Concert And Literary Entertainment In Aid Of The Relief Fund.

LADIES and GENTLEMEN, - As you may know,
Placards appeared a little while ago
With “WHERE’S MY HAT?” displayed in glaring types,
Straightaway the local quidnuncs lit their pipes,
And with much surmise rubbed their vision bleary
As to the meaning of this startling query.
All could point out the querist. – One quidnunc
Knew one who lost his beaver, being drunk;
One said the hat had gone to some Jew dealer;
Another saw it pick’d up by a peeler;
Those and a hundred similar surmises,
Gained rapid currency; but the surprise is
That not a hound was on the proper scent –
None rightly guessed what the strange question meant.
Let us relieve their minds – the hat is found,
And we crave leave to-night to hand it round.
Lo! here it is, the best that’s to be had! –
I hear you say – “How seedy!” “Shocking bad!”
Well, shabbiness is not the worst of crimes;
Bad though it be, ‘tis better than the times;
Then it is so symbolical a hat:
In staple short, like cotton of Surat;
Its state, like other “States” is something rotten;”
Its lining wanting, like the Orleans cotton;
Its claim to beauty, truly, is not clear;
Its use to-night will speedily appear.
But to be serious – the cloud that hangs
Above us darkens; stung by hunger’s pangs
Half-naked children clamour at our doors;
The needed staple comes not to our shores.
While starving thousands drag on dreary days
Peers patronise them, and the Commons praise.
But paltry comfort, in such plight, affords
The “sympathy” of Commons and of Lords.
The cry of suffering myriads beseeches
For help, for food, and not for flattering speeches;
Few will escape from Want’s sharp jaws, if we
Depend for aid on the powers that be:
The powers that be are powerless in this crisis;
And “Let us help ourselves,” the best advice is.
For this we introduce our brief burlesque,
With its crude plot, its characters grotesque;
When you shall see how Toby Timorous trembles,
How Trueman lies, and bullies, and dissembles.
Or list to Dashley, as he raves and bellows,
I think you’ll call them oddest of Oddfellows!
Let the broad farce, and the egregious wit,
Be pardoned for the cause that prompted it:
We act our little play, we crack our jokes,
To scare the wolf away from honest folks;
Our best reward if, after all our shamming,
The grin of fun averts the grin of famine!
Say not ‘tis laughter’s tendency to steel
The soul ‘gainst pity – even Punch can feel
Compassion – there are harden men than clowns –
And rightfully Fame’s greenest chaplet crowns
Our HOODS and JERROLDS, who, with souls of mirth,
Combined the gentlest, tenderest hearts on earth!
If ever means were sanctioned by ends,
‘Twill surely be if our poor effort sends
Succour to some pale wife, some broken sire,
Gives some scant board a meal, some hearth a fire,
Helps humble worth with penury to cope,
Or to some stricken household whispers “HOPE!”

Title:Concert and Literary Entertainment in Aid of the Relief Fund (W. A. Abram poem)

Author:W. A. Abram

Publication:Preston Guardian

Published in:Preston

Date:May 31 1862

Keywords:charity, comic, cotton, domesticity, poverty


This poem appears as part of a larger article which provides its context, as follows:

"An entertainment was given on Thursday evening, in the Town-hall Assembly-room, for the purpose of enabling the Oddfellows of the district, numbering about 3,000, to aid the funds for the relief of the distressed poor. The occasion drew together a crowded assembly numbering about 1,200 … few minutes before eight o’clock, the excellent band of the Rifle Volunteers, conducted by Mr. Finney, took up their position on the platform amid the applause of the assembly, and the concert commenced. The playing of the band was much admired, though greater effect would have been produced if the internal arrangements made in the loft, above the hall, by Mr. G. Ellis at the two previous concerts, had been again carried out. Indeed, we hope the Town.hall Committee will make this arrangement permanent, and thus considerably improve the defective acoustics of the hall. The recitations were well rendered, and the sketch of “Where’s my Hat?” written expressly by Mr. Fountain convulsed the auditory. The prologue to the sketch, written by Mr. W. A. Abram, of the Free Library, is as follows:". After the poem, there is further commentary, including: "The total receipts would be about £60[?], so that we anticipate that the Oddfellows will be able to hand over a sum of £40 to the Relief Fund. The whole of the performers and the numerous staff of gentleman who assisted in the getting up of the entertainment deserve all praise".

Such fundraising events were common during the Cotton Famine, and often featured poetry among the entertainments on offer. The poem moves between humour and serious description of the suffering of Lancashire workers, reminding the listeners of the purpose of the night’s events. The reference to a “Jew dealer” in the ninth line is an example of the anti-Semitic stereotype associating Jewish people and moneylending trades in the nineteenth century, which was unfortunately common in Victorian literature. – RM.

The form of this poem refers to the English epic tradition of the heroic couplet (favoured by Alexander pope and other writers in the classic tradition). However, instead of the rhyming couplets being written in the metre of iambic pentameter, there is a hypercatalexic effect, with an extra syllable at the end of each line taking the count to eleven instead of nine. The metrical unevenness chimes with the comic nature of the poem, which is essentially a comic monologue in its form of address.- SR