Prologue [“True patriots all” poem, 1801]

[Editor: A poem written in 1801, possibly by Henry Carter (of England). Its authorship has been misattributed to George Barrington, the famous “gentleman pickpocket” who was transported to Australia as a convict. Published in The Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Year 1801 (London, 1802). The poem is best known for the lines “True patriots all; for be it understood, we left our country for our country’s good”.]

Prologue.

By a Gentleman of Leicester.

On opening the Theatre, at Sydney, Botany Bay, to be spoken by the celebrated Mr. Barrington.

From distant climes, o’er wide-spread seas we come,
Though not with much eclat or beat of drum,
True patriots all; for be it understood,
We left our country for our country’s good;
No private views disgrac’d our generous zeal,
What urg’d our travels was our country’s weal;
And none will doubt but that our emigration
Has prov’d most useful, to the British nation.

But, you inquire, what could our breasts inflame,
With this new passion for theatric fame?
What, in the practice of our former days,
Could shape our talent to exhibit plays?
Your patience, sirs, some observations made,
You’ll grant us equal to the scenic trade.

He, who to midnight ladders is no stranger,
You’ll own will make an admirable Ranger.
To seek Macheath, we have not far to roam;
And sure in Filch I shall be quite at home.
Unrivalled there, none will dispute my claim
To high pre-eminence and exalted fame.

As oft on Gadshill we have ta’en our stand,
When ’twas so dark you could not see your hand,
Some true bred Falstaff we may hope to start,
Who, when well-bolster’d, well will play his part.
The scene to vary, we shall try in time
To treat you with a little pantomime.
Here light and easy Columbines are found,
And well-tried harlequins with us abound;
From durance vile our precious selves to keep,
We often had recourse to th’ flying leap;
To a black face have sometimes ow’d escape,
And Hounslow-Heath has proved the worth of crape.

But how, you ask, can we e’er hope to soar,
Above these scenes, and rise to tragic lore?
Too oft, alas, we’ve forc’d th’ unwilling tear,
And petrified the heart with real fear.
Macbeth a harvest of applause will reap,
For some of us, I fear, have murder’d sleep;
His lady too with grace will sleep and talk,
Our females have been us’d at night to walk.

Sometimes, indeed, so various is our art,
An actor may improve and mend his part;
“Give me a horse,” bawls Richard, like a drone,
We’ll find a man would help himself to one.
Grant us the favour, put us to the test,
To gain your smiles we’ll do our very best;
And, without dread of future turnkey Lockits,
Thus, in an honest way, still pick your pockets.



Source:
The Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Year 1801, London: W. Otridge and Son et al, 1802, pages 516-517

Also published in:
George Barrington, The History of New South Wales: Including Botany Bay, Port Jackson, Pamaratta, Sydney, and all its Dependancies, from the Original Discovery of the Island: With the Customs and Manners of the Natives, and an Account of the English Colony from its Foundation to the Present Time, London: M. Jones, 1802, pages 152-153 [attributed to George Barrington, but apparently not written by him]

Charles White, Convict Life in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land: Parts I & II: The Story of the Ten Governors, and the Story of the Convicts, Bathurst (NSW): C. & G. S. White, 1889, pages 18-19

Editor’s notes:
black face = in the context of a robbery, “black face” is a reference to a robber disguising his face so as not to be seen at night, either by blackening his face (for example, with soot or charcoal) or by the use of black crepe (“black face” could also refer to entertainers depicting “happy go lucky” negroes in the theatre, a style which did not achieve popularity until the early 1800s)

Columbines = Columbine was a servant girl character used in the Commedia dell’arte theatre style in Italy, commonly appearing in English pantomime plays as the girlfriend of Harlequin [note: Aquilegia, also known as Columbine, is a genus of perennial plants]

crape = (also spelt “crepe”) a cloth of a gauzy texture; the use of black crape over the face was a disguise used by robbers [e.g. “The robbery of his lordship was committed upon Sunday afternoon, the 22d of June 1760, below the Devizes, by a single highwayman, dressed in black, with a crape over his face”, in: The Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature, for the Year 1761, London: J. Dodsley, 1786, page 52 (in the “Characters” section)]

éclat = praise, applause; brilliant show, conspicuous success, splendor, striking effect; glory, renown

Falstaff = a character portrayed as a cowardly fat knight, who appeared in several of William Shakespeare’s plays (Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; The Merry Wives of Windsor)

filch = to take something in a furtive manner, especially something of small value [note: there is a small hamlet in England called Filching, in the parish of Willingdon and Jevington, located between Brighton and Hastings]

Gadshill = Gad’s Hill, in Higham, Kent, was infamously known as a place frequented by robbers

“Give me a horse,” bawls Richard = a reference to the play Richard III by William Shakespeare, in which King Richard III cries out “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”

harlequins = Harlequin was a comic servant character used in the Commedia dell’arte theatre style in Italy, commonly appearing in English pantomime plays [note: harlequins, or harlekins, appear in French folk-literature dating back to 1100]

Hounslow-Heath = Hounslow Heath was infamously known as a place frequented by robbers

Lockits = see “turnkey Lockits”

Macbeth = a play by William Shakespeare (“the Scottish play”)

Macheath = the highwayman in The Beggar’s Opera, written by John Gay (of England) in 1728

Our females have been us’d at night to walk = a reference to prostitutes (“women of the night”)

turnkey Lockits = Lockit was a jailer (in Newgate prison) in The Beggar’s Opera, written by John Gay (of England) in 1728

Editor’s notes on the origin of the poem:
The earliest known publication of this poem was in the 1801 edition of The Annual Register (London). Its authorship has been attributed to Henry Carter (of England). George Barrington has been incorrectly credited as its author, presumably because it was published in The History of New South Wales (1802), which was supposedly written by him; although that volume was actually one of several books printed under his name by publishers who were unscrupulous enough to try to profit from his notoriety (George Barrington was the famous Irish “gentleman pickpocket” who was sentenced to transportation to Australia in 1790 for seven years; he received a full pardon in 1796 and was made the chief constable at Parramatta). In The History of New South Wales (1802), it was written that the poem was narrated as the opening piece of the first play performed in an Australian theatre, in 1796; although this would appear to be untrue, with the poem not appearing until 1801. The poem is best known for the lines “True patriots all; for be it understood, we left our country for our country’s good”.

References:
The Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Year 1801, London: W. Otridge and Son et al, 1802, pages 516-517
Simon Caterson, “George Barrington: Australia’s first literary celebrity and a fake author”, On Line Opinion, 8 October 2009 (accessed 11 November 2012)
John Alexander Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia: Volume 1, 1784-1830 [facsimile edition], Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1975, page 133 [originally published by Angus & Robertson, 1941]
Barrington, George (1755–1804)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (accessed 11 November 2012)
George Barrington”, Wikipedia (accessed 11 November 2012)

Comments

  1. Raymond says:

    Hello. Thank you for another fascinating find in your web-site.

    In the “Editor’s Notes on the Origin of the Poem” this is stated:
    ‘… In The History of New South Wales (1802), it was written that the poem was narrated as the opening piece of the first play performed in an Australian theatre, in 1796; although this would appear to be untrue, with the poem not appearing until 1801. The poem is best known for the lines “True patriots all; for be it understood, we left our country for our country’s good”.
    … ‘

    I do not have any particular knowledge of this matter, but logic tells me that the poem could have been written in Sydney, to be performed for the first time at that 1796 Sydney performance; and have later been published by Barrington or another in 1801.

    When one especially reads the line “… WE LEFT our country for our country’s good …”;
    that has a ring to my ears of being performed in the new country — i.e.: in Sydney.
    Other parts of the poem have the same ring about them, of having been written from within NSW at the time.

    Again, I thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

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