"Hearts Of Oak"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The phrase "hearts of oak" is an ancient one and traditionally denotes strength, stoutness of heart, toughness, and unyielding determination. It occurs in Aristophanes' The Wasps (422 B.C.): "We'll summon our hearts of oak"; Horace uses a related expression; it appears in the anonymous Old Meg of Herefordshire (1609), "Here is a dozen of yonkers that have hearts of oake at fourscore yeares." Cervantes employed the term in Don Quixote de la Mancha in 1615 ("Soul of fibre and heart of oak") and Susanna Centlivre, in the epilogue to her play The Cruel Gift (1717) asks, "Where are the rough brave Britons to be found/ With Hearts of Oak, so much of old renowned?" More familiar than these, perhaps, are two songs which both contain the expression. One, by David Garrick, appeared in 1759; the other, by Samuel James Arnold, in 1811. Garrick was a great actor who also possessed considerable literary ability; Arnold (1774–1852) was a British dramatist who wrote and produced popular operas. One of these, The Americans, contains a song entitled "The Death of Nelson;" the music for it was composed by the famous tenor John Braham, whose rich and powerful voice could span nearly three octaves. He wrote part or all of the music for many operas in which he performed. "The Death of Nelson" became a well-known popular song and so remained for many years. In it appear the following lines: "Our ships were British oak,/ And hearts of oak our men." The song by Garrick, however, has probably enjoyed a wider fame. It was set to music by William Boyce (c. 1710–1779), one of England's finest native composers, and was first performed in The Harlequin's Invasion, or A Christmas Gambol, given at Drury Lane Theatre on December 31, 1759. This festive affair included a pantomime by Garrick. The song achieved immediate fame, becoming one of England's great national airs and ranking in popularity with "Rule, Britannia." To this day it remains a standard patriotic number. The first and last stanzas are given below; the chorus as quoted for the first stanza is the original. The second chorus quoted is a variant, and perhaps more familiar version:

Come, cheer up, my lads! 'tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year:
To honor we call you, not press you like slaves;
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?
Heart of oak are our ships,
Heart of oak are our men,
We always are ready:
Steady, boys, steady!
We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again.
. . .
Britannia triumphant, her ships sweep the sea;
Her standard is Justice–her watchword, "Be free."
Then cheer up, my lads! with one heart let us sing,
"Our soldiers, our sailors, our statesmen, our King,"
Hearts of oak are our ships,
Hearts of oak are our men,
We always are ready,
Steady, boys, steady,
We'll fight and will conquer again and again.