The Ingoldsby Legends, by Thomas Ingoldsby

Aunt Fanny: A Legend of a Shirt.

Virginibus, Puerisque canto.


Old Maids and Bachelors I chant to!

T. I.

I sing of a Shirt that never was new!!

In the course of the year Eighteen hundred and two,

Aunt Fanny began

Upon Grandmamma’s plan,

To make one for me, then her ‘dear little man.’

— At the epoch I speak about, I was between

A man and a boy,

A hobble-de-hoy,

A fat, little, punchy concern of sixteen, —

Just beginning to flirt,

And ogle, — so pert,

I’d been whipt every day had I had my desert,

— And Aunt Fan volunteer’d to make me a shirt!

I’ve said she began it, —

Some unlucky planet

No doubt interfered, — for, before she, and Janet

Completed the ‘cutting-out,’ ‘hemming,’ and ‘stitching,’

A tall Irish footman appear’d in the kitchen; —

— This took off the maid,

And, I’m sadly afraid,

My respected Aunt Fanny’s attention, too, stray’d;

For, about the same period, a gay son of Mars,

Cornet Jones of the Tenth (then the Prince’s) Hussars,

With his fine dark eyelashes,

And finer moustaches,

And the ostrich plume work’d on the corps’ sabre-taches,

(I say nought of the gold-and-red cord of the sashes,

Or the boots far above the Guards’ vile spatterdashes,) —

So eyed, and so sigh’d,

and so lovingly tried

To engage her whole ear as he lounged by her side,

Looking down on the rest with such dignified pride,

That she made up her mind

She should certainly find

Cornet Jones at her feet, whisp’ring ‘Fan, be my bride!’ —

— She had even resolved to say ‘Yes,’ should he ask it,

— And I— and my Shirt — were both left in the basket.

To her grief and dismay

She discovered one day

Cornet Jones of the Tenth was a little too gay;

For, besides that she saw him — he could not say nay —

Wink at one of the actresses capering away

In a Spanish bolero, one night at the play,

She found he’d already a wife at Cambray; —

One at Paris, — a nymph of the corps de ballet; —

And a third down in Kent, at a place call’d Foot’s Cray. —

He was ‘viler than dirt!’ —

Fanny vowed to exert

All her powers to forget him, — and finish my Shirt.

But, oh! lack-a-day! How time slips away! —

Who’d have thought that while Cupid was playing these tricks

Ten years had elaps’d, and — I’d turn’d twenty-six? —

‘I care not a whit,

— He’s not grown a bit,’

Says my Aunt, ‘it will still be a very good fit,’

So Janet and She,

Now about thirty-three,

(The maid had been jilted by Mr. Magee,)

Each taking one end of ‘the Shirt’ on her knee,

Again began working with hearty good-will,

‘Felling the Seams,’ and ‘whipping the Frill,’ —

For, twenty years since, though the Ruffle had vanish’d,

A Frill like a Fan had by no means been banish’d;

People wore them at playhouses, parties, and churches,

Like overgrown fins of overgrown perches. —

Now, then, by these two thus laying their caps

Together, my ‘Shirt’ had been finish’d, perhaps,

But for one of those queer little three-corner’d straps,

Which the ladies call ‘Side-bits,’ that sever the ‘Flaps;’

— Here unlucky Janet

Took her needle, and ran it

Right into her thumb, and cried loudly, ‘Ads cuss it!

I’ve spoiled myself now by that ’ere nasty Gusset!’

For a month to come

Poor dear Janet’s thumb

Was in that sort of state vulgar people call ‘Rum.’

At the end of that time,

A youth, still in his prime,

The Doctor’s fat Errand-boy, — just such a dolt as is

Kept to mix draughts, and spread plaisters and poultices,

Who a bread-cataplasm each morning had carried her,

Sigh’d, — ogled, — proposed, — was accepted, — and married her!

Much did Aunt Fan

Disapprove of the plan;

She turn’d up her dear little snub at ‘the Man.’

She ‘could not believe it,’ —

‘Could scarcely conceive it

Was possible — What! such a place! — and then leave it! —

And all for a ‘Shrimp’ not as high as my hat —

A little contemptible ‘Shaver’ like that!!

With a broad pancake face, and eyes buried in fat!’

— For her part, ‘She was sure

She could never endure

A lad with a lisp, and a leg like a skewer! —

Such a name too! — (’twas Potts!) — and so nasty a trade —

No, no, — s he would much rather die an old maid! —

He a husband, indeed! — Well, mine, come what may come,

Shan’t look like a blister, or smell of Guaiacum!’

But there!

She’d ‘declare,

It was Janet’s affair —

— Chacun à son goût,

As she baked she might brew —

She could not prevent her — ’twas no use in trying it —

Oh, no — she had made her own bed, and might lie in it.

They “repent at leisure who marry at random.”

No matter — De gustibus non disputandum!’

Consoling herself with this choice bit of Latin,

Aunt Fanny resignedly bought some white satin,

And, as the Soubrette

Was a very great pet

After all, — she resolved to forgive and forget,

And sat down to make her a bridal rosette,

With magnificent bits of some white-looking metal

Stuck in, here and there, each forming a petal. —

— On such an occasion one couldn’t feel hurt,

Of course, that she ceased to remember — my Shirt!

Ten years, — or nigh, —

Had again gone by,

When Fan accidentally casting her eye

On a dirty old work-basket, hung up on high

In the store-closet where herbs were put by to dry,

Took it down to explore it — she didn’t know why. —

Within, a pea-soup colour’d fragment she spied,

Of the hue of a November fog in Cheapside,

Or a bad piece of ginger-bread spoilt in the baking.

— I still hear her cry, —

‘I wish I may die

If here isn’t Tom’s Shirt, that’s been so long a-making!

My gracious me!

Well, — only to see!

I declare it’s as yellow as yellow can be!

Why it looks just as though’t had been soak’d in green tea!

Dear me did you ever? —

But come — ’twill be clever

To bring matters round; so I’ll do my endeavour

“Better Late,” says an excellent proverb, “than Never!” —

It is stain’d, to be sure; but “grass-bleaching” will bring it

To rights “in a jiffy.” — We’ll wash it, and wring it;

Or, stay, — “Hudson’s Liquor”

Will do it still quicker,

And — ’ Here the new maid chimed in, ‘Ma’am, Salt of Lemon

Will make it, in no time, quite fit for the Gemman!’

So they ‘set in the gathers,’ — the large round the collar,

While those at the wristbands of course were much smaller, —

The button-holes now were at length ‘overcast;’

Then a button itself was sewn on — ’twas the last!

All’s done!

All’s won!

Never under the sun

Was Shirt so late finish’d — so early begun! —

— The work would defy

The most critical eye.

It was ‘bleach’d,’ — it was wash’d, — it was hung out to dry, —

It was mark’d on the tail with a T, and an I!

On the back of a chair it

Was placed, — just to air it,

In front of the fire. — ‘Tom to-morrow shall wear it!’

— O cæca mens hominum! — Fanny, good soul,

Left her charge for one moment — but one — a vile coal

Bounced out from the grate, and set fire to the whole!

. . .

Had it been Dr. Arnott’s new stove — not a grate:—

Had the coal been a ‘Lord Mayor’s coal,’ — viz.: a slate; —

What a different tale had I had to relate!

And Aunt Fan — and my Shirt — been superior to Fate; —

One moment — no more! —

— Fan open’d the door!

The draught made the blaze ten times worse than before;

And Aunt Fanny sank down — in despair — on the floor!

You may fancy perhaps Agrippina’s amazement,

When, looking one fine moonlight night from her casement,

She saw, while thus gazing,

All Rome a-blazing,

And, losing at once all restraint on her temper, or

Feelings, exclaimed, ‘Hang that Scamp of an Emperor,

Although he’s my son! —

— He thinks it prime fun,

No doubt! — While the flames are demolishing Rome,

There’s my Nero a-fiddling and singing ‘Sweet Home!”

— Stay — I’m really not sure ’twas that lady who said

The words I’ve put down, as she stepp’d into bed, —

On reflection, I rather believe she was dead;

But e’en when at College, I

Fairly acknowledge, I

Never was very precise in Chronology;

So, if there’s an error, pray set down as mine a

Mistake of no very great moment — in fine, a

Mere slip — ’twas some Pleb’s wife, if not Agrippina.

You may fancy that warrior, so stern and so stony,

Whom thirty years since we all used to call BONEY,

When, engaged in what he styled ‘fulfilling his destinies,’

He led his rapscallions across the Borysthenes,

And had made up his mind

Snug quarters to find

In Moscow, against the catarrhs and the coughs

Which are apt to prevail ‘mongst the ‘Owskis’ and ‘Offs.’

At a time of the year

When your nose and your ear

Are by no means so safe there as people’s are here,

Inasmuch as ‘Jack Frost,’ that most fearful of Bogles,

Makes folks leave their cartilage oft in their ‘fogles.’

You may fancy, I say,

That same BONEY’s dismay,

When Count Rostopchin

At once made him drop chin,

And turn up his eyes, as his rappee he took,

With a sort of a mort-de-ma-vie kind of look,

On perceiving that ‘Swing,’

And ‘all that sort of thing,’

Was at work — that he’d just lost the game withont knowing it:

That the Kremlin was blazing — the Russians ‘a-going it,’ —

Every plug in the place frozen hard as the ground,

And the deuce of a Turn-cock at all to be found!

You may fancy King Charles at some Court Fancy–Ball,

(The date we may fix

In Sixteen sixty-six,)

In the room built by Inigo Jones at Whitehall,

Whence his father, the Martyr, — (as such mourn’d by all

Who, in his, wept the Law’s and the Monarchy’s fall,)

Stept out to exchange regal robes for a pall —

You may fancy King Charles, I say, stopping the brawl,1

As bursts on his sight the old church of St. Paul,

By the light of its flames, now beginning to crawl

From basement to buttress, and topping its wall —

— You may fancy old Clarendon making a call,

And stating in cold, slow, monotonous drawl,

‘Sire, from Pudding Lane’s End, close by Fishmongers’ Hall,

To Pye Corner, in Smithfield, there is not a stall

There, in market, or street, — not a house, great or small,

In which Knight wields his falchion, or Cobbler his awl,

But’s on fire!!’ — You may fancy the general squall,

And bawl as they all call for wimple and shawl! —

— You may fancy all this — but I boldly assert

You can’t fancy Aunt Fan — as she looked on MY SHIRT!!!

Was’t Apelles? or Zeuxis? — I think ’twas Apelles,

That artist of old — I declare I can’t tell his

Exact patronymic — I write and pronounce ill

These Classical names — whom some Grecian Town–Council

Employ’d, — I believe, by command of the Oracle, —

To produce them a splendid piece, purely historical,

For adorning the wall

Of some fane, or Guildhall,

And who for his subject determined to try a

Large painting in oils of Miss Iphigenia

At the moment her Sire,

By especial desire

Of ‘that Spalpeen, O’Dysseus’ (see Barney Maguire),

Has resolved to devote

Her beautiful throat

To old Chalcas’s knife, and her limbs to the fire;

— An act which we moderns by no means admire, —

An off’ring, ’tis true, to Jove, Mars, or Apollo cost

No trifling sum in those days, if a holocaust, —

Still, although for economy we should condemn none,

In an ANAZ ANDRON, like the great Agamemnon,

To give up to slaughter

An elegant daughter,

After all the French, Music, and Dancing they’d taught her,

And Singing, — at Heaven knows how much a quarter, —

In lieu of a Calf! — It was too bad by half!

At a ‘nigger’ 2 so pitiful who would not laugh,

And turn up their noses at one who could find

No decenter method of ‘Raising the Wind?’

No doubt but he might,

Without any great Flight,

Have obtain’d it by what we call ‘flying a kite.’

Or on mortgage — or sure, if he couldn’t so do it, he

Must have succeeded ‘by way of annuity.’

But there — it appears,

His crocodile tears,

His ‘Oh!s’ and his ‘Ah!s,’ his ‘Oh Law!s’ and ‘Oh dear!s,’

Were all thought sincere, — so in painting his Victim

The Artist was splendid — but could not depict Him,

His features and phiz awry

Shew’d so much misery,

And so like a dragon he,

Look’d in his agony,

That the foil’d Painter buried — despairing to gain a

Good likeness — his face in a printed Bandana.

— Such a veil is best thrown o’er one’s face when one’s hurt

By some grief which no power can repair or avert! —

— Such a veil I shall throw o’er Aunt Fan — and My Shirt!


And now for some practical hints from the story

Of Aunt Fan’s mishap, which I’ve thus laid before ye;

For, if rather too gay, I can venture to say,

A fine vein of morality is, in each lay

Of my primitive Muse, the distinguishing trait! —

First of all — Don’t put off till to-morrow what may

Without inconvenience, be managed to-day!

That golden occasion we call ‘Opportunity’

Rarely’s neglected by man with impunity!

And the ‘Future,’ how brightly soe’er by Hope’s dupe colour’d,

Ne’er may afford You a lost chance restored,

Till both you, and YOUR SHIRT, are grown old and pea-soup-colour’d!

I would also desire

You to guard your attire,

Young Ladies, — and never go too near the fire! —

— Depend on’t there’s many a dear little Soul

Has found that a Spark is as bad as a coal, —

And ‘in her best petticoat burnt a great hole!’

Last of all, gentle Reader, don’t be too secure! —

Let seeming success never make you ‘cock-sure!’

But beware! — and take care,

When all things look fair,

How you hang your Shirt over the back of your chair! —

— There’s many a slip

‘Twixt the cup and the lip!’

Be this excellent proverb, then well understood,


1 Not a ‘row’ but a dance,

The brave Lord Keeper led the brawls,

The seals and maces danced before him.’


— And truly Sir Christopher danced to some tune.

2 Hibernicè ‘nigger,’ quasi ‘niggard,’ Vide B. Maguire passim.

It is to my excellent and erudite friend, Simpkinson, that I am indebted for his graphic description of the well-known chalk-pit, between Acol and Minster in the Isle of Thanet, known by the name of the ‘Smuggler’s Leap.’ The substance of the true history attached to it he picked up while visiting that admirable institution, the ‘Sea-bathing Infirmary,’ of which he is a ‘Life Governor,’ and enjoying his otium cum dignitate last summer at the least aristocratic of all possible watering-places.

Before I proceed to detail it, however, I cannot, in conscience, fail to bespeak for him the reader’s sympathy in one of his own

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56