A Batchelors Fancy On The Distress

SITTING one night in my little room,
Just remov’d from poverty’s frown,
Feeling effects of Lancashire’s gloom
In Blackburn’s loyal borough town;
I read of doings in circles select ---
Of dinners, and parties and balls,
Till Fancy well sketch’d Dame Fashion’s sect
Encompass’d by four narrow walls.
Lord Dundreary, he said it was queer
To be cooped up in my little place,
And Lady Fitzmuggings declined my beer
With hauteur approaching grimace;
Viscount Bonton really did fear
To stay for a short time with me,
And Snob, with ten thousand a year,
Slop'd away in folo de se.
Young Starehum with sneers curl’d his moustache,
Miss Thingumby gather’d her skirt;
But their contempt could not abash
My grief for the mass in the dirt.
Old Pam smil’d a smile of bitter disdain,
And Diz, with his leaden physique;
Both paus’d to hear me loudly complain
Of the scorn for the poor and the weak.
There was young Prim of orthodox grace,
And parsons of dainty scents smell,
Tickling the taste of the mighty in place
On their road through the flower’d dell.
I heard the music and saw the dance,
And noticd the full meaning smile;
While Envy discharg’d the venom’d glance,
And yet naively bow’d the while.
Young Noodledom complain’d of ennui,
Miss Poodle agreed with the heir;
And I found they wouldn’t hobnob with me,
Through thinking it low to be there.
I turn’d them out with a wave of my hand ---
The scented silk gewgaws and lies;
And listless fools who pester the land
Gave place to grim Famine’s orgies.
A mother pass’d by with baby wan;
Tears stood in her redden’d eyes;
Her life was stricken with horror’s ban,
Through her children’s starving cries.
The father, bow’d down by Want’s hard thought,
Said life was all weary and sad;
The wife said John his wages had brought
Till the times were dreary and bad.
And a mighty host of suffering men
Led families past in great grief,
Too proud to beg for morsel when
The nation now ow’d them relief;
And maidens, whom sin had scarcely sear’d,
Stood asking for means to be good;
Parents the tide of poverty fear’d
On the young and still helpless brood.
Then the Angel of Peace wav’d his hand
O’er all of the rich and the great,
And sent the word of love to command
Relief to the want-stricken state;
And the fop forgot his devilry,
Dainty Miss, as she twirld her hair,
Evok’d the era of chivalry
For the poor sufferers brave and fair.
I clasp’d my hands that sham vanity
Here made common cause for the woe,
Letting the old worlds caste insanity,
Like to a fleeting vapor go;
And the striving aim – to save the race,
Grew out from my light parlor dreams,
And brotherhood show’d his happy face ---
“Life is not so bad as it seems.”

Title:A Batchelor's Fancy on the Distress


Publication:The Blackburn Times

Published in:Blackburn

Date:September 27th 1862

Keywords:gender, morality, politics, poverty


Perhaps fittingly for a poem depicting a society ball, this poem is composed in the metre which most resembles the waltz rhythm – the dactyl (123 / 123 /123), although it struggles to maintain this as its outlandish cast of characters (caricatures, really) are listed and lampooned. At seventy-two lines, it is quite long, but its sense of a dream narrative and underlying register of outrage sustain it. The form of address is first person through the ‘batchelor’, whose status as ‘just removed from poverty’s frown’ may mean lately escaped, or socially adjacent. In any case, this figure contrasts the suffering they see around them with the select social gatherings by imagining them into contact with each other. This is an unusual and clever imaginative device.

This is essentially a dream narrative which is reminiscent of Shelley’s ‘Mask of Anarchy’ (1819) but instead of that poem’s reimagining of the Peterloo Massacre with the major British political figures present, this poem imagines the rich in close contact with the suffering poor. Some of these caricature figures may be imaginary, and some based on real people, but where this poem does echo Shelley’s work is in the inclusion of ‘Old Pam’ (Lord Palmerston) and ‘Diz’ (Benjamin Disraeli) – real politicians with real political power during this period. This poem is heavily class conscious in a way that counters some historians’ characterisations of the Victorian working-class imaginary (if indeed the writer was working class, we have no way of knowing as yet), and suggests that, when sympathetic editors allowed for it, Cotton Famine poetry was expressing political anger as well as stoicism. – SR