Monday, January 10, 2022

Our Friend and Pitcher

(National Library of Australia)
In the process of writing the notes for our volume of Franklin expedition letters, we learned a lot of seemingly random things: the name of a builder of cabinets for entomologists in St. Ives (John James Jarman), the fact that Franklin's friend Charles Beverly was then the head of the Bethlem Lunatic Asylum, and that a "treacle posset" might be good for you if you had a cold (recipe here). But among the more surprising discoveries began with the phrase "Our friend and Pitcher." Owen Stanley, a gifted draughtsman, was in command of HMS Blazer, one of two steam vessels (the other being HMS Rattler) that towed Erebus and Terror up the eastern coast of Britain to Stromness. Stanley made a number of sketches of the ships under tow, and gave one of them this title; in a letter, James Fitzjames mentions that "Stanley calls the Terror his friend and pitcher. This turned out not simply to be a pun (on account of the towed ships "pitching" about in the rough seas), but also a reference to a song, now lost in the mists of obscurity but then well-known enough that Fitzjames at once got the reference.

It was said to be George Washington's favorite play -- "The Poor Soldier" debuted in 1783, with music by William Shield and text by John O'Keefe. It was revived on numerous occasions, but by the 1840's one of its more popular songs had become a common feature of musical revues -- it was "My Friend and Pitcher":

My friend so rare, my girl so fair!
With such, what mortal can be richer?
Give me but these, a fig for care!
With my sweet girl, my friend and pitcher.

Of course, along with my fellow editors, I was enormously curious to hear this song -- but nary a recording of it seemed to exist. And then, to our great good fortune, we tracked down and got in touch with Dr. Sarah McCleave of Queen's University, Belfast. She had, we found, directed a student performance of "The Poor Soldier," and had recorded it on video. Making sure that she first obtained permission from the performers, she's generously agreed that we can share it here, so that everyone can hear the tune that was somewhere in the back of Stanley's and Fitzjames's mind -- so here it is! 

With our deepest thanks to Dr. McCleave, and to the performers: Laoise  Ní Cearnaigh (voice), Amy Wright (piano), and Vanessa Ní Gaoithín (violin). The complete lyrics can be found here.

No comments:

Post a Comment