George John Whyte-Melville 1821 1878 A Child in the nursery crying 1855/56 ~ Scarce Crimean war poem ~ written during the time the author served in Crimean war 1855/56 written on headed Royal army paper RA Mess Razmak Waziristan ~ three pages nine verses, 36 lines ~ signed with initials. To our knowledge it was never noted as a war-poem until now; we feel no-one knew it was composed in Crimea, and when one goes over the solemn lines, one can feel the angst and bitter tones of the piece... Few books were written about this war, where nearly half a million people died.
Britain only joined the alliance of Turkey, France, Sardinia in 1855 and the war was over in 1856, hence when the poem was written can be narrowed down comfortably to the timeframe...
Tennyson famously wrote 'the charge of the light-brigade; but to our knowledge he was never actually present in Crimea, whilst Whyte-Melville was. The first draft of the poem clearly paints a very sombre mood indeed.
It is uncanny how topical the work is, in our present day.
From the Cyclopedia of world authors:
George John Whyte-Melville was born near St. Andrews, Scotland, June 19, 1821, into society, his father being a landowner in Scotland and his mother a daughter of the duke of Leeds. As a boy Whyte-Melville attended Eton, the famous English public school, and at the age of seventeen he became a commissioned officer in the Ninety-third Highlanders Regiment. After seven years with that regiment he transferred to the Coldstream Guards and retired from the British army at the age of twenty-seven with the rank of captain. When the Crimean War broke out in 1853, Whyte-Melville volunteered his services to the government and went on active duty with the rank of major. He served with units of Turkish irregular cavalry. During his service in the Crimean War he
wrote some poetry, and a portion of it was published. After the war he returned to civilian life to continue writing and hunting, his favorite sport.
IM Therefore fone art & manuscripts 0014162038608 Toronto Islands Canada
Below two different ways the poem was published the first in Alan Bennett'd first play, forty years on 1968, the second in Temple bar 1876
A child in the nursery crying,
A boy in the cricket field – out,
A youth for a fantasy sighing,
A man with a fit of the gout.
Some sense of experience wasted,
Of counsel misunderstood,
Of pleasure, bitter when tasted,
And of pain that did him no good.
The sum of a life expended,
A pearl in the pig trough cast,
A comedy played and ended,
And what has it come to at last?
The dead man, propped on a pillow,
The journey taken alone,
The tomb with an urn and a willow
And a lie carved deep into stone.
A child in the nursery crying—a boy in the cricket field, “out!”
A youth for a fantasy sighing—a man with a fit of the gout,
A heart dried up and narrowed—a task repeated in vain,
A field plowed deep and harrowed, but bare and barren of grain.
Some sense of experience wasted, of counsel misunderstood,
Of pleasure, bitter when tasted, and pain that did him no good,
Some sparks of sentiment perished—some flashes of genius lost,
A torrent of false love cherished—a ripple of true love crossed,
Some feeble breasting of trouble to glide again with the stream,
In principle void as a bubble—in purpose vague as a dream,
A future hope half-hearted, for dim is the future now—
That the triple crown has parted, and death is damp on the brow,
And a debt is to pay by the debtor—a doctor, a lawyer, a nurse,
A feeling he should have been better, a doubt if he could have been worse,
While the ghostly finger traces its ghostly message of doom,
And a troop of ghostly faces pass on in a darkened room,
With ghostly shapes to beckon and ghostly voices to call,
And the grim recorder to reckon, and add the total of all,
The sum of a life expended—a pearl in a pig trough cast,
A comedy played and ended—and what has it come to at last?
The dead man, propped on a pillow—the journey taken alone,
The tomb with an urn and a willow, and a lie carved deep in the stone.
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