National Songs and Poetical Pieces

The book referenced below, Hugh Williams, ed., National Songs and Poetical Pieces Dedicated to the Queen and her Countrywomen (London: Hetherington, 1839), illustrates just how informative and fun primary sources can be. For instance, I was completely unaware of Nils von Schoultz (1807-38), a military officer of Finnish-Swedish origin who served in Poland against the Russians and who eventually ended up in the United States, became interested in the Canadian cause, and led a small force that invaded Canada in the wake of the failed Rebellions of 1837. These border skirmishes are designated the Patriot War, and I confess that I did not know about them either, although it makes complete sense that certain Americans would look with favor on the Canadian rebels and try to help them. Von Schoultz was a participant in the Battle of the Windmill in November 1838, during which time his force, having failed to take the town of Prescott, occupied a stone windmill at nearby Newport for four days before surrendering to the British (and Americans – apparently the United States government did not support this freelance invasion). Von Schoultz was put on trial, at which he expressed remorse for his actions and, contrary to the advice of his lawyer, future Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, pleaded guilty. As a consequence he was hanged at Kingston’s Fort Henry on December 8, 1838, at the age of 31. 

But that’s a somewhat neutral account, gleaned from the font of all knowledge. Here is how National Songs puts it:

There is a proud gratification in contemplating brilliant illustrations of the sprit of liberty, however melancholy, when clouded by the frowns, not of fortune, for liberty must eventually triumph, but of the hitherto overbalancing power of despotism.

Tyranny has recently added to its blood-stained catalogue, one of the brightest characters that ever humanity produced, freedom inspired, or history recorded. Where the Russian miscreant failed, English despots too well succeeded.

Neil S. Von Shoultz was a native of Poland, of prepossessing appearance and mild manners. His father was a major of a regiment at Cracow. His unfortunate and gallant son was compelled to emigrate to the United States in 1836, where congenial impulses for the suffering Canadians, led him to an untimely end, at the age of thirty-one.

He undertook an expedition for their liberation, and in command of a small body of American citizens, and Canadian refugees, gained a signal victory over a superior British force, at Prescott, U.C., on the 13th of November, 1838. The English afterwards returned to the charge with overwhelming reinforcements, and hemmed in, massacred and captured what remained of the small and exhausted band, previously cut off from all communication with the opposite American shore, by the conniving authorities of the United States, in opposition to the wishes of an indignant border population. The deceived, but not discomfited Schoultz, fought his way through the ranks of the enemy, but having become exposed to the horrors of a Canadian winter, without food or shelter, was eventually taken prisoner, and met with that sort of reward which successful tyranny had ever allotted to revolutionary prowess. He was tried at Kingston, on the 8th of December, 1838, by court martial, composed possibly of vagabonds whom he had lately put to disgraceful fight, or of their associates; and the HERO of PRESCOTT, under the matter-of-course sanction of Colburne and Arthur, was immediately put to death in cold blood.

“Colburne” is Sir John Colborne, acting Governor General of British North America; “Arthur” is Sir George Arthur, Lt. Gov. of Upper Canada. That’s a rather different perspective, eh?! The text goes on to excoriate President Martin van Buren for selling out these “true friends of liberty,” contrary to the supposed political principles of the great American Republic. It’s a reminder how, in the early nineteenth century, the conflict between “liberty” and “order” transcended national boundaries and even the Atlantic Ocean. The Congress of Vienna was not successful at putting that genie back in its bottle. 

I’m amused to discover that the author blames the “Canadian winter” for Schoultz’s defeat! Apparently it’s not just Russia’s greatest general

Then there are three separate poems that praise the “tricoloured flag.” According to one of them, the flag of Revolutionary France, a vertical tricolor of blue, white, and red, made tricolors symbolic of “liberty”:

Hail emblem of Liberty, spirit of light,
Thou sheerest my heart, and thou gladdest my sight
Thou beacon of hope to the good and the brave,
Thou foe to the tyrant, thou friend to the slave.
Ere long Britain’s sons shall awake from their trance,
And hail thy bright form like Republican France;
And the time draws nigh, when thy banner unfurl’d
Shall wave in proud triumph all over the world.
Hail tri-coloured flag!
Hail tri-coloured flag!

Note, though, that by the 1830s, tricolors did not necessarily represent republicanism. For instance, Louis-Philippe, France’s “citizen-king” who came to power in 1830, readopted the revolutionary tricolor to represent his regime, and the Belgians, whose state was born in the same year as the result of a rebellion against the Dutch, adopted a vertical tricolor of black, gold, and red, even though Belgium was a monarchy from the start.

But according to this collection, the flag adopted by British fans of “liberty” had a different set of colors. In the poem “The Tri-Colour!”, we read:

“Hark! hark! ’tis the trumpet of LIBERTY sounds,
As the tricolor flag is unfurl’d;”
With joy at its notes “every bosom resounds,”
While the echo is heard o’er the world.
Her cause is as pure as the deep azure sky,
It cheers like the bright sunny ray, –
Refreshing and lively as nature’s green dye,
Ever gentle, unchanging, and gay.

In other words, the British tricolor is to be blue (“azure”), white (“bright”), and green. One sees a fuller explication of this idea in the introduction to the poem “Freedom’s Tri-Coloured Banner,” which poem was:

Composed on the occasion of the Writer’s presenting the Metropolitan, Merthyr, Pontypool, and Carmarthen Associations each with the first projected Tri-coloured banner – composed of green, white and blue, symbolical of the aspect of nature – the green earth, the solar light, and the ethereal blue. A banner with colours as predominant as EQUAL RIGHTS are universal; and now about to supersede the blood-stained standards of the old world, of ancient and modern tyranny, and so form the emblem of freedom, of fraternity and happiness to the rising millions!

A footnote to the poem suggests that the stripes are to be:

horizontal, and in the following proportions: – grass green below, two ninths of depth; white, centre, four-ninths, and the rest deep sky blue. 

Furthermore:

The standard Radical flag will bear for its motto Universal Liberty along the center… with the Sun gilded on the upper staff quarter.

So of course I had to mash one up:

But I have not been able to find any other evidence for this flag, or any variants thereof, on the Internet. Note that it’s different from what Flags of the World claims was Flag of the English Republic:

Wikipedia.

And note that in both cases the stripes are horizontal, not vertical. This too is not necessarily republican, viz. the contemporary flags of the Netherlands and Russia, which were both horizontal tricolors representing monarchies, although horizontal stripes do allow for words and slogans to be written on them.

I would be curious to know just how popular Chartism (and/or English Republicanism) was in the 1830s. Did it command the sympathies of a majority of the working class? Or was it like the more recent anti-WTO or Occupy movements – something that got a certain amount of attention, but that was ultimately ignored by most people? 

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