William Schwenck Gilbert
The Mystic Selvagee
Poem by William Schwenck Gilbert
Perhaps already you may know
SIR BLENNERHASSET PORTICO?
A Captain in the Navy, he -
A Baronet and K.C.B.
You do? I thought so!
It was that Captain's favourite whim
(A notion not confined to him)
That RODNEY was the greatest tar
Who ever wielded capstan-bar.
He had been taught so.
"BENBOW! CORNWALLIS! HOOD! - Belay!
Compared with RODNEY" - he would say -
"No other tar is worth a rap!
The great LORD RODNEY was the chap
The French to polish!
"Though, mind you, I respect LORD HOOD;
CORNWALLIS, too, was rather good;
BENBOW could enemies repel,
LORD NELSON, too, was pretty well -
That is, tol-lol-ish!"
SIR BLENNERHASSET spent his days
In learning RODNEY'S little ways,
And closely imitated, too,
His mode of talking to his crew -
His port and paces.
An ancient tar he tried to catch
Who'd served in RODNEY'S famous batch;
But since his time long years have fled,
And RODNEY'S tars are mostly dead:
But after searching near and far,
At last he found an ancient tar
Who served with RODNEY and his crew
Against the French in 'Eighty-two,
(That gained the peerage).
He gave him fifty pounds a year,
His rum, his baccy, and his beer;
And had a comfortable den
Rigged up in what, by merchantmen,
Is called the steerage.
"Now, JASPER" - 't was that sailor's name -
"Don't fear that you'll incur my blame
By saying, when it seems to you,
That there is anything I do
That RODNEY wouldn't."
The ancient sailor turned his quid,
Prepared to do as he was bid:
"Ay, ay, yer honour; to begin,
You've done away with 'swifting in' -
Well, sir, you shouldn't!
"Upon your spars I see you've clapped
Peak halliard blocks, all iron-capped.
I would not christen that a crime,
But 'twas not done in RODNEY'S time.
It looks half-witted!
Upon your maintop-stay, I see,
You always clap a selvagee!
Your stays, I see, are equalized -
No vessel, such as RODNEY prized,
Would thus be fitted!
"And RODNEY, honoured sir, would grin
To see you turning deadeyes in,
Not UP, as in the ancient way,
But downwards, like a cutter's stay -
You didn't oughter;
Besides, in seizing shrouds on board,
Breast backstays you have quite ignored;
Great RODNEY kept unto the last
Breast backstays on topgallant mast -
They make it tauter."
SIR BLENNERHASSET "swifted in,"
Turned deadeyes up, and lent a fin
To strip (as told by JASPER KNOX)
The iron capping from his blocks,
Where there was any.
SIR BLENNERHASSET does away,
With selvagees from maintop-stay;
And though it makes his sailors stare,
He rigs breast backstays everywhere -
In fact, too many.
One morning, when the saucy craft
Lay calmed, old JASPER toddled aft.
"My mind misgives me, sir, that we
Were wrong about that selvagee -
I should restore it."
"Good," said the Captain, and that day
Restored it to the maintop-stay.
Well-practised sailors often make
A much more serious mistake,
And then ignore it.
Next day old JASPER came once more:
"I think, sir, I was right before."
Well, up the mast the sailors skipped,
The selvagee was soon unshipped,
And all were merry.
Again a day, and JASPER came:
"I p'r'aps deserve your honour's blame,
I can't make up my mind," said he,
"About that cursed selvagee -
It's foolish - very.
"On Monday night I could have sworn
That maintop-stay it should adorn,
On Tuesday morning I could swear
That selvagee should not be there.
The knot's a rasper!"
"Oh, you be hanged," said CAPTAIN P.,
"Here, go ashore at Caribbee.
Get out - good bye - shove off - all right!"
Old JASPER soon was out of sight -
Farewell, old JASPER!
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