The Keepsake – A Word In Season – 1844 – A Poem
The Countess of Blessington
Thomas Lawrence’s portrait, 1822
The Keepsake, was a fashionable annual published during the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Its editor in 1844 was Marguerite Gardiner, the Countess of Blessington, a beautiful noble lady who held court at Gore House, Kensington. Many of the Victorian ‘glitterati’ gathered there – William Harrison Ainsworth, Hans Christian Andersen, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Count D’Orsay, Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli,…
The Countess became a gossip columnist for Dickens’ Daily News. Dickens wrote A Word In Season for her, not expecting that it would suit her purposes, But she published it in The Keepsake.
The theme of the poem, was afterwards satirised in Chadband (Bleak House), and in the idea of religious conversion through the agency of ‘moral pocket-handkerchiefs.’
|THE POEM: |
They have a superstition in the East,
That Allah, written on a piece of paper,
Is better unction than can come of priest,
Of rolling incense, and of lighted taper:
Holding, that any scrap which bears that name,
In any characters, its front imprest on,
Shall help the finder through the purging flame,
And give his toasted feet a place to rest on.
Accordingly, they make a mighty fuss
With ev’ry wretched tract and fierce oration,
And hoard the leaves—for they are not, like us,
A highly civilized and thinking nation:
And, always stooping in the miry ways,
To look for matter of this earthy leaven,
They seldom, in their dust-exploring days,
Have any leisure to look up to Heaven.
|So have I known a country on the earth,|
Where darkness sat upon the living waters,
And brutal ignorance, and toil, and dearth
Were the hard portion of its sons and daughters:
And yet, where they who should have ope’d the door
Of charity and light, for all men’s finding,
Squabbled for words upon the altar-floor,
And rent the Book, in struggles for the binding.
The gentlest man among these pious Turks,
God’s living image ruthlessly defaces;
Their best high-churchman, with no faith in works,
Bowstrings the Virtues in the market-places:
The Christian Pariah, whom both sects curse
(They curse all other men, and curse each other),
Walks thro’ the world, not very much the worse—
Does all the good he can, and loves his brother.