According to metaphysical creed,
To the earliest books that children read
For much good or much bad they are debtors—
But before with their A B C they start,
There are things in morals, as well as art,
That play a very important part—
“Impressions before the letters.”
Dame Education begins the pile,
Mayhap in the graceful Corinthian style,
But alas for the elevation!
If the Lady’s maid or Gossip the Nurse
With a load of rubbish, or something worse,
Have made a rotten foundation.
Even thus with little Miss Kilmansegg,
Before she learnt her E for egg,
Ere her Governess came, or her Masters—
Teachers of quite a different kind
Had “cramm’d” her beforehand, and put her mind
In a go-cart on golden casters.
Long before her A B and C,
They had taught her by heart her L. S. D.
And as how she was born a great Heiress;
And as sure as London is built of bricks,
My Lord would ask her the day to fix,
To ride in a fine gilt coach and six,
Like Her Worship the Lady May’ress.
Instead of stories from Edgeworth’s page,
The true golden lore for our golden age,
Or lessons from Barbauld and Trimmer,
Teaching the worth of Virtue and Health,
All that she knew was the Virtue of Wealth,
Provided by vulgar nursery stealth
With a Book of Leaf Gold for a primer.
The very metal of merit they told,
And praised her for being as “good as gold”!
Till she grew as a peacock haughty;
Of money they talk’d the whole day round,
And weigh’d desert, like grapes, by the pound,
Till she had an idea from the very sound
That people with nought were naughty.
They praised—poor children with nothing at all!
Lord! how you twaddle and waddle and squall
Like common-bred geese and ganders!
What sad little bad little figures you make
To the rich Miss K., whose plainest seed-cake
Was stuff’d with corianders!
They praised her falls, as well as her walk,
Flatterers make cream cheese of chalk,
They praised—how they praised—her very small talk,
As if it fell from the Solon;
Or the girl who at each pretty phrase let drop
A ruby comma, or pearl full-stop,
Or an emerald semi-colon.
They praised her spirit, and now and then
The Nurse brought her own little “nevy” Ben,
To play with the future May’ress,
And when he got raps, and taps, and slaps,
Scratches, and pinches, snips, and snaps,
As if from a Tigress or Bearess,
They told him how Lords would court that hand,
And always gave him to understand,
While he rubb’d, poor soul,
His carroty poll,
That his hair has been pull’d by a Hairess.
Such were the lessons from maid and nurse,
A Governess help’d to make still worse,
Giving an appetite so perverse
Fresh diet whereon to batten—
Beginning with A B C to hold
Like a royal playbill printed in gold
On a square of pearl-white satin
The books to teach the verbs and nouns,
And those about countries, cities, and towns,
Instead of their sober drabs and browns,
Were in crimson silk, with gilt edges;—
Her Butler, and Enfield, and Entick—in short
Her “Early Lessons” of every sort,
Look’d like Souvenirs, Keepsakes, and Pledges.
Old Johnson shone out in as fine array
As he did one night when he went to the play;
Chambaud like a beau of King Charles’s day—
Lindley Murray in like conditions—
Each weary, unwelcome, irksome task,
Appear’d in a fancy dress and a mask;—
If you wish for similar copies, ask
For Howell and James’s Editions.
Novels she read to amuse her mind,
But always the affluent match-making kind
That ends with Promessi Sposi,
And a father-in-law so wealthy and grand,
He could give cheque-mate to Coutts in the Strand;
So, along with a ring and posy,
He endows the Bride with Golconda off hand,
And gives the Groom Potosi.
Plays she perused—but she liked the best
Those comedy gentlefolks always possess’d
Of fortunes so truly romantic—
Of money so ready that right or wrong
It always is ready to go for a song,
Throwing it, going it, pitching it strong—
They ought to have purses as green and long
As the cucumber call’d the Gigantic.
Then Eastern Tales she loved for the sake
Of the Purse of Oriental make,
And the thousand pieces they put in it—
But Pastoral scenes on her heart fell cold,
For Nature with her had lost its hold,
No field but the Field of the Cloth of Gold
Would ever have caught her foot in it.
What more? She learnt to sing, and dance,
To sit on a horse, although he should prance,
And to speak a French not spoken in France
Any more than at Babel’s building—
And she painted shells, and flowers, and Turks,
But her great delight was in Fancy Works
That are done with gold or gilding.
Gold! still gold!—the bright and the dead,
With golden beads, and gold lace, and gold thread
She work’d in gold, as if for her bread;
The metal had so undermined her,
Gold ran in her thoughts and fill’d her brain,
She was golden-headed as Peter’s cane
With which he walked behind her.