Verse > Anthologies > William McCarty, ed. > The American National Song Book
William McCarty, comp.  The American National Song Book.  1842.
A Song of Other Days: ‘When Britain first at Heaven’s command’
From the Baltimore American, June 17, 1842

          The late Chancellor Kilty, of Maryland, well known as an ardent whig and a gallant soldier in revolutionary times, and still personally remembered with affection by many in this community, was a pretty good poet, as well as a warm patriot. The following song, recently found among the chancellor’s papers, was composed by him, and sung at a public dinner at Alexandria, on the 4th of July, 1794, by Mr. Stansbury, who presided on the occasion. General Washington was present. The memorandum made by the chancellor on the occasion says:—“At the first verse, which is quoted from an old English song, the English merchants and tories were much pleased, and crowded to the head of the table—and General Washington showed some surprise. At the third verse the English guests resumed their places.” Here follows the song:

    “WHEN Britain first at Heaven’s command
      Arose from out the azure main,
    This was the charter of the land,
      And guardian angels sung the strain—
Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves,        5
For Britons never shall be slaves.”
    ’Twas thus when rival nations strove
      E’er Freedom’s sacred home was known,
    That, ardent with their country’s love,
      And claiming ocean as their own,        10
They sung, Rule Britannia, Britannia, rule the waves,
For Britons never shall be slaves.
    But, wherefore Britons rule the waves?
      Why grasp the wide-extended sea?
    Must all the world beside be slaves,        15
      That only Britons may be free?
Hence, then, Britannia no more shall rule the waves,
Nor see the nations round her slaves.
    On every coast, on every shore,
      The bounteous sea her treasure spreads,        20
    To countless millions wafts her store,
      Nor tribute pays to crowned heads;
Hence then, Britannia, no longer rule the waves,
Nor seek to make thy equals slaves.
    For see, Columbia’s sons arise,        25
      Firm, independent, bold, and free;
    They too shall seize the glorious prize,
      And share the empire of the sea;
Hence then, let freemen, let freemen rule the waves,
And those who yield them still be slaves.        30
    This glorious day, which still shall live
      Illustrious in the book of fame;
    This day, revolving, still shall give
      A kindling spark of Freedom’s flame,
And we as freemen, will we not rule the waves,        35
Nor own a power to make us slaves?
    And still, on this auspicious day,
      Like friends and brethren let us join;
    In concert tune the festive lay
      Sacred to Liberty divine;        40
Which still will guard us, on land as on the waves,
Determined never to be slaves.
    Nor on this day let memory fail
      To celebrate each hero slain,
    With patriot tears their fates bewail,        45
      Who died our freedom to obtain;
Which may we cherish, on land as on the waves,
Nor change from freemen to be slaves.
    But chiefly him, whose faithful toils
      Led us to liberty and peace,        50
    On whom America still smiles
      With gratitude which ne’er shall cease;
Long may the hero live who still his country saves,
Nor ever let him see us slaves.

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