Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms
Origins of the melody
The tune to which Moore set his words is a traditional Irish air, first printed in a London songbook in 1775. It is occasionally wrongly credited to Sir William Davenant, whose older collection of tunes may have been the source for later publishers, including a collection titled General Collection of Ancient Irish Music, compiled by Edward Bunting in 1796. Sir John Andrew Stevenson has been credited as responsible for the music for Moore's setting.
It is said that after Thomas Moore's wife contracted smallpox, she refused to let herself be seen by anyone, even her husband, due to the disfiguring effects of the disease to the skin on her body, and because she believed he could not love her after her face had been so badly scarred. Despairing at her confinement, Moore composed the lyrics of this song to reassure her that he would always love her regardless of her appearance. He wrote later that after hearing him sing to her from outside her bedroom door, she finally allowed him inside and fell into his arms, her confidence restored.
The original lyrics are as follows:
- Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
- Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,
- Were to change by to-morrow and fleet in my arms,
- Like fairy gifts fading away,
- Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,
- Let thy loveliness fade as it will;
- And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
- Would entwine itself verdantly still.
- It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
- And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,
- That the fervor and faith of a soul can be known,
- To which time will but make thee more dear.
- No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
- But as truly loves on to the close
- As the sunflower turns on her God when he sets
- The same look which she turned when he rose.
Other uses of the melody
Other than "Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms", the tune is perhaps best known as the melody to "Fair Harvard", the alma mater of Harvard University. A seventeenth-century folk song, Matthew Locke's "My Lodging is in the Cold, Cold Ground", was set to this tune some time after its original setting to a different, also traditional, air. Simone Mantia, a pioneer of American euphonium music, composed a theme and variations on the melody, which remains a staple of the solo euphonium literature.
The tune, with the Endearing Young Charms title, also became a staple of Warner Brothers cartoons, appearing first in the 1944 Private snafu short Booby Traps, then in the 1951 Merrie Melodies animated cartoon Ballot Box Bunny, and the 1957 short Show Biz Bugs, 1965 Road Runner cartoon Rushing Roulette, and finally in a new twist on the gag, with Slappy Squirrel's 1993 introductory episode, "Slappy Goes Walnuts", from Animaniacs. Variations were also done in the 1963 Andy Griffith Show episode "Rafe Hollister Sings", and the 2010 South Park episode "Crippled Summer". In its cartoon appearances, the song is often the cue for a classic "bomb gag" wherein the playing of the first line of the song sets off a rigged explosion on the final note. The gag is so well known that it is often called "The Xylophone gag".
In Season 3, Episode 16 of Family Ties, "Birth of a Keaton, Part 1," Elyse Keaton goes into labor after singing "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms" on the guitar during her husband's on-air Public Television Telethon.
The tune is also the fiddle intro to the song "Come On Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners. Certain versions of "Come On Eileen" feature the band's frontman, Kevin Rowland singing a segment of "Believe Me..." at the end as well.
Barenaked Ladies' then-keyboardist Andy Creeggan plays a snippet of the tune during the break in the live version of the Beastie Boys' "Shake Your Rump" which appears on the album Stop Us If You've Heard This One Before, including the "missed note" from the aforementioned "Xylophone gag."
When the Kintetsu Yoshino Line's special express Type 16600 or Type 26000 "Sakura Liner" trains depart Asuka Station (in Asuka, Takaichi District, Nara Prefecture, Japan) a rendition of the tune is played within the train to announce departure. In Japan, the tune is also known as "Shine with the Flowers of Spring Days".
- Songs of Yale. New Haven: Yale Glee Club, 2006. p. 150. The website http://www.comtemplator.com/, used in a later reference in this article, claims its first printing was in 1737.
- William Davenant, 1606-1668. http://www.pdmusic.org/biographies/Davenant%20William%20Davenant.pdf, accessed Feb. 3rd, 2010.
- My Lodging It Is On the Cold Ground. http://www.contemplator.com/england/lodging.html, accessed Feb. 3rd, 2010.