Ne Sit Ancillae

The Brown Portrait by Sir William Richmond, in the Library, Clifton College

The Brown Portrait by Sir William Richmond, in the Library, Clifton College

This is an intriguing poem today. Thanks to Tacy Rickard for finding it whilst looking at Edmund Gosse’s links with Teignmouth. She found mention of him and the poet T E Brown in a 1930s review of a book about Devon, which in turn led to the poem.

The poem is intriguing because it has an unusual style for its period, the second half of the 19th century. T E Brown was a Manx man and his more important poems are narrative, and written in the Anglo-Manx dialect, with a free use of pauses, and sometimes with daring irregularity of rhythm.

His link with Teignmouth is unclear although he was a master at Clifton College, Bristol for many years and would likely have travelled the West Country during his time there – he was a great walker.

A ‘slavey’ is a female general servant, in particular a maid of all general work in a boarding house. I wonder if he felt some empathy with the ‘slavey’ since he himself suffered deep humiliation in his role as a ‘servitor’ whilst at Christ Church, Oxford – a servitor was an Oxford undergraduate performing menial duties in exchange for assistance from college funds.

The poem’s title is borrowed from the title of an Ode by Horace.

“NE SIT ANCILLÆ”
(T E Brown)

Poor little Teignmouth slavey,
Squat, but rosy!
Slatternly, but cosy!
A humble adjunct of the British navy,
A fifth-rate dabbler in the British gravy —
How was I mirrored?
In what spiritual dress
Appeared I to your struggling consciousness?

Thump! bump!
A dump
Of first a knife and then a fork!
Then plump
A mustard-pot! Then slump, stump, frump,
The plates
Like slates
And lastly fearful wrestling with a cork
And so I thought:—
” Poor thing
She has not any wing
To waft her from the grease,
To give her soul release
From this dull sphere
Of baccy, beef, and beer.”

But, as it Napped,
I spoke of Chagford, Chagford by the moor,
Sweet Chagford town. Then, pure
And bright as Burton tapped
By master hand,
Then, red as is a peach,
My little maid found speech —
Gave me to understand
She knew “them parts”;
And to our several hearts
We stood elate,
As each revealed to each
A mate —
She stood, I sate,
‘ And saw within her eyes
The folly of an infinite surprise.

Want to know more?  Check out:

T E Brown …..
Other Poems of T E Brown …..
The Horace Ode …..

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