Sunday, October 13, 2013

"appropriated and mutilated" (part 1)


"Love After Death"—Written for and Originally Published in the Troy Times—How it was Copied and Changed—The Author's Name Now First Made Public—"If I Should Die To-night"—Its Appearance in the Times—Inquiries for Its Author—Light Finally Shed on the Subject—Another Touching Production from the Same Source.

        The Brooklyn Eagle publishes the following poem:



They say if our beloved dead

        Should seek the old familiar place,

Some stranger would be there instead,

        And they would find no welcome face.

I cannot tell how it might be

        In other homes; but this I know,

Could my lost darling come to me,

        That she would never find it so.

Oft times the flowers have come and gone,

        Oft times the winter winds have blown,

The while her peaceful rest went on,

        And I have learned to live alone;

Have slowly learned from day to day

        In all life's tasks to bear my part;

But whether grave, or whether gay,

        I hide her memory in my heart.

Fond, faithful love has blessed my way,

        And friends are round me true and tried,

They have their place, but hers to-day

        Is empty as the day she died.

How would I spring with bated breath,

        And joy too deep for word or sign,

To take my darling home from death,

        And once again to call her mine.

I dare not dream the blissful dream;

        It fills my heart with wild unrest;

Where yonder cold, white marbles gleam,

        She still must slumber; God knows best.

But this I know, that those who say

        Our best beloved would find no place,

Have never hungered, every day,

        Through years and years, for one sweet face.

WATERFORD, N.Y., December 28, 1886.


        A short time ago the verses, slightly changed, appeared in the columns of the Eagle, which found them in the Chicago Advance. It was evident that some one had secured their publication in that well-known religious journal after making some modifications which were by no means improvements. In the third verse "oft times" in the first and second lines was altered to "twelve times," and a fifth verse was inserted which read thus:

        And if my darling comes to share

                My pleasant fireside warm and bright,

        She still will find her empty chair

                Where it has waited day and night.

        It will be seen that the added verse is distinctly inferior, both in poetic thought and in form of expression, to what precedes and follows it. It was clearly an interpellation which marred the beauty of the original poem.


        Readers of the Troy Times will remember the poem. It was first published in its columns December 28, 1886, as "written for the Troy Daily Times" and bearing the caption "December 26, 1882," with the Waterford date as above given in the Eagle. The poem instantly attracted general attention and commendation and was widely copied by the press.


        On January 21, 1887, the poem was republished in Tea Table Gossip, in reply to a correspondent from De Land, Fla., who wrote of a recent bereavement and said the verses had "touched my heart and moistened my eyes," and he invoked blessings on the author and expressed the hope that they might be "a comfort to others as they are and ever will be to me." The Times accompanied the republication with the statement that they were written by a Waterford lady, though her name was not given, in deference to what was then understood to be her wishes. Our De Land correspondent was not the only one to whom the poem brought comfort. The Times received many similar tributes to the consolatory power of the verses.


        Since the poem has been appropriated—and mutilated—by others, it is only just that it should be given in its original form and with the name of the author. This has been furnished the Eagle, together with the facts above outlined, and it has honorably undertaken to do justice to a worthy and gifted lady. Her name is Mrs. W. F. Sherwin (not F. W. Sherwin, that being a typographical error), and she was a resident of Waterford when the poem was published in the Troy Times, though we believe she has since removed to Elmira.

"Three Beautiful Poems." Troy Daily Times. October 25, 1890: 5 cols 4-5.

Mrs. Sherwin was evidently known as an elocutionist:

"Sherwin Scrapbook and Related Items

"Multiple items in a group(Acc. 03793)

"Scrapbook. Pasted newspaper clippings and multiple loose clippings, most related to career of elocutionist Mrs. W. F. Sherwin. Most from New York state newspapers; some dated 1880s and 1890s. Envelope. Printed return address: 'OFFICE OF / TRAVELING PASSENGER AGENT / WISCONSIN CENTRAL LINES / Northern Pacific Railroad Co., Lessee / ELMIRA, NEW YORK' (Was used to hold clippings.)"

"Jerry Tarver Collection of Elocution, Rhetoric and Oratory: Ephemera." Rare Books and Manuscripts, The Ohio State University Libraries.

One wonders if it's a poem she had merely delivered, not written. It had appeared in print prior to its appearance in the Troy Times in 1886, prior to the 1882 date of its caption. The title is different, and there are variations on spelling "Ofttimes" instead of "Oft times"; "blest" rather than "blessed", etc.

"Coming Back." The Journal of United Labor 1(3). July 15, 1880. 1. attributed to the San Francisco News Letter

The version with "Twelve times" and the additional stanza about the empty chair had also appeared prior to the publication of the poem in the Troy Times, in The Lamp 22. London, 1882. 62.

Perhaps a listener had transcribed Mrs. Sherwin's reading and sent it in to the paper, mistakenly attributing it to her? Or perhaps Mrs. Sherwin had sent it to the paper without claiming authorship and the editor wrongly supposed her to be the author? Hard to say without exploring the matter further.

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