Winthrop Mackworth Praed
Everyday Characters V - Portrait Of A Lady
IN THE EXHIBITION OP THE ROYAL
What are you, Lady ? — nought is here
To tell us of your name or story,
To claim the gazer's smile or fear.
To dub you Whig, or damn you Tory ;
It is beyond a poet's skill
To form the slightest notion, whether
We e'er shall walk through one quadrille.
Or look upon one moon together.
You're very pretty! — all the world
Are talking of your bright brow's splendour,
And of your locks, so softly curled.
And of your hands, so white and slender ;
Some think you 're blooming in Bengal ;
Some say you're blowing in the city;
Some know you 're nobody at all :
I only feel — you're very pretty.
But bless my heart ! it 's very wrong ;
You 're making all our belles ferocious ;
Anne 'never saw a chin so long; '
And Laura thinks your dress 'atrocious;'
And Lady Jane, who now and then
Is taken for the village steeple,
Is sure you can't be four feet ten.
And 'wonders at the taste of people.'
Soon pass the praises of a face ;
Swift fades the very best vermillion ;
Fame rides a most prodigious pace ;
Oblivion follows on the pillion;
And all who in these sultry rooms
To-day have stared, and pushed, and fainted,
Will soon forget your pearls and plumes,
As if they never had been painted.
You'll be forgotten — as old debts
By persons who are used to borrow ;
Forgotten — as the sun that sets,
When shines a new one on the morrow ;
Forgotten — like the luscious peach
That blessed the schoolboy last September ;
Forgotten — like a maiden speech,
Which all men praise, but none remember.
Yet, ere you sink into the stream
That whelms alike sage, saint, and martyr,
And soldier's sword, and minstrel's theme.
And Canning's wit, and Gatton's charter.
Here, of the fortunes of your youth.
My fancy weaves her dim conjectures.
Which have, perhaps, as much of truth
As passion's vows, or Cobbett's lectures.
Was 't in the north or in the south
That summer breezes rocked your cradle ?
And had you in your baby mouth
A wooden or a silver ladle ?
And was your first unconscious sleep
By Brownie banned, or blessed by Fairy ?
And did you wake to laugh or weep ?
And were you christened Maud or Mary ?
And was your father called 'your grace' ?
And did he bet at Ascot races ?
And did he chat at commonplace ?
And did he fill a score of places ?
And did your lady-mother's charms
Consist in picklings, broilings, bastings ?
Or did she prate about the arms
Her brave forefathers wore at Hastings ?
Where were you finished ? tell me where !
Was it at Chelsea, or at Chiswick ?
Had you the ordinary share
Of books and backboard, harp and physic?
And did they bid you banish pride,
And mind your Oriental tinting ?
And did you learn how Dido died,
And who found out the art of printing?
And are you fond of lanes and brooks —
A votary of the sylvan Muses ?
Or do you con the little books
Which Baron Brougham and Vaux diffuses ?
Or do you love to knit and sew —
The fashionable world's Arachne ?
Or do you canter down the Row
Upon a very long-tailed hackney ?
And do you love your brother James ?
And do you pet his mares and setters ?
And have your friends romantic names ?
And do you write them long long letters ?
And are you — since the world began
All women are — a little spiteful ?
And don't you dote on Malibran ?
And don't you think Tom Moore delightful ?
I see they've brought you flowers to-day;
Delicious food for eyes and noses ;
But carelessly you turn away
From all the pinks, and all the roses ;
Say, is that fond look sent in search
Of one whose look as fondly answers ?
And is he, fairest, in the Church ?
Or is he — ain't he — in the Lancers ?
And is your love a motley page
Of black and white, half joy, half sorrow ?
Are you to wait till you 're of age ?
Or are you to be his to-morrow ?
Or do they bid you, in their scorn,
Your pure and sinless flame to smother ?
Is he so very meanly born ?
Or are you married to another ?
Whate'er you are, at last, adieu !
I think it is your bounden duty
To let the rhymes I coin for you
Be prized by all who prize your beauty.
From you I seek nor gold nor fame ;
From you I fear no cruel strictures ;
I wish some girls that I could name
Were half as silent as their pictures !
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(13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939)
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