Byron on a Falmouth packet

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Byron, from the Wikimedia Commons

He may have been an extraordinary character and famously ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ but the Romantic poet and Greek war hero Byron seems to have rather enjoyed the sea and boating, and even had a favourite dog called Boatswain.

An epitaph for the dog has become a favourite poem and can be found at the Wikipedia entry for Byron above.

Clearly Byron was a pretty wild character, but I’d guess that these two themes – the sea and dogs – are things many of us more modest folk can identify with without too much difficulty.

While wandering around the National Maritime Museum Cornwall an exhibit drew my attention to a jolly if rather nauseous poem of Byron’s that I hadn’t heard before, and I thought I should include it here. It comes from Ambleside Online, and I hope none of you suffer a bout of sympathetic emesis…

Lines to Mr. Hodgson Written On Board the Lisbon Packet

Huzza! Hodgson, we are going,
Our embargo’s off at last;
Favourable breezes blowing
Bend the canvass o’er the mast.
From aloft the signal’s streaming,
Hark! the farewell gun is fir’d;
Women screeching, tars blaspheming,
Tell us that our time’s expir’d.
Here’s a rascal
Come to task all,
Prying from the custom-house;
Trunks unpacking
Cases cracking,
Not a corner for a mouse
‘Scapes unsearch’d amid the racket,
Ere we sail on board the Packet.

Now our boatmen quit their mooring,
And all hands must ply the oar;
Baggage from the quay is lowering,
We’re impatient–push from shore.
“Have a care! that case holds liquor–
Stop the boat–I’m sick–oh Lord!”
“Sick, ma’am, damme, you’ll be sicker,
Ere you’ve been an hour on board.”
Thus are screaming
Men and women,
Gemmen, ladies, servants, Jacks;
Here entangling,
All are wrangling,
Stuck together close as wax.–
Such the genial noise and racket,
Ere we reach the Lisbon Packet.

Now we’ve reach’d her, lo! the captain,
Gallant Kidd, commands the crew;
Passengers their berths are clapt in,
Some to grumble, some to spew.
“Hey day! call you that a cabin?
Why ‘t is hardly three feet square;
Not enough to stow Queen Mab in–
Who the deuce can harbour there?”
“Here’s a stanza
On Braganza–
Help!”–“A couplet?”–“No, a cup
Of warm water–“
“What’s the matter?”
“Zounds! my liver’s coming up;
I shall not survive the racket
Of this brutal Lisbon Packet.”

Now at length we’re off for Turkey,
Lord knows when we shall come back!
Breezes foul and tempests murky
May unship us in a crack.
But, since life at most a jest is,
As philosophers allow,
Still to laugh by far the best is,
Then laugh on–as I do now.
Laugh at all things,
Great and small things,
Sick or well, at sea or shore;
While we’re quaffing,
Let’s have laughing–
Who the devil cares for more?–
Some good wine! and who would lack it,
Ev’n on board the Lisbon Packet?

One thought on “Byron on a Falmouth packet”

  1. Hi Gavin, Haven't read any Byron for a while, great piece full of energy and rythm and brilliant pictures. I see Beale park is round again and still I haven't managed a visit. Wafting over the air con here comes someone's fish lunch right on time.

    "Some good wine, and who would lack it" . Well, maybe not for lunch, but tonight………


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