Until now, I've always assumed that Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms was a song sung by some rotter trying to seduce a young lady.
But then the other day I was walking in St Albans park, and at three o'clock the cathedral bells treated us to several verses, played with lovable clatteriness and only approximate tuning, of, yes, Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms.
This seemed more than a bit random, so, finally, I've done some research and discovered that in my cynicism I've been missing something lovely.
In 1808 Elizabeth Moore became gravely ill with smallpox. The family were banished from her room, but after a period of great anxiety it finally became clear that Elizabeth was going to recover.
Sadly, though, the smallpox had scarred her face. She was convinced she was now unlovable, and refused to see anyone, not even her husband, or to leave her room.
Luckily her husband Thomas was both an affectionate, understanding man and an accomplished poet. He wrote these verses, and sang them at her door to an old Irish tune.
Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly today,
Were to change by tomorrow, and fleet in my arms,
Like fairy-gifts fading away -
Thou wouldst still be ador'd as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will,
And, around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still!
It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheek unprofan'd by a tear,
That the fervour and faith of a soul can be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear!
Oh! the heart, that has truly lov'd never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close;
As the sun-flower turns on her god when he sets,
The same look which she turn'd when he rose!
Could any woman stand firm against that? Elizabeth couldn't. She emerged, reassured.
And they lived happily ever after.*
Word To Use Every Day: an endearment. The Old English form of dear was dēore.
*I'm not actually sure about this. But you can sometimes do too much research...