BATTLE OF THE BALTIC Poetry/Poem by Thomas Campbell (1777-1844)
OF Nelson and the north
Sing the glorious day’s renown,
When to battle fierce came forth
All the might of Denmark’s crown,
And her arms along the deep proudly shone;
By each gun the lighted brand
In a bold, determined hand,
And the prince of all the land
Led them on.
Like leviathans afloat
Lay their bulwarks on the brine;
While the sign of battle flew
On the lofty British line–
It was ten of April morn by the chime.
As they drifted on their path
There was silence deep as death;
And the boldest held his breath
For a time.
But the might of England flushed
To anticipate the scene;
And her van the fleeter rushed
O’er the deadly space between.
“Hearts of oak!” our captain cried; when each gun
From its adamantine lips
Spread a death-shade round the ships,
Like the hurricane eclipse
Of the sun.
Again! again! again!
And the havoc did not slack,
Till a feeble cheer the Dane
To our cheering sent us back;
Their shots along the deep slowly boom–
Then ceased — and all is wail,
As they strike the shattered sail,
Or in conflagration pale,
Light the gloom.
Out spoke the victor then,
As he hailed them o’er the wave:
“Ye are brothers! ye are men!
And we conquer but to save;
So peace instead of death let us bring;
But yield, proud foe, thy fleet,
With the crews, at England’s feet,
And make submission meet
To our king.”
Then Denmark blessed our chief,
That he gave her wounds repose;
And the sounds of joy and grief
From her people wildly rose,
As death withdrew his shades from the day.
While the sun looked smiling bright
O’er a wide and woeful sight,
Where the fires of funeral light
Now joy, old England, raise!
For the tidings of thy might,
By the festal cities’ blaze,
Whilst the wine-cup shines in light;
And yet, amidst that joy and uproar,
Let us think of them that sleep
Full many a fathom deep,
By the wild and stormy steep,
Brave hearts! to Britain’s pride
Once so faithful and so true,
On the deck of fame that died,
With the gallant, good Riou —
Soft sigh the winds of heaven o’er their grave!
While the billow mournful rolls,
And the mermaid’s song condoles,
Singing glory to the souls
Of the brave!
This introduction to “Battle of the Baltic” is reprinted from Historic Poems and Ballads. Ed. Rupert S. Holland. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1912.
AT the time when Napoleon I was Emperor of the French, England was practically the only country that could hold its own against him, and this was chiefly due to the victories won by the British navy under Lord Nelson. During the long contest with France, the government of England claimed the right to search all neutral ships, for the purpose of preventing secret trade with France. This claim was resisted by several other nations, and in 1800, Russia, Sweden, Prussia, and Denmark formed an alliance known as the “Second Armed Neutrality,” for the purpose of opposing the claim.
The English sent a fleet of fifty-two ships to the Baltic to break up the alliance. Horatio Nelson was second in command. He was assigned the attack when, on March 30, 1801, his advance squadron of thirty-six vessels entered the Danish harbor of Copenhagen. The British commander, Sir Hyde Parker, gave the signal to cease firing after the battle had raged for three hours. Nelson saw the signal, but placing his spy-glass to his blind eye, said to his lieutenants, “I really don’t see the signal. Keep mine for closer battle still flying. That’s the way I answer such signals. Nail mine to the mast.” The battle lasted for five hours, and ended in complete victory for the English fleet. As a reward for his skill in this battle, which Nelson declared was the most terrible in which he had ever taken part, he was made a viscount and given the thanks of the English Parliament.