Home Sweet Home

    Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
    Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home;
    A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
    Which, seek through the world, is ne'er met with elsewhere.
    Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
    There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

    An exile from home, splendor dazzles in vain;
    Oh, give me my lowly thatched cottage again!
    The birds singing gayly, that come at my call --
    Give me them -- and the peace of mind, dearer than all!
    Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
    There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

    I gaze on the moon as I tread the drear wild,
    And feel that my mother now thinks of her child,
    As she looks on that moon from our own cottage door
    Thro' the woodbine, whose fragrance shall cheer me no more.
    Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
    There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

    How sweet 'tis to sit 'neath a fond father's smile,
    And the caress of a mother to soothe and beguile!
    Let others delight mid new pleasures to roam,
    But give me, oh, give me, the pleasures of home.
    Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
    There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

    To thee I'll return, overburdened with care;
    The heart's dearest solace will smile on me there;
    No more from that cottage again will I roam;
    Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
    Home, home, sweet, sweet, home!
    There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

    John Howard Payne (1791-1852)

An American playwright and actor John Howard Payne was born in New York City and became a successful actor with a career that included being the first American to play Hamlet (1809). Born January 10, 1791 and educated at Union College he did not think of himself as a poet and yet he is remembered most for his 'one hit wonder' Home Sweet Home.

A prolific playwright his life's work is composed mainly of adaptations and translations of fifty to sixty plays. The best known of which are Brutis, or, The Fall of Tarquin (1818), a verse tragedy, and Charles II, or, The Merry Monarch (1824) a comedy. Payne also wrote and produced at Covent Garden in 1832 a libretto of the opera Clari, or, The Maid of Milan which contains this famous song Home Sweet Home. It was Sir Henry Bishop who set the familiar tune to a Sicilian air and over one hundred thousand copies were sold in the first year of its publication.

Although a few of his speeches from his plays are quoted occasionally, his lasting legacy rests solely on this one rather ordinary, but nostalgic piece. The song has great historical significance, too.

Documented over and again in many places, from diaries and letters of Civil War Veterans, to newspaper stories, it was the setting for a scene captured by Winslow Homer (1836-1910). In his rendition of Home, Sweet Home the oil on canvas is one of Homer's earliest paintings. Barely 26, he was at the Virginia front with the Army of the Potomac working as an artist-correspondent for Harper's Weekly.

The painting is about a tradition that occurred in Federal and Confederate camps at the end of the day. It became the Civil War soldier's favorite song. Ernest L. Abel tells about it at www.thehistorynet.com/:

    A few weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862), about 100,000 Federal soldiers and 70,000 Confederates were camped on opposite sides of the Rappahannock River in Virginia. The battle had been one of the bloodiest of the war so far. More than 12,000 Federals had been killed or wounded; Confederate losses numbered about 5,000. The two sides were still licking their wounds, each entertaining murderous thoughts about the other.

    As was customary in camp, at twilight the regimental bands on either side began their evening concerts. When they were bivouacked close together, as they were that night, the opposing bands would sometimes play at the same time, trying to drown each other out. On other occasions they took turns. Often the bands waged a musical contest, each playing their own patriotic tunes with as much panache and enthusiasm as they could muster, making many twilight concerts veritable "battles of the bands."

    Toward the end of the evening concerts, the music typically became more poignant and tender. On one particular night, a Federal band was especially melodic in its rendition of the Civil War's favorite tune. The slow, plaintive notes floated like feathers through the air, gently nestling into homesick hearts. Night was the time when men wrote home to their mothers and sweethearts, or held silent communion with themselves. The soothing notes sent the heartfelt words of the beloved song running through their minds.

Frequently there would be requests from the opposing side, Northern bands played Southern songs, Southern bands played Northern songs.
"And then at last," wrote a Civil War historian by the name of Catton, "the massed bands played ' Home, Sweet Home,' and 150 000 fighting men tried to sing it and choked up and just sat there, silent, staring off into the darkness; and at last the music died away and the bandsmen put up their instruments and both armies went to bed. A few weeks later they were tearing each other apart in the lonely thickets around Chancellorsville." (Catton's Civil War; quoted by Mills S. In Simpson M. Winslow Homer: Paintings of the Civil War. San Francisco, Calif: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; 1988.)

A cousin of Dolly Madison and an aspiring actor,when Payne composed his play it was an expatriate American living in England longing for his native New York City. Scholars put the composition date around 1823. It all began in line one of the poem when Clari a country maiden is confined at court by the Duke, who is infatuated with her and has lured her from her home with a false promise of marriage.

Its popularity as one of the beloved songs in America Home Sweet Home went on from there to be customarily sung at close the day in many homes and reprised once again in the film of The Wizard of Oz (1939) when Dorothy, played by Judy Garland, quotes its refrain. The song later was used in the lesson scene in Rossini's The Barber of Seville, and it was a favorite encore number for the famous soprano Jennie Lind.

It's ironic that Payne's song epitomized America's love of home and family, though he himself, was a man without a home. Charged with sedition for supporting the claims of the Cherokee over the state of Georgia, and even though his play Brutus, ( Fall of Tarquin) was a success in New York, it failed in London where he was imprisoned for debt. It was upon his death overseas in 1852 that this entry about his yearnings for New York were discovered in his diary:
"How often have I visited the heart of a city, and heard persons singing or hand-organs playing ' Home Sweet Home,' without having a shilling to buy myself the next meal, or a place to lay my head. The world has sung my song until every heart is familiar with its melody, yet I have been a wanderer from my boyhood. I've never had a home and I never expect to."

From 1841 till his death he was United States consul at Tunis, his remains were removed from there to Washington in 1883 where the band played what else? Home Sweet Home.


Chief Vann House State Historic Site:

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Payne, John Howard," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Public Domain text taken from the Poet’s Corner:

CST Approved.