William Schwenck Gilbert ( )

The Bab Ballads. General John

The bravest names for fire and flames
   And all that mortal durst,
Were General John and Private James,
   Of the Sixty-seventy-first.

General John was a soldier tried,
   A chief of warlike dons;
A haughty stride and a withering pride
   Were Major-General Johns.

A sneer would play on his martial phiz,
   Superior birth to show;
Pish! was a favourite word of his,
   And he often said Ho! ho!

Full-Private James described might be,
   As a man of a mournful mind;
No characteristic trait had he
   Of any distinctive kind.

From the ranks, one day, cried Private James,
   Oh! Major-General John,
Ive doubts of our respective names,
   My mournful mind upon.

A glimmering thought occurs to me
   (Its source I cant unearth),
But Ive a kind of a notion we
   Were cruelly changed at birth.

Ive a strange idea that each others names
   Weve each of us here got on.
Such things have been, said Private James.
   They have! sneered General John.

My General John, I swear upon
   My oath I think tis so
Pish! proudly sneered his General John,
   And he also said Ho! ho!

My General John! my General John!
   My General John! quoth he,
This aristocratical sneer upon
   Your face I blush to see!

No truly great or generous cove
   Deserving of them names,
Would sneer at a fixed idea thats drove
   In the mind of a Private James!

Said General John, Upon your claims
   No need your breath to waste;
If this is a joke, Full-Private James,
   Its a joke of doubtful taste.

But, being a man of doubtless worth,
   If you feel certain quite
That we were probably changed at birth,
   Ill venture to say youre right.

So General John as Private James
   Fell in, parade upon;
And Private James, by change of names,
   Was Major-General John.

William Schwenck Gilbert's other poems:
  1. The Bab Ballads. Thomas Winterbottom Hance
  2. The Bab Ballads. Joe Golightly; or, the First Lords Daughter
  3. The Bab Ballads. The Force of Argument
  4. The Bab Ballads. Thomson Green and Harriet Hale
  5. The Bab Ballads. The Bishop and the Busman

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