Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Origins of a National Anthem

I was talking to Bitter Young Guy at the office this morning and it turns out that he didn’t know that our National Anthem started out in a gentleman’s club in England. The Anacreontic Society was dedicated to "wit, harmony, and the god of wine," but their (alleged) primary goal was to promote an interest in music. The melody for The Anacreontic Song (a.k.a. To Anacreon in Heaven) was written by 16-year-old John Stafford Smith in the mid 1760’s and if you try to convince me that this melody was composed without the assistance of liberal amounts of alcohol I'll disbelieve you. The song was first published by Longman & Broderip in London in 1778/1779.

There is one school of thought that thinks the melody may have originated in Ireland, but to each his own.

Regardless of origin, the song traveled across the pond, and was popular enough that Francis Scott Key’s brother-in-law noticed that the music fit Key’s 1813 poem Defence of Fort McHenry and put them together. The pairing became known as The Star Spangled Banner, but wasn’t officially adopted as the national anthem of the United States until 1931.

The original lyrics are below – and you thought “O say can you see …” was difficult.

The Anacreontic Song

To Anacreon in heaven where he sat in full glee,
A few sons of harmony sent a petition,
That he their inspirer and patron would be,
When this answer arrived from the jolly old Grecian:
Voice, fiddle aud flute, no longer be mute,
I'll lend you my name and inspire you to boot!
And besides I'll instruct you like me to entwine
The myrtle of Venus and Bacchus's vine.

The news through Olympus immediately flew,
When old Thunder pretended to give himself airs,
If these mortals are suffered their scheme to pursue,
The devil a goddess will stay above stairs,
Hark! already they cry, in transports of joy,
A fig for Parnassus, to Rowley's we'll fly,
And there my good fellows, we'll learn to entwine
The myrtle of Venus and Bacchus's vine.

The yellow-haired god, and his nine fusty maids,
To the hill of old Lud will incontinent flee,
Idalia will boast but of tenantless shades,
And the biforked hill a mere desert will be,
My thunder, no fear on't, will soon do its errand,
And, damn me I'll swinge the ringleaders, I warrant
I'll trim the young dogs, for thus daring to twine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine.

Apollo rose up and said, "Prythee ne'er quarrel,
Good king of the gods, with my votaries below
Your thunder is useless - then showing his laurel,
Cried, Sic evitabile fulmen, you know!
Then over each head my laurels I'll spread,
So my sons from your crackers no mischief shall dread
Whilst snug in their club-room, they jovially twine
The myrtle of Venus and Bacchus's vine.

1 comment:

  1. James McHenry was my great-great-whatever-grand Uncle (my Mom's maiden name was McHenry). We visited the fort several years ago, and got to see the reproduction of the flag and all. Very neat. If only James McHenry had been someone who actually was good at his job...