Poor Mary Ann.


Herbert Spencer, who makes in his Autobiography frequent appearances in the character of a ponderous philosophical prig, is at pains to explain that there was no truth in the rumour that he used to be in love with George Eliot. She was not Spencer’s “style”: in several “first principles” she did not commend herself to the philosophic eye. One imagines that something might be said for the lady.

I put the heavy volumes down,
Glad that the reader’s task was over,
And meditated with a frown
How little wit the tomes discover:
Till from the pipe the faces came—
A mid-Victorian generation—
With hers who flung a heart of flame
And scandalised a moral nation.

Hey presto! did the light burn blue?
Or was it but a gleam of stocking
That made me murmur “Who are you?”
And wonder was my reason rocking:
An odour too! as if all Dis
Were burning papers in a censer;
And then, a voice said: “Grant me this!
I did not marry Herbert Spencer.

“I know ‘Deronda’ ‘s far too long
And far too ponderously written;
I know that it is very wrong
To drown a hero like a kitten;
I know, when Lewes came to woo,
I should have screamed and cried ‘Get hence, sir!’
But when you count my sins, say too
I did not marry Herbert Spencer!”

One moment, in the cloud o’erhead,
“As if a bee had stung it newly,”
A warm lip flashed a rosy red—
And, planté là, I marvelled duly:
The pipe wreathed on to regions far;
Yet lingered, as the smoke grew denser,
This echo: “Thank my lucky star,
I did not marry Herbert Spencer!”

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