Click on arrow to hear the song performed by Derek B. Scott, Professor of Critical Musicology, University of Leeds, to his own piano accompaniment. Professor Scott also transcribed and annotated the lyrics below.
"The Dogs of War" are loose and the rugged Russian Bear,
Full bent on blood and robbery, has crawl'd out of his lair;
It seems a thrashing now and then, will never help to tame
That brute, and so he's out upon the "same old game."
The Lion did his best to find him some excuse
To crawl back to his den again, all efforts were no use;
He hunger'd for his victim, he's pleased when blood is shed,
But let us hope his crimes may all recoil on his own head.
We don't want to fight but by jingo if we do,
We've got the ships, we've got the men, and got the money too!
We've fought the Bear before and while we're Britons true
The Russians shall not have Constantinople.
The misdeeds of the Turks have been "spouted" thro' all lands,
But how about the Russians, can they show spotless hands?
They slaughtered well at Khiva, in Siberia icy cold,
How many subjects done to death will never perhaps be told,
They butchered the Circassians, man, woman, yes and child,
With cruelties their Generals their murderous hours beguiled,
And poor unhappy Poland their cruel yoke must bear,
Whilst prayers for "Freedom and Revenge" go up into the air.
May he who 'gan the quarrel soon have to bite the dust,
The Turk should be thrice armed for "he hath his quarrel just,"
'Tis sad that countless thousands should die thro' cruel war,
But let us hope most fervently ere long it will be o'er;
Let them be warned, Old England is brave Old England still,
We've proved our might, we've claimed our right, and ever, ever will,
Should we have to draw the sword our way to victory we'll forge,
With the battle cry of Britons, "Old England and Saint George!"
"We've fought the Bear before" refers to the Crimean War (1854-56), the “Bear” being Russia, which threatened the British Empire in several ways. The "misdeeds of the Turks" probably refers to the carnage following Serbia and Montenegro's struggle for independence in 1876. The Russians had attacked the city of Khiva (now part of Uzbekistan) in 1873. The Russo-Circassian War was of long duration (1763-1864) and became part of a larger Caucasian War. The eastern sector of Poland, which had been occupied by Russia since the Congress of Vienna, was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1864.
John Hobson, in his Psychology of Jingoism of 1901, accused music hall of stoking up imperialist sentiment, finding this a main reason for the lack of substantial opposition to the Boer War. It was also said that those who shouted loudest for war had no intention of fighting themselves. However, parodies of imperialist sentiment were not uncommon. Herbert Campbell was singing “I don’t want to fight / I’ll be slaughtered if I do” in the same year as MacDermott was singing the original version. The parody, by Henry Pettit, alters the final lines of the refrain to “I don’t like the war, I ain’t a Briton true / And I’ll let the Russians have Constantinople.”
At the Commons sittings of 16 Dece,ber 1878, during debates on military expenses in Afghanistan, there are references to “the great jingo party” and how “blustering jingoes” were working up a vast distrust of Russia. Conservative M.P. Patrick Smollett says that people attributed “what was now called jingoism” to the Conservative Party, but he thought the Liberal Party could also act in an aggressively imperialist manner.
Biographical and musical notes
Gilbert Hastings MacDermott (1845-1901), the son of Irish working-class parents, became one of the biggest stars of the music halls, and was billed as the "Great Macdermott." His enthusiastic singing of this song resulted in the word "jingoism" being added to the English language. He followed it up with another song by G. W Hunt, "Waiting for the Signal" (London: Hopwood & Crew, 1878). The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 also prompted the production of other music, for example, "The Lion and the Bear," words by Vivian Grahame, music by Gerard Carlton, (London: Howard, 1978), an anti-war song, "By Jingo," words by John F. McArdle, music by D. Gribbin (Liverpool: Pillow, c. 1877), a dance, "The Russo-Turkish War Galop," by A. Aulad Ali (Junr.) (Dublin: Pigott, 1877), and a descriptive piece for the piano, The Balkans, by Jules de Sivrai (London: Chappell, 1878).
The British government was concerned about Russia extending its power into the Balkans and wished to support the Ottoman Empire (as had been the case in the Crimean campaign). In early 1878, battleships were sent to protect Constantinople (Istanbul) from Russian occupation. The Russians signed a treaty in March, but Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro became independent of Ottoman control.
- "God Bless the Music Halls": Victorian and Edwardian Popular Songs
- Max Beerbohm remembers MacDermott
Hunt, G. W. Macdermott's War Song. London: Hopwood & Crew, 1877.
Created 8 May 2008
Last modified 9 October 2020