Tuesday 14 February 2012

In the spirit of St Valentine....

A couple of events today to celebrate Valentine's Day:

The National Gallery, Dublin: 10am-5pm. One of the Gallery's most popular watercolours, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, by Frederic William Burton (1816-1900), will be on display in Room 1. And, at 2pm, there's a  tour, A Celebration of Romance, of the Gallery's most romantic images. Admission and tour free.

The National Museum, Turlough Park, Castlebar, County Mayo: 10am-5pm. A Question of Love. This exhibition invites you to ramble down memory lane to see how love was expressed in days of old. Includes Harvest Knots or Love Tokens (traditionally made from straw and exchanged as love tokens) and wedding attire.


And now some romantic poetry. Well, not quite. The story below, from Nenagh Guardian in 1881, is a court report about how the course of true love doesn't always go smoothly. It's amusing and sad at a number of levels, and for some perverse reason, I thought it suitable for Valentine's Day!

A learned and poetic philomath

John O'Macmurtagh, a dapper little man, with deep penetrating eyes, from which erudition and deep learning came bursting forth and a solemn countenance, which showed the 'master' mind. He was charged by his wife, a fine specimen of a country woman, with assaulting and ill-treating her, and eventually deserting her. On the Philomath coming on the table, he gave a bow to the Bench, which showed that he was not unacquainted with the Terpsicorian (sic) art.

When asked by the Court what he had to say in 'self defence', he replied:

    Most Potent Sirs, with heavy sighs and tears,
    I must confess that in my younger years
    A woman's smile was sure to draw me to her,
    A magnet-like; then for a while I'd woo her,
    and constant be until some more sunny face
    Would lead me off in Cupid's chase.

    Sweet was the life I led; a wanton bee;
    Every fair flower had honeyed stores for me.
    From lovely Kiamaltha (sic) to sweet Clare Glen
    I felt the happiest of all living men.
    Thus did I live in love's bright bower, enjoying
    Life's rarest gifts that seemed to know no cloying.

    Thus did I live, but in one luckless hour
    I met with one whose charms had wondrous power.
    In twining in love's bonds my truant heart;
    So that in her I thought I'd never part.
    Besides, in widow's weeds my charmer drest.
    For her first was gone, I hope, to rest.
    When I looked upon her lofty brow and thought
    'This is the goddess which thro' life I have sought'.

    I sighed and sang, wrote sonnets half a dozen
    And popped the question. Suddenly unfrozen
    Her heart became, like to some frozen-bound brook,
    Dissolving 'neath the day &mdash god's ardent look.

    The matrimonial ordeal soon was passed.
    The honeymoon scarcely a month did last;
    My wife was not the goddess that I thought her,
    She kept me always eddying in hot water.
    Ah, me! I fear that even after life
    I'll still be plagued and pestered by my wife.

    From this my statement it will be seen
    A widower I'd wish to be, like Mr G---n.

Court — You had a right to stay with your wife.


    Sooner I'd be exiled to some bleak shore,
    The hirsute inmate of some cavern hoar.
    Gazing the watery waste of ocean o'er,
    Stunned by the thunders of the tempest's roar.
    There I'd eke out the remnant of my life
    In striving to forget I ever had a wife.

Court — Mrs O'Macmurtagh appears the very reverse of what you seek to represent her. Her demeanour is calm and quiet.


    If to her lot some female errors fall,
    Look in her face, and you'll forget them all,
    So sung Dan Pope some hundred years ago;
    Had he been wed, his rhymes would different flow;
    Had he but sung in matrimonial chains
    He'd sing as I have sung, in other strains.

    If in her face unclouded calm appears,
    If her eyes sparkle like resplendent spheres,
    And if her voice is musically low,
    Soft as the tones from angels' harps that flow,
    Still doubt your senses, and believe that brows
    Oft tempest clad, and that those bright eyes glow
    with fires infernal, like the furies when
    They are sent on earth to scourge oppressive men;
    Believe that voice whose sweetness won such praises,
    Can hoarsely scream — 'confound you, go to b___'

    You'll find a woman often in extremes,
    So don't believe her always what she seems.
    Such is the experience of the greatest men,
    Such the experience of the Laureate.

The case was dismissed, and Mr John O'Macmmurtagh was recommended to go and live with his wife and treat her kindly, as he should do, and as she appeared to deserve.

Story published 15 October 1881.