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"RULE BRITANNIA" James Thomson (1740)
"Rule Britannia," the popular British song and ode, originated in Alfred, A Masque, a collaborative work by James Thomson and David Mallet. First performed to celebrate the birthday of August, Prince Frederick's daughter, the masque proved political in its failure to include a reference to the current king of England, George II. It was the final work in which Thomson expressed overt Whig sentiment, projecting the patriotic themes that "Rule Britannia" so well captured. Stanza 4 declares,
Thee haughty tyrants ne'er shall tame; All their attempts to bend thee down Will but arouse thy generous flame; But work their woe, and thy renown.
Viewed by most as an attack on the Stuart monarchy, the masque received little later attention, other than in 1745, when its producers may have hoped it would provoke anti-Jacobite feelings. However, "Rule Britannia" would become a public institution of sorts. While Thomson wrote the lyrics, Thomas Arne's music gave the song its true appeal. Each of its six six-line stanzas concludes with the two-line refrain "Rule, Britannia, rule the waves; / Britons never will be slaves." Mallet would revise Alfred after Thomson's death and claim full credit for the altered "Rule Britannia."
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