19 May 2014

A Civil Servant's Awful Victoria Day Poem

To be honest, I really dislike this year's verse to Victoria, choosing it only as an excuse to post this wonderful photograph of the poet's wife done up as Britannia. The Grand Fancy Ball was the occasion, held 23 February 1876 at Rideau Hall by Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, 3rd Governor General of Canada.

Historians tell us that the evening it was a glorious success. The Library and Archives website informs that his lordship's was for two decades "the standard by which similar balls were measured."

I don't doubt it. Few balls near the size of Dufferin's.

(cliquez pour agrandir)
Careful study finds Britannia near the front of the crowd. I wonder, is that the poet standing next to her?

As is so often the case with fancy dress, the women steal the show. I find Miss M. Skead, seen above and below with Diana's bow, particularly attractive.

For obvious reasons, I have a bit of a thing for Miss Richards, en costume as "The Spirit of the Press".

But the woman who has my heart is Mme Margaret de Saint-Denis Le Moine as "The Dominion of Canada".

The 24 February 1876 Ottawa Free Press, reports that Mme St-Denis Le Moine wore "a while satin skirt, gold tunic, arms of the Dominion, embroidered on its tablier, surrounded with a wreath of maple leaves; flag of the Dominion, worn as a scarf, festooned on one shoulder, with a gold beaver; cornet of gold, small British flag in the hair, earrings and ornaments."

Be still my heart.

And so I arrive, at long last, at the poem. What I dislike most about this piece of untitled verse, found in The Canadian Birthday Book, is its very Britishness. Nothing Canadian about it. Gather round ye French and Irish, let us sing the praises of Victoria and the true hearts warmed by British blood. I make some allowances for the fact that our poet, Gustavus William Wicksteed (1799-1898), was born and bred a Liverpudlian. At the time of the Governor General's Grand Fancy Ball he was serving as a law clerk in the House of Commons.

Enjoy… or don't. At times I prefer photographs to words.

From The Canadian Birthday Book
Seranus [pseud. S. Frances Harrison]
Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, 1887

Related posts:

No comments:

Post a Comment