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A LITTLE BOOK OF WESTERN VERSE
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A LITTLE BOOK OF WESTERN VERSE

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A LITTLE BOOK OF WESTERN VERSE

EUGENE FIELD

1889

TO MARY FIELD FRENCH

A dying mother gave to you
Her child a many years ago;
How in your gracious love he grew
You know dear patient heart you know.

The mother's child you fostered then
Salutes you now and bids you take
These little children of his pen
And love them for the author's sake.

To you I dedicate this book
And as you read it line by line
Upon its faults as kindly look
As you have always looked on mine.

Tardy the offering is and weak;--
Yet were I happy if I knew
These children had the power to speak
My love and gratitude to you.

E. F.

Go little book and if an one would speak
thee ill let him bethink him that thou art
the child of one who loves thee well.

EUGENE FIELD

A MEMORY

When those we love have passed away; when from our lives something has
gone out; when with each successive day we miss the presence that has
become a part of ourselves and struggle against the realization that
it is with us no more we begin to live in the past and thank God for
the gracious boon of memory. Few of us there are who having advanced
to middle life have not come to look back on the travelled road of
human existence in thought of those who journeyed awhile with us a
part of all our hopes and joyousness the sharers of all our ambitions
and our pleasures whose mission has been fulfilled and who have left
us with the mile-stones of years still seeming to stretch out on the
path ahead. It is then that memory comes with its soothing influence
telling us of the happiness that was ours and comforting us with the
ever recurring thought of the pleasures of that travelled road. For it
is happiness to walk and talk with a brother for forty years and it is
happiness to know that the surety of that brother's affection the
knowledge of the greatness of his heart and the nobility of his mind
are not for one memory alone but may be publicly attested for
admiration and emulation. That it has fallen to me to speak to the
world of my brother as I knew him I rejoice. I do not fear that
speaking as a brother I shall crowd the laurel wreaths upon him for
to this extent he lies in peace already honored; but if I can show him
to the world not as a poet but as a man--if I may lead men to see
more of that goodness sweetness and gentleness that were in him I
shall the more bless the memory that has survived.

My brother was born in St. Louis in 1850. Whether the exact day was
September 2 or September 3 was a question over which he was given to
speculation more particularly in later years when he was accustomed to
discuss it frequently and with much earnest ness. In his youth the
anniversary was generally held to be September 2 perhaps the result of
a half-humorous remark by my father that Oliver Cromwell had died
September 3 and he could not reconcile this date to the thought that it
was an important anniversary to one of his children. Many years after
when my uncle Charles Kellogg Field of Vermont published the
genealogy of the Field family the original date September 3 was
restored and from that time my brother accepted it although with each
recurring anniversary the controversy was gravely renewed much to the
amusement of the family and always to his own perplexity. In November
1856 my mother died and at the breaking up of the family in St.
Louis my brother and myself the last of six children were taken to
Amherst Massachusetts by our cousin Miss Mary F. French who took
upon herself the care and responsibility of our bringing up. How nobly
and self-sacrificingly she entered upon and discharged those duties my
brother gladly testified in the beautiful dedication of his first
published poems "A Little Book of Western Verse" wherein he honored
the "gracious love" in which he grew and bade her look as kindly on the
faults of his pen as she had always looked on his own. For a few years
my brother attended a private school for boys in Amherst; then at the
age of fourteen he was intrusted to the care of Rev. James Tufts of
Monson one of those noble instructors of the blessed old school who are
passing away from the arena of education in America. By Mr. Tufts he was
fitted for college and from the enthusiasm of this old scholar he
caught perhaps the inspiration for the love of the classics which he
carried through life. In the fall of 1868 he entered Williams
College--the choice was largely accidental--and remained there one year.
My father died in the summer of 1869 and my brother chose as his
guardian Professor John William Burgess now of Columbia University New
York City. When Professor Burgess later in the summer accepted a call
to Knox College Galesburg Illinois my brother accompanied him and
entered that institution but the restlessness which was so
characteristic of him in youth asserted itself after another year and
he joined me then in my junior year at the University of Missouri at
Columbia. It was at this institution that he finished his education so
far as it related to prescribed study.

Shortly after attaining his majority he went to Europe remaining six
months in France and Italy. From this European trip have sprung the
absurd stories which have represented him as squandering thousands of
dollars in the pursuit of pleasure. Unquestionably he had the not
unnatural extravagance which accompanies youth and a most generous
disposition for he was lavish and open-handed all through life to an
unusual degree but at no time was he particularly given to wild
excesses and the fact that my father's estate which was largely
realty had shrunk perceptibly during the panic days of 1873 was enough
to make him soon reach the limit of even moderate extravagance. At the
same time many good stories have been told illustrative of his contempt
for money and it is eminently characteristic of his lack of the
Puritan regard for small things that one day he approached my father's
executor Hon. M. L. Gray of St. Louis with a request for
seventy-five dollars.

"But" objected this cautious and excellent man "I gave you
seventy-five dollars only yesterday Eugene. What did you do with that?"

"Oh" replied my brother with an impatient and scornful toss of the
head "I believe I bought some postage stamps."

Before going to Europe he had met Miss Julia Sutherland Comstock of St.
Joseph Missouri the sister of a college friend and the attachment
which was formed led to their marriage in October 1873. Much of his
tenderest and sweetest verse was inspired by love for the woman who
became his wife and the dedication to the "Second Book of Verse" is
hardly surpassed for depth of affection and daintiness of sentiment
while "Lover's Lane St. Jo." is the very essence of loyalty love and
reminiscential ardor. At the time of his marriage my brother realized
the importance of going to work in earnest and shortly before the
appointment of the wedding-day he entered upon the active duties of
journalism which he never relinquished during life. These duties with
the exception of the year he passed in Europe with his family in
1889-90 were confined to the West. He began as a paragrapher in St.
Louis quickly achieving somewhat more than a merely local reputation.
For a time he was in St. Joseph and for eighteen months following
January 1880 he lived in Kansas City removing thence to Denver. In 1883
he came to Chicago at the solicitation of Melville E. Stone then editor
of the Chicago Daily News retaining his connection with the News and
its offspring the Record until his death. Thus hastily have been
skimmed over the bare outlines of his life.

The formative period of my brother's youth was passed in New England
and to the influences which still prevail in and around her peaceful
hills and gentle streams the influences of a sturdy stock which has
sent so many good and brave men to the West for the upbuilding of the
country and the upholding of what is best in Puritan tradition he
gladly acknowledged he owed much that was strong and enduring. While he
gloried in the West and remained loyal to the section which gave him
birth and in which he chose to cast his lot he was not the less proud
of his New England blood and not the less conscious of the benefits of a
New England training. His boyhood was similar to that of other boys
brought up with the best surroundings in a Massachusetts village where
the college atmosphere prevailed. He had his boyish pleasures and his
trials his share of that queer mixture of nineteenth-century
worldliness and almost austere Puritanism which is yet characteristic of
many New England families. The Sabbath was a veritable day of judgment
and in later years he spoke humorously of the terrors of those all-day
sessions in church and Sunday-school though he never failed to
acknowledge the benefits he had derived from an enforced study of the
Bible. "If I could be grateful to New England for nothing else" he
would say "I should bless her forevermore for pounding me with the
Bible and the spelling-book." And in proof of the earnestness of this
declaration he spent many hours in Boston a year or two ago trying to
find "one of those spellers that temporarily made me lose my faith in
the system of the universe."

It is easy at this day to look back three decades and note the
characteristics which appeared trivial enough then but which clinging
to him and developing had a marked effect on his manhood and on the
direction of his talents. As a boy his fondness for pets amounted to a
passion but unlike other boys he seemed to carry his pets into a higher
sphere and to give them personality. For each pet whether dog cat
bird goat or squirrel--he had the family distrust of a horse--he not
only had a name but it was his delight to fancy that each possessed a
peculiar dialect of human speech and each he addressed in the humorous
manner conceived. He ignored the names in common use for domestic
animals and chose or invented those more pleasing to his exuberant
fancy. This conceit was always with him and years afterward when his
children took the place of his boyish pets he gratified his whim for
strange names by ignoring those designated at the baptismal font and
substituting freakish titles of his own riotous fancy. Indeed it must
have been a tax on his imaginative powers. When in childhood he was
conducting a poultry annex to the homestead each chicken was properly
instructed to respond to a peculiar call and Finnikin Minnikin
Winnikin Dump Poog Boog seemed to recognize immediately the queer
intonations of their master with an intelligence that is not usually
accorded to chickens. With this love for animal life was developed also
that tenderness of heart which was so manifest in my brother's daily
actions. One day--he was then a good-sized boy--he came into the house
and throwing himself on the sofa sobbed for half an hour. One of the
chickens hatched the day before had been crushed under his foot as he
was walking in the chicken-house and no murderer could have felt more
keenly the pangs of remorse. The other boys looked on curiously at this
exhibition of feeling and it was indeed an unusual outburst. But it was
strongly characteristic of him through life and nothing would so excite
his anger as cruelty to an animal while every neglected friendless
dog or persecuted cat always found in him a champion and a friend.

In illustration of this humane instinct it is recalled that a few weeks
before he died a lady visiting the house found his room swarming with
flies. In response to her exclamation of astonishment he explained that
a day or two before he had seen a poor half-frozen fly on the
window-pane outside and he had been moved by a kindly impulse to open
the window and admit her. "And this" he added "is what I get for it.
That ungrateful creature is as you perceive the grandmother of eight
thousand nine hundred and seventy-six flies!"

That the birds that flew about his house in Buena Park knew his voice
has been demonstrated more than once. He would keep bread crumbs
scattered along the window-sill for the benefit as he explained of
the blue jays and the robins who were not in their usual robust health
or were too overcome by the heat to make customary exertion. If the
jays were particularly noisy he would go into the yard and expostulate
with them in a tone of friendly reproach whereupon the family
affirms they would apparently apologize and fly away. Once he
maintained at considerable expense a thoroughly hopeless and useless
donkey and it was his custom when returning from the office at any
hour of the night to go into the back yard and say "Poor old Don" in a
bass voice that carried a block away whereupon old Don would lift up
his own voice with a melancholy bray of welcome that would shake the
windows and start the neighbors from their slumbers. Old Don is passing
his declining years in an "Old Kentucky home" and the robins and the
blue jays as they return with the spring will look in vain for the
friend who fed them at the window.

The family dog at Amherst which was immortalized many years later with
"The Bench-Legged Fyce" and which was known in his day to hundreds of
students at the college on account of his surpassing lack of beauty
rejoiced originally in the honest name of Fido but my brother rejected
this name as commonplace and unworthy and straightway named him
"Dooley" on the presumption that there was something Hibernian in his
face. It was to Dooley that he wrote his first poem a parody on "O Had
I Wings Like a Dove" a song then in great vogue. Near the head of the
village street was the home of the Emersons a large frame house now
standing for more than a century and in the great yard in front stood
the magnificent elms which are the glory of the Connecticut valley. Many
times the boys returning from school would linger to cool off in the
shade of these glorious trees and it was on one of these occasions that
my brother put into the mouth of Dooley his maiden effort in verse:

O had I wings like a dove I would fly
Away from this world of fleas;
I'd fly all round Miss Emerson's yard
And light on Miss Emerson's trees.

Even this startling parody which was regarded by the boys as a
veritable stroke of genius failed to impress the adult villagers with
the conviction that a poet was budding. Yet how much of quiet humor and
lively imagination is betrayed by these four lines. How easy it is now
to look back at the small boy and picture him sympathizing with his
little friend tormented by the heat and the pests of his kind and
making him sigh for the rest that seemed to lurk in the rustling leaves
of the stately elms. Perhaps it was not astonishing poetry even for a
child but was there not something in the fancy the sentiment and the
rhythm which bespoke far more than ordinary appreciation? Is it not this
same quality of alert and instinctive sympathy which has run through
Eugene Field's writings and touched the spring of popular affection?

Dooley went to the dog heaven many years ago. Finnikin and Poog and Boog
and the scores of boyhood friends that followed them have passed to
their Pythagorean reward; but the boy who first found in them the
delight of companionship and the kindlings of imagination retained all
the youthful impulses which made him for nearly half a century the lover
of animal life and the gentle singer of the faithful and the good.

Comradeship was the indispensable factor in my brother's life. It was
strong in his youth; it grew to be an imperative necessity in later
years. In the theory that it is sometimes good to be alone he had
little or no faith. Even when he was at work in his study when it was
almost essential to thought that he should be undisturbed he was never
quite content unless aware of the presence of human beings near at
hand as betrayed by their voices. It is customary to think of a poet
wandering off in the great solitudes standing alone in contemplation
of the wonderful work of nature on the cliffs overlooking the ocean
in the paths of the forest or on the mountain side. My brother was not
of this order. That he was primarily and essentially a poet of humanity
and not of nature does not argue that he was insensible to natural
beauty or natural grandeur. Nobody could have been more keenly
susceptible to the influences of nature in their temperamental effect
and perhaps this may explain that he did not love nature the less but
that he prized companionship more. If nature pleased him he longed for
a friend to share his pleasure; if it appalled him he turned from it
with repugnance and fear.

Throughout his writings may be found the most earnest appreciation of
the joyousness and loveliness of a beautiful landscape but as he would
share it intellectually with his readers so it was a necessity that he
could not seek it alone as an actuality. In his boyhood in the full
glory of a perfect day he loved to ramble through the woods and
meadows and delighted in the azure tints of the far-away Berkshire
hills; and later in life he was keen to notice and admire the soft
harmonies of landscape but with a change in weather or with the
approach of a storm the poet would be lost in the timidity and distrust
of a child.

Companionship with him meant cheerfulness. His horror of gloom and
darkness was almost morbid. From the tragedies of life he instinctively
shrank and large as was his sympathy and generous and genuine his
affection he was often prompted to run from suffering and to betray
what must have been a constitutional terror of distress. He did not
hesitate to acknowledge this characteristic and sought to atone for it
by writing the most tender and touching lines to those to whom he
believed he owed a gift of comfort and strength. His private letters to
friends in adversity or bereavement were beautiful in their simplicity
and honest and outspoken love for he was not ashamed to let his friends
see how much he thought of them. And even if the emotional quality
which asserts itself in the nervous and artistic temperament made him
realize that he could not trust himself that same quality gave him a
personality marvelous in its magnetism. Both as boy and man he made
friends everywhere and that he retained them to the last speaks for the
whole-heartedness and genuineness of his nature.

To two weaknesses he frankly confessed: that he was inclined to be
superstitious and that he was afraid of the dark. One of these he
stoutly defended asserting that he who was not fearful in the dark was
a dull clod utterly devoid of imagination. From his earliest childhood
my brother was a devourer of fairy tales and he continually stored his
mind with fantastic legends which found a vent in new shapes in his
verses and prose tales. In the ceiling of one of his dens a trap-door
led into the attic and as this door was open he seriously contemplated
closing it because as he said he fancied that queer things would come
down in the night and spirit him away. It is not to be inferred that he
thus remained in a condition of actual fear but it is true that he was
imaginative to the degree of acute nervousness and like a child
associated light with safety and darkness with the uncanny and the
supernatural. It was after all the better for his songs that it was so
else they might not have been filled with that cheery optimism which
praised the happiness of sunlight and warmth and sought to lift
humanity from the darkness of despondency.

This weakness or intellectual virtue as he pleasantly regarded it was
perhaps rather stronger in him as a man than in his boyhood. He has
himself declared that he wrote "Seein' Things at Night" more to solace
his own feelings than to delineate the sufferings of childhood however
aptly it may describe them. And when he put into rhythm that "any color
so long as it's red is the color that suits me best" he spoke not only
as a poet but as a man for red conveyed to him the idea of warmth and
cheeriness and seemed to express to him in color his temperamental
demand. All through his life he pandered to these feelings instead of
seeking to repress them for to this extent there was little of the
Puritan in his nature and as he believed that happiness comes largely
from within so he felt that it is not un-Christian philosophy to avoid
as far as possible whatever may cloud and render less acceptable one's
own existence.

The literary talent of my brother is not easily traceable to either
branch of the family. In fact it was tacitly accepted that he would be a
lawyer as his father and grandfather had been before him but the
futility of this arrangement was soon manifest and surely no man less
temperamentally equipped for the law ever lived. It has been said of the
Fields speaking generally of the New England division that they were
well adapted to be either musicians or actors though the talent for
music or mimicry has been in no case carried out of private life save in
my brother's public readings. Eugene had more than a boy's share of
musical talent but he never cultivated it preferring to use the fine
voice with which he was endowed for recitation of which he was always
fond. Acting was his strongest boyish passion. Even as a child he was a
wonderful mimic and thereby the delight of his playmates and the terror
of his teachers. He organized a stock company among the small boys of
the village and gave performances in the barn of one of the less
scrupulous neighbors but whether for pins or pennies memory does not
suggest. He assigned the parts and always reserved for himself the
eccentric character and the low comedy caring nothing for the heroic or
the sentimental. One of the plays performed was Lester Wallack's
"Rosedale" with Eugene in the dual role of the low comedian and the
heavy villain. At this time also he delighted in monologues imitations
of eccentric types or what Mr. Sol. Smith Russell calls "comics" a
word which always amused Eugene and which he frequently used. This
fondness for parlor readings and private theatricals he carried through
college remaining steadfast to the "comics" until a few years ago
when he began to give public readings and discovered that he was
capable of higher and more effective work. It was in fact his
versatility that made him the most accomplished and the most popular
author-entertainer in America. Before he went into journalism the more
sedate of his family connections were in constant fear lest he should
adopt the profession of the actor and he held it over them as a
good-natured threat. On one occasion failing to get a coveted
appropriation from the executor of the estate he said calmly to the
worthy man: "Very well. I must have money for my living expenses. If you
cannot advance it to me out of the estate I shall be compelled to go on
the stage. But as I cannot keep my own name I have decided to assume
yours and shall have lithographs struck off at once. They will read
'Tonight M. L. Gray Banjo and Specialty Artist.'" The appropriation
was immediately forthcoming.

It is in no sense depreciatory of my brother's attainments in life to
say that he gave no evidence of precocity in his studies in childhood.
On the contrary he was somewhat slow in development though this was due
not so much to a lack of natural ability--he learned easily and quickly
when so disposed--as to a fondness for the hundred diversions which
occupy a wide-awake boy's time. He possessed a marked talent for
caricature and not a small part of the study hours was devoted to
amusing pictures of his teachers his playmates and his pets. This
habit of drawing which was wholly without instruction he always
preserved and it was his honest opinion even at the height of his
success in authorship that he would have been much greater as a
caricaturist than as a writer. Until he was thirty years of age he wrote
a fair-sized legible hand but about that time he adopted the
microscopic penmanship which has been so widely reproduced using for
the purpose very fine-pointed pens. With his manuscript he took the
greatest pains often going to infinite trouble to illuminate his
letters. Among his friends these letters are held as curiosities of
literature hardly more for the quaint sentiments expressed than for the
queer designs in colored inks which embellished them. He was specially
fond of drawing weird elves and gnomes and would spend an hour or two
decorating with these comical figures a letter he had written in ten
minutes. He was as fastidious with the manuscript for the office as if
it had been a specimen copy for exhibition and it was always understood
that his manuscript should be returned to him after it had passed
through the printers' hands. In this way all the original copies of his
stories and poems have been preserved and those which he did not give
to friends as souvenirs have been bound for his children.

A taste for literary composition might not have passed as doubtless it
did pass so many years unnoticed had he been deficient in other
talents and had he devoted himself exclusively to writing. But as a boy
he was fond though in a less degree than many boys of athletic sports
and his youthful desire for theatrical entertainments pen caricaturing
and dallying with his pets took up much of his time. Yet he often gave
way to a fondness for composition and there is in the family
possession a sermon which he wrote before he was ten years of age in
which he showed the results of those arduous Sabbath days in the old
Congregational meeting-house. And at one time when yet very young he
was at the head of a flourishing boys' paper while at another fresh
from the inspiration of a blood-curdling romance in a New York Weekly
he prepared a series of tales of adventure which unhappily have not
been preserved. In his college days he was one of the associate editors
...



 
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