the Heavy Dragoon’s Song

July 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you want a receipt for that popular mystery,
  Known to the world as a Heavy Dragoon,
Take all the remarkable people in history,
  Rattle them off to a popular tune.

The pluck of Lord Nelson on board of the Victory
  Genius of Bismarck devising a plan –
The humour of Fielding (which sounds contradictory) –
  Coolness of Paget about to trepan –
The science of Jullien, the eminent musico –
  Wit of Macaulay, who wrote of Queen Anne –
The pathos of Paddy, as rendered by Boucicault –
  Style of the Bishop of Sodor and Man –
The dash of a D’Orsay, divested of quackery –
Narrative powers of Dickens and Thackery –
Victor Emmanuel — peak-haunting Peveril –
Thomas Aquinas, and Doctor Sacheverell –
  Tupper and Tennyson — Daniel Defoe –
  Anthony Trollope and Mister Guizot!

Take all of these elements all that is fusible
  Melt them all down in a pipkin or crucible
Set them to simmer, and take off the scum,
  And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum!

If you want a receipt for this soldier-like paragon,
  Get at the wealth of the Czar (if you can) –
The family pride of a Spaniard from Aragon –
  Force of Mephisto pronouncing a ban –
A smack of Lord Waterford, reckless and rollicky –
  Swagger of Roderick, heading his clan –
The keen penetration of Paddington Pollaky –
  Grace of an Odalisque on a divan –
The genius strategic of Caesar or Hannibal –
Skill of Sir Garnet in thrashing a cannibal –
Flavour of Hamlet — the Stranger, a touch of him –
Little of Manfred (but not very much of him) –
  Beadle of Burlington — Richardson’s show –
  Mister Micawber and Madame Tussaud!

Take all of these elements all that is fusible
  Melt them all down in a pipkin or crucible
Set them to simmer, and take off the scum,
  And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum!

- W. S. Gilbert

Essentially a list of mostly obscure historical figures, “the Heavy Dragoon’s Song” can be found in Patience, one of the less popular Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Even without Sullivan’s music, Gilbert’s patter song sings and skips and scatters names along the page; it almost works better without musical accompaniment because the lines already have an obvious meter and the reader can stop and swish the sounds around in the mouth (“The dash of a D’Orsay, divested of quackery” has a light almond taste that deserves to be savored). Gilbert was the master of the triple rhyme, an art that is, alas, dying.

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