Friday 21 June 2013

The Tuke Work Experience Project, Part 2: Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Bonaparte?

This week we continue our Tuke themed blog posts with a look at some of the poetry found in the collection, written by one of our work experience students, Rebecca.

You can catch up by reading Part I here.

Studying personal documents from the early nineteenth century, I inevitably found myself looking out for glimpses of major political events; the Napoleonic Wars in particular. I found there to be surprisingly little. I suppose it’s one of those ‘topical silences’ – letters are going to be about the personal and the everyday, not the grand and international. It’s not like I ever wrote about the Iraq war in my letters of the last decade. But I have to say that a selection of comedic poems was not somewhere I expected to find my first reference to Bonaparte (TUKE/2/1/13/1/3). It makes sense though, and it’s a really fun read. The kind of tongue-in-cheek mockery and teasing bravado reminds me of the theme song to Dad’s Army; who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Bonaparte?

Answer to the Enigmas in a note to Bonaparte

I understand Bonaparte, you still think to come
To frighten Old England with the beat of your drum
But take my advice, & never come near us,
For if you land here you’ll have reason to fear us,
If you ever mix with us, to eat up our bread,
We will lull you to sleep with a potion of Lead
We need stop neither Harrows nor ploughs to find men,
Should we meet in the field you’ll find fifty for ten,
For our Bricklayers lads & our wool-combers Boys,
With our guns can play better than yours with Toys
Yes our very Thimbling tribe can all with great skill,
Use their daggers for their daggers as swords a henchman to kill,
Believe me friend Bonney you’ll be left in the Lurch
Whenever you try to demolish our Church;
At the end of your life you will find I speak truth,
And wish for the Solitude you passed in your youth,
So Huzza to old England if ‘ere you dare come,
For we fear neither you nor the beat of your Drum
All the bells in our steeples shall merrily ring
And our young men & maidens will joyfully sing,
The fame of brave Britons to you is not new,
So we’ll use no more ink but to bid you adieu.

Rebecca found other interesting poetry snippets in the collection, like these written by Favilla Copsie:

The poem (left) was written by Favilla Copsie (née Scott), probably in 1807, and is mentioned in letters from her sister Mary Maria Tuke (née Scott) (TUKE/1/6/1/6/24) and her son James Favil Copsie (TUKE/1/37/1/9/7, TUKE/1/37/1/9/8). Favilla evidently enjoyed writing poetry, and we have a selection of her other poems, which often take the form of everyday correspondence. They’re wonderful to read;

‘my dearest James I use this Ink // to let you see on you I think… first I must thank you for your thimble // which make my needle run quite nimble’


‘my Dear Cousin Esther do you go to the Ball // tho I hope before that you will give me a Call’

Little gems like this which seem at once so alien and so familiar made the week’s work experience really absorbing.

To read more about our student volunteers' work with the Tuke archive, please see Growing Up Tuke and Views of York.

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