Verse > Anthologies > William McCarty, ed. > The American National Song Book
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William McCarty, comp.  The American National Song Book.  1842.
 
On the Memorable Victory
By Philip Freneau (1752–1832)
 
        
First published in Mr. Francis Bailey’s Freeman’s Journal, Philadelphia, August, 1781
  
  Obtained by the gallant Captain John Paul Jones, of Le Bonne Homme Richard (or Father Richard), over the British ship of war Serapis, of forty-four guns, under the command of Captain Pearson.

O’ER the rough main, with flowing sheet,
The guardian of a numerous fleet,
  Serapis from the Baltic came;
A ship of less tremendous force
Sail’d by her side the selfsame course—        5
  Countess of Scarborough was her name.
 
And now their native coasts appear
Britannia’s hills their summits rear
  Above the German main:
Fond to suppose their dangers o’er,        10
They southward coast along the shore,
  Thy waters, gentle Thames, to gain.
 
Full forty guns Serapis bore,
And Scarborough’s Countess twenty-four,
  Mann’d with Old England’s boldest tars:        15
What flag that rides the Gallic seas
Shall dare attack such piles as these,
  Design’d for tumults and for wars?
 
Now, from the topmast’s giddy height,
A seaman cried, “Four sail, in sight,        20
  Approach with favouring gales.”
Pearson, resolved to save the fleet,
Stood off to sea, these ships to meet,
  And closely braced his shivering sails.
 
With him advanced the Countess bold,        25
Like a black tar in wars grown old;
  And now these floating piles drew nigh:
But, muse, unfold, what chief of fame
In the other warlike squadron came;
  Whose standards at his mast-heads fly.        30
 
’Twas Jones, brave Jones, to battle led
As bold a crew as ever bled
  Upon the sky-surrounded main;
The standards of the western world
Were to the willing winds unfurl’d,        35
  Denying Britain’s tyrant reign.
 
The Good Man Richard led the line;
The Alliance next: with these combine
  The Gallic ship they Pallas call;
The Vengeance, armed with sword and flame!        40
These to attack the Britons, came;
  But TWO accomplished all.
 
Now Phœbus sought his pearly bed:
But who can tell the scenes of dread,
  The horrors of that fatal night!        45
Close up these floating castles came:
The Good Man Richard bursts in flame:
  Serapis trembled at the sight.
 
She felt the fury of her ball:
Down, prostrate, down the Britons fall;        50
  The decks were strew’d with slain:
Jones to the foe his vessel lash’d,
And, while the black artillery flash’d,
  Loud thunders shook the main.
 
Alas! that mortals should employ        55
Such murdering engines, to destroy
  That frame by heaven so nicely join’d;
Alas! that e’er the god decreed
That brother should by brother bleed,
  And pour’d such madness in the mind.        60
 
But thou, brave Jones, no blame shalt bear;
The rights of men demand your care;
  For these you dare the greedy waves.
No tyrant, on destruction bent,
Has plann’d thy conquests: thou art sent        65
  To humble tyrants and their slaves.
 
See! dread Serapis flames again!
And art thou, Jones, among the slain,
  And sunk to Neptune’s caves below?
He lives: though crowds around him fall,        70
Still he, unhurt, survives them all;
  Almost alone he fights the foe.
 
And can your ship these strokes sustain?
Behold your brave companions slain,
  All clasp’d in ocean’s cold embrace!        75
“Strike or be sunk,” the Briton cries:
“Sink if you can,” the chief replies,
  Fierce lightnings blazing in his face.
 
Then to the side three guns he drew,
(Almost deserted by his crew,)        80
  And charged them deep with wo;
By Pearson’s flash he aimed hot balls;
His mainmast totters—down it falls,
  O’erwhelming half below.
 
Pearson had yet disdain’d to yield,        85
But scarce his secret fears conceal’d,
  And thus was heard to cry:—
“With hell, not mortals, I contend:
What art thou—human, or a fiend,
  That dost my force defy?        90
 
“Return, my lads, the fight renew!”
So call’d bold Pearson to his crew,
  But call’d, alas! in vain:
Some on the decks lay maim’d and dead;
Some to their deep recesses fled,        95
  And hosts were shrouded in the main.
 
Distress’d, forsaken, and alone,
He haul’d his tattered standard down,
  And yielded to his gallant foe;
Bold Pallas soon the Countess took—        100
Thus both their haughty colours struck,
  Confessing what the brave can do.
 
But, Jones, too dearly didst thou buy
These ships, possess’d so gloriously;
  Too many deaths disgraced the fray:        105
Your bark that bore the conquering flame,
That the proud Briton overcame,
  Even she forsook thee on thy way:
 
For when the morn began to shine,
Fatal to her—the ocean brine        110
  Pour’d through each spacious wound:
Quick in the deep she disappear’d;
But Jones to friendly Belgia steer’d,
  With conquest and with glory crown’d.
 
Go on, great man, to scourge the foe,        115
And bid these haughty Britons know
  They to our “Thirteen stars” shall bend:
The Stars that, clad in dark attire,
Long glimmered with a feeble fire,
  But radiant now ascend.        120
 
Bend to the Stars that, flaming, rise
On western worlds, more brilliant skies,
  Fair Freedom’s reign restored:
So, when the Magi, come from far,
Beheld the god-attending star,        125
  They trembled and adored.
 
 
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