Not for the weak of stomach... <g>
(Poem #161) The Yarn of the "Nancy Bell"
'TWAS on the shores that round our coast From Deal to Ramsgate span, That I found alone on a piece of stone An elderly naval man. His hair was weedy, his beard was long, And weedy and long was he, And I heard this wight on the shore recite, In a singular minor key: "Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold, And the mate of the NANCY brig, And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite, And the crew of the captain's gig." And he shook his fists and he tore his hair, Till I really felt afraid, For I couldn't help thinking the man had been drinking, And so I simply said: "Oh, elderly man, it's little I know Of the duties of men of the sea, And I'll eat my hand if I understand However you can be "At once a cook, and a captain bold, And the mate of the NANCY brig, And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite, And the crew of the captain's gig." Then he gave a hitch to his trousers, which Is a trick all seamen larn, And having got rid of a thumping quid, He spun this painful yarn: "'Twas in the good ship NANCY BELL That we sailed to the Indian Sea, And there on a reef we come to grief, Which has often occurred to me. "And pretty nigh all the crew was drowned (There was seventy-seven o' soul), And only ten of the NANCY'S men Said 'Here!' to the muster-roll. "There was me and the cook and the captain bold, And the mate of the NANCY brig, And the bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite, And the crew of the captain's gig. "For a month we'd neither wittles nor drink, Till a-hungry we did feel, So we drawed a lot, and, accordin' shot The captain for our meal. "The next lot fell to the NANCY'S mate, And a delicate dish he made; Then our appetite with the midshipmite We seven survivors stayed. "And then we murdered the bo'sun tight, And he much resembled pig; Then we wittled free, did the cook and me, On the crew of the captain's gig. "Then only the cook and me was left, And the delicate question, 'Which Of us two goes to the kettle?' arose, And we argued it out as sich. "For I loved that cook as a brother, I did, And the cook he worshipped me; But we'd both be blowed if we'd either be stowed In the other chap's hold, you see. "'I'll be eat if you dines off me,' says TOM; 'Yes, that,' says I, 'you'll be, - 'I'm boiled if I die, my friend,' quoth I; And 'Exactly so,' quoth he. "Says he, 'Dear JAMES, to murder me Were a foolish thing to do, For don't you see that you can't cook ME, While I can - and will - cook YOU!' "So he boils the water, and takes the salt And the pepper in portions true (Which he never forgot), and some chopped shalot. And some sage and parsley too. "'Come here,' says he, with a proper pride, Which his smiling features tell, ''T will soothing be if I let you see How extremely nice you'll smell.' "And he stirred it round and round and round, And he sniffed at the foaming froth; When I ups with his heels, and smothers his squeals In the scum of the boiling broth. "And I eat that cook in a week or less, And - as I eating be The last of his chops, why, I almost drops, For a wessel in sight I see! * * * * "And I never larf, and I never smile, And I never lark nor play, But sit and croak, and a single joke I have - which is to say: "Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold, And the mate of the NANCY brig, And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite, And the crew of the captain's gig!'"
While Gilbert is best known for his long and fruitful collaboration with composer Arthur Sullivan, he has also written a number of early pieces, submitted to Punch under the pseudonym Bab, that are both funny and rewarding. Perhaps the best known is the Yarn of the Nancy Bell, rejected by Punch as being 'too cannibalistic'. While the Gilbert of the G&S operas had clearly matured as a poet, the above poem still shows all of the characteristics he is famous for - flawless, pattering verse, some painfully twisted rhymes and an often skewed sense of humour. Note, in passing, the similarity between Gilbert's 'elderly naval man' and Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. m. Note: THE "BAB BALLADS" appeared originally in the columns of "FUN," when that periodical was under the editorship of the late TOM HOOD. They were subsequently republished in two volumes, one called "THE BAB BALLADS," the other "MORE BAB BALLADS." The period during which they were written extended over some three or four years; many, however, were composed hastily, and under the discomforting necessity of having to turn out a quantity of lively verse by a certain day in every week. As it seemed to me (and to others) that the volumes were disfigured by the presence of these hastily written impostors, I thought it better to withdraw from both volumes such Ballads as seemed to show evidence of carelessness or undue haste, and to publish the remainder in the compact form under which they are now presented to the reader. It may interest some to know that the first of the series, "The Yarn of the NANCY BELL," was originally offered to "PUNCH," - to which I was, at that time, an occasional contributor. It was, however, declined by the then Editor, on the ground that it was "too cannibalistic for his readers' tastes." -- W. S. Gilbert, Preface to 'Fifty "Bab" Ballads - Much Sound and Little Sense' For more about Gilbert, see poem #87