The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXVI. Patriotic Songs and Hymns

§ 2. Yankee Doodle

Yankee Doodle, for example, is full of surprises, inconsistencies, paradoxes in its career. It is not really a song, but it is a band tune which no existing adult audience has ever sung together. The single stanza known to everyone is not a part of the Revolutionary War ballad, but belongs to an earlier period in its history. The music is unheroic; the title (“a New England Noodle”) is derogatory to the people who adopted it in spite of its ridicule. And yet it has become a piece of jovial defiance as stirring as The Campbells Are Coming. The melody, as has often been the case, was generally known for several years before it was turned to patriotic account. As early as 1764 the familiar quatrain was current in England, and by 1767 the tune was familiar enough in America to be cited in Barton’s (or Colonel Forrest’s) comic opera, Disappointment, or The Force of Credulity. In derision of the foolish Yankee there soon began to multiply variants, most of which have come down by hearsay, and are very vague as to date; but one was a broadside and attests in the title to its currency before April, 1775: Yankee Doodle; or, (as now christened by the Saints of New England) the Lexington March. N.B. The Words to be Sung throu’s the Nose, & in the West Country drawl and dialect. The text of The Yankee’s Return from Camp—the famous but forgotten version—is attributed to Edward Bangs, a Harvard student, and was written in 1775 or 1776. Tory derision did not cease with its appearance, and between the accumulating stanzas in rejoinder and those in supplement gave ground for the speech of “Jonathan” in Tyler’s The Contrast of 1787: “Some other time, when you and I are better acquainted, I’ll sing the whole of it—no, no, that’s a fib—I can’t sing but a hundred and ninety verses; our Tabitha at home can sing it all.” In time, however, the words lost interest for all but antiquarians, so that the stanza in The Songster’s Museum was literally true in 1826 as it is to-day:

  • Yankee Doodle is the tune
  • Americans delight in.
  • ’Twill do to whistle, sing or play,
  • And just the thing for fighting.