The Anti-French Song: Henry Purcell and Xenophobia

I was recently listening to Thomas d’Urfey‘s The Comical History of Don Quixote and one song in particular caught my ear. d’Urfey’s rather imaginative adaptation of Cervantes’ novel – think of Michael Winterbottom’s Cock & Bull Story as it emerges from Tristram Shandy – was originally performed in 1694 and comprises dialogue interspersed with songs by Henry Purcell, whose instrumental pieces I know reasonably well, but whose songs are a different matter entirely.

“The Anti-French Song”, as it is referred to in the play, was very much a staple of the time, and, again as in the play, was usually paired with a pro-British one – in this case, it’s swiftly followed by the even more patriotic “Genius of England”. But what makes the song rather wonderful is that it manages to combine England’s natural xenophobia with an explicit rejection of racism, running straight from Little Englander rallying-cry (“leave the cheese and wine on the beach and bugger orf”) to a celebration of miscegenation.

So, here’s an MP3 which you can listen to with the following player, and I’ve had a go at transcribing the lyrics below – with a few gaps if anyone can help me fill them in, or correct me. Enjoy!

You can never trust a Frenchman

You can never trust a Frenchman,
Nor any of their henchmen,
Or Germans or Dutch
Or the Belgians and such,
They’re as bad as lawyers and benchmen.

The grubby Europeans,
Sing their own praise in paeans,
But the Channel is wide
Let them stay on their side,
Where they’ve been for countless aeons.

Their language sounds like twitter,
All lips and teeth and squitter,
Their cheese and their wine
May be all of very fine.
But you can’t beat English bitter.

And French sophistication,
Just gives you constipation,
When they murmur amour
We are all dead sure
They’re the world’s least sexy nation.

So let us raise our glasses,
As England’s glory passes,
To aristocrats
And to middle-class prats,
And the glorious working classes.

The Scotsman has his sporran,
Snug in his Glasgow warren,
And the Welshman’s a lad
And the Irish are mad,
But none of us is foreign.

So praise our bastard nation,
An incredible creation,
Of Latins and Celts
And Saxons that melts
Into pure miscegenation.

And Welcome other races,
With different shades of faces,
Come and join in the song,
Sing it with us so long
As the French stay in their places!

(Corrected: Thanks to Max for the updates!)

The original full text of the play, as printed in 1729 without the songs, is available on Google Books.

Posted December 3, 2009 | Comments Off on The Anti-French Song: Henry Purcell and Xenophobia.

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