The Saucy Arethusa

Melody - William Shield, 1796 (1748-1849)

Prince Hoare

Come, all you jolly sailors bold,
Whose hearts are cast in honour's mould,
While English glory I unfold,
Hurrah for the Arethusa!
She is a frigate tight and brave,
As ever stemm'd 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 Frenchmen 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,
The Captain hail'd the Frenchman, "Ho!"
The Frenchman then cried out "Hallo!"
"Bear down, d'ye see, to our Admiral's lee,"
"No, no," says 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 drove them back up on 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 fav'rite lass!
A health to the captain and officers true,
And all that belong to the jovial crew
On board of the Arethusa.

In William Shield's musical play Lock and Key, produced at Covent Garden in 1796, the hero, a naval officer, sang 'The Saucy Arethusa' under the window of his lady-love. Although hardly the most appropriate serenade the song achieved immediate and lasting popularity. Shield (1748-1849) has been described as the most English composer since Purcell and certainly his output of songs, pantomimes, operas and musical plays reflect that lyricism and skill in word-setting with which Purcell is so much associated. Shield was made Master of the King's Musick in 1817. The words of the song were written by the artist and author Prince Hoare whose other works include the well-known opera by Stephen Storace - 'No Song No Supper'.
The adventure of the Aretbusa to which the song refers was not in fact quite so 'hurrah provoking' as Hoare suggests. She gave chase to and engaged the French ship La Belle Poule in June 1778. The Frenchman directed his fire chiefly at the Arethusa's rigging and spars, disabled her and made off leaving the English ship to be towed back to the fleet. Casualties on the French side were certainly heavier but then the Arethusa was a slightly stronger ship. Hard facts, however, seldom make for good lyrics and Prince Hoare wisely avoided them, Eight months after this engagement the Arethusa was wrecked at sea whilst pursuing the enemy

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