Songs and Other Verse

Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Keren Vergon, Charles Bidwell
and PG Distributed Proofreaders

THE WORKS OF EUGENE FIELD

Vol. IX

THE WRITINGS IN PROSE AND VERSE OF EUGENE FIELD

SONGS AND OTHER VERSE

INTRODUCTION

“It is about impossible for a man to get rid of his Puritan grandfathers,
and nobody who has ever had one has ever escaped his Puritan grandmother;”
so said Eugene Field to me one sweet April day, when we talked together of
the things of the spirit. It is one of his own confessions that he was
fond of clergymen. Most preachers are supposed to be helplessly tied up
with such a set of limitations that there are but a few jokes which they
may tolerate, and a small number of delights into which they may enter.
Doubtless many a cheerful soul likes to meet such of the clergy, in order
that the worldling may feel the contrast of liberty with bondage, and
demonstrate by bombardment of wit and humor, how intellectually thin are
the walls against which certain forms of skepticism and fun offend. Eugene
Field did not belong to these. He called them “a tribe which do unseemly
beset the saints.” Nobody has ever had a more numerous or loving clientage
of friendship among the ministers of this city than the author of “The
Holy Cross” and “The Little Yaller Baby.” Those of this number who were
closest to the full-hearted singer know that beneath and within all his
exquisite wit and ludicrous raillery—so often directed against the
shallow formalist, or the unctuous hypocrite—there were an aspiration
toward the divine, and a desire for what is often slightingly called
“religious conversation,” as sincere as it was resistless within him. My
own first remembrance of him brings back a conversation which ended in a
prayer, and the last sight I had of him was when he said, only four days
before his death, “Well, then, we will set the day soon and you will come
out and baptize the children.”

Some of the most humorous of his letters which have come under the
observation of his clerical friends, were addressed to the secretary of
one of them. Some little business matters with regard to his readings and
the like had acquainted him with a better kind of handwriting than he had
been accustomed to receive from his pastor, and, noting the finely
appended signature, “per —— ——,” Field wrote a most effusively
complimentary letter to his ministerial friend, congratulating him upon
the fact that emanations from his office, or parochial study, were “now
readable as far West as Buena Park.” At length, nothing having appeared in
writing by which he might discover that —— —— was a lady of his own
acquaintance, she whose valuable services he desired to recognize was made
the recipient of a series of beautifully illuminated and daintily written
letters, all of them quaintly begun, continued, and ended in
ecclesiastical terminology, most of them having to do with affairs in
which the two gentlemen only were primarily interested, the larger number
of them addressed in English to “Brother ——,” in care of the minister,
and yet others directed in Latin:

Ad Fratrem —— ——

  In curam, Sanctissimi patris ——, doctoris divinitatis,

    Apud Institutionem Armouriensem,

          CHICAGO,

              ILLINOIS.

{Ab Eugenic Agro, peccatore misere}

Even the mail-carrier appeared to know what fragrant humor escaped from
the envelope.

Here is a specimen inclosure:

BROTHER ——: I am to read some of my things before the senior class of
the Chicago University next Monday evening. As there is undoubtedly more
or less jealousy between the presidents of the two south side institutions
of learning, I take it upon myself to invite the lord bishop of
Armourville, our holy père, to be present on that occasion in his
pontifical robes and followed by all the dignitaries of his see, including
yourself. The processional will occur at 8 o’clock sharp, and the
recessional circa 9:30. Pax vobiscum. Salute the holy Father with a kiss,
and believe me, dear brother,

Your fellow lamb in the old Adam,

EUGENIO AGRO.

(A. Lamb) SEAL.

The First Wednesday after Pay day,

September 11, 1895.

On an occasion of this lady’s visit to the South-west, where Field’s
fancied association of cowboys and miners was formed, she was fortunate
enough to obtain for the decoration of his library the rather
extraordinary Indian blanket which often appears in the sketches of his
loved workshop, and for the decoration of himself a very fine necktie made
of the skin of a diamond-back rattlesnake. Some other friend had given his
boys a “vociferant burro.” After the presentation was made, though for two
years he had met her socially and at the pastor’s office, he wrote to the
secretary, in acknowledgment, as follows:

DEAR BROTHER ——: I thank you most heartily for the handsome specimens of
heathen manufacture which you brought with you for me out of the land of
Nod. Mrs. Field is quite charmed—with the blanket, but I think I prefer
the necktie; the Old Adam predominates in me, and this pelt of the serpent
appeals with peculiar force to my appreciation of the vicious and the
sinful. Nearly every morning I don that necktie and go out and twist the
supersensitive tail of our intelligent imported burro until the profane
beast burthens the air with his ribald protests. I shall ask the holy
father—Pere —— to bring you with him when he comes again to pay a
parochial visit to my house. I have a fair and gracious daughter into
whose companionship I would fain bring so circumspect and diligent a young
man as the holy father represents you to be. Therefore, without fear or
trembling accompany that saintly man whensoever he says the word. Thereby
you shall further make me your debtor. I send you every assurance of
cordial regard, and I beg you to salute the holy father for me with a
kiss, and may peace be unto his house and unto all that dwell therein.

Always faithfully yours,

EUGENE FIELD.
CHICAGO, MAY 26, 1892.

He became acquainted with the leading ladies of the Aid Society of the
Plymouth Church, and was thoroughly interested in their work. Partly in
order to say “Goodbye” before his leaving for California in 1893, and
partly, no doubt, that he might continue this humorous correspondence, as
he did, he hunted up an old number of Peterson’s Magazine, containing a
very highly colored and elaborate pattern for knit slippers, such as
clergymen received at Christmas thirty years ago, and, inclosing it with
utmost care, he forwarded it to the aforesaid “Brother ——” with this
note:

DEAR BROTHER ——: It has occurred to me that maybe the sisters of our
congregation will want to make our dear pastor a handsome present this
Christmas; so I inclose a lovely pattern for slippers, and I shall be glad
to ante up my share of the expense, if the sisters decide to give our dear
pastor this beautiful gift. I should like the pattern better if it had
more red in it, but it will do very nicely. As I intend to go to
California very soon, you’ll have to let me know at once what the
assessment per cap. is, or the rest of the sisters will be compelled to
bear the full burthen of the expense. Brother, I salute you with an holy
kiss, and I rejoice with you, humbly and meekly and without insolent
vaunting, that some of us are not as other men are.

Your fellow-lamb,

EUGENE FIELD,
BUENA PARK, ILL., DECEMBER 4, 1893.

This was only one phase of the life of this great-hearted man, as it came
close to his friends in the ministry. Other clergymen who knew him well
will not forget his overflowing kindness in times of sickness and
weariness. At least one will not forget the last day of their meeting and
the ardor of the poet’s prayer. Religion, as the Christian life, was not
less sacred to him because he knew how poorly men achieve the task of
living always at the best level, nor did the reality of the soul’s
approach to God grow less noble or commanding to him because he knew that
too seldom do we lift our voices heavenward. I am permitted to copy this
one letter addressed to a clerical friend, at a time when Eugene Field
responded to the call of that undying puritanism in his blood:

DEAR, DEAR FRIEND: I was greatly shocked to read in the Post last night of
your dangerous illness. It is so seldom that I pray that when I do God
knows I am in earnest. I do not pester Him with small matters. It is only
when I am in real want that I get down on my wicked knees and pray. And
I prayed for you last night, dear friend, for your friendship—the help
that it is to me—is what I need, and I cannot be bereft of it. God has
always been good to me, and He has said yes to my prayer, I am sure.
Others, too—thousands of them—are praying for you, and for your
restoration to health; none other has had in it more love and loyalty than
my prayer had, and none other, dear friend, among the thousands whom you
have blessed with your sweet friendship, loves you better than I do.

EUGENE FIELD.
BUENA PARK, NOVEMBER 15, 1893.

I am still sick abed and I find it hard to think out and write a letter.
Read between the lines and the love there will comfort you more than my
faulty words can.

I have often thought, as I saw him through his later years espousing the
noblest causes with true-hearted zeal, of what he once said in the old
“Saints’ and Sinners’ Corner” when a conversation sprang up on the death
of Professor David Swing. His words go far to explain to me that somewhat
reckless humor which oftentimes made it seem that he loved to imitate and
hold in the pillory of his own inimitable powers of mimicry some of the
least attractive forms of the genus parson he had seen and known. He
said: “A good many things I do and say are things I have to employ to keep
down the intention of those who wanted me to be a parson. I guess their
desire got into my blood, too, for I have always to preach some little
verses or I cannot get through Christmastide.”

He had to get on with blood which was exquisitely harmonious with the
heart of the Christ. He was not only a born member of the Society for the
Prevention of Sorrow to Mankind, but he was by nature a champion of a
working Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This society was
composed of himself. He wished to enlarge the membership of this latter
association, but nobody was as orthodox in the faith as to the nobility of
a balky horse, and he found none as intolerant of ill-treatment toward any
and every brute, as was he. Professor Swing had written and read at the
Parliament of Religions an essay on the Humane Treatment of the Brutes,
which became a classic before the ink was dry, and one day Field proposed
to him and another clergyman that they begin a practical crusade. On those
cold days, drivers were demanding impossible things of smooth-shod horses
on icy streets, and he saw many a noble beast on his knees, “begging me,”
as he said, “to get him a priest.” Field’s scheme was that the delicate
and intelligent seer, David Swing, and his less refined and less gentle
contemporary should go with him to the City Hall and be sworn in as
special policemen and “do up these fellows.” His clear blue eye was like a
palpitating morning sky, and his whole thin and tall frame shook with
passionate missionary zeal. “Ah,” said he, as the beloved knight of the
unorthodox explained that if he undertook the proposed task he would
surely have to abandon all other work, “I never was satisfied that you
were orthodox.” His other friend had already fallen in his estimate as to
fitness for such work. For, had not Eugene Field once started out to pay a
bill of fifteen dollars, and had he not met a semblance of a man on the
street who was beating a lengthily under-jawed and bad-eyed bull-dog of
his own, for some misdemeanor? “Yea, verily,” confessed the poet-humorist,
who was then a reformer. “Why didn’t you have him arrested, Eugene?” “Why,
well, I was going jingling along with some new verses in my heart, and I
knew I’d lose the tempo if I became militant. I said, ‘What’ll you take
for him?’ The pup was so homely that his face ached, but, as I was in a
hurry to get to work, I gave him the fifteen dollars, and took the beast
to the office.” For a solitary remark uttered at the conclusion of this
relation and fully confirmed as to its justness by an observation of the
dog, his only other human prop for this enterprise was discarded. “Oh, you
won’t do,” he said.

Christianity was increasingly dear to him as the discovery of childhood

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