Ben Backstay
Version 2
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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This English tune was written by Charles Dibdin (1740-1814). It appeared in The Oddities which was performed at The Lyceum in 1789.

Ben Backstay (1) is a sea shanty which is also credited to Charles Dibdin.

Charles Dibdin was the eighteenth son of a poor silvermaker. He was born in Southampton in 1740 and died in London in 1814. In 1778 he became resident composer at Covent Garden. In 1803 the British government paid him to write a series of songs to "keep alive the national feelings against the French." (1)

Dibdin's songs were said to be worth ten thousand sailors to the cause of England. His songs were also popular in Canada and America before and during the American Revolution and during the War of 1812.

For other tunes by Charles Dibdin at this site, enter Charles Dibdin in the search engine or see The Contemplator's Short Biography of Charles Dibdin.

Ben Backstay lov'd the gentle Anna:
Constant as purity was she;
Her honey words, like succ'ring manna
Cheer'd him each voyage he made to sea.
One fatal morning saw them parting:
While each the other's sorrow dried,
They, by the tear that then was starting,
Vow'd to be constant till they died.

At distance from his Anna's beauty,
While howling winds the sky deform,
Ben sighs, and well performs his duty,
And braves for love the frightful storm:
Alas! in vain - the vessel batter'd,
On a rock splitting, open'd wide,
While lacerated, torn, and shatter'd,
Ben thought of Anna, sigh'd and died.

The semblance of each charming feature,
That Ben had worn around his neck,
Where art stood substitute for nature,
A tar, his friend, sav'd from the wreck.
In fervent hope, while Anna, burning,
Blush'd as she wish'd to be a bride,
The portrait came - joy turn'd to mourning
She saw, grew pale, sunk down, and died.

Related Links
From The Songs of Charles Dibdin and
(1)The National Music of America and Its Sources
See Bibliography for full information.