The second song from Gilbert and Sullivan
's Pirates of Penzance
. Young Frederic is celebrating his twenty-first birthday
, at which he becomes free of his apprenticeship
from the pirate band. In this song his old nursemaid
Ruth explains how her dreadful mistake apprenticed him to them in the first place.
(Later in the operetta it turns out that since he was actually born on the 29th of February, he had only had five birthdays and was not free of them at all.)
RUTH: When Frederic was a little lad he proved so brave and daring,
His father thought he'd 'prentice him to some career seafaring.
I was, alas! his nurs'rymaid, and so it fell to my lot
To take and bind the promising boy apprentice to a pilot --
A life not bad for a hardy lad, though surely not a high lot,
Though I'm a nurse, you might do worse than make your boy a pilot.
I was a stupid nurs'rymaid, on breakers always steering,
And I did not catch the word aright, through being hard of hearing;
Mistaking my instructions, which within my brain did gyrate,
I took and bound this promising boy apprentice to a pirate.
A sad mistake it was to make and doom him to a vile lot.
I bound him to a pirate -- you! -- instead of to a pilot.
I soon found out, beyond all doubt, the scope of this disaster,
But I hadn't the face to return to my place, and break it to my master.
A nurs'rymaid is not afraid of what you people call work,
So I made up my mind to go as a kind of piratical maid- of-all-work.
And that is how you find me now, a member of your shy lot,
Which you wouldn't have found, had he been bound apprentice to a pilot.
RUTH: Oh, pardon! Frederic, pardon! (Kneels)
FREDERIC: Rise, sweet one, I have long pardoned you. (Ruth rises)
RUTH: The two words were so much alike!
FREDERIC: They were. They still are, though years have rolled over their heads. But this afternoon my obligation ceases. Individually, I love you all with affection unspeakable; but, collectively, I look upon you with a disgust that amounts to absolute detestation. Oh! pity me, my beloved friends, for such is my sense of duty that, once out of my indentures, I shall feel myself bound to devote myself heart and soul to your extermination!
ALL: Poor lad -- poor lad! (All weep)
KING: Well, Frederic, if you conscientiously feel that it is your duty to destroy us, we cannot blame you for acting on that conviction. Always act in accordance with the dictates of your conscience, my boy, and chance the consequences.
SAMUEL: Besides, we can offer you but little temptation to remain with us. We don't seem to make piracy pay. I'm sure I don't know why, but we don't.
FREDERIC: I know why, but, alas! I mustn't tell you; it wouldn't be right.
KING: Why not, my boy? It's only half-past eleven, and you are one of us until the clock strikes twelve.
SAMUEL: True, and until then you are bound to protect our interests.
ALL: Hear, hear!
FREDERIC: Well, then, it is my duty, as a pirate, to tell you that you are too tender-hearted. For instance, you make a point of never attacking a weaker party than yourselves, and when you attack a stronger party you invariably get thrashed.
KING: There is some truth in that.
FREDERIC: Then, again, you make a point of never molesting an orphan!
SAMUEL: Of course: we are orphans ourselves, and know what it is.
FREDERIC: Yes, but it has got about, and what is the consequence? Every one we capture says he's an orphan. The last three ships we took proved to be manned entirely by orphans, and so we had to let them go. One would think that Great Britain's mercantile navy was recruited solely from her orphan asylums -- which we know is not the case.
SAMUEL: But, hang it all! you wouldn't have us absolutely merciless?
FREDERIC: There's my difficulty; until twelve o'clock I would, after twelve I wouldn't. Was ever a man placed in so delicate a situation?
RUTH: And Ruth, your own Ruth, whom you love so well, and who has won her middle-aged way into your boyish heart, what is to become of her?
KING: Oh, he will take you with him.
FREDERIC: Well, Ruth, I feel some difficulty about you. It is true that I admire you very much, but I have been constantly at sea since I was eight years old, and yours is the only woman's face I have seen during that time. I think it is a sweet face.
RUTH: It is -- oh, it is!
FREDERIC: I say I think it is; that is my impression. But as I have never had an opportunity of comparing you with other women, it is just possible I may be mistaken.
FREDERIC: What a terrible thing it would be if I were to marry this innocent person, and then find out that she is, on the whole, plain!
KING: Oh, Ruth is very well, very well indeed.
SAMUEL: Yes, there are the remains of a fine woman about Ruth.
FREDERIC: Do you really think so?
SAMUEL: I do.
FREDERIC: Then I will not be so selfish as to take her from you. In justice to her, and in consideration for you, I will leave her behind. (Hands RUTH to KING)
KING: No, Frederic, this must not be. We are rough men, who lead a rough life, but we are not so utterly heartless as to deprive thee of thy love. I think I am right in saying that there is not one here who would rob thee of this inestimable treasure for all the world holds dear.
ALL: (loudly) Not one!
KING: No, I thought there wasn't. Keep thy love, Frederic, keep thy love. (Hands her back to FREDERIC)
FREDERIC: You're very good, I'm sure. (Exit RUTH)
KING: Well, it's the top of the tide, and we must be off. Farewell, Frederic. When your process of extermination begins, let our deaths be as swift and painless as you can conveniently make them.
FREDERIC: I will! By the love I have for you, I swear it! Would that you could render this extermination unnecessary by accompanying me back to civilization!
KING: No, Frederic, it cannot be. I don't think much of our profession, but, contrasted with respectability, it is comparatively honest. No, Frederic, I shall live and die a Pirate King.
The Pirate King then sings Oh, better far to live and die.
(Previous song: Pour, O Pour the Pirate Sherry)