Captain Morris's Songs
Alas! poor Morris--writes one--we knew him well. Who that has once read
or heard his songs, can forget their rich and graceful imagery; the
fertile fancy, the touching sentiment, and the "soul reviving" melody,
which characterize every line of these delightful lyrics? Well do we
remember, too, his "old buff waistcoat," his courteous manner, and his
gentlemanly pleasantry, long after this Nestor of song had retired to
joy the delights of rural life, despite the prayer of his racy verse:
"In town let me live, then, in town let me die;
For in truth I can't relish the country, not I.
If one must have a villa in summer to dwell;
Oh! give me the sweet, shady side of Pall Mall."
Captain Morris was born about the middle of the last century, and
outlived the majority of the bon vivant society which he gladdened
with his genius, and lit up with his brilliant humour.
Yet, many readers of the present generation may ask, "Who was Captain
Morris?" He was born of good family, in the celebrated year 1745, and
appears to have inherited a taste for literary composition; for his
father composed the popular song of Kitty Crowder.
For more than half a century, Captain Morris moved in the first circles.
He was the "sun of the table" at Carlton House, as well as at Norfolk
House; and attaching himself politically, as well as convivially, to his
dinner companions, he composed the celebrated ballads of "Billy's too
young to drive us," and "Billy Pitt and the Farmer," which continued
long in fashion, as brilliant satires upon the ascendant politics of
their day. His humorous ridicule of the Tories was, however, but ill
repaid by the Whigs upon their accession to office; at least, if we may
trust the beautiful ode of "The Old Whig Poet to his Old Buff Waistcoat."
We are not aware of this piece being included in any edition of the
"Songs." It bears date "G. R., August 1, 1815;" six years subsequent to
which we saw it among the papers of the late Alexander Stephens.
Captain Morris's "Songs" were very popular. In 1830, we possessed a copy
of the 24th edition; we remember one of the ditties to have been "sung
by the Prince of Wales to a certain lady," to the air of "There's a
difference between a beggar and a queen." Morris's finest Anacreontic,
is the song Ad Poculum, for which he received the gold cup of the
"Come thou soul-reviving cup!
Try thy healing art;
Stir the fancy's visions up,
And warm my wasted heart.
Touch with freshening tints of bliss
Memory's fading dream;
Give me, while thy lip I kiss,
The heaven that's in thy stream."
Of the famous Beefsteak Club, (at first limited to twenty-four members,
but increased to twenty-five, to admit the Prince of Wales,) Captain
Morris was the laureat; of this "Jovial System" he was the intellectual
centre. In the year 1831, he bade adieu to the club, in some spirited
stanzas, though penned at "an age far beyond mortal lot." In 1835, he
was permitted to revisit the club, when they presented him with a large
silver bowl, appropriately inscribed.
It would not be difficult to string together gems from the Captain's
Lyrics. In "The Toper's Apology," one of his most sparkling songs,
occurs this brilliant version of Addison's comparison of wits with
"My Muse, too, when her wings are dry,
No frolic flight will take;
But round a bowl she'll dip and fly,
Like swallows round a lake.
Then, if the nymph will have her share
Before she'll bless her swain,
Why that I think's a reason fair
To fill my glass again."
Many years since, Captain Morris retired to a villa at Brockham,
near the foot of Box Hill, in Surrey. This property, it is said, was
presented to him by his old friend, the Duke of Norfolk. Here the
Captain "drank the pure pleasures of the rural life" long after many
a bright light of his own time had flickered out, and become almost
forgotten; even "the sweet, shady side of Pall Mall" had almost
disappeared, and with it the princely house whereat he was wont to
shine. He died July 11, 1835, in his ninety-third year, of internal
inflammation of only four days.
Morris presented a rare combination of mirth and prudence, such as human
conduct seldom offers for our imitation. He retained his gaiete de
coeur to the last; so that, with equal truth and spirit, he
"When life charms my heart, must I kindly be told,
I'm too gay and too happy for one that's so old."
Captain Morris left his autobiography to his family; but it has not been
* * * * *