James Russell Lowell Poems >>
Birdofredum Sawin, Esq., To Mr. Hosea Biglow (1)

It's some consid'ble of a spell sence I hain't writ no letters,
An' ther' 's gret changes hez took place in all polit'cle metters:
Some canderdates air dead an' gone, an' some hez ben defeated,
Which 'mounts to pooty much the same; fer it's ben proved repeated
A betch o' bread thet hain't riz once ain't goin' to rise agin,
An' it's jest money throwed away to put the emptins in:
But thet's wut folks wun't never larn; they dunno how to go,
Arter you want their room, no more 'n a bullet-headed bean;
Ther' 's ollers chaps a-hangin' roun' thet can't see peatime's past,
Mis'ble as roosters in a rain, heads down an' tails half-mast:  
It ain't disgraceful bein' beat, when a holl nation doos it,
But Chance is like an amberill,--it don't take twice to lose it.

I spose you're kin' o' cur'ous, now, to know why I hain't writ.
Wal, I've ben where a litt'ry taste don't somehow seem to git
Th' encouragement a feller'd think, thet's used to public schools,
An' where sech things ez paper 'n' ink air clean agin the rules:
A kind o' vicyvarsy house, built dreffle strong an' stout,
So 's 't honest people can't get in, ner t'other sort git out.
An' with the winders so contrived, you'd prob'ly like the view
Better alookin' in than out, though it seems sing'lar, tu;  
But then the landlord sets by ye, can't bear ye out o' sight,
And locks ye up ez reg'lar ez an outside door at night.

This world is awfle contrary: the rope may stretch your neck
Thet mebby kep' another chap frum washin' off a wreck;
An' you may see the taters grow in one poor feller's patch,
So small no self-respectin' hen thet vallied time 'ould scratch,
So small the rot can't find 'em out, an' then agin, nex' door,
Ez big ez wut hogs dream on when they're 'most too fat to snore.
But groutin' ain't no kin' o' use; an' ef the fust throw fails,
Why, up an' try agin, thet's all,--the coppers ain't all tails,  
Though I _hev_ seen 'em when I thought they hedn't no more head
Than 'd sarve a nussin' Brigadier thet gits some Ink to shed.

When I writ last, I'd ben turned loose by thet blamed nigger, Pomp,
Ferlorner than a musquash, ef you'd took an' dreened his swamp;
But I ain't o' the meechin' kind, thet sets an' thinks fer weeks
The bottom's out o' th' univarse coz their own gillpot leaks.
I hed to cross bayous an' criks, (wal, it did beat all natur',)
Upon a kin' o' corderoy, fust log, then alligator;
Luck'ly, the critters warn't sharp-sot; I guess 'twuz overruled
They 'd done their mornin's marketin' an' gut their hunger cooled;  
Fer missionaries to the Creeks an' runaways are viewed
By them an' folks ez sent express to be their reg'lar food;
Wutever 'twuz, they laid an' snoozed ez peacefully ez sinners,
Meek ez disgestin' deacons be at ordination dinners;
Ef any on 'em turned an' snapped, I let 'em kin' o' taste
My live-oak leg, an' so, ye see, ther' warn't no gret o' waste;
Fer they found out in quicker time than ef they'd ben to college
'Twarn't heartier food than though 'twuz made out o' the tree o' knowledge.
But I tell _you_ my other leg hed larned wut pizon-nettle meant,
An' var'ous other usefle things, afore I reached a settlement,  
An' all o' me thet wuzn't sore an' sendin' prickles thru me
Wuz jest the leg I parted with in lickin' Montezumy:
A useful limb it's ben to me, an' more of a support
Than wut the other hez ben,--coz I dror my pension for 't.

Wal, I gut in at last where folks wuz civerlized an' white,
Ez I diskivered to my cost afore 'twarn't hardly night;
Fer 'z I wuz settin' in the bar a-takin' sunthin' hot,
An' feelin' like a man agin, all over in one spot,
A feller thet sot oppersite, arter a squint at me,
Lep' up an' drawed his peacemaker, an', 'Dash it, Sir,' suz he,  
'I'm doubledashed ef you ain't him thet stole my yaller chettle,
(You're all the stranger thet's around,) so now you've gut to settle;
It ain't no use to argerfy ner try to cut up frisky,
I know ye ez I know the smell of ole chain-lightnin' whiskey;
We're lor-abidin' folks down here, we'll fix ye so's 't a bar
Wouldn' tech ye with a ten-foot pole; (Jedge, you jest warm the tar
You'll think you'd better ha' gut among a tribe o' Mongrel Tartars,
'fore we've done showin' how we raise our Southun prize tar-martyrs;
A moultin' fallen cherubim, ef he should see ye, 'd snicker,
Thinkin' he warn't a suckemstance. Come, genlemun, le' 's liquor;  
An', Gin'ral, when you've mixed the drinks an' chalked 'em up, tote roun'
An' see ef ther' 's a feather-bed (thet's borryable) in town.
We'll try ye fair, ole Grafted-Leg, an' ef the tar wun't stick,
Th' ain't not a juror here but wut'll 'quit ye double-quick,'
To cut it short, I wun't say sweet, they gi' me a good dip,
(They ain't _perfessin'_ Bahptists here,) then give the bed a rip,--
The jury'd sot, an' quicker 'n a flash they hetched me out, a livin'
Extemp'ry mammoth turkey-chick fer a Fejee Thanksgivin'.
Thet I felt some stuck up is wut it's nat'ral to suppose,
When poppylar enthusiasm hed funnished me sech clo'es;  
(Ner 'tain't without edvantiges, this kin' o' suit, ye see,
It's water-proof, an' water's wut I like kep' out o' me
But nut content with thet, they took a kerridge from the fence
An' rid me roun' to see the place, entirely free 'f expense,
With forty-'leven new kines o' sarse without no charge acquainted me,
Gi' me three cheers, an' vowed thet I wuz all their fahncy painted me;
They treated me to all their eggs; (they keep 'em I should think,
Fer sech ovations, pooty long, for they wuz mos' distinc');
They starred me thick 'z the Milky-Way with indiscrim'nit cherity,
Fer wut we call reception eggs air sunthin' of a rerity;  
Green ones is plentifle anough, skurce wuth a nigger's getherin',
But your dead-ripe ones ranges high fer treatin' Nothun bretherin;
A spotteder, ring-streakeder child the' warn't in Uncle Sam's
Holl farm,--a cross of striped pig an' one o' Jacob's lambs;
'Twuz Dannil in the lions' den, new an' enlarged edition,
An' everythin' fust-rate o' 'ts kind; the' warn't no impersition.
People's impulsiver down here than wut our folks to home be,
An' kin' o' go it 'ith a resh in raisin' Hail Columby:
Thet's _so:_ an' they swarmed out like bees, for your real Southun men's
Time isn't o' much more account than an ole settin' hen's;  
(They jest work semioccashnally, or else don't work at all,
An' so their time an' 'tention both air at saci'ty's call.)
Talk about hospatality! wut Nothun town d' ye know
Would take a totle stranger up an' treat him gratis so?
You'd better b'lleve ther' 's nothin' like this spendin' days an' nights
Along 'ith a dependent race fer civerlizin' whites.

But this wuz all prelim'nary; it's so Gran' Jurors here
Fin' a true bill, a hendier way than ourn, an' nut so dear;
So arter this they sentenced me, to make all tight 'n' snug,
Afore a reg'lar court o' law, to ten years in the Jug.   
I didn't make no gret defence: you don't feel much like speakin',
When, ef you let your clamshells gape, a quart o' tar will leak in:
I _hev_ hearn tell o' winged words, but pint o' fact it tethers
The spoutin' gift to hev your words _tu_ thick sot on with feathers,
An' Choate ner Webster wouldn't ha' made an A kin' o' speech
Astride a Southun chestnut horse sharper 'n a baby's screech.
Two year ago they ketched the thief, 'n' seein' I wuz innercent,
They jest uncorked an' le' me run, an' in my stid the sinner sent
To see how _he_ liked pork 'n' pone flavored with wa'nut saplin',
An' nary social priv'ledge but a one-hoss, starn-wheel chaplin.   
When I come out, the folks behaved mos' gen'manly an' harnsome;
They 'lowed it wouldn't be more 'n right, ef I should cuss 'n' darn some:
The Cunnle he apolergized; suz he, 'I'll du wut's right,
I'll give ye settisfection now by shootin' ye at sight,
An' give the nigger (when he's caught), to pay him fer his trickin'
In gittin' the wrong man took up, a most H fired lickin',--
It's jest the way with all on 'em, the inconsistent critters,
They're 'most enough to make a man blaspheme his mornin' bitters;
I'll be your frien' thru thick an' thin an' in all kines o' weathers,
An' all you'll hev to pay fer's jest the waste o' tar an' feathers:  
A lady owned the bed, ye see, a widder, tu, Miss Shennon;
It wuz her mite; we would ha' took another, ef ther' 'd ben one:
We don't make _no_ charge for the ride an' all the other fixins.
Le' 's liquor; Gin'ral, you can chalk our friend for all the mixins.'
A meetin' then wuz called, where they 'RESOLVED, Thet we respec'
B.S. Esquire for quallerties o' heart an' intellec'
Peculiar to Columby's sile, an' not to no one else's,
Thet makes European tyrans scringe in all their gilded pel'ces,
An' doos gret honor to our race an' Southun institootions:'
(I give ye jest the substance o' the leadin' resolootions  
'RESOLVED, Thet we revere In him a soger 'thout a flor,
A martyr to the princerples o' libbaty an' lor:
RESOLVED, Thet other nations all, ef sot 'longside o' us,
For vartoo, larnin', chivverlry, ain't noways wuth a cuss.'
They got up a subscription, tu, but no gret come o' _thet;_
I 'xpect in cairin' of it roun' they took a leaky hat;
Though Southun genelmun ain't slow at puttin' down their name,
(When they can write,) fer in the eend it comes to jes' the same,
Because, ye see, 't 's the fashion here to sign an' not to think
A critter'd be so sordid ez to ax 'em for the chink:  
I didn't call but jest on one, an' _he_ drawed tooth-pick on me,
An' reckoned he warn't goin' to stan' no sech dog-gauned econ'my:
So nothin' more wuz realized, 'ceptin' the good-will shown,
Than ef 't had ben from fust to last a regular Cotton Loan.
It's a good way, though, come to think, coz ye enjy the sense
O' lendin' lib'rally to the Lord, an' nary red o' 'xpense:
Sence then I've gut my name up for a gin'rous-hearted man
By jes' subscribin' right an' left on this high-minded plan;
I've gin away my thousans so to every Southun sort
O' missions, colleges, an' sech, ner ain't no poorer for 't.  

I warn't so bad off, arter all; I needn't hardly mention
That Guv'ment owed me quite a pile for my arrears o' pension,--
I mean the poor, weak thing we _hed:_ we run a new one now,
Thet strings a feller with a claim up ta the nighes' bough,
An' _prectises_ the rights o' man, purtects down-trodden debtors,
Ner wun't hev creditors about ascrougin' o' their betters:
Jeff's gut the last idees ther' is, poscrip', fourteenth edition,
He knows it takes some enterprise to run an oppersition;
Ourn's the fust thru-by-daylight train, with all ou'doors for deepot;
Yourn goes so slow you'd think 'twuz drawed by a las' cent'ry teapot;--  
Wal, I gut all on 't paid in gold afore our State seceded,
An' done wal, for Confed'rit bonds warn't jest the cheese I needed:
Nut but wut they're ez _good_ ez gold, but then it's hard a-breakin' on 'em,
An' ignorant folks is ollers sot an' wun't git used to takin' on 'em;
They're wuth ez much ez wut they wuz afore ole Mem'nger signed 'em,
An' go off middlin' wal for drinks, when ther' 's a knife behind 'em;
We _du_ miss silver, jes' fer thet an' ridin' in a bus,
Now we've shook off the desputs thet wuz suckin' at our pus;
An' it's _because_ the South's so rich; 'twuz nat'ral to expec'
Supplies o' change wuz jes' the things we shouldn't recollec';   
We'd ough' to ha' thought aforehan', though, o' thet good rule o' Crockett's,
For 't 's tiresome cairin' cotton-bales an' niggers in your pockets,
Ner 'tain't quite hendy to pass off one o' your six-foot Guineas
An' git your halves an' quarters back in gals an' pickaninnies:
Wal, 'tain't quite all a feller'd ax, but then ther's this to say,
It's on'y jest among ourselves thet we expec' to pay;
Our system would ha' caird us thru in any Bible cent'ry,
'fore this onscripterl plan come up o' books by double entry;
We go the patriarkle here out o' all sight an' hearin',
For Jacob warn't a suckemstance to Jeff at financierin';   
_He_ never'd thought o' borryin' from Esau like all nater
An' then cornfiscatin' all debts to sech a small pertater;
There's p'litickle econ'my, now, combined 'ith morril beauty
Thet saycrifices privit eends (your in'my's, tu) to dooty!
Wy, Jeff 'd ha' gin him five an' won his eye-teeth 'fore he knowed it,
An', stid o' wastin' pottage, he'd ha' eat it up an' owed it.
But I wuz goin' on to say how I come here to dwall;--
'Nough said, thet, arter lookin' roun', I liked the place so wal,
Where niggers doos a double good, with us atop to stiddy 'em,
By bein' proofs o' prophecy an' suckleatin' medium,  
Where a man's sunthin' coz he's white, an' whiskey's cheap ez fleas,
An' the financial pollercy jes' sooted my idees,
Thet I friz down right where I wuz, merried the Widder Shennon,
(Her thirds wuz part in cotton-land, part in the curse o' Canaan,)
An' here I be ez lively ez a chipmunk on a wall,
With nothin' to feel riled about much later 'n Eddam's fall.

Ez fur ez human foresight goes, we made an even trade:
She gut an overseer, an' I a fem'ly ready-made,
The youngest on 'em 's 'mos' growed up, rugged an' spry ez weazles,
So 's 't ther' 's no resk o' doctors' bills fer hoopin'-cough an' measles.
Our farm's at Turkey-Buzzard Roost, Little Big Boosy River,  
Wal located in all respex,--fer 'tain't the chills 'n' fever
Thet makes my writin' seem to squirm; a Southuner'd allow I'd
Some call to shake, for I've jest hed to meller a new cowhide.
Miss S. is all 'f a lady; th' ain't no better on Big Boosy
Ner one with more accomplishmunts 'twist here an' Tuscaloosy;
She's an F.F., the tallest kind, an' prouder 'n the Gran' Turk,
An' never hed a relative thet done a stroke o' work;
Hern ain't a scrimpin' fem'ly sech ez _you_ git up Down East,
Th' ain't a growed member on 't but owes his thousuns et the least:
She _is_ some old; but then agin ther' 's drawbacks in my sheer:  
Wut's left o' me ain't more 'n enough to make a Brigadier:
Wust is, thet she hez tantrums; she's like Seth Moody's gun
(Him thet wuz nicknamed from his limp Ole Dot an' Kerry One);
He'd left her loaded up a spell, an' hed to git her clear,
So he onhitched,--Jeerusalem! the middle o' last year
Wuz right nex' door compared to where she kicked the critter tu
(Though _jest_ where he brought up wuz wut no human never knew);
His brother Asaph picked her up an' tied her to a tree,
An' then she kicked an hour 'n' a half afore she'd let it be:  
Wal, Miss S. _doos_ hev cuttins-up an' pourins-out o' vials,
But then she hez her widder's thirds, an' all on us hez trials.
My objec', though, in writin' now warn't to allude to sech,
But to another suckemstance more dellykit to tech,--
I want thet you should grad'lly break my merriage to Jerushy,
An' there's a heap of argymunts thet's emple to indooce ye:
Fust place, State's Prison,--wal, it's true it warn't fer crime, o' course,
But then it's jest the same fer her in gittin' a disvorce;
Nex' place, my State's secedin' out hez leg'lly lef' me free
To merry any one I please, pervidin' it's a she;  
Fin'lly, I never wun't come back, she needn't hev no fear on 't,
But then it's wal to fix things right fer fear Miss S. should hear on 't;
Lastly, I've gut religion South, an' Rushy she's a pagan
Thet sets by th' graven imiges o' the gret Nothun Dagon;
(Now I hain't seen one in six munts, for, sence our Treashry Loan,
Though yaller boys is thick anough, eagles hez kind o' flown
An' ef J wants a stronger pint than them thet I hev stated,
Wy, she's an aliun in'my now, an' I've been cornfiscated,--
For sence we've entered on th' estate o' the late nayshnul eagle,
She hain't no kin' o' right but jes' wut I allow ez legle:  
Wut _doos_ Secedin' mean, ef 'tain't thet nat'rul rights hez riz, 'n'
Thet wut is mine's my own, but wut's another man's ain't his'n?

Besides, I couldn't do no else; Miss S. suz she to me,
'You've sheered my bed,' [thet's when I paid my interduction fee
To Southun rites,] 'an' kep' your sheer,' [wal, I allow it sticked
So 's 't I wuz most six weeks in jail afore I gut me picked,]
'Ner never paid no demmiges; but thet wun't do no harm,
Pervidin' thet you'll ondertake to oversee the farm;
(My eldes' boy he's so took up, wut with the Ringtail Rangers
An' settin' in the Jestice-Court for welcomin' o' strangers;')  
[He sot on _me;_] 'an' so, ef you'll jest ondertake the care
Upon a mod'rit sellery, we'll up an' call it square;
But ef you _can't_ conclude,' suz she, an' give a kin' o' grin,
'Wy, the Gran' Jurymen, I 'xpect, 'll hev to set agin.'
That's the way metters stood at fust; now wut wuz I to du,
But jes' to make the best on 't an' off coat an' buckle tu?
Ther' ain't a livin' man thet finds an income necessarier
Than me,--bimeby I'll tell ye how I fin'lly come to merry her.
She hed another motive, tu: I mention of it here
T' encourage lads thet's growin' up to study 'n' persevere,  
An' show 'em how much better 't pays to mind their winter-schoolin'
Than to go off on benders 'n' sech, an' waste their time in foolin';
Ef 'twarn't for studyin' evenins, why, I never 'd ha' ben here
A orn'ment o' saciety, in my approprut spear:
She wanted somebody, ye see, o' taste an' cultivation,
To talk along o' preachers when they stopt to the plantation;
For folks in Dixie th't read an' rite, onless it is by jarks,
Is skurce ez wut they wuz among th' origenle patriarchs;
To fit a feller f' wut they call the soshle higherarchy,
All thet you've gut to know is jes' beyond an evrage darky;  
Schoolin' 's wut they can't seem to stan', they 're tu consarned high-pressure,
An' knowin' t' much might spile a boy for hem' a Secesher.
We hain't no settled preachin' here, ner ministeril taxes;
The min'ster's only settlement's the carpet-bag he packs his
Razor an' soap-brush intu, with his hym-book an' his Bible,--
But they _du_ preach, I swan to man, it's puf'kly indescrib'le!
They go it like an Ericsson's ten-hoss-power coleric ingine,
An' make Ole Split-Foot winch an' squirm, for all he's used to singein';
Hawkins's whetstone ain't a pinch o' primin' to the innards
To hearin' on 'em put free grace t' a lot o' tough old sinhards! 
But I must eend this letter now: 'fore long I'll send a fresh un;
I've lots o' things to write about, perticklerly Seceshun:
I'm called off now to mission-work, to let a leetle law in
To Cynthy's hide: an' so, till death,
                  Yourn,
                     BIRDOFREDUM SAWIN.