James Russell Lowell Poems >>
Mr. Hosea Biglow's Speech In March Meeting

I don't much s'pose, hows'ever I should plen it,
I could git boosted into th' House or Sennit,--
Nut while the twolegged gab-machine's so plenty,
'nablin' one man to du the talk o' twenty;
I'm one o' them thet finds it ruther hard
To mannyfactur' wisdom by the yard,
An' maysure off, accordin' to demand,
The piece-goods el'kence that I keep on hand,
The same ole pattern runnin' thru an' thru,
An' nothin' but the customer thet's new.      
I sometimes think, the furder on I go,
Thet it gits harder to feel sure I know,
An' when I've settled my idees, I find
'twarn't I sheered most in makin' up my mind;
'twuz this an' thet an' t'other thing thet done it,
Sunthin' in th' air, I couldn' seek nor shun it.
Mos' folks go off so quick now in discussion,
All th' ole flint-locks seems altered to percussion,
Whilst I in agin' sometimes git a hint,
Thet I'm percussion changin' back to flint;     
Wal, ef it's so, I ain't agoin' to werrit,
For th' ole Queen's-arm hez this pertickler merit,--
It gives the mind a hahnsome wedth o' margin
To kin' o make its will afore dischargin':
I can't make out but jest one ginnle rule,--
No man need go an' _make_ himself a fool,
Nor jedgment ain't like mutton, thet can't bear
Cookin' tu long, nor be took up tu rare.

Ez I wuz say'n', I hain't no chance to speak
So's't all the country dreads me onct a week,    
But I've consid'ble o' thet sort o' head
Thet sets to home an' thinks wut _might_ be said,
The sense thet grows an' werrits underneath,
Comin' belated like your wisdom-teeth,
An' git so el'kent, sometimes, to my gardin
Thet I don' vally public life a fardin'.
Our Parson Wilbur (blessin's on his head!)
'mongst other stories of ole times he hed,
Talked of a feller thet rehearsed his spreads
Beforehan' to his rows o' kebbige-heads,      
(Ef 'twarn't Demossenes, I guess 'twuz Sisro,)
Appealin' fust to thet an' then to this row,
Accordin' ez he thought thet his idees
Their diff'runt ev'riges o' brains 'ould please;
'An',' sez the Parson, 'to hit right, you must
Git used to maysurin' your hearers fust;
For, take my word for 't, when all's come an' past,
The kebbige-heads'll cair the day et last;
Th' ain't ben a meetin' sence the worl' begun
But they made (raw or biled ones) ten to one.'   

I've allus foun' 'em, I allow, sence then
About ez good for talkin' tu ez men;
They'll take edvice, like other folks, to keep,
(To use it 'ould be holdin' on 't tu cheap,)
They listen wal, don' kick up when you scold 'em,
An' ef they've tongues, hev sense enough to hold 'em;
Though th' ain't no denger we shall lose the breed,
I gin'lly keep a score or so for seed,
An' when my sappiness gits spry in spring,
So's't my tongue itches to run on full swing,   
I fin' 'em ready-planted in March-meetin',
Warm ez a lyceum-audience in their greetin',
An' pleased to hear my spoutin' frum the fence,--
Comin', ez 't doos, entirely free 'f expense.
This year I made the follerin' observations
Extrump'ry, like most other tri'ls o' patience,
An', no reporters bein' sent express
To work their abstrac's up into a mess
Ez like th' oridg'nal ez a woodcut pictur'
Thet chokes the life out like a boy-constrictor,  
I've writ 'em out, an' so avide all jeal'sies
'twixt nonsense o' my own an' some one's else's.

(N.B. Reporters gin'lly git a hint
To make dull orjunces seem 'live in print,
An', ez I hev t' report myself, I vum,
I'll put th' applauses where they'd _ough' to_ come!)


MY FELLER KEBBIGE-HEADS, who look so green,
I vow to gracious thet ef I could dreen
The world of all its hearers but jest you,
'twould leave 'bout all tha' is wuth talkin' to,  
An' you, my ven'able ol' frien's, thet show
Upon your crowns a sprinklin' o' March snow,
Ez ef mild Time had christened every sense
For wisdom's church o' second innocence.
Nut Age's winter, no, no sech a thing,
But jest a kin' o' slippin'-back o' spring,--
         [Sev'ril noses blowed.]
We've gathered here, ez ushle, to decide
Which is the Lord's an' which is Satan's side,
Coz all the good or evil thet can heppen
Is 'long o' which on 'em you choose for Cappen.
         [Cries o' 'Thet's so.']

Aprul's come back; the swellin' buds of oak    
Dim the fur hillsides with a purplish smoke;
The brooks are loose an', singing to be seen,
(Like gals,) make all the hollers soft an' green;
The birds are here, for all the season's late;
They take the sun's height an' don' never wait;
Soon 'z he officially declares it's spring
Their light hearts lift 'em on a north'ard wing,
An' th' ain't an acre, fur ez you can hear,
Can't by the music tell the time o' year;     
But thet white dove Carliny seared away,
Five year ago, jes' sech an Aprul day;
Peace, that we hoped 'ould come an' build last year
An' coo by every housedoor, isn't here,--
No, nor wun't never be, for all our jaw,
Till we're ez brave in pol'tics ez in war!
O Lord, ef folks wuz made so's't they could see
The begnet-pint there is to an idee!  [Sensation.]
Ten times the danger in 'em th' is in steel;
They run your soul thru an' you never feel,    
But crawl about an' seem to think you're livin',
Poor shells o' men, nut wuth the Lord's forgivin',
Tell you come bunt ag'in a real live feet,
An' go to pieces when you'd ough' to ect!
Thet kin' o' begnet's wut we're crossin' now,
An' no man, fit to nevvigate a scow,
'ould stan' expectin' help from Kingdom Come,
While t'other side druv their cold iron home.

My frien's, you never gethered from my mouth,
No, nut one word ag'in the South ez South,     
Nor th' ain't a livin' man, white, brown, nor black,
Gladder 'n wut I should be to take 'em back;
But all I ask of Uncle Sam is fust
To write up on his door, 'No goods on trust';
         [Cries o' 'Thet's the ticket!']
Give us cash down in ekle laws for all,
An' they'll be snug inside afore nex' fall.
Give wut they ask, an' we shell hev Jamaker,
Wuth minus some consid'able an acre;
Give wut they need, an' we shell git 'fore long
A nation all one piece, rich, peacefle, strong;  
Make 'em Amerikin, an' they'll begin
To love their country ez they loved their sin;
Let 'em stay Southun, an' you've kep' a sore
Ready to fester ez it done afore.
No mortle man can boast of perfic' vision,
But the one moleblin' thing is Indecision,
An' th' ain't no futur' for the man nor state
Thet out of j-u-s-t can't spell great.
Some folks 'ould call thet reddikle, do you?
'Twas commonsense afore the war wuz thru;     
_Thet_ loaded all our guns an' made 'em speak
So's't Europe heared 'em clearn acrost the creek;
'They're drivin' o' their spiles down now,' sez she,
'To the hard grennit o' God's fust idee;
Ef they reach thet, Democ'cy needn't fear
The tallest airthquakes _we_ can git up here.'
Some call 't insultin' to ask _ary_ pledge,
An' say 'twill only set their teeth on edge,
But folks you've jest licked, fur 'z I ever see,
Are 'bout ez mad 'z they wal know how to be;    
It's better than the Rebs themselves expected
'fore they see Uncle Sam wilt down henpected;
Be kind 'z you please, but fustly make things fast,
For plain Truth's all the kindness thet'll last;
Ef treason is a crime, ez _some_ folks say,
How could we punish it in a milder way
Than sayin' to 'em, 'Brethren, lookee here,
We'll jes' divide things with ye, sheer an' sheer,
An' sence both come o' pooty strong-backed daddies,
You take the Darkies, ez we've took the Paddies;    
Ign'ant an' poor we took 'em by the hand,
An' they're the bones an' sinners o' the land,'
I ain't o' them thet fancy there's a loss on
Every inves'ment thet don't start from Bos'on;
But I know this: our money's safest trusted
In sunthin', come wut will, thet _can't_ be busted,
An' thet's the old Amerikin idee,
To make a man a Man an' let him be.  [Gret applause.]

Ez for their l'yalty, don't take a goad to 't,
But I do' want to block their only road to 't      
By lettin' 'em believe thet they can git
Mor'n wut they lost, out of our little wit:
I tell ye wut, I'm 'fraid we'll drif' to leeward
'thout we can put more stiffenin' into Seward;
He seems to think Columby'd better ect
Like a scared widder with a boy stiff-necked
Thet stomps an' swears he wun't come in to supper;
She mus' set up for him, ez weak ez Tupper,
Keepin' the Constitootion on to warm,
Tell he'll eccept her 'pologies in form:        
The neighbors tell her he's a cross-grained cuss
Thet needs a hidin' 'fore he comes to wus;
'No,' sez Ma Seward, 'he's ez good 'z the best,
All he wants now is sugar-plums an' rest;'
'He sarsed my Pa,' sez one; 'He stoned my son,'
Another edds, 'Oh wal, 'twuz jes' his fun.'
'He tried to shoot our Uncle Samwell dead.'
''Twuz only tryin' a noo gun he hed.'
'Wal, all we ask's to hev it understood
You'll take his gun away from him for good;       
We don't, wal, nut exac'ly, like his play,
Seem' he allus kin' o' shoots our way.
You kill your fatted calves to no good eend,
'thout his fust sayin', "Mother, I hev sinned!"'
         ['Amen!' frum Deac'n Greenleaf]

The Pres'dunt _he_ thinks thet the slickest plan
'ould be t' allow thet he's our on'y man,
An' thet we fit thru all thet dreffle war
Jes' for his private glory an' eclor;
'Nobody ain't a Union man,' sez he,
''thout he agrees, thru thick an' thin, with me;    
Warn't Andrew Jackson's 'nitials jes' like mine?
An' ain't thet sunthin' like a right divine
To cut up ez kentenkerous ez I please,
An' treat your Congress like a nest o' fleas?'
Wal, I expec' the People wouldn' care, if
The question now wuz techin' bank or tariff,
But I conclude they've 'bout made up their min'
This ain't the fittest time to go it blin',
Nor these ain't metters thet with pol'tics swings,
But goes 'way down amongst the roots o' things;  
Coz Sumner talked o' whitewashin' one day
They wun't let four years' war be throwed away.
'Let the South hev her rights?' They say, 'Thet's you!
But nut greb hold of other folks's tu.'
Who owns this country, is it they or Andy?
Leastways it ough' to be the People _and_ he;
Let him be senior pardner, ef he's so,
But let them kin' o' smuggle in ez Co;  [Laughter.]
Did he diskiver it? Consid'ble numbers
Think thet the job wuz taken by Columbus.     
Did he set tu an' make it wut it is?
Ef so, I guess the One-Man-power _hez_ riz.
Did he put thru the rebbles, clear the docket,
An' pay th' expenses out of his own pocket?
Ef thet's the case, then everythin' I exes
Is t' hev him come an' pay my ennooal texes.
         [Profoun' sensation.]
Was 't he thet shou'dered all them million guns?
Did he lose all the fathers, brothers, sons?
Is this ere pop'lar gov'ment thet we run
A kin' o' sulky, made to kerry one?        
An' is the country goin' to knuckle down
To hev Smith sort their letters 'stid o'Brown?
Who wuz the 'Nited States 'fore Richmon' fell?
Wuz the South needfle their full name to spell?
An' can't we spell it in thet short-han' way
Till th' underpinnin's settled so's to stay?
Who cares for the Resolves of ',
Thet tried to coax an airthquake with a bun?
Hez act'ly nothin' taken place sence then
To larn folks they must hendle fects like men?   
Ain't _this_ the true p'int? Did the Rebs accep' 'em?
Ef nut, whose fault is 't thet we hevn't kep 'em?
Warn't there _two_ sides? an' don't it stend to reason
Thet this week's 'Nited States ain't las' week's treason?
When all these sums is done, with nothin' missed,
An' nut afore, this school 'll be dismissed.

I knowed ez wal ez though I'd seen 't with eyes
Thet when the war wuz over copper'd rise,
An' thet we'd hev a rile-up in our kettle
'twould need Leviathan's whole skin to settle:  
I thought 'twould take about a generation
'fore we could wal begin to be a nation,
But I allow I never did imegine
'twould be our Pres'dunt thet 'ould drive a wedge in
To keep the split from closin' ef it could.
An' healin' over with new wholesome wood;
For th' ain't no chance o' healin' while they think
Thet law an' gov'ment's only printer's ink;
I mus' confess I thank him for discoverin'
The curus way in which the States are sovereign;  
They ain't nut _quite_ enough so to rebel,
But, when they fin' it's costly to raise h----,
         [A groan from Deac'n G.]
Why, then, for jes' the same superl'tive reason,
They're 'most too much so to be tetched for treason;
They _can't_ go out, but ef they somehow _du_,
Their sovereignty don't noways go out tu;
The State goes out, the sovereignty don't stir,
But stays to keep the door ajar for her.
He thinks secession never took 'em out,
An' mebby he's correc', but I misdoubt?      
Ef they warn't out, then why, 'n the name o' sin,
Make all this row 'bout lettin' of 'em in?
In law, p'r'aps nut; but there's a diffurence, ruther,
Betwixt your mother-'n-law an' real mother,
         [Derisive cheers.]
An' I, for one, shall wish they'd all ben _som'eres_,
Long 'z U.S. Texes are sech reg'lar comers.
But, O my patience! must we wriggle back
Into th' ole crooked, pettyfoggin' track,
When our artil'ry-wheels a road hev cut
Stret to our purpose ef we keep the rut?      
War's jes' dead waste excep' to wipe the slate
Clean for the cyph'rin' of some nobler fate.
         [Applause.]
Ez for dependin' on their oaths an' thet,
'twun't bind 'em more 'n the ribbin roun' my het:
I heared a fable once from Othniel Starns,
That pints it slick ez weathercocks do barns;
Onct on a time the wolves hed certing rights
Inside the fold; they used to sleep there nights,
An' bein' cousins o' the dogs, they took
Their turns et watchin', reg'lar ez a book;    
But somehow, when the dogs hed gut asleep,
Their love o' mutton beat their love o' sheep,
Till gradilly the shepherds come to see
Things warn't agoin' ez they'd ough' to be;
So they sent off a deacon to remonstrate
Along 'th the wolves an' urge 'em to go on straight;
They didn't seem to set much by the deacon,
Nor preachin' didn' cow 'em, nut to speak on;
Fin'ly they swore thet they'd go out an' stay,
An' hev their fill o' mutton every day;      
Then dogs an' shepherds, after much hard dammin',
         [Groan from Deac'n G.]
Turned tu an' give 'em a tormented lammin',
An' sez, 'Ye sha'n't go out, the murrain rot ye,
To keep us wastin' half our time to watch ye!'
But then the question come, How live together
'thout losin' sleep, nor nary yew nor wether?
Now there wuz some dogs (noways wuth their keep)
Thet sheered their cousins' tastes an' sheered the sheep;
They sez, 'Be gin'rous, let 'em swear right in,
An', ef they backslide, let 'em swear ag'in;    
Jes' let 'em put on sheep-skins whilst they're swearin';
To ask for more 'ould be beyond all bearin'.'
'Be gin'rous for yourselves, where _you_'re to pay,
Thet's the best prectice,' sez a shepherd gray;
'Ez for their oaths they wun't be wuth a button,
Long 'z you don't cure 'em o' their taste for mutton;
Th' ain't but one solid way, howe'er you puzzle:
Tell they're convarted, let 'em wear a muzzle.'
         [Cries of 'Bully for you!']

I've noticed thet each half-baked scheme's abetters
Are in the hebbit o' producin' letters       
Writ by all sorts o' never-heared-on fellers,
'bout ez oridge'nal ez the wind in bellers;
I've noticed, tu, it's the quack med'cine gits
(An' needs) the grettest heaps o' stiffykits;
         [Two pothekeries goes out.]
Now, sence I lef off creepin' on all fours,
I hain't ast no man to endorse my course;
It's full ez cheap to be your own endorser,
An' ef I've made a cup, I'll fin' the saucer;
But I've some letters here from t'other side,
An' them's the sort thet helps me to decide;    
Tell me for wut the copper-comp'nies hanker,
An' I'll tell you jest where it's safe to anchor.   [Faint hiss.]
Fus'ly the Hon'ble B.O. Sawin writes
Thet for a spell he couldn't sleep o' nights,
Puzzlin' which side wuz preudentest to pin to,
Which wuz th' ole homestead, which the temp'ry leanto;
Et fust he jedged 'twould right-side-up his pan
To come out ez a 'ridge'nal Union man,
'But now,' he sez, 'I ain't nut quite so fresh;
The winnin' horse is goin' to be Secesh;      
You might, las' spring, hev eas'ly walked the course,
'fore we contrived to doctor th' Union horse;
Now _we_'re the ones to walk aroun' the nex' track:
Jest you take hol' an' read the follerin' extrac',
Out of a letter I received last week
From an ole frien' thet never sprung a leak,
A Nothun Dem'crat o' th' ole Jarsey blue,
Born copper-sheathed an' copper-fastened tu.'

'These four years past it hez ben tough
To say which side a feller went for;        
Guideposts all gone, roads muddy 'n' rough,
An' nothin' duin' wut 'twuz meant for;
Pickets a-firin' left an' right,
Both sides a lettin' rip et sight,--
Life warn't wuth hardly payin' rent for.

'Columby gut her back up so,
It warn't no use a-tryin' to stop her,--
War's emptin's riled her very dough
An' made it rise an' act improper;
'Twuz full ez much ez I could du         
To jes' lay low an' worry thru,
'Thout hevin' to sell out my copper.

'Afore the war your mod'rit men,
Could set an' sun 'em on the fences,
Cyph'rin' the chances up, an' then
Jump off which way bes' paid expenses;
Sence, 'twuz so resky ary way,
_I_ didn't hardly darst to say
I 'greed with Paley's Evidences.
         [Groan from Deac'n G.]

'Ask Mac ef tryin' to set the fence        
Warn't like bein' rid upon a rail on 't,
Headin' your party with a sense
O' bein' tipjint in the tail on 't,
An' tryin' to think thet, on the whole,
You kin' o' quasi own your soul
When Belmont's gut a bill o' sale on 't?
         [Three cheers for Grant and Sherman.]

'Come peace, I sposed thet folks 'ould like
Their pol'tics done ag'in by proxy;
Give their noo loves the bag an' strike
A fresh trade with their reg'lar doxy;      
But the drag's broke, now slavery's gone,
An' there's gret resk they'll blunder on,
Ef they ain't stopped, to real Democ'cy.

'We've gut an awful row to hoe
In this 'ere job o' reconstructin';
Folks dunno skurce which way to go,
Where th' ain't some boghole to be ducked in;
But one thing's clear; there _is_ a crack,
Ef we pry hard, 'twixt white an' black,
Where the ole makebate can be tucked in.     

'No white man sets in airth's broad aisle
Thet I ain't willin' t' own ez brother,
An' ef he's happened to strike ile,
I dunno, fin'ly, but I'd ruther;
An' Paddies, long 'z they vote all right,
Though they ain't jest a nat'ral white,
I hold one on 'em good 'z another,
         [Applause.]

'Wut _is_ there lef I'd like to know,
Ef 'tain't the defference o' color,
To keep up self-respec' an' show         
The human natur' of a fullah?
Wut good in bein' white, onless
It's fixed by law, nut lef' to guess,
We're a heap smarter an' they duller?

'Ef we're to hev our ekle rights,
'twun't du to 'low no competition;
Th' ole debt doo us for bein' whites
Ain't safe onless we stop th' emission
O' these noo notes, whose specie base
Is human natur', thout no trace          
O' shape, nor color, nor condition.
         [Continood applause.]

'So fur I'd writ an' couldn' jedge
Aboard wut boat I'd best take pessige,
My brains all mincemeat, 'thout no edge
Upon 'em more than tu a sessige,
But now it seems ez though I see
Sunthin' resemblin' an idee,
Sence Johnson's speech an' veto message.

'I like the speech best, I confess,
The logic, preudence, an' good taste on 't;    
An' it's so mad, I ruther guess
There's some dependence to be placed on 't;  [Laughter.]
It's narrer, but 'twixt you an' me,
Out o' the allies o' J.D.
A temp'ry party can be based on 't.

'Jes' to hold on till Johnson's thru
An' dug his Presidential grave is,
An' _then!_--who knows but we could slew
The country roun' to put in----?
Wun't some folks rare up when we pull       
Out o' their eyes our Union wool
An' larn 'em wut a p'lit'cle shave is!

'Oh, did it seem 'z ef Providunce
_Could_ ever send a second Tyler?
To see the South all back to once,
Reapin' the spiles o' the Free-siler,
Is cute ez though an ingineer
Should claim th' old iron for his sheer
Coz 'twas himself that bust the biler!'
         [Gret laughter.]

Thet tells the story! Thet's wut we shall git   
By tryin' squirtguns on the burnin' Pit;
For the day never comes when it'll du
To kick off Dooty like a worn-out shoe.
I seem to hear a whisperin' in the air,
A sighin' like, of unconsoled despair,
Thet comes from nowhere an' from everywhere,
An' seems to say, 'Why died we? warn't it, then,
To settle, once for all, thet men wuz men?
Oh, airth's sweet cup snetched from us barely tasted,
The grave's real chill is feelin' life wuz wasted!  
Oh, you we lef', long-lingerin' et the door,
Lovin' you best, coz we loved Her the more,
Thet Death, not we, had conquered, we should feel
Ef she upon our memory turned her heel,
An' unregretful throwed us all away
To flaunt it in a Blind Man's Holiday!'

My frien's, I've talked nigh on to long enough.
I hain't no call to bore ye coz ye're tough;
My lungs are sound, an' our own v'ice delights
Our ears, but even kebbige-heads hez rights.   
It's the las' time thet I shell e'er address ye,
But you'll soon fin' some new tormentor: bless ye!
  [Tumult'ous applause and cries of 'Go on!' 'Don't stop!']