How Happy the Soldier

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HOW HAPPY THE SOLDIER THAT LIVES ON HIS PAY. AKA and see "Little House Under the Hill (1)," "Soldier Laddie (2)." English; Air & Country Dance (6/8 time). The song was written for William Shield's opera The Poor Soldier (1783, lyrics by J. O'Keeffe), and quickly proved popular on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, the melody appears in the music manuscript copybook of Henry Livingston, Jr., along with other songs from Shield's opera. Livingston purchased the estate of Locust Grove, Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1771 at the age of 23. In 1775 he was a Major in the 3rd New York Regiment, which participated in Montgomery's invasion of Canada in a failed attempt to wrest Quebec from British control. An important land-owner in the Hudson Valley, and a member of the powerful Livingston family, Henry was also a surveyor and real estate speculator, an illustrator and map-maker, and a Justice of the Peace for Dutchess County. He was also a poet and musician, and presumably a dancer, as he was elected a Manager for the New York Assembly's dancing season of 1774-1775, along with his 3rd cousin, John Jay, later U.S. Chief Justice of Governor of New York. Later it was published in Riley's Flute Melodies (New York, 1814).

How happy the soldier who lives on his pay,
And spends half a crown on six pence a day;
He fears neither justices, warrants nor bums,
But pays all his debts with a roll of the drums. [Ed.-the last line is a phrase meaning 'not to pay at all', for a soldier could not be arrested for debt when on the march]

The tune appears as "Soldier Laddie (2)" in the large 1840 music manuscript collection of multi-instrumentalist John Rook (Waverton, Cumbria), a title of a popular jig but a different tune. Rook confused the two 'soldier' titles.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 122

Recorded sources:




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