"The Gift Of Gab"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: A much-quoted poem by Capt. Marryat appears most frequently with its first line as title. It describes a battle between the British and the French, perhaps just such a battle as midshipman Marryat experienced when he ran away from his family in 1806 and shipped aboard the frigate Impérieuse under Lord Cochrane (1775–1860), who later fought for Chilean independence. Marryat described another such naval battle in a famous chapter of The King's Own (1830). A carronade, getting its name from Carron in Scotland where it was first forged, was a mortar-like cannon, carried on the ship's upper deck for use at short range. "Gab," from Middle English gabben, "to mock or talk foolishly," is colloquial for "babbling." Whether it is a gift or a curse depends on whether one is uttering it or listening to it. "Odds bobs" is a euphemism for the oath "God's body!" The poem begins and ends, after the sea-fight, as follows:

The captain stood on the carronade–"First lieutenant," says he,
"Send all my merry men aft here, for they must list to me:
I haven't the gift of the gab, my sons–because I'm bred to the sea;
That ship there is a Frenchman, who means to fight with we. . . ."
. . .
Our captain sent for all of us; "My merry men," said he,
"I haven't the gift of the gab, my lads, but yet I thankful be;
You've done your duty handsomely, each man stood to his gun;
If you hadn't, you villains, as sure as day, I'd have flogged each mother's son.
Odds bobs, hammer and tongs, as long as I'm at sea,
I'll fight 'gainst every odds–and I'll gain the victory!"