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British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism 1793-1815, by Betty T. Bennet, Edited by Orianne Smith

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1810.12
A Small Tribute to the Character of British Seamen
“R. B.”
The Poetical Magazine, II (1810), pp. 139-142

Tho' heroes of Fancy oft furnish a theme
    For displaying the powers of verse,
Of merit or valour let other men dream,
    Be it mine simple truths to rehearse:
Not far shall I travel a subject to seek,
    No hero I'll bring from afar;
My hero's mere name shall his merit bespeak—
    'Tis an honest and true British Tar.

When on the rough billows an insolent foe
    The battle tremendous provokes,
With courage undaunted his spirit does glow,
    And at their loud thunder he jokes:
Nought e'er can affright him tho' thick round his head
    The whizzing shot merciless fly!
Tho' half the torn decks are besprinkled with dead,
    "Death or, victory!" still is his cry.

To knot the torn rigging he cheerily hies,
    Or steadily serves at his gun:
If "Board" be the word, with his cutlass he flies,
    The foremost in danger to run:
How dreadful the conflict! Death follows each blow!
    The enemy struggles in vain;
Behold their red scuppers with streams overflow,
    And Britons the victory gain.

A lion in battle—nought e'er can withstand,
    His fury that dares to oppose,
He fights for his Liberty, King, and his Land,
    And ruin dread hurls on their foes:
Yet oft, when the din of contention was o'er,
    I've seen his bold visage adorn'd
With a tear of compassion for those who before,
    When in arms, were the foes he had scorn'd.

If, urg'd by wild tempests, o'er mountainous waves,
    The vessel untractable sweeps;
When landsmen see nothing but watery graves,
    The seaman still steadily keeps:
Alert to his duty, tho' lightnings keen fly,
    He's true to his station on deck,
Each well-fancy'd scheme of invention to try,
    And save his lov'd bark from a wreck.

"Away with the masts! quick, the wreck is all clear,"
    You hear him attentively call;—
"All hands to the pumps, boys,—come, cheerly lads, cheer,—
    "Dear shipmates heave,—heave, one and all:
"She lightens! she lightens! start, start boys, again,
    "The howling winds seem to abate;
"A bowl of good grog shall soon banish our pain,
    "And we'll laugh at those chequers of Fate."

I've trac'd him when shipwreck'd, on many a shore,[1]
    Thro' scenes that the soul might appal;
Among serpents that hiss, or 'mid wild beasts that roar,
    Or men still more savage than all!
I've seen him when hungry, when thirsty, and cold,
    Pale, naked, by Misery worn
To life's lowest ebb; still intrepid and bold;
    Still with courage those ills he has borne.

From the wilds of Caffraria e'en to the poles,
    Such numberless evils await
The life of a seaman, that those who have souls
    Must feel for their perilous state:
For, happen what may, a true seaman ne'er shrinks,
    His pride is to rule on the main;
And tho' boasting France still to humble him thinks,
    He'll foil her again and again.

I know he is wild in his manners on land,
    Accustom'd the ocean to range;
His liberal heart sails too fast for his hand,
    He is thoughtless, oft simple, and strange:
Yet say did he e'er see a shipmate distress'd,
    While his pocket with rhino[2] was stor'd,
But the generous tar, with benevolence bless'd,
    Was delighted relief to afford?

In mirth and good humour there's none can compare
    With a seaman, when happy in port;
He laughs at all perils, and banishes care,
    Is the life and the soul of each sport:
Ye landsmen, who wish sterling merit to view,
    With me take a sociable trip;
With me take a peep at the Albion's crew,
    You'll own they deserve such a ship.

Her timbers are sound, and her rigging is good,
    Her colours exultingly fly!
But, thanks to her crew! who for ages have stood
    Firm to quarters, to conquer or die!
Her standard's their glory; it floats on the wind,
    With triumph and victory crown'd!
Throughout the whole world no such heroes you'll find—
    There ne'er was, nor e'er will be found.

Oct. 30, 1809.


Notes

1. [Author's note]: "See the Mariner's Chronicle."

2. A slang term for money, origin unknown, which came into use in the late seventeenth century.

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Published @ RC

September 2004