“England”

Someone, contributing a comment to a recent story in The Scotsman, pointed out that it took a long while after 1707 for the English navy to become British (though he was quoting an 1812 date). What he was referring to was Nelson’s famous signal “England expects that every man this day will do his duty” – rightly extolled as a great and memorable phrase. It caught the imagination of the people, and features as the chorus, more or less, of Braham’s tuneful song “The Death of Nelson” (“’Twas in Trafalgar Bay”), his greatest hit, which held the stage for a hundred years. It first appeared in the opera written in collaboration with Matthew Peter King (1773-1823), The Americans, presented at the Lyceum Theatre in 1811. (We’re told that Lady Hamilton, who was in a private box for the performance, was so overcome that she suffered a fit of hysterics and had to leave the theatre). That song incidentally put the phrase “England, home and beauty” into the cliché pot. Braham himself, in 1803, sang in his own opera The English Fleet, which shows the (English) usage of the time. But the objection to “England” can be answered by an anecdote I picked up from somewhere some decades ago and used in an Immortal Memory I gave to the Los Angeles Scottish Country Dancers:
Anent the patriotism of the Scot, there’s a well-known story of the Scotsman who was twitted upon that famous signal of Lord Nelson’s before Trafalgar, “England expects that every man this day will do his duty” — and he replied, “Ye would say that Nelson reckoned that Scotland was of no account, and therefore did not address himself to Scotsmen. But it was like this: he only said expects to Englishmen, because he knew he could only expect them to do their duty. He did not mention Scotland because he knew perfectly well that every Scotsman might be relied upon to do his.”

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Filed under Politics, Texts, Trivia

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