Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Poem, on the Supposition of an Advertisement Appearing in a Morning Paper, of the Publication of a Volume of Poems, by a Servant-Maid - Elizabeth Hands

The tea-kettle bubbled, the tea things were set,
The candles were lighted, the ladies were met;
The how d'ye's were over, and entering bustle,
The company seated, and silks ceased to rustle:
The great Mrs. Consequence opened her fan,
And thus the discourse in an instant began
(All affected reserve and formality scorning):
"I suppose you all saw in the paper this morning
A volume of Poems advertised - 'tis said
They're produced by the pen of a poor servant-maid."
"A servant writes versus!" says Madam Du Bloom:
"Pray, what is the subject - a Mop, or a Broom?"
"He, he, he," says Miss Flounce: "I suppose we shall see
An ode on a Dishclout - what else can it be?"
Says Miss Coquettilla, "Why, ladies, so tart?
Perhaps Tom the footman has fired her heart;
And she'll tell us how charming he looks in new clothes,
And how nimble his hand moves in brushing the shoes;
Or how, the last time he went to May Fair,
He bought her some sweethearts of gingerbread ware."
"For my part I think," says old Lady Marr-joy,
"A servant might find herself other employ:
Was she mine I'd employ her as long as 'twas light,
And send her to bed without candle at night."
"Why so?" says Miss Rhymer, displeased: "I protest
'Tis pity a genius should be so depressed!"
"What ideas can such low-bred creatures conceive?"
Says Mrs. Noworthy, and laughed in her sleeve.
Says old Miss Prudella, "If servants can tell
How to write to their mothers, to say they are well,
And read of a Sunday The Duty of Man,
Which is more I believe than one half of them can;
I think 'tis much properer they should rest there,
Than be reaching at things so much out of their sphere."
Says old Mrs. Candour, "I've not got a maid
That's the plague of my life -a  young gossiping jade;
There's no end of the people that after her come,
And whenever I've out, she is never at home;
I'd rather ten times she would sit down and write,
Than gossip all over the town every night."
"Some whimsical trollop most like," says Miss Prim,
"Has been scribbling of nonsense, just out of a whim,
And, conscious it neither is witty nor pretty,
Conceals her true name, and ascribes it to Betty."
"I once had a servant myself," says Miss Pines,
"That wrote on a wedding some very good lines."
Says Mrs. Domestic, "And when they were done,
I can't see for my part what use they were on;
Had she wrote a receipt, to've instructed you how
To warm a cold breast of veal, like a ragout,
Or to make cowslip wine, that would pass for Champagne,
It might have been useful, again and again."
On the sofa was old Lady Pedigree placed;
She owned that for poetry she had no taste,
That the study of heraldry was more in fashion,
And boasted she knew all the crests in the nation.
Says Mrs. Routella, "Tom, take out the urn,
And stir up the fire, you see it don't burn."

The tea-things removed, and the tea-table gone,
The card-tables brought, and the cards laid thereon,
The ladies, ambitious for each other's crown,
Like courtiers contending for honours, sat down.

If I'm honest, I initially chose this poem because of it's hilariously wordy title, but after reading it through several times, I find that the title fits the subject matter perfectly, and its humor has only increased in my eyes.  It's worth noting that Elizabeth Hands herself was a servant, so these lines, we can imagine, are likely the sort of thing she was anticipating upon the publishing of her poetry.  In this poem, we are given a glimpse at the sort of people for whom she likely worked: chittering, sanctimonious, elitist, awful.

It reads like an overheard conversation, as if while attending to her ladies, Hands wrote the poem in her mind.  Some of the ladies think that a servant has no place writing poetry whatsoever, and that it is above such "low-bred" folk.  Others are more sympathetic, but are still patronizing and condescending in their appraisal of the capabilities of the working classes.  For example, one thinks only that a serving lady could write gag-worthy (in my opinion) poems about Love because Tom the footman brought her some sweets.  One says that a servant wrote some nice lines of poetry on the occasion of a wedding, to which the response is (paraphrased) "why didn't she write something useful like how to warm up cold veal?"  Other ladies still just divulge into gossip about how much they wish their servants wouldn't gossip.  Really, I'm reminded of the television program The View and how much I hate it.

The poem is certainly funny, and I'm glad that these miserable, shrill society ladies are remembered in a servant's poem, so that they can be rightly mocked for the rest of time.

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