France (1838) | G. W. M. Reynolds

George W. M. Reynolds spent his teenage years and early twenties in France working for the Libraire des Etrangers, a bookseller and publisher. While in France he made the acquaintance of several of the country’s famous authors and poets such as Eugene Sue, Victor Hugo—whose Songs of Twilight (1836) Reynolds translated for an English audience—and Paul de Kock. A committed Francophile, when Reynolds returned to England in 1836 and began writing novels, all of them had a French connection of some sort—The Baroness: A Novel (1837), Pickwick Abroad; or, The Tour in France (1838), and Alfred: The Adventures of a French Gentleman (1838) were all set in France. Even though Reynolds focused more on England and London in his later fiction, in the later novels there was usually a character who spent time in France or was French.

My rather fragile copy of G.W.M. Reynolds’s Alfred (John Dicks paperback edition from c.1880)

The following poem, celebrating the French nation and its military victories, originally appeared in Alfred at a point in the narrative when the title character (whose titles and wealth were lost when Napoleon was deposed) is provided with accommodation by a French peasant family, and the head of the household asks his daughter to sing a patriotic song. It has been transcribed by Stephen Basdeo.


Know ye the land where the warriors of story

               Were the pride of the nation, and boast of their king?

Where the fame of Rolando, and Oliver’s glory,

               Were a theme well adapted for minstrels to sing?

Know ye the land of the great and the brave,

               Whose heroes are mighty to conquer and save;

Where dwell the undaunted, the bold, and the free

               O this is the nation for love and for me!

Know ye the land of the bard and the lover

               The clime of the bright, and the courteous, and gay?

Go—search through the East, and the universe over

               Go, Frenchman, and languish in lands far away;

In France still your heart is, and e’er will remain;—

               For a fairer than France may you search, but in vain:

Tis the land of the great, and the dauntless, and free

               The nation of love and of pleasure for me!

If you seek for a maiden with loveliness beaming,

               Our Gallia has beauties the fairest that be;

The moon in yon sky so tranquilly gleaming,

               Appears not more chaste than our virgins to me.

Their bosoms are warm, but as fair as the snow

               They’ve a smile for your bliss, and a tear for your woe:

And this is the land of the courteous and free,

               The nation of beauty and pleasure to me!

They love not their gallants to languish all idly

               In their gilded saloons, from the battle afar;

But they send forth their warriors to spread their fame widely,

               And seek for renown in the mazes of war.

O this is the land of the bravest of old!

               Where maids are most lovely, and warriors most bold,

Where chiefs are undaunted, and fearless, and free

               Tis the land of all bliss and all pleasure to me!

‘Tis sweet to recline on the breast softly heaving,

               And beating with transports, of her you adore;

Tis hard to depart when you know you are leaving

               A being you haply may never see more!

But warriors must wander to aid the opprest,

               Must leave for a time the pleasures of rest,

And fight for the land of the courteous and free

               The land that is dearest to Fame and to me!

The chiefs of the South, in idlesse reclining,

               Make Italy echo with pleasure and mirth;

While the eyes of their maidens in raptures are shining,

               They dream not of spreading their fame o’er the earth!

But never may Frenchman an infidel prove

               To the land of his birth, or the maid of his love:

He may revel in pleasure, and still can be free

               To fight for the clime which is dearest to me!