The Hornet and Peacock


This image depicts a confrontation between an American and a British ship, each displaying their national flag. The flag of the British ship, on the left, is upside down. Both ships have tattered sails. The back of the British ship is sinking into the water, and two of its masts have been reduced to jagged stumps. In contrast, the American ship sits level on the water and retains its three masts; the only evident damage is some holes in its sails. The British are abandoning their ship in two row boats and are pulling towards the American ship.

Primary Works: 

The American Naval and Patriotic Songster (Baltimore, 1831)

Accession Number: 

PS595 H5 A4

Height (in centimeters): 


Width (in centimeters): 

In the bottom left corner: "Horton"
This image was an illustration for The American Patriotic and Naval Songster (1831).
This image illustrates a song written about a naval battle, an American victory, during the War of 1812.
The introduction to The American Naval Songster (1831) was written by "Jolly Tom" in Marine Hospital, a hospital for disabled seamen near Norfolk, VA.

Other illustrations in The American Naval Songster (1831):

Battle of Lake Erie, The Constitution and Guerriere, Bombardment of Fort M’Henry, Baltimore, United States’ Ship Delaware

USS “Hornet” Sinking HMS “Peacock,” 1813 by Michele Felice Cornè (1815):

This image depicts the same battle as "The Hornet and the Peacock." Both images contain the same prominent display of national flags and emphasize the devastation of the British. These images also share the low horizon characteristic of American naval images (to emphasize the immensity of the sky and water), and both works depict coastlines in the distance (Stein 31, 33)


Accompanying text, entitled “Hornet and Peacock”:
Hail! Lawrence, hail! The god of war

Shall claim thee as his favourite son;

And fame, with thousand trumpets more

Shall spread the vict’ry thou hast won.

Live! Lawrence, live! The brave revere

The honoured name that cowards fear.

Lawrence! Thy country, now, shall know

Thy merit—as a seaman true;

While gratitude and pride shall go,

To greet thy officers and crew,

Memory, retentive to thy worth,

Shall hail the day that gave thee birth.

Mem’ry shall call thee oft to mind,

Shall bring thee to our anxious view,

With laurels, round thy temples twin’d,

Engag’d in signal vic’try new.

Dwelling with rapture on the sight,

We’ll lead thee victor through the fight.

The Englishman and coward Turk,

Have felt thy furious, vengeful wrath;

Though twice the number round thee lurk,

You’ll mark for each his destined path.

Each stubborn foe must know his fate,

And sink if he should strike too late.

Jersey beholds thee with a smile,

native of this pleasant state:

Thy name shall reach beyond the Nile,

Shall stand with others brave and great.

Shall stand for ever—History’s page,

Shall tell thee to a future age.
This engraving portrays a battle during the War of 1812. This battle, like others in which the Americans defeat the British at sea, was taken up as a subject by various American artists.
The setting of this image ties it closely to Romantic aesthetics. The sinking British ship further emphasizes the immensity of sea and sky initially created by the low horizon. In contrast, the American vessel acts as the ordering element of the vast space surrounding it; its clear, level posture renders it compatible and even equal with the sublime immensity into which the British ship descends. The American ship has achieved this equality and independence by causing the British ship's surrender to the elemental sea: it has not only managed to safely coexist with the elements, but has, temporarily, harnessed their potentially sublime power. However, the visual indication that the American ship has received some damage—the holes in its sails—separates the vulnerability of human courage and success from the omnipotence of the elements. The damage implies that the ship has indeed gone through an intense battle, and that victory, far from being effortless, required skill and bravery. This is a consistent theme throughout the Songster: it is made clear that the Americans have to work hard for their victories, and that they take pride in the dedication and stamina of their work ethic. Consequently, the events related in the Songster often dwell on difficult battles courageously fought rather than on any sort of majestic, effortless superiority. The vulnerability of the Americans' success renders their victory uniquely human, and serves to privilege the effort and uncertainty of human triumph over the sublime, inevitable power of the impersonal elements.
By courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison:

Stein, Roger B. Seascape and the American Imagination. New York: Potter, 1975. Print.

The American Naval and Patriotic Songster. Baltimore, 1831. Print.
Without music; a few tunes indicated by title.

Includes a listing of 76 toasts. (p. [243]-249)

Alphabetical Contents by first line: p. [251]-256.

Spine title: American Naval Songster.

The preface gives the compiler's name as “Jolly Tom,” an old sailor in residence at Marine Hospital, Norfolk, VA.