"There Was Lack Of Woman's Nursing, There Was Dearth Of Woman's Tears"
Context: Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Sheridan was one of three famous granddaughters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816). Two of them were especially noted for their beauty and wit. Caroline was described as "a brunette with dark, burning eyes, a pure Greek profile, and a clear olive complexion." Brought up by her novelist mother from the age of nine, she married the Honorable George Chapple Norton in 1827. She wrote a melancholy tale, The Sorrows of Rosalie (1829), and many poems with a Byronic touch, for the magazines. A collected volume was published in Boston in 1833. One year she earned £1400 by her pen. Accusations of misconduct with Lord Melbourne brought her into the divorce courts. She won, but her husband was awarded custody of the children, for whose care she had to pay with the money she was earning. Her indignation took the form of a pamphlet, English Laws for Women in the Nineteenth Century (1854) and a Letter to the Queen (1855), that were very helpful in getting a revision of laws about divorce, custody of children, and the wife's property. There is no evidence that the poem "Bingen on the Rhine" refers to any particular battle. It is only part of Byron's Romantic movement that Mrs. Norton imitated so well that she, too, had imitators. One of the most popular of her poems it describes the aftermath of a battle, as the wounded and dying are being looked after by their friends. War nursing by women got its start in the Crimean War with Florence Nightingale (1820–1910). A nameless soldier, whose life-blood is ebbing, begs his friend to return to his home with the story of his death and the sword that he and his father before him had bravely carried in their fights. Let it be put back on the wall. He wants his brothers to be exhorted to look after their mother and insure her comfort in her old age, and especially does he want his loving farewell carried to his sweetheart with whom he used to go strolling to look down on the blue Rhine. The poem begins:
A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers,There was lack of woman's nursing, there was dearth of woman's tears;But a comrade stood beside him, while his life-blood ebbed away,And bent with pitying glances, to hear what he might say.The dying soldier faltered, as he took his comrade's hand,And he said, "I nevermore shall see my own, my native land.Take a message, and a token, to some distant friends of mine,For I was born at Bingen–at Bingen on the Rhine."