The Analectic Magazine, the United State’s premier literary rag published between 1813 and 1820, was fond of printing the finest specimens of American poetry and song. The magazine’s first editor was none other than Washington Irving, and he used its pages as a platform for enlarging and improving taste in the arts. He was especially concerned with what he termed “popular poetry.” Aware that “nautical songs, and other little poetical effusions” appeared only in ephemeral form (in broadsides and newspapers), and consequentially fearful that they might be forever lost to posterity, Irving asked for “a person of discriminating taste” to collect and publish these works.

Such a worthwhile undertaking would take time, so in the meantime, some of the “best specimens of the poetic talent of this country” graced the pages of the Analectic Magazine. The November 1815 edition reproduced “A new song” “Sung before the Corporation of the City of New York, The Fourth of July, 1815.” Titled “The Frigate Constitution,” it recounted the glorious career of the famed ship during the late war with Great Britain. As the preface makes clear, Irving considered this work a fine example of what one should look for in genuine “folk” productions (even though it was written by a New York lawyer):

“The following song appears to us to possess much of the rough carelessness, and unstudied simplicity which should characterise the genuine sailor’s song, and we have therefore selected it, as affording an agreeable contrast to the inflated and absurd productions that have been palmed upon the public as naval songs, the writers of which seem to have considered swelling metaphors, sublime conceits, and extravagant bombast, as excellent substitutes for truth, humour, and natural feeling. The solid glory of our naval victories has been obscured and caricatured, not illustrated by these tawdry decorations; and poetry, instead of decking the brows of our heroes, with wreathes of evergreen, has for the most part, bedizened them out with ill-sorted and fantastic garlands of artificial flowers.

A new song.
Tune- “Moggy Lauder.”
Argo of Greece, that
brought the fleece
To the Thessalian
As we are told, by
bards of old,
Was sung in many a
But Yankees claim a
prouder name
To spur their
Than Greece could
boast and do her most –
The frigate
When first she
press’d the stream’s cool breast,
Hope hail’d her pride
of story;
Now she o’erpays
hope’s flatt’ring praise,
By matcheless deeds
of glory;
Of all that roam, the
salt sea’s foam,
None floats to
Neptune dearer,
Or fairer shines in
fame’s bright lines,
Or more makes Britain
fear her.
‘Neath Hull’s
command, with a tough band,
And nought beside to
back her,
Upon a day, as
log-books say,
A fleet bore down to
thwack her;
A fleet, you know, is
odds or so,
Against a single ship
So cross the tide,
her legs she tried,
And gave the rouges
the slip sirs.1
But time flies round,
and soon she found,
While ploughing
ocean’s acres,
An even chance to
join the dance,
And turn keel up,
poor Dacres;
Dacres, ‘tis clear,
despises fear,
Quite full of fun and
prank is,
Hoists his ship’s
name, in playful game,
Aloft to scare the
On Brazil’s coast,
she rul’d the roast,
When Bainbridge was
her captain;
Neat hammocks gave,
made of the wave,
Dead Britons to be
wrapp’d in;
For ther, in ire,
‘midst smoke and fire,
Her boys the Java met
And in the fray, her
Yankee play,
Tipp’d Bull a
somerset sirs.3
Next on her deck, at
Fortune’s beck,
The dauntless Stewart
A better tar ne’er
shone in war,
Or daring souls
Old Ironsides, now
once more rides,
In search of English
And Neptune grins to
see her twins,
Got in an hour or
two, sirs.4
Then raise amain, the
joyful strain,
For well she has
deserv’d it,
Who brought the foe
so often low,
Cheer’d freedom’s
heart and nerv’d it;
Long may she ride,
our navy’s pride,
And spur to
And seamen boast, and
landsmen toast,

An illustration of USS Constitution, printed from a woodcut engraving in American Magazine, 1833. [USS Constitution Museum Collection, 1890.1]
1 This stanza refers to Constitution’s narrow escape from a British squadron off Long Island in July 1812.
2 According to some accounts, Captain James Richard Dacres ordered the words “Not the Little Belt” painted on Guerriere’s foretopsail before the August 19, 1812 action with Constitution.
3 Constitution defeated HMS Java on December 29, 1812.
4 On February 20, 1815, under the command of Charles Stewart, Constitution defeated HMS Cyane and HMS Levant.

The Author(s)

Matthew Brenckle
Research Historian, USS Constitution Museum

Matthew Brenckle was the Research Historian at the USS Constitution Museum from 2006 to 2016.