The Modest Couple

written by William Schwenck Gilbert

The Modest Couple

— William Schwenck Gilbert

When man and maiden meet, I like to see a drooping eye,
I always droop my own - I am the shyest of the shy.
I'm also fond of bashfulness, and sitting down on thorns,
For modesty's a quality that womankind adorns.

Whenever I am introduced to any pretty maid,
My knees they knock together, just as if I were afraid;
I flutter, and I stammer, and I turn a pleasing red,
For to laugh, and flirt, and ogle I consider most ill-bred.

But still in all these matters, as in other things below,
There is a proper medium, as I'm about to show.
I do not recommend a newly-married pair to try
To carry on as PETER carried on with SARAH BLIGH.

Betrothed they were when very young - before they'd learnt to speak
(For SARAH was but six days old, and PETER was a week);
Though little more than babies at those early ages, yet
They bashfully would faint when they occasionally met.

They blushed, and flushed, and fainted, till they reached the
age of nine,
When PETER'S good papa (he was a Baron of the Rhine)
Determined to endeavour some sound argument to find
To bring these shy young people to a proper frame of mind.

He told them that as SARAH was to be his PETER'S bride,
They might at least consent to sit at table side by side;
He begged that they would now and then shake hands, till he
was hoarse,
Which SARAH thought indelicate, and PETER very coarse.

And PETER in a tremble to the blushing maid would say,
"You must excuse papa, MISS BLIGH, - it is his mountain way."
Says SARAH, "His behaviour I'll endeavour to forget,
But your papa's the coarsest person that I ever met.

"He plighted us without our leave, when we were very young,
Before we had begun articulating with the tongue.
His underbred suggestions fill your SARAH with alarm;
Why, gracious me! he'll ask us next to walk out arm-in-arm!"

At length when SARAH reached the legal age of twenty-one,
The Baron he determined to unite her to his son;
And SARAH in a fainting-fit for weeks unconscious lay,
And PETER blushed so hard you might have heard him miles away.

And when the time arrived for taking SARAH to his heart,
They were married in two churches half-a-dozen miles apart
(Intending to escape all public ridicule and chaff),
And the service was conducted by electric telegraph.

And when it was concluded, and the priest had said his say,
Until the time arrived when they were both to drive away,
They never spoke or offered for to fondle or to fawn,
For HE waited in the attic, and SHE waited on the lawn.

At length, when four o'clock arrived, and it was time to go,
The carriage was announced, but decent SARAH answered "No!
Upon my word, I'd rather sleep my everlasting nap,
Than go and ride alone with MR. PETER in a trap."

And PETER'S over-sensitive and highly-polished mind
Wouldn't suffer him to sanction a proceeding of the kind;
And further, he declared he suffered overwhelming shocks
At the bare idea of having any coachman on the box.

So PETER into one turn-out incontinently rushed,
While SARAH in a second trap sat modestly and blushed;
And MR. NEWMAN'S coachman, on authority I've heard,
Drove away in gallant style upon the coach-box of a third.

Now, though this modest couple in the matter of the car
Were very likely carrying a principle too far,
I hold their shy behaviour was more laudable in them
Than that of PETER'S brother with MISS SARAH'S sister EM.

ALPHONSO, who in cool assurance all creation licks,
He up and said to EMMIE (who had impudence for six),
"MISS EMILY, I love you - will you marry? Say the word!"
And EMILY said, "Certainly, ALPHONSO, like a bird!"

I do not recommend a newly-married pair to try
To carry on as PETER carried on with SARAH BLIGH,
But still their shy behaviour was more laudable in them
Than that of PETER'S brother with MISS SARAH'S sister EM.

About the poet

William Schwenck Gilbert

William Schwenck Gilbert, born in London in 1836, was the son of a retired naval surgeon. Except for a kidnapping by Italian brigands in Italy at age two, and a ransomed release, he appears to have had a very normal upbringing. Beyond ordinary schooling, he took training as an artillery officer and was tutored in military science with hopes of participating in the Crimean War. Unfortunately for him, but not for us, he did not graduate until after the War was over. Gilbert subsequently joined the militia and was a member for 20 years. After finishing his military training Gilbert worked in a government bureau job which he hated. Upon receiving a nice inheritance from an aunt, Gilbert indulged his fancy and...

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