From the Archives: Farm St Alphabet Poem

POST BY RSomerset

Poem detail

In the latest ‘From the Archives’, we feature the Farm St alphabet poem written by Fr Frederick Hathaway SJ (1814-1891). While cataloguing the Farm St Church collection, I came across the alphabet written by Fr Hathaway. Intrigued by the author and names in the poem I carried out some research. Fr Hathaway entered the Society at Hodder in 1852 by way of the Church of England, and particularly Tractarianism, when he was 37 years old. His progression was remarkably fast and he was ordained only 5 years later. He spent some years at Farm St, from the early 1860s, and after that a couple of years at Westminster, where he served the prisons at Millbank and Tothill Fields. Hathaway led an austere life, and a contemporary and contributor to his obituary in Letters and Notices describes “his devouring energy, his marvellous readiness, the causticity of his wit, his austerity to himself and the rigour of his views.” Throughout his life Hathaway was troubled by a cough, which became so distressing that in 1867 he was sent by his Superiors to Jamaica, where he lived and worked until his death in 1891. Shortly before he set sail, he composed the poem:

A is our artist with bright golden hair
The chief of the trio – Webb, Newsham and “Maher” –
B is a Brownbill whose colour is white:
Don’t let a plate fall or he’ll shriek with affright.
C is our Christie, majestic and bland,
Strong in ‘So I suppose’, and quite thrilling in “and”,
D is the devil from Robson and Son
Who call for more copies when Coleridge has none.
E is our Editor taking a nap,
And dreaming of articles watered to pap.
F is Fitzsimon, tall, pious and thin,
Getting merit in what in nous autres is sin
G is the Four-Goes-of-Port we imbibe
On two days a week, as traditions prescribe.
H is for poor Hathaway – Shiverer and Shaker –
Who is going to warm his old bones in Jamaica.
I is an Irishman gazing on Maher,
And earnestly asking, “Now is he sincair?”
K is the kettle by which we prepare
With brandy and water our preaching and prayer.
L is the library – where, the boys say,
The Fathers talk nonsense for two hours a day.
M is the Minister, learned and wise,
Discoursing of pills, and protuberant eyes.
N is a novice who opens his eyes,
Admiring a torrent so learnedly wise.
O is our Orator, dear Father Clare,
The popular Preacher and Pet of Mayfair.
P is the Procurator, of serious looks,
The best of book-keepers – though hating all books!
Q is the Question of questions, the brother,
Are you sure it’s not one and not rather the other?
R is the Rector, asleep on the train,
While ladies are waiting in Farm St in vain!
S is the Socius, whose smile is bespoke,
In case he should happen to make out a joke.
T’s Tickell with tongue in his cheek laid to rest,
While he solemnly enters his silent protest.
U is the Urchin who pulls on your bell,
Till you sorely are tempted to pummel him well.
V is a Visitor, treated to chaff,
Half inclined to be angry, half ready to laugh.
W is White whom fasting and prayer
Have swelled to dimensions that make us all stare.
X is Ex-Minister Locke in whose time
More wonders were done that will go into rhyme.
Y is the yard which a “Garden” we call,
Which serves us as cloister and passage and hall.
Z is Zanetti with rubicund face,
In time for the “dinner”: too late for the “Case”!

The names in the poem correspond well with the names of the Farm St community in 1866. In 1967, former Archivist Fr Francis Edwards SJ carried out research into the names mentioned in this poem, and his findings can be found in volume 72 of Letters and Notices. If you would like to find out more, or arrange a visit to see the document or Fr Edwards’ article, please contact the Jesuits in Britain Archives.

Mary Allen
Assistant Archivist