J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Friday, October 10, 2014

The Construction of “Liberty Hall”

From Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words I learned that the phrase “Liberty-Hall” appeared in print in Britain at the same time the American colonies were demanding British liberties as well.

The first appearance was in a 1770 song penned by the actor and writer George Alexander Stevens (1710-1784, shown here). He later published those lyrics in his Songs, Comic, and Satyrical. They were meant to be sung to the tune of “Derry Down”:
Perhaps my Address you may premature think,
Because I have mention’d no Toast as I drink;
There are many fine Toasts, but the best of ’em all
Is the Toast of the Times; that is Liberty-Hall.

That fine British building by Alfred was fram’d,
Its grand corner-stone Magna-Charta is nam’d;
Independency came at Integrity’s call,
And form’d the front pillars of Liberty-Hall.

This Manor our forefathers bought with their blood,
And their sons, and their sons sons, have prov’d the deeds good;
By that title we live, with that title we’ll fall,
For Life is not Life out of Liberty-Hall.

In mantle of honour, each star spangled fold,
Playing bright in the sun-shine, the burnish of gold,
Truth beams on her breast; see, at Loyalty’s call,
The Genius of England in Liberty-Hall.

Ye sweet smelling Courtlings of ribband and lace,
The spaniels of Power, and Bounty’s disgrace,
So supple, so servile, so passive ye fall,
’Twas Passive-obedience lost Liberty-Hall.

But when Revolution had settl’d the crown,
And Natural Reason knock’d Tyranny down,
No frowns cloath’d with Terror appear’d to appall,
The doors were thrown open of Liberty-Hall.

See England triumphant, her ships sweep the sea,
Her standard is Justice, her watch word be free;
Our King is our Countryman, Englishmen all,
GOD BLESS HIM, and bless us, in Liberty-Hall.

On vere is des All—Monsieur wants to know,
’Tis neither at Marli, Versailles, Fontainbleau:
’Tis a palace of no mortal architect’s art,

(Derry down.)
You catch the outrageous French accent near the end there?

In 1773 a charming but not entirely upright character used the same phrase in Oliver Goldsmith’s play She Stoops to Conquer, with a more libertine meaning: “This is Liberty-hall, gentlemen. You may do just as you please.” But originally the phrase was part of a musical expression of how British Whigs viewed their nation’s history.


Bill Harshaw said...

VI--any idea what the British context for "star-spangled" was? I see the star is a common symbol on flags. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Flags_with_stars

J. L. Bell said...

I was struck by that word, too. As an American, I'm not used to seeing it outside the context of "the star-spangled banner" and Star Spangled Comics, which featured the solo adventures of Robin in the late 1940s.

The context speaks of a "mantle" worn by a female England. So I wonder if this was part of Britannia's iconography of the time.