The Girl I Left Behind
The first known printed text of a song with this name appeared in the serial song collection The Charms of Melody, Dublin, Ireland, issue no. 72, printed in Dublin from 1791 and in Exshaw's Magazine (Dublin, September 1794). The earliest known version of the melody was printed about 1810 in Hime's "Pocket Book for the German Flute or Violin" (Dublin), vol. 3, p. 67, under the title "The Girl I left Behind Me" (National Library of Ireland, Dublin). Theodore Ralph claimed that it was known in America as early as 1650, under the name "Brighton Camp", but there is no evidence to support this assumption, and the only known tune of "Brighton Camp" differed from that of the song in question.
It has many variations and verses, for example "Blyth Camps, Or, the Girl I left behind Me" (1812, Newcastle), "Brighton Camp, or the Girl I left behind Me" (1815, Dublin, from which the "Brighton" title probably came), and others. Here is one example:
- All the dames of France are fond and free
- And Flemish lips are really willing
- Very soft the maids of Italy
- And Spanish eyes are so thrilling
- Still, although I bask beneath their smile,
- Their charms will fail to bind me
- And my heart falls back to Erin's isle
- To the girl I left behind me.
A number of Irish-language and English-language songs were set to this tune in Ireland in the 19th century, such as "An Spailpín Fánach" (translated into English as "The Rambling Labourer"), "The Rare Old Mountain Dew" (published New York, 1882) and in the 20th century, such as "Waxie's Dargle".
In England the tune is often known as "Brighton Camp" and is used for Morris dancing.
- The hours sad I left a maid
- A lingering farewell taking
- Whose sighs and tears my steps delayed
- I thought her heart was breaking
- In hurried words her name I blest
- I breathed the vows that bind me
- And to my heart in anguish pressed
- The girl I left behind me
- Then to the east we bore away
- To win a name in story
- And there where dawns the sun of day
- There dawned our sun of glory
- The place in my sight
- When in the host assigned me
- I shared the glory of that fight
- Sweet girl I left behind me
- Though many a name our banner bore
- Of former deeds of daring
- But they were of the day of yore
- In which we had no sharing
- But now our laurels freshly won
- With the old one shall entwine me
- Singing worthy of our size each son
- Sweet girl I left behind me
- The hope of final victory
- Within my bosom burning
- Is mingling with sweet thoughts of thee
- And of my fond returning
- But should I n'eer return again
- Still with thy love i'll bind me
- Dishonors breath shall never stain
- The name I leave behind me
Civil War use
The song was popular in the US regular army, who adopted it during the War of 1812 after they heard a British prisoner singing it. The song was used by the Army as a marching tune throughout the 19th century.
These are the lyrics popular by the army in the 19th century:
- I'm lonesome since I crossed the hill
- And over the moor that's sedgy
- Such lonely thoughts my heart do fill
- Since parting with my Betsey
- I seek for one as fair and gay
- But find none to remind me
- How sweet the hours I passed away
- With the girl I left behind me
During the Civil War the Confederates had their own version:
- Old Abe lies sick, Old Abe lies sick
- Old Abe lies sick in bed
- He's a lying dog, a crying dog
- And I wish that he was dead
- Jeff Davis is a gentleman
- Abe Lincoln is a fool
- Jeff Davis rides a big white horse
- And Lincoln rides a mule
Lincoln's assassination inspired another version.
Other musical forms
This tune has been quoted in some pieces of classical music, such as:
Josef Holbrooke wrote a set of orchestral variations on the song.
The theme, "The Girl I Left Behind," can be heard as an overlay in Glenn Miller's arrangement of "American Patrol", popularized during the World War II.
The song forms a portion of the melody of Guy Mitchell's 1951 hit "Belle, Belle, My Liberty Belle".
Examples of use in media
The song has a march beat and has often been associated with British and American military bands, especially in the context of soldiers heading out to (or returning from) battle. The tune is easy to play on the fife, and is one of two songs often associated with the famous The Spirit of '76 painting, along with "Yankee Doodle". One example in popular culture which illustrates this cliché is at the end of the Bugs Bunny cartoon, A Wild Hare, in which the bunny marches into the sunset at the end of the cartoon, playing the tune on a fife (in reality, a carrot) and affecting a stiff leg as with the fifer in the painting. Bugs later plays it at the end of Bunker Hill Bunny, accompanied by Yosemite Sam.
Ewan MacColl's song Ivor uses the tune to wryly mock the supposedly favourable treatment given to Ivor Novello in prison during World War II. The tune appears in the Popeye cartoon Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor. Popeye mumbles to it under his breath as he marches toward his final confrontation with Sindbad. "The Frogs and the Lobsters", an episode of the Hornblower television series, features the tune being played by a band of the Royal Marines, along with the first few bars of "Rule Britannia". The song appears several times in the TV movie Sharpe's Company. Emphasising its popularity with British soldiers during the Napoleonic wars it features prominently in the 1970 movie Waterloo. In particular, it is played during the advance of a British division under the command of Sir Thomas Picton and when the Duke of Wellington orders a general advance at the end of the battle. In a 1960s Beverly Hillbillies episode, the melody is used for the commercial jingle "the best durn soap is Foggy Mountain Soap".
The tune has also been used as a theme for Western films about the Indian Wars, such as a 1915 silent film about George Custer, titled The Girl I Left Behind Me and a theme in the soundtrack of John Ford's "cavalry trilogy": Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande. In the 1968 film The Charge of the Light Brigade a detachment of British soldiers whistle the tune just before the Battle of the Alma. In the animated film An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Fievel's sister Tanya (voice by Cathy Cavadini) performs a song titled "The Girl You Left Behind".
In the Australian film Breaker Morant, "The Girl I Left Behind" is sung during the comedic episode when Peter Hancock vindicates himself of a murder charge by explaining to the court, his alibi of "visiting" lady friends.
An arrangement of the tune was used as the theme tune to Eric Sykes's 1967 short film The Plank, in which the main characters can be heard whistling the tune on several occasions.
|Podcast: The Civil War and American Art, Episode 7, Smithsonian American Art Museum|
- For example, Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time (1855–59)
- Ballad sheets for "The Girl I left Behind Me" at the Bodleian Library
- Bluegrass Messengers
- W. H. Grattan Flood, in Musical Times, May 1, 1913 "for close on a century the favourite farewell melody played by Irish (and other) regimental bands in the British service".
- James J. Fuld, 3rd. ed. 1985, "The Book of World-Famous Music Classical, Popular and Folk, pp. 242–244, Dover Pub
- American Song Treasury (Dover, 1986)
- Brighton Camp Quick March, Stationers' Hall, Nov. 12, 1792
- The Girl I Left Behind Me (Version 1)
- Wilkes Booth came to Washington / Booth Killed Lincoln
- MacColl, Ewan. Bad Lads and Hard Cases, Riverside LP 1957
- "The Civil War and American Art, Episode 7". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved February 15, 2012.