Friday, March 02, 2007

A Musical Interlude

As we worry through communiqués, reports, interviews, articles, and learned papers, and all the parsing and speculation that we apply to them (and I am no less guilty than others), periodically there are calls for “clarity.” And clarity can be hard to find. Those who sign communiqués together express separately interpretations so different as to seem irreconcilable. And statements made today may seem contrary to statements made only a few years ago. For good or ill (for good and ill) we are all conscious of our circumstances and our audiences; and we are all responsive to them, to a greater or lesser extent.

Which brings me to the song I’ve posted below. The title is "The Vicar of Bray." I heard it as a child on a record (real 33 1/3 vinyl!) of English folk songs (I seem to remember that the singer was Theodore Bikel; but I may not be correct). Long before I understood the theological niceties to which the song refers, I recognized the political implications. This version I found at Lesley Nelson’s Folk Music site, where you can also hear the tune. There is a Wikipedia article with annotations, and an older version of the lyrics; but the one below is more like what I remember from my childhood. I offer it for the fun of it. After all, in all of this we need to stop and laugh now and again.

In good King Charles's golden time
When loyalty no harm meant
A zealous high churchman was I
And so I gained preferment
To teach my flock I never missed
Kings are by God appointed
And damned are those who dare resist
Or touch the Lord's annointed.

Chorus:
And this is law that I'll maintain
Until my dying day, Sir.
That whatsoever king may reign

Still I'll be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!


When Royal James possessed the crown
And popery came in fashion
The Penal Laws I hooted down
And read the Declaration
The Church of Rome I found did fit
Full well my constitution
And I had been a Jesuit
But for the Revolution.

Chorus

When William was our King declared
To ease the nation's grievance
With this new wind about I steered
And swore to him allegiance
Old principles I did revoke
Set conscience at a distance
Passive obedience was a joke
A jest was non-resistance.

Chorus

When Royal Anne became our Queen
The Church of England's Glory
Another face of things was seen
And I became a Tory
Occasional conformists base
I blamed their moderation
And thought the Church in danger was
By such prevarication.

Chorus

When George in pudding time came o'er
And moderate men looked big, Sir.
My principles I changed once more
And so became a Whig, Sir.
And thus preferment I procured
From our new faith's defender.
And almost every day abjured
The Pope and the Pretender.

Chorus

The illustrious house of Hanover
And Protestant succession
To these I do allegiance swear
While they can keep possession
For in my faith and loyalty
I never more will falter
And George my lawful king shall be
Until the times do alter.

Chorus:
And this is law that I'll maintain
Until my dying day, Sir.
That whatsoever king may reign

Still I'll be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The song ,"Vicar of Bray", was on the excellent folk album by Theodore Bikel titled "A Folksinger's Choice" He did several great songs in perfect dialect. The Australian song "Wallaby Stew", the Irish song "The Charladie's Ball" and an irreverant song about the Salvation army called "Away with Rum".(I happen to admire the work of the Salvation Army), I don't remember the record label but if you can find it, buy it.

Marshall said...

Thanks for this. I do remember the album, including "Wallaby Stew."

By the way, I've found the "Song of the Salvation Army" also presented as the "Song of the Temperance Union." It's a little easier to tweak them, and so that's how I've sung the song for some years now.