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Shed 'em now On:2006-11-30 04:37:49

Prepare to shed ’em now! …

Tears I mean: prepare (manfully or womanfully as the case may be) to shed them copiously and in the presence of George R. Sims , no less: in fact prepare to shed them simply because you’re in the presence of George R. Sims, no less.
Who is he ? He is, or rather he was, for (as he himself no doubt would tell) he is dead now and has gone to glory …but when he wasn’t and hadn’t he was a Victorian Miserable Ballad writer!
Now please don’t think that that was a mistake. George was not a miserable Victorian ballad writer whose adjectives I inadvertently transposed, but was in fact a Victorian practitioner of the genré of the Miserable Ballad: a ‘Miserable Ballad ’ being the term I like to use for typically Victorian improving, and morally and tear-ductfully stimulating, recitations of the woes of some poor unfortunate; and the more unfortunate and the poorer the subject the better.

And, you know, there is really no better time of year than this to consider the general Victorian Miserable Ballad or the particular Mr George R. Sims, no less. Because, you see, their world is a Christmasy sort of world, but it’s not that usual Ho-Ho-Ho-rible commercial Christmas we get shoved up our noses ad nauseam by the modern media, so much as it’s that other Christmas, that true-spirit-of-Christmasy Christmas: that Christmas marred with Scrooges and whatted with the Dickens; that Christmas great with Tiny Tims; that yesteryearish verging-on-the-sinister Christmas, inhabited almost exclusively by waifs struggling through chest high snow on bare feet (and probably uphill in both directions), only to terminate their long and difficult journeys and short and even more difficult lives as sadly and as lingeringly as they can.

This is a wintery world and one with a simply staggering death rate, in fact this is a world were nobody much seems to make it through even puberty, and one starts to wonder how on Earth they manage to have the birth rate that their death rate so desperately requires.

Listen: listen to the start of Billy’s Rose to see what I mean:

        Billy’s dead and gone to glory — so is Billy’s
                sister Nell:
        There’s a tale I know about them were I a
                poet I could tell;
        Soft it comes, with perfume laden, like a
                breath of country air
        Wafted down the filthy alley, bringing
                fragrant odours there.

or to this line taken almost at random:

        They were singing a Christmas carol when     
                Mike from his stupor woke

    Mike of course being a Poor Orphaned Child who dies by the end of the very next verse.

In the unlikely event of surviving childhood what is left for a body? Nothing but accident, tragedy, drunkenness and, of course the workhouse :

        It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse
            And the cold bare walls are bright
        With garlands of green and holly,
            And the place is a pleasant sight:
        For with clean-washed hands and faces,
            In a long and hungry line
        The paupers sit at the tables,
            For this is the hour they dine1.

And, with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that you are almost certainly sharing with those hungry paupers, you can guess that things are not going to end happily ever after.

And they don’t!!

Cheerio for now
Richard Howland-Bolton


1  Not of course for one moment to be confused with the contrafactum:
    'Twas Christmas night in the harem
    The eunuchs stood by the walls
    What would they like for Christmas?
    The eunuchs as one man cried "Balls!!!"

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