Verse > Anthologies > William McCarty, ed. > The American National Song Book
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William McCarty, comp.  The American National Song Book.  1842.
 
Conflagration of Washington
By Philip Freneau (1752–1832)
 
August 24, 1814

 ——— Jam deiphobi debit ampla ruinam,
Vulcano superante, domus; jam proximus ardet
Ucalegon.
—VIRGIL.    

NOW, George the Third rules not alone,
For George the Vandal shares the throne,
True flesh of flesh, and bone of bone.
 
God save us from the fangs of both;
Or, one a Vandal, one a Goth,        5
May roast or broil us into froth.
 
Like Danes, of old, their fleet they man,
And rove from Beersheba to Dan,
To burn, and beard us—where they can.
 
They say, at George the Fourth’s command,        10
This vagrant host were sent, to land
And leave in every house a brand.
 
An idiot only would require
Such war—the worst they could desire—
The felon’s war—the war of fire.        15
 
The warfare, now, the invaders make,
Must surely keep us all awake,
Or life is lost for freedom’s sake.
 
They said to Cockburn, “honest Cock!
To make a noise and give a shock,        20
Push off, and burn their navy-dock:
 
“Their capitol shall be emblazed!
How will the buckskins stand amazed,
And curse the day its walls were raised!”
 
Six thousand heroes disembark:        25
Each left at night his floating ark,
And Washington was made their mark.
 
That few would fight them—few or none—
Was by their leaders clearly shown,
And, “Down,” they said, “with Madison!”        30
 
How close they crept along the shore!
As closely as if Rodgers saw her—
A frigate to a seventy-four.
 
A veteran host, by veterans led,
With Ross and Cockburn at their head,        35
They came—they saw—they burn’d—and fled.
 
But not unpunish’d they retired;
They something paid, for all they fired,
In soldiers kill’d, and chiefs expired.
 
Five hundred veterans bit the dust,        40
Who came, inflamed with lucre’s lust—
And so they waste—and so they must.
 
They left our Congress naked walls—
Farewell to towers and capitals!
To lofty roofs and splendid halls!        45
 
To courtly domes and glittering things,
To folly, that too near us clings,
To courtiers who—’tis well—had wings.
 
Farewell to all but glorious war,
Which yet shall guard Potomac’s shore,        50
And honour lost, and fame restore.
 
To conquer armies in the field,
Was, once, the surest method held
To make a hostile country yield.
 
The mode is this, now acted on:        55
In conflagrating Washington,
They held our independence gone!
 
Supposing George’s house at Kew
Were burn’d, (as we intend to do,)
Would that be burning England too?        60
 
Supposing, near the silver Thames
We laid in ashes their Saint James,
Or Blenheim palace wrapp’d in flames;
 
Made Hampton Court to fire a prey,
And meanly, then, to sneak away,        65
And never ask them, what’s to pay?
 
Would that be conquering London town?
Would that subvert the English throne,
Or bring the royal system down?
 
With all their glare of guards and guns,        70
How would they look like simpletons,
And not at all the lion’s sons!
 
Supposing, then, we take our turn,
And make it public law, to burn,
Would not old English honour spurn        75
 
At such a mean, insidious plan,
Which only suits some savage clan—
And surely not the Englishman!
 
A doctrine has prevail’d too long;
A king, they hold, can do no wrong—        80
Merely a pitchfork, without prong:
 
But de’il may trust such doctrines more;
One king, that wrong’d us, long before,
Has wrongs, by hundreds, yet in store.
 
He wrong’d us forty years ago;        85
He wrongs us yet, we surely know;
He’ll wrong us till he gets a blow
 
That, with a vengeance, will repay
The mischiefs we lament this day,
This burning, damn’d, infernal play;        90
 
Will send one city to the sky,
Its buildings low, and buildings high,
And buildings—built the Lord knows why;
 
Will give him an eternal check,
That breaks his heart, or breaks his neck,        95
And plants our standard on Quebec.
 
 
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