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.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Parody, and the Parody Parodized

“The Liberty Song” by John Dickinson and Arthur Lee (to music by William Boyce) became so popular in Boston after July 1768 that by the end of September two parodies were circulating.

That was already a busy summer. In June the Customs service seized John Hancock’s ship Liberty for alleged smuggling. In response, a waterfront crowd rioted, driving most high Customs officials to take shelter at Castle William.

Then came news that the London government had ordered troops into Boston. That decision had been made before the Liberty riot, but the violence made it a lot harder for locals to argue the Crown was overreacting. Nevertheless, the Boston Whigs invited all the other towns in Massachusetts to send delegates to an extralegal Convention of Towns to discuss how to respond.

Above a report that ninety towns were sending men to the Convention and an advertisement for Paul Revere’s dental services, the 26 September Boston Gazette broke this story:
Last Tuesday the following SONG made its Appearance from a Garret at C–st–e W——m.

Come shake your dull Noddles, ye Pumpkins and bawl,
And own that you’re mad at fair Liberty’s Call,
No scandalous Conduct can add to your Shame.
Condemn’d to Dishonor, Inherit the Fame——

In Folly you’re born, and in Folly you’ll live,
To Madness still ready,
And Stupidly steady,
Not as Men, but as Monkies, the Tokens you give.
And so on. This wasn’t labeled as a parody of “The Liberty Song,” but everybody could see that it was. A later verse hit an even more sensitive spot by warning, “Then plunder, my Lads, for when Red-Coats appear, / You’ll melt like the Locust when Winter is near…”

Ordinarily Edes and Gill would be the last printers in Boston to give space to such an attack on the Whigs. But in this case, they were riling up their base. Tying the poem to Castle William pointed to the Crown officials living there.

And word spread. On the Sunday night before that issue of the Gazette came out, an Admiralty Court official appeared at the print shop with a message:
Having been told that you intended to publish a Song in your News Paper, called a Parody on the Song of Liberty, under my name, as the Author of it, I think proper to forewarn you from publishing such a falsity, or any other thing under my name, without my authority; and if you persist in doing it in this, or any other instance, it shall be at your peril.

I am,
Your humble Serv’t.
Hen. Hulton.
Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton did write poetry, but he never took credit for those verses. Of course Edes and Gill declared they had never intended to print Hulton’s name.

A week later, the Boston Gazette had another set of verses to share, in a sort of back-and-forth rap battle between versifiers of opposing politics:
The following was publish’d in a Hand-Bill last Week.

The Parody parodized,

Come swallow your Bumpers, ye Tories! and roar,
That the Sons of fair FREEDOM are hamper’d once more;
But know that no Cut-throats our Spirits can tame,
Nor a Host of Oppressors shall smother the flame.

In Freedom we’re born, and like SONS of the brave,
Will never surrender,
But swear to defend her,
And scorn to survive, if unable to save.
And so on. That song went on to express confidence that George III was on the side of his American subjects: “When oppress’d and reproach’d, our KING we implore, / Still firmly perswaded, our RIGHTS he’ll restore…” American Whigs were still a long way from breaking with the king.

In August 1769 Boston’s Sons of Liberty banqueted in Dorchester. John Adams wrote that the entertainment included both “Liberty Songs”—“that by the Farmer [Dickinson], and that by Dr. Church, and the whole Company joined in the Chorus. This is cultivating the Sensations of Freedom.” Dr. Benjamin Church thus gets credit for the “Massachusetts Song of Liberty.”


Anonymous said...

Anapestic tetrameter. You can't beat it for catchiness.

J. L. Bell said...

I don't have the tune of "Heart of Oak" in my head, so when I type these lines I hear Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Which works until the fourth line of each verse.

Don Carleton said...

You should give it a listen, it will stick with you!


A bit Gilbert-and-Sullivanized in this rendition, but still not bad.