d the day,
But lost a brave Commander, bleeding on that day,
With joy we’ve gain’d the victory,
Before his death he did plainly see
I die in peace, bless God, said he,

                The victory is won.

I hope this glorious victory will bring a speedy peace,
That all trade in England may flourish and increase,
And our ships from port to port go free,
As before, let us with them agree,
May this turn the heart of our enemy. 

                Huzza, my brave boys.

V

NELSON AND COLLINGWOOD

Come all you gallant heroes, and listen unto me,
While I relate a battle was lately fought at sea. 
So fierce and hot on every side, as plainly it appears,
There has not been such a battle fought, no not for many years.

    Brave Nelson and brave Collingwood, off Cadiz harbour lay,
    Watching the French and Spaniards, to show them English play,
    The nineteenth of October from the Bay they set sail,
    Brave Nelson got intelligence, and soon was at their tail.

    It was on the twenty-first my boys, we had them clear in sight,
    And on that very day, at noon, began the bloody fight. 
    Our fleet forming two columns, then he broke the enemy’s line,
    To spare the use of signals, was Nelson’s pure design.

    For now the voice of thunder is heard on every side,
    The briny waves like crimson, with human gore were dy’d;
    The French and Spanish heroes their courage well did show,
    But our brave British sailors soon brought their colours low.

    Four hours and ten minutes, this battle it did hold,
    And on the briny ocean, men never fought more bold,
    But, on the point of victory brave Nelson, he was slain,
    And, on the minds of Britons, his death will long remain.

    Nineteen sail of the enemy are taken and destroyed,
    You see the rage of Britons, our foes cannot avoid: 
    And ages yet unborn will have this story for to tell,
    The twenty-first of October, our gallant Nelson fell.

    I hope the wives and children will quickly find relief,
    For the loss of those brave heroes, their hearts are filled with grief,
    And may our warlike officers aspire to such a fame,
    And revenge the death of Nelson, with his undying name.

VI

GIVE IT TO HIM, CHARLEY

    Arouse, you British sons, arouse! 
    And all who stand to Freedom’s cause,
    While sing of the impending wars,
        And England’s bluff old Charley. 
    I’ll tell how British seamen brave,
    Of Russian foes will clear the wave,
    Old England’s credit for to save,
        Led on by gallant Charley.

        Our gallant tars led by Napier,
        May bid defiance to the Bear,
        While hearty shouts will rend the air,
        With, Mind, and give it to him, Charley.

    Our jolly tars will have to tell,
    How they the Russian bears did quell,
    And each honest heart with pride will dwell,
        For our jackets blue, and Charley. 
    For they’ll never leave a blot or stain,
    While our British flag flies at the main,
    But their foes they’ll thrash again and again,
        While led on by gallant Charley. 
          Our gallant tars, etc.

    Tyrant Nicky, you may fume and boast,
    And with threats disturb each peaceful coast,
    But you reckoned have without your host,
        For you’re no good to our tars and Charley. 
    From our wooden walls warm pills will fly,
    Your boasted power for to try,
    While our seamen with loud shouts will cry,
        Let us give it to him, Charley. 
          Our gallant tars, etc.

    For your cowardly tricks at Sinope Bay,
    Most dearly we will make you pay,
    For our tars will show you bonny play,
        While commanded by brave Charley. 
    For tho’ brave Nelson, he is dead,
    Our tars will be to victory led. 
    By one brave heart we have instead,
        And that brave heart is Charley’s. 
          Our gallant tars, etc.

    England and France they will pull down
    The Eagle and Imperial Crown,
    And his Bear-like growls we soon will drown,
        With, Let us give it him, Charley. 
    For while England and France go hand in hand
    They conquer must by sea and land,
    For no Russian foe can e’er withstand,
        So brave a man as Charley. 
          Our gallant tars, etc.

    Despotic Nick, you’ve been too fast,
    To get Turkey within your grasp,
    But a Tartar you have caught at last,
        In the shape of our tars and Charley. 
    Then here’s success with three times three,
    To all true hearts by land or sea,
    And this the watchword it shall be,
        Mind, and give it to them, Charley.

        Our gallant tars led by Napier,
        May bid defiance to the Bear. 
        While hearty shouts will rend the air,
        With, Mind, and give it to him, Charley.

VII

THE ARETHUSA

Come all ye jolly sailors bold,
Whose hearts are cast in honour’s mould,
While England’s glory I unfold,
Huzza to the Arethusa
She is a frigate tight and brave,
As ever stemmed the dashing wave;
Her men are staunch
To their fav’rite launch,
And when the foe shall meet our fire,
Sooner than strike we’ll all expire,
On board of the Arethusa.

’Twas with the spring-fleet she went out,
The English Channel to cruise about,
When four French sail, in show so stout,
Bore down on the Arethusa
The fam’d Belle Poule straight ahead did lie,
The Arethusa seem’d to fly,
Not a sheet, or a tack,
Or a brace did she slack,
Tho’ the Frenchman laugh’d, and thought it stuff,
But they knew not the handful of men, so tough,
On board of the Arethusa.

On deck five hundred men did dance,
The stoutest they could find in France,
We, with two hundred, did advance
On board of the Arethusa
Our captain hail’d the Frenchman, ho! 
The Frenchman then cried out, hallo! 
“Bear down, d’ye see
To our Admiral’s lee.” 
“No, no,” said the Frenchman, “that can’t be”;
“Then I must lug you along with me,”
Says the saucy Arethusa.

The fight was off the Frenchman’s land,
We forc’d them back upon their strand;
For we fought till not a stick would stand
Of the gallant Arethusa
And now we’ve driven the foe ashore,
Never to fight with Britons more,
Let each fill a glass
To his favourite lass! 
A health to our captain, and officers true,
And all that belong to the jovial crew,
On board of the Arethusa.

VIII

COPENHAGEN

Of Nelson and the North,
Sing the day,
When, their haughty powers to vex,
He engaged the Danish decks;
And with twenty floating wrecks
Crowned the fray.

    All bright, in April’s sun,
        Shone the day,
    When a British fleet came down
    Through the island of the Crown,
    And by Copenhagen town
        Took their stay.

    In arms the Danish shore
        Proudly shone;
    By each gun the lighted brand
    In a bold determined hand,
    And the Prince of all the land
        Led them on.

    For Denmark here had drawn
        All her might;
    From her battleships so vast
    She had hewn away the mast,
    And at anchor, to the last
        Bade them fight.

    Another noble fleet
        Of their line
    Rode out; but these were nought
    To the batteries which they brought,
    Like Leviathans afloat
        In the brine.

    It was ten of Thursday morn
        By the chime;
    As they drifted on their path
    There was silence deep as death,
    And the noblest held his breath
        For a time-

    Ere a first and fatal round
        Shook the flood. 
    Every Dane looked out that day. 
    Like the red wolf on his prey,
    And he swore his flag to sway
        O’er our blood.

    Not such a mind possessed
        England’s tar;
    ’Twas the love of noble game
    Set his oaken heart on flame,
    For to him ’twas all the same,
        Sport and war.

    All hands and eyes on watch
        As they keep;
    By their motion light as wings,
    By each step that haughty springs,
    You might know them for the kings
        Of the deep.

    ’Twas the Edgar first that smote
        Denmark’s line
    As her flag the foremost soared,
    Murray stamped his foot on board,
    And an hundred cannons roared
        At the sign.

    Three cheers of all the fleet
        Sung Huzza! 
    Then from centre, rear, and van,
    Every captain, every man,
    With a lion’s heart began
        To the fray.

    Oh, dark grew soon the heavens-
        For each gun,
    From its adamantine lips,
    Spread a death-shade round the ships,
    Like a hurricane eclipse
        Of the sun.

    Three hours the raging fire
        Did not slack;
    But the fourth, their signals drear
    Of distress and wreck appear,
    And the Dane a feeble cheer
        Sent us back.

    The voice decayed; their shots
        Slowly boom. 
    They ceased-and all is wail,
    As they strike the shattered sail,
    Or in conflagration pale
        Light the gloom.

    Oh, death-it was a sight
        Filled our eyes! 
    But we rescued many a crew
    From the waves of scarlet hue,
    Ere the cross of England flew
        O’er her prize.

    Why ceased not here the strife,
        Oh, ye brave? 
    Why bleeds old England’s band
    By the fire of Danish land,
    That smites the very hand
        Stretched to save?

    But the Britons sent to warn
        Denmark’s town: 
    Proud foes, let vengeance sleep! 
    If another chain-shot sweep-
    All your navy in the deep
        Shall go down.

    Then, peace instead of death
        Let us bring! 
    If you’ll yield your conquered fleet,
    With the crews, at England’s feet,
    And make submission meet
        To our King.

    The Dane returned, a truce
        Glad to bring: 
    He would yield his conquered fleet,
    With the crews, at England’s feet,
    And make submission meet
        To our King.

    Then death withdrew his pall
        From the day;
    And the sun looked smiling bright
    On a wide and woeful sight
    Where the fires of funeral light
        Died away.

    Yet, all amidst her wrecks
        And her gore,
    Proud Denmark blest our chief
    That he gave her wounds relief,
    And the sounds of joy and grief
        Filled her shore.

    All round, outlandish cries
        Loudly broke;
    But a nobler note was rung
    When the British, old and young,
    To their bands of music sung
        “Hearts of Oak.”

    Cheer! cheer! from park and tower,
        London town! 
    When the King shall ride in state
    From St. James’s royal gate,
    And to all his peers relate
        Our renown.

    The bells shall ring! the day
        Shall not close,
    But a glaze of cities bright
    Shall illuminate the night,
    And the wine-cup shine in light
        As it flows.

    Yes-yet amid the joy
        And uproar,
    Let us think of them that sleep
    Full many a fathom deep
    All beside thy rocky steep,
        Elsinore!

    Brave hearts, to Britain’s weal
        Once so true! 
    Though death has quenched your flame,
    Yet immortal be your name! 
    For ye died the death of fame
        With Riou.

    Soft sigh the winds of Heaven
        O’er your grave! 
    While the billow mournful rolls
    And the mermaid’s song condoles,
    Singing-glory to the souls
        Of the brave.

IX

THE DEATH OF NELSON

    O’er Nelson’s tomb, with silent grief oppressed,
    Britannia mourns her hero now at rest;
    But those bright laurels will not fade with years,
    Whose leaves are watered by a nation’s tears.

    ’Twas in Trafalgar’s bay
    We saw the Frenchmen lay,
    Each heart was bounding then,
    We scorn’d the foreign yoke,
    For our ships were British oak,
    And hearts of oak our men! 
    Our Nelson mark’d them on the wave,
    Three cheers our gallant seamen gave,
    Nor thought of home and beauty. 
    Along the line this signal ran,
    England expects that ev’ry man
    This day will do his duty.

    And now the cannons roar
    Along th’ affrighted shore,
    Our Nelson led the way,
    His ship the Victory nam’d! 
    Long be that Victory fam’d,
    For vict’ry crown’d the day! 
    But dearly was that conquest bought,
    Too well the gallant hero fought,

    For England, home, and beauty. 
    He cried as ’midst the fire he ran,
    “England shall find that ev’ry man,
    This day will do his duty!”

    At last the fatal wound,
    Which spread dismay around,
    The hero’s breast received;
    “Heaven fights upon our side! 
    The day’s our own!” he cried;
    “Now long enough I’ve lived! 
    In honour’s cause my life was passed,
    In honour’s cause I fall at last,
    For England, home, and beauty.” 
    Thus ending life as he began,
    England confessed that every man
    That day had done his duty.