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History Lesson

[Leon Rosselson]

The Three City Four (Martin Carthy, Leon Rosselson, Ralph Trainer and Marian McKenzie) sang Rosselson's History Lesson in 1965 on their eponymous album Three City Four. This track was included in 2001 on the anthology The Carthy Chronicles. Leon Rosselson recorded this song by himself for his albums A Laugh, a Song, and a Hand-Grenade (1968), Palaces of Gold (1975) and Perspectives (1997). He commented in the last album's sleeve notes:

According to a note in my first (1966) songbook, this song grew out of memories of history lessons at my school on the edge of Parliament Hill Fields. The tedious recital of facts and dates and great men's deeds is just the sort of history our present rulers would like to reinstate.

Brian Peters sang History Lesson, “a product of the 60's with plenty to tell us about the 90's”, on his 1992 Harbourtown album The Seeds of Time.

Tony Benn and Roy Bailey sang History Lesson live at the Cambridge Folk Festival 2000. This recording was included in 2004 on their festival album The Writing on the Wall and on Cambridge Folk Festival's 2014 anthology Celebrating 50 Years.

Lyrics

Leon Rosselson sings History Lesson

History lesson, it's time to remember,
Time to remember the deeds of the great,
Please pay attention, don't let your minds wander,
Daydreams and playtime can wait.
Black the minnows that swarm in the water,
White the butterfly flits in the sun,
Red the blossom and pink the magnolia,
History lesson's begun.

Joan of Arc ended up as a cinder,
Henry VIII did for two of his wives,
Wish I could dive in the pond where the ducks are
Having the time of their lives.
Red the blood on the axe of the headsman,
Black the stake and the bodies that burn,
White the face of the priest and the hangman,
These are the facts you must learn.

Pitt paid a packet to patch out an empire,
Drake bowled the Spaniards out the first ball,
Just want to lie in the sun by the water
Down where the rushes grow tall.
Red the lines of Wellington's army,
White the ensign where Nelson held sway,
Crimson the cavalry Marlborough commanded,
History's heroes are they.

Which scrap of paper began the big bundle?
Which umbrella brought peace in our time?
Questions and answers dissolve in the sunshine,
Wait for the school bell to chime.
Green the gas as it gutters the trenches,
Black the smell of the smoke from a gun,
White the pain of a bombshell exploding,
History lesson's begun.

History lesson, please try to remember,
Time to remember the deeds of the great,
Theirs was the power, the glory, the honour,
They were the chosen of fate.
Black the minnows that swarm in the water,
White the butterfly flits in the sun,
Red the blossom and pink the magnolia,
History lesson is done.