Tag Archives: Hubert Bland

E. Nesbit: The Husband of Today and The Wife of All Ages

Often, poetry is where we find the truth. March 21 is World Poetry Day and to celebrate I’m posting two companion poems written by Edith Nesbit during the early years of her marriage to Hubert Bland, a notorious philander who fathered children with at least two other women.

Lays&Legends

The first of these poems, ‘The Husband of Today,’ was written in the early 1880s and included in Nesbit’s published collection, Lays and Legends (1886). Here, a straying husband assures his wife that only his fancy has been fired and not his soul. These fleeting passions, he insists, will never usurp the ‘love that lights life’.

The Husband of Today

Eyes caught by beauty, fancy by eyes caught;

Sweet possibilities, question, and wonder –

What did her smile say? What has her brain thought?

Her standard, what? Am I o’er it or under?

Flutter in meeting – in absense dreaming;

Tremor in greeting – for meeting scheming;

Caught by the senses, and yet all through

True with the heart of me, sweetheart, to you.

Only the brute in me yields to the pressure

Of longings inherent – of vices acquired;

All this, my darling, is folly – not pleasure,

Only my fancy – not soul – has been fired.

Sense thrills exalted, thrills to love-madness;

Fancy grown sad becomes almost love-sadness;

And yet love has with it nothing to do,

Love is fast fettered, sweetheart, to you.

Lacking fresh fancies, time flags – grows wingless;

Life without folly would fail – fall flat;

But the love that lights life, and makes death’s self stingless

You, and you only, have wakened that.

Sweet are all women, you are the best of them;

After each fancy has sprung, grown, and died,

Back I come ever, dear, to your side.

The strongest of passions – in joy – seeks the new,

But in grief I turn ever, sweetheart, to you.

The wife answers in a companion poem, ‘The Wife of All Ages,’ also published in Lays and Legends, directly after ‘The Husband of Today’. Here, she dismisses his entreaties and insists that, as far as she is concerned, his ‘meeting, scheming, longing, trembling, dreaming’ is simply love and nothing less. Were their roles reversed, she suggests, he would have little patience with such fine distinctions.

In this powerful response to her husband’s justification of his disloyalty, the wife insists that she would withdraw were she not bound to him, against her better judgement it seems:

The Wife of All Ages

I DO not catch these subtle shades of feeling,

Your fine distinctions are too fine for me;

This meeting, scheming, longing, trembling, dreaming,

To me mean love, and only love, you see;

In me at least ’tis love, you will admit,

And you the only man who wakens it.

Suppose I yearned, and longed, and dreamed, and fluttered,

What would you say or think, or further, do?

Why should one rule be fit for me to follow,

While there exists a different law for you?

If all these fires and fancies came my way,

Would you believe love was so far away?

On all these other women—never doubt it—

‘Tis love you lavish, love you promised me!

What do I care to be the first, or fiftieth?

It is the only one I care to be.

Dear, I would be your sun, as mine you are,

Not the most radiant wonder of a star.

And so, good-bye! Among such sheaves of roses

You will not miss the flower I take from you;

Amid the music of so many voices

You will forget the little songs I knew—

The foolish tender words I used to say,

The little common sweets of every day.

The world, no doubt, has fairest fruits and blossoms

To give to you; but what, ah! what for me?

Nay, after all I am your slave and bondmaid,

And all my world is in my slavery.

So, as before, I welcome any part

Which you may choose to give me of your heart.

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Why Did She Marry Him?

Today is the anniversary of the birth of English writer and poet Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947), who was born Richard Thomas Gallienne (the “Le” was a later addition) in Liverpool on January 20, 1866. Although his father, a brewery worker, ensured that Richard, one of his ten children, received a good education and was articled to a firm of accountants, Le Gallienne took no interest in pursuing this career.

Richard Le Gallienne by Alfred Ellis

In 1887, he published his first literary work, My Ladies’ Sonnets. By then, he was also reviewing books for The Academy. The direction his life was to take was determined by the fact that he failed his final accountancy exams in December 1888. He moved to London and began a professional relationship with publisher John Lane that was to continue until 1924. You can read far more about him here.

My interest in Le Gallienne relates to a passionate love affair he had with writer Edith Nesbit, the subject of my next biography, who was married to Hubert Bland at the time. Although married himself, Le Gallienne wrote and published several love poems to Nesbit. One of them, ‘Why Did She Marry Him?,’ interests me particularly.

enesbit

Edith Nesbit

Le Gallienne speculates as to why Edith chose to marry the undeserving Hubert Bland (and undeserving he was in many respects, although she did love him in her own fashion). Perhaps he was unaware that Edith, aged twenty-one at the time, was seven months pregnant on her wedding day, 22 April 1880. A certain pragmatism was involved on her part one has to assume.

Why Did She Marry Him?

Why did she marry him? Ah, say why!
How was her fancy caught?
What was the dream that he drew her by,
Or was she only bought?
Gave she her gold for a girlish whim,
A freak of a foolish mood?
Or was it some will, like a snake in him,
Lay a charm upon her blood?Love of his limbs, was it that, think you?
Body of bullock build,
Sap in the bones, and spring in the thew,
A lusty youth unspilled?
But is it so that a maid is won,
Such a maiden maid as she?
Her face like a lily all white in the sun,
For such mere male as he!
Ah, why do the fields with their white and gold
To Farmer Clod belong,
Who though he hath reaped and stacked and sold
Hath never heard their song?
Nay, seek not an answer, comfort ye,
The poet heard their call,
And so, dear Love, will I comfort me—
He hath thy lease, that’s all.
Although Bland family legend has it that Edith and Richard were passionately in love for a time, and that she threatened to leave Hubert for him on at least one occasion, their affair came to an end. Le Gallienne married three times and died in Menton on the French Riviera in 1947.
Le Gallienne also makes a very brief appearance in my first book, Wilde’s Women:
PBCover

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