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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Walter C. Smith b. 1824

Daughters of Philistia

LADY ANNE DEWHURST on a crimson couch

Lay, with a rug of sable o’er her knees,

In a bright boudoir in Belgravia;

Most perfectly array’d in shapely robe

Of sumptuous satin, lit up here and there

With scarlet touches, and with costly lace,

Nice-finger’d maidens knotted in Brabant;

And all around her spread magnificence

Of bronzes, Sévres vases, marquetrie,

Rare buhl, and bric-à-brac of every kind,

From Rome and Paris and the centuries

Of far-off beauty. All of goodly color,

Or graceful form that could delight the eye,

In orderly disorder lay around,

And flowers with perfume scented the warm air.

Stately and large and beautiful was she

Spite of her sixty summers, with an eye

Train’d to soft languors, that could also flash,

Keen as a sword and sharp—a black bright eye,

Deep sunk beneath an arch of jet. She had

A weary look, and yet the weariness

Seem’d not so native as the worldliness

Which blended with it. Weary and worldly, she

Had quite resign’d herself to misery

In this sad vale of tears, but fully meant

to nurse her sorrow in a sumptuous fashion,

And make it an expensive luxury;

For nothing she esteem’d that nothing cost.

Beside her, on a table round, inlaid

With precious stones by Roman art design’d,

Lay phials, scent, a novel and a Bible,

A pill box, and a wine glass, and a book

On the Apocalypse; for she was much

Addicted unto physic and religion,

And her physician had prescrib’d for her

Jellies and wines and cheerful Literature.

The Book on the Apocalypse was writ

By her chosen pastor, and she took the novel

With the dry sherry, and the pills prescrib’d.

A gorgeous, pious, comfortable life

Of misery she lived; and all the sins

Of all her house, and all the nation’s sins,

And all shortcomings of the Church and State,

And all the sins of all the world beside,

Bore as her special cross, confessing them

Vicariously day by day, and then

She comforted her heart, which needed it,

With bric-à-brac and jelly and old wine.

Beside the fire, her elbow on the mantel,

And forehead resting on her finger-tips,

Shading a face where sometimes loom’d a frown,

And sometimes flash’d a gleam of bitter scorn,

Her daughter stood; no more a graceful girl,

But in the glory of her womanhood,

Stately and haughty. One who might have been

A noble woman in a nobler world,

But now was only woman of her world;

With just enough of better thought to know

It was not noble, and despise it all,

And most herself for making it her all.

A woman, complex, intricate, involv’d;

Wrestling with self, yet still by self subdued;

Scorning herself for being what she was,

And yet unable to be that she would;

Uneasy with the sense of possible good

Never attain’d, nor sought, except in fits

Ending in failures; conscious, too, of power

Which found no purpose to direct its force,

And so came back upon herself, and grew

An inward fret. The caged bird sometimes dash’d

Against the wires, and sometimes sat and pin’d,

But mainly peck’d her sugar, and eyed her glass,

And trill’d her graver thoughts away in song.

Mother and daughter—yet a childless mother,

And motherless her daughter; for the world

Had gash’d a chasm between, impassable,

And they had nought in common, neither love,

Nor hate, nor anything except a name.

Yet both were of the world; and she not least

Whose world was the religious one, and stretch’d

A kind of isthmus ’tween the Devil and God,

A slimy, oozy mud, where mandrakes grew,

Ghastly, with intertwisted roots, and things

Amphibious haunted, and the leathern bat

Flicker’d about its twilight evermore.