Sunday, October 27, 2019

Thomas Hood : The Song of the Shirt and Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg : A golden legend

London born humourist and poet, Thomas Hood (1799 – 1845) had Scottish heritage and although he was born in London he lived and worked in Dundee for many years contributing humorous and poetical articles to the provincial newspapers and magazines. As an engraver he illustrated many of his own humours and fancies with quaint devices.

After he became a sub-editor (of sorts) at the London Magazine he mixed with the literary society of the time. Best known as a humorist, his serious poetry was almost entirely ignored. He had a keen sense of wit and edited the lightly satirical Comic Annual, (dating from 1830) for many years.

Hood was master of the pun and sensitive to the social deprivation which surrounded him.

(Video Courtesy: Malc Cowle by Youtube Channel)

He put this talent to good use with the poem "Song of the Shirt." (1843). The lament told of a poor London seamstress who sold shirts belonging to her employer to feed her child. It became a popular song.

(Video Courtesy: pasttimespresent by Youtube Channel)

Later it was dramatised by Mark Lemon (founding editor of Punch and the Field ) as The Sempstress. In 1909, D.W. Griffith, made a short silent movie based on "The Song of the Shirt" featuring, "The First Movie Star", Florence Lawrence.

Hood’s poem was inspiration to many social activists in defense of laboring women, living in abject poverty despite their constant industriousness. Hood also wrote humorously on other contemporary issues including grave robbing and selling of corpses to anatomists.

Don’t go to weep upon my grave,

And think that there I be.

They haven’t left an atom there

Of my anatomie

Another poem by Thomas Hood, "Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg" (first published in 1840 in the 'New Monthly Magazine'), was dramatized for the BBC by Martin Wade.

The famous poem is a timeless satire about the corrupting power of money. Miss Kilmansegg is the daughter of a rich banker and when she loses a leg after an accident, she insists in having a prosthesis made of gold. Now the talk of the town the amputee becomes pray to a scheming, ruthless cad who marries her and squanders her fortune. However once the money goes the bounder does something dastardly with the unfortunate girls golden leg.

The Moral

GOLD! Gold! Gold! Gold!
Bright and yellow, hard and cold,
Molten, graven, hammer’d, and roll’d;
Heavy to get, and light to hold;
Hoarded, barter’d, bought, and sold,
Stolen, borrow’d, squander’d, doled:
Spurn’d by the young, but hugg’d by the old
To the very verge of the churchyard mould;
Price of many a crime untold;
Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!
Good or bad a thousand-fold!
How widely its agencies vary:
To save—to ruin—to curse—to bless—
As even its minted coins express,
Now stamp’d with the image of Good Queen Bess,
And now of a bloody Mary.

Reviewed 27/10/2019


Anonymous said...

Why did the BBC waste so much license fee money on this ridiculous "dramatisation".

Wimbo1952 said...

what an absolute joy this programme is worth every penny of listeners money !!
Amusing intriguing and worth another listen

John Murdoch said...

Don't be so boring! It was great. Never laughed so much in ages. I've never heard of it before, so, thanks to the good old BBC I've discovered something new.I'd never read Cold Comfort Farm until I heard the radio adaptation on Radio4Extra.