Sunday, October 13, 2013

"appropriated and mutilated" (part 2)


        Another poem to which the Troy Times gave celebrity was the following, which was published in these columns May 15, 1886:


If I should die to-night,

My friends would look upon my quiet face

Before they laid it in its resting place,

And deem that death had left it almost fair;

And, laying snow-white flowers against my hair,

Would smooth it down with tearful tenderness,

And fold my hands with lingering caress;

Poor hands, so empty and so cold to-night!

If I should die to-night,

My friends would call to mind, with loving thought,

Some kindly deed the icy hands had wrought;

Some gentle word the frozen lips had said;

Errands on which the willing feet had sped.

The memory of my selfishness and pride,

My hasty words would all be put aside,

And so I should be loved and mourned to-night.

If I should die to-night,

Even hearts estranged would turn once more to me,

Recalling other days remorsefully.

The eyes that chill me with averted glance

Would look upon me as of yore, perchance,

And soften in the old familiar way.

Fo who could war with dumb unconscious clay?

So I might rest, forgiven of all, to-night.

Oh, friends! I pray to-night,

Keep not your kisses for my dead, cold brow,

The way is lonely; let me feel them now.

Think gently of me; I am travel-worn;

My pattering feet are pierced with many a thorn.

Forgive, O hearts estranged, forgive, I plead?

When dreamless rest is mine I shall not need

The tenderness for which I long to-night.


        Like Mrs. Sherwin's verses, these evoked many inquiries, but for a long time the authorship remained undiscovered. Then it was mistakenly credited to different persons. W. Herries of the Brooklyn Eagle thus throws light upon the subject:

        The poem "If I Should Die To-Night" was published in the Eagle November 3, 1889, when it was credited to Robert C. V. Meyers. I found it in "One Hundred Choice Selections," No. 27, P. Garret & Co., Philadelphia. At the time of Henry Ward Beecher's death it was printed by some papers under his name. On the Sunday of its appearance in the Eagle I met David M. Stone of the Journal of Commerce, who said the Eagle was in error as to the authorship of the poem. And during the week that followed I received letters from "American Notes and Queries" and a number of gentlemen, all pointing to a note in the Journal of Commerce on Tuesday, January 24, 1888, giving the credit of the poem in question to Miss Belle E. Smith of Tabor college, Iowa. Although satisfied with this testimony I wrote to Garret & Co., and received the following reply:

        PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 14, 1889.—The poem "If I Should Die To-Night" has been attributed to Mr. Meyers by various authorities and papers in different parts of the country. During the time of the controversy, a few years ago, we devoted considerable time and attention to the matter, and are convinced, in our minds, that Mr. Meyers is the author. P. GARRET & CO.

        Here is the note from the Journal of Commerce, January 24, 1888:

        After a search of nearly a year we have at last reached a reasonable certainty as to the authorship of the poem "If I Should Die To-Night," about which there has been so much dispute. In a mangled form, with some of the finest parts omitted (because they did not suit the character), its authorship was ascribed by H. Rider Haggard to his heroine in the novel entitled "Jess," the assumption being, of course, that it was the composition of the author of that work of fiction. We soon found a much finer version in a little work published without the name of the author, by A. D. F. Randolph of this city, under date of 1873. Mr. Randolph replied to our inquiry that he scissored it from a newspaper where it was printed anonymously, and being struck with its truth and tenderness he had reprinted it for preservation in a more durable form. We then set to work to trace the author. We found it in print with Henry Ward Beecher given as the writer, but his family at once disclaimed the credit. We next discovered it in "Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms," published in 1879 by Moses Warren & CO. of Chicago, which contains "Selections from the Poets," to give interest to the volume. In that book it is credited to F.K. Crosby. We followed this evidence until we were satisfied that the ascription was an error of the publishers. Soon after a correspondent sent us a newspaper statement that the poem was written by Lucy Hooper. We searched the published volume of her poems, first issued in 1848, and later editions of 18?? and 1857, but neither of these contained it. Continuing our investigation we found a work entitled "One Hundred Choice Selections," in which the poem is credited to Robert C. V. Meyers. Obtaining no corroboration of this statement, we pursued the inquiry. Recently we received a letter from Mr. William M. Brooks, president of Tabor college, in Iowa, in which he asserts that the author is Miss Belle E. Smith, formerly a student in Tabor college and now a teacher in that institution. He states that he has known Miss Smith from childhood and that she wrote the poem in the winter of 1872-'73, and first published it over her initials in the Christian Union June 18, 1873. In corroboration of this, if any were needed, we have found the poem in the paper of that date over the initials "B. S.," and we have no doubt that Miss Smith is its author.

        There is not a particle of doubt that Miss Smith is the author. Here I give you another little poem from the same pen, which was printed in the Journal of Commerce. W. HERRIES.

        This is conclusive, and there can be no doubt in any impartial person's mind that Miss Smith is fairly entitled to the credit given her.


        The following, furnished by Mr. Herries, is in the same tender vein which characters "If I Should Die To-Night," though treating of a wholly different theme. It has appeared in the Journal of Commerce, but in no other publication:



One day, in dreary mood, I sat and thought

        Of all the blessed Lord had done for me;

And of the slight return my hands had wrought

        For all his loving kindness full and free.

"What can I do? My daily cares," I said,

        "Press hard upon me. I am faint and worn,

A humble toiler for my daily bread;

        Such gifts as mine so great a king would scorn."

And then, the while I made my sad complaint,

        I turned to see beside me, fresh fair,

As if they ne'er had known an earthly taint,

        A vase of flowers most exquisite and rare,

Blossoms soft-tinted as a sea-shell's heart,

        Blossoms as white as winter drifts of snow,

And blossoms that had caught by magic art

        The splendor of high noon, the sunset's glow;

A gift most beautiful—a costly gift;

        Beside it, in a tiny snow-white vase,

Almost too frail its drooping head to lift

        A little, common rose had found a place.

And, looking on it, I could see again

        The giver's childish face upraised to mine;

A pallid face that told of want and pain,

        Though still with joy the eager eyes could shine.

"My only rose!" she cried, with glad delight,

        "Because I love you it is all for you!"

And the frail flower was dearer in my sight

        Than the exotics, rare in form and hue.

Thus thinking, suddenly there came to me

        A thought like some stray sunbeam from above:

"If love so glorifies a gift to thee,

        Will the Lord scorn thy humble gifts of love?"

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

The poem "If I Should Die To-night" is attributed to the Christian Union in the Sabbath Recorder [Alfred Center, NY]. July 10, 1873: 1 col 1.

It's attributed to "B.S. in Christian Union" in the Corning Journal. September 12, 1873: 1 col 3. W. Herries seems to have been correct.

No comments:

Post a Comment