William Jackson (of Exeter)
(1730 - 1803)

Jackson (of Exeter) : Black-ey'd Susan : illustration

Black-ey'd Susan
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Jackson was a pupil of John Travers, and wrote canzonets and elegies after the model established by Travers, close to, but separate from, the glee tradition. He was organist of Exeter Cathedral and a theorist on music. A friend of Thomas Gainsborough, he corresponded with him on the subject of aesthetics.

John Gay's ballad text (probably sung to Leveridge's tune) was extremely popular with working seamen, throughout the century after it was written. Several composers followed Thomas Arne's example (unfortunately now lost) and set the text as a cantata: versions by Robert Broderip (of Bristol) and R.J.S. Stevens are also available at notAmos.
Lyrics: John Gay

All in the downs the fleet lay moor'd,
The streamers waving in the wind;
When black-ey'd Susan came on board:
"O where shall I my true love find,
Tell me, you jovial sailors, tell me true,
Does my sweet William sail among your crew?"

William, who high upon the yard,
Rock'd with the billow to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sigh'd, and cast his eyes below;
The cord slides swiftly through his glowing hands,
And quick as lightning on the deck he stands.

So the sweet lark, high pois'd in air,
Shuts close his pinions to his breast,
If, chance, his mate's shrill call he hear
And drops at once into her nest.
The noblest captain in the British fleet,
Might envy William's lips those kisses sweet.

"O Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
My vows shall ever true remain;
Let me kiss off that falling tear,
We only part to meet again.
Change, as ye lift, ye winds; my heart shall be
The faithful compass that still points to thee.

"Believe not what the landmen say,
Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind;
They'll tell thee sailors, when away,
In ev'ry port a mistress find.
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For thou art present wheresoe'er I go.

"Tho' battles call me from thy arms,
Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
The cannons roar, yet safe from harms,
William shall to his dear return.
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly,
Lest precious tears should drop from Sukey's eye."

The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
The sails their swelling bosom spread,
No longer must she stay aboard:
They kiss'd, she sigh'd, he hung his head.
Her less'ning boat unwilling rows to land:
"Adieu", she cries! and wav'd her lily hand.