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Harriett Jay

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{Saint Abe and his Seven Wives 1872}






O Brother, Prophet of the Light!—don’t let my state distress you.
While from the depths of darkest night I cry, “Farewell! God bless you!”
I don’t deserve a parting tear, nor even a malediction,
Too weak to fill a saintly sphere, I yield to my affliction;
Down like a cataract I shoot into the depths below you,
While you stand wondering and mute, my last adieu I throw you;


Commending to your blessed care my well-beloved spouses,                       119
My debts (there’s plenty and to spare to pay them), lands, and houses,
My sheep, my cattle, farm and fold, yea, all by which I’ve thriven:
These to be at the auction sold, and to my widows given.
Bless them! to prize them at their worth was far beyond my merit,
Just make them think me in the earth, a poor departed spirit.
I couldn’t bear to say good-bye, and see their tears up-starting;
I thought it best to pack and fly without the pain of parting!
O tell Amelia, if she can, by careful education,
To make her boy grow up a man of strength and saintly station!
Tell Fanny to beware of men, and say I’m still her debtor—                         120
Tho’ she cut sharpish now and then, I think it made me better!
Let Emily still her spirit fill with holy consolations—
Seraphic soul, I hear her still a-reading “Revelations!”
Bid Mary now to dry her tears—she’s free of her chief bother;
And comfort Sarah—I’ve my fears she’s going to be a mother;
And to Tabitha give for me a tender kiss of healing—
Guilt wrings my soul—I seem to see that well-known face appealing!

And now,—before my figure fades for ever from your vision,
Before I mingle with the shades beyond your light Elysian,


Now, while your faces all turn pale, and you raise eyes and shiver,                 121
Let me a round unvarnish’d tale (as Shakspere says) deliver;
And let there be a warning text in my most shameful story,
When some poor sheep, perplext and vext, goes seeking too much glory.
O Brigham, think of my poor fate, a scandal to beholders,
And don’t again put too much weight before you’ve tried the shoulders!

Though I’d the intellectual gift, and knew the rights and reasons;
Though I could trade, and save, and shift, according to the seasons;
Though I was thought a clever man, and was at spouting splendid,—
Just think how finely I began, and see how all has ended!
In principle unto this hour I’m still a holy being—                                        122
But oh, how poorly is my power proportion’d to my seeing!
You’ve all the logic on your side, you’re right in each conclusion,
And yet how vainly have I tried, with eager resolution!
My will was good, I felt the call, although my strength was meagre,
There wasn’t one among you all to serve the Lord more eager!
I never tired in younger days of drawing lambs unto me,
My lot was one to bless and praise, the fire of faith thrill’d through me.
And you, believing I was strong, smiled on me like a father,—
Said, “Blessëd be this man, though young, who the sweet lambs doth gather!”


At first it was a time full blest, and all my earthly pleasure                             123
Was gathering lambs unto my breast to cherish and to treasure;
Ay, one by one, for heaven’s sake, my female flock I found me,
Until one day I did awake and heard them bleating round me,
And there was sorrow in their eyes, and mute reproach and wonder,
For they perceived to their surprise their Shepherd was a blunder.
O Brigham, think of it and weep, my firm and saintly Master—
The Pastor trembled at his Sheep, the Sheep despised the Pastor!

O listen to the tale of dread, thou Light that shines so brightly—
Virtue’s a horse that drops down dead if overloaded slightly!
She’s all the will, she wants to go, she’d carry every tittle;                           124
But when you see her flag and blow, just ease her of a little!
One wife for me was near enough, two might have fixed me neatly,
Three made me shake, four made me puff, five settled me completely,—
But when the sixth came, though I still was glad and never grumbled,
I took the staggers, kick’d, went ill, and in the traces tumbled!

Ah, well may I compare my state unto a beast’s position—
Unfit to bear a saintly weight, I sank and lost condition;
I lack’d the moral nerve and thew, to fill so fine a station—
Ah, if I’d had a head like you, and your determination!


Instead of going in and out, like a superior party,                                          125
I was too soft of heart, no doubt, too open, and too hearty.
When I began with each young sheep I was too free and loving,
Not being strong and wise and deep, I set her feelings moving;
And so, instead of noticing the gentle flock in common,
I waken’d up that mighty thing—the Spirit of a Woman.
Each got to think me, don’t you see,—so foolish was the feeling,—
Her own especial property, which all the rest were stealing!
And, since I could not give to each the whole of my attention,
All came to grief, and parts of speech too delicate to mention!
Bless them! they loved me far too much, they erred in their devotion,            126
I lack’d the proper saintly touch, subduing mere emotion:—
The solemn air sent from the skies, so cold, so tranquillising,
That on the female waters lies, and keeps the same from rising,
But holds them down all smooth and bright, and, if some wild wind storms ’em,
Comes like a cold frost in the night, and into ice transforms ’em!

And there, between ourselves, I see the difficulty growing,
Since most men are as meek as me, too passionate and glowing;
They cannot in your royal way dwell like a guest from Heaven
Within this tenement of clay, which for the Soul is given;


They cannot like a blessed guest come calm and strong into it,                     127
Eating and drinking of its best, and calmly gazing thro’ it.
No, every mortal’s not a Saint, and truly very few are,
So weak they are, they cannot paint what holy men like you are.
Instead of keeping well apart the Flesh and Spirit, brother,
And making one with cunning art the nigger of the other,
They muddle and confuse the two, they mix, and twist and mingle,
So that it takes a cunning view to make out either single.
The Soul gets mingled with the Flesh beyond all separation,
The Body holds it in a mesh of animal sensation;
The poor bewilder’d Being, grown a thing in nature double,                         128
Half light and soul, half flesh and bone, is given up to trouble.
He thinks the instinct of the clay, the glowings of the Spirit,
And when the Spirit has her say, inclines the Flesh to hear it.
The slave of every passing whim, the dupe of every devil,
Inspired by every female limb to love, and light, and revel,
Impulsive, timid, weak, or strong, as Flesh or Spirit makes him,
The lost one wildly moans along till mischief overtakes him;
And when the Soul has fed upon the Flesh till life’s spring passes,
Finds strength and health and comfort gonethe way of last year’s grasses,


And the poor Soul is doom’d to bow, in deep humiliation,                             129
Within a place that isn’t now a decent habitation.

No! keep the Soul and Flesh apart in pious resolution,
Don’t let weak flutterings of the heart lead you to my confusion!
But let the Flesh be as the horse, the Spirit as the rider,
And use the snaffle first of course, and ease her up and guide her;
And if she’s going to resist, and won’t let none go past her,
Just take the curb and give a twist, and show her you’re the Master.
The Flesh is but a temporal thing, and Satan’s strength is in it,
Use it, but conquer it, and bring its vice down every minute!
Into a woman’s arms don’t fall, as if you meant to stay there,                        130
Just come as if you’d made a call, and idly found your way there;
Don’t praise her too much to her face, but keep her calm and quiet,—
Most female illnesses take place thro’ far too warm a diet;
Unto her give your fleshly kiss, calm, kind, and patronising,
Then—soar to your own sphere of bliss, before her heart gets rising!
Don’t fail to let her see full clear, how in your saintly station
The Flesh is but your nigger here obeying your dictation;
And tho’ the Flesh be e’er so warm, your Soul the weakness smothers
Of loving any female form much better than the others!


O Brigham, I can see you smile to hear the Devil preaching;—                       131
Well, I can praise your perfect style, tho’ far beyond my reaching.
Forgive me, if in shame and grief I vex you with digression,
And let me come again in brief to my own dark confession.

The world of men divided is into two portions, brother,
The first are Saints, so high in bliss that they the Flesh can smother;
God meant them from fair flower to flower to flutter, smiles bestowing,
Tasting the sweet, leaving the sour, just hovering,—and going.
The second are a different set, just halves of perfect spirits,
Going about in bitter fret, of uncompleted merits,
Till they discover, here or there, their other half (or woman),                       132
Then these two join, and make a Pair, and so increase the human.
The second Souls inferior are, a lower spirit-order,
Born ’neath a less auspicious star, and taken by soft sawder;—
And if they do not happen here to find their fair Affinity,
They come to grief and doubt and fear, and end in asininity;
And if they try the blessed game of those superior to them,
They’re very quickly brought to shame,—their passions so undo them.
In some diviner sphere, perhaps, they’ll look and grow more holy,—
Meantime they’re vessels Sorrow taps and grim Remorse sucks slowly.


Now, Brigham, I was made, you see, one of those lower creatures,              133
Polygamy was not for me, altho’ I joined its preachers.
Instead of, with a wary eye, seeking the one who waited,
And sticking to her, wet or dry, because the thing was fated,
I snatch’d the first whose beauty stirred my soul with tender feeling!
And then another! then a third! and so continued Sealing!
And duly, after many a smart, discovered, sighing faintly,
I hadn’t found my missing part, and wasn’t strong and saintly!
O they were far too good for me, altho’ their zeal betrayed them;—
Unfortunately, don’t you see, heaven for some other made them:
Each would a downright blessing be, and Peace would pitch the tent for her,    134
If “she” could only find the “he” originally meant for her!

Well, Brother, after many years of bad domestic diet,
One morning I woke up in tears, still weary and unquiet,
And (speaking figuratively) lo! beside my bed stood smiling
The Woman, young and virgin snow, but beckoning and beguiling.
I started up, my wild eyes rolled, I knew her, and stood sighing,
My thoughts throng’d up like bees of gold out of the smithy flying.
And as she stood in brightness there, familiar, tho’ a stranger,
I looked at her in dumb despair, and trembled at the danger.


But, Brother Brigham, don’t you think the Devil could so undo me,                135
That straight I rushed the cup to drink too late extended to me.
No, for I hesitated long, ev’n when I found she loved me,
And didn’t seem to think it wrong when love and passion moved me.
O Brigham, you’re a Saint above, and know not the sensation,
The ecstacy, the maddening love, the rapturous exultation,
That fills a man of lower race with wonder past all speaking,
When first he finds in one sweet face the Soul he has been seeking!
When two immortal beings glow in the first fond revealing,
And their inferior natures know the luxury of feeling!
But ah, I had already got a quiver-full of blessing,                                         136
Had blundered, tho’ I knew it not, six times beyond redressing,
And surely it was time to stop, tho’ still my lot was lonely:
My house was like a cobbler’s shop, full, tho’ with “misfits” only.

And so I should have stopt, I swear, the wretchedest of creatures,
Rather than put one mark of care on her belovéd features:
But that it happen’d Sister Anne (ah, now the secret’s flitted!)
Was left in this great world of man unto my care committed.
Her father, Jason Jones, was dead, a man whose faults were many,
“O, be a father, Abe,” he said, “to my poor daughter, Annie!”


And so I promised, so she came an Orphan to this city,                                 137
And set my foolish heart in flame with mingled love and pity;
And as she prettier grew each day, and throve ’neath my protection,
I saw the Saints did cast her way some tokens of affection.
O, Brigham, pray forgive me now;—envy and love combining,
I hated every saintly brow, benignantly inclining!
Sneered at their motives, mocked the cause, went wild and sorrow-laden,
And saw Polygamy’s vast jaws a-yawning for the maiden.
Why not, you say? Ah, yes, why not, from your high point of vision;
But I’m of an inferior lot, beyond the light Elysian.
I tore my hair, whined like a whelp, I loved her to distraction,                       138
I saw the danger, knew the help, yet trembled at the action.
At last I came to you, my friend, and told my tender feeling;
You said, “Your grief shall have an end—this is a case for Sealing;
And since you have deserved so well, and made no heinous blunder,
Why, brother Abraham, take the gel, but mind you keep her under.”
Well! then I went to Sister Anne, my inmost heart unclothing,
Told her my feelings like a man, concealing next to nothing,
Explain’d the various characters of those I had already,
The various tricks and freaks and stirs peculiar to each lady,


And, finally, when all was clear, and hope seem’d to forsake me,                 139
“There! it’s a wretched chance, my dear—you leave me, or you take me.”
Well, Sister Annie look’d at me, her inmost heart revealing
(Women are very weak, you see, inferior, full of feeling),
Then, thro’ her tears outshining bright, “I’ll never never leave you!
“O Abe,” she said, “my love, my light, why should I pain or grieve you?
I do not love the way of life you have so sadly chosen,
I’d rather be a single wife than one in half a dozen;
But now you cannot change your plan, tho’ health and spirit perish,
And I shall never see a man but you to love and cherish.
Take me, I’m yours, and O, my dear, don’t think I miss your merit,               140
I’ll try to help a little here your true and loving spirit.”
“Reflect, my love,” I said, “once more,” with bursting heart, half crying,
“Two of the girls cut very sore, and most of them are trying!”
And then that gentle-hearted maid kissed me and bent above me,
“O Abe,” she said, “don’t be afraid,—I’ll try to make them love me!”

Ah well! I scarcely stopt to ask myself, till all was over,
How precious tough would be her task who made those dear souls love her!
But I was seal’d to Sister Anne, and straight-way, to my wonder,
A series of events began which show’d me all my blunder.


Brother, don’t blame the souls who erred thro’ their excess of feeling—        141
So angrily their hearts were stirred by my last act of sealing;
But in a moment they forgot the quarrels they’d been wrapt in,
And leagued together in one lot, with Tabby for the Captain.
Their little tiffs were laid aside, and all combined together,
Preparing for the gentle Bride the blackest sort of weather.
It wasn’t feeling made them flout poor Annie in that fashion,
It wasn’t love turn’d inside out, it wasn’t jealous passion,
It wasn’t that they cared for me, or any other party,
Their hearts and sentiments were free, their appetites were hearty.
But when the pretty smiling face came blossoming and blooming,                   142
Like sunshine in a shady place the fam’ly Vault illuming,
It naturally made them grim to see its sunny colour,
While like a row of tapers dim by daylight, they grew duller.
She tried her best to make them kind, she coaxed and served them dumbly,
She watch’d them with a willing mind, deferred to them most humbly;
Tried hard to pick herself a friend, but found her arts rejected,
And fail’d entirely in her end, as one might have expected,
But, Brother, tho’ I’m loth to add one word to criminate them,
I think their conduct was too bad,—it almost made me hate them.


Ah me, the many nagging ways of women are amazing,                                 143
Their cleverness solicits praise, their cruelty is crazing!
And Sister Annie hadn’t been a single day their neighbour,
Before a baby could have seen her life would be a labour,
But bless her little loving heart, it kept its sorrow hidden,
And if the tears began to start, suppressed the same unbidden.
She tried to smile, and smiled her best, till I thought sorrow silly,
And kept in her own garden nest, and lit it like a lily.
O I should waste your time for days with talk like this at present,
If I described her thousand ways of making things look pleasant!

But, bless you, ’twere as well to try, when thunder’s at its dire work,            144
To clear the air, and light the sky, by pennyworths of firework.
These gentle ways to hide her woe and make my life a blessing,
Just made the after darkness grow more gloomy and depressing.
Taunts, mocks, and jeers, coldness and sneers, insult and trouble daily,
A thousand stabs that brought the tears, all these she cover’d gaily;
But when her fond eyes fell on me, the light of love to borrow,
And Sister Anne began to see I knew her secret sorrow,
All of a sudden like a mask the loving cheat forsook her,
And reckon I had all my task, for illness overtook her.


She took to bed, grew sad and thin, seem’d like a spirit flying,                     145
Smiled thro’ her tears when I went in, but when I left fell crying;
And as she languish’d in her bed, as weak and wan as water,
I thought of what her father said, “Take care of my dear daughter!”
Then I look’d round with secret eye upon her many Sisters,
And close at hand I saw them lie, ready for use—like blisters;
They seemed with secret looks of glee, to keep their wifely station;
They set their lips and sneer’d at me, and watch’d the situation.
O Brother, I can scarce express the agony of those moments,
I fear your perfect saintliness, and dread your cutting comments!
I prayed, I wept, I moan’d, I cried, I anguish’d night and morrow,               146
I watch’d and waited, sleepless-eyed, beside that bed of sorrow.

At last I knew, in those dark days of sorrow and disaster,
Mine wasn’t soil where you could raise a Saint up, or a Pastor;
In spite of careful watering, and tilling night and morning,
The weeds of vanity would spring without a word of warning.
I was and ever must subsist, labell’d on every feature,
A wretched poor Monogamist, a most inferior creature—
Just half a soul, and half a mind, a blunder and abortion,
Not finish’d half till I could find the other missing portion!


And gazing on that missing part which I at last had found out,                       147
I murmur’d with a burning heart, scarce strong to get the sound out,
“If from the greedy clutch of Fate I save this chief of treasures,
I will no longer hesitate, but take decided measures!
A poor monogamist like me can not love half a dozen,
Better by far, then, set them free! and take the Wife I’ve chosen!
Their love for me, of course, is small, a very shadowy tittle,
They will not miss my face at all, or miss it very little.
I can’t undo what I have done, by my forlorn embraces,
And call the brightness of the sun again into their faces;
But I can save one spirit true, confiding and unthinking,                                 148

From slowly curdling to a shrew or into swinedom sinking.”
These were my bitter words of woe, my fears were so distressing,
Not that I would reflect—O no!—on any living blessing.

Thus, Brother, I resolved, and when she rose, still frail and sighing,
I kept my word like better men, and bolted,—and I’m flying.
Into oblivion I haste, and leave the world behind me,
Afar unto the starless waste, where not a soul shall find me.
I send my love, and Sister Anne joins cordially, agreeing
I never was the sort of man for your high state of being;


Such as I am, she takes me, though; and after years of trying,                       149
From Eden hand in hand we go, like our first parents flying;
And like the bright sword that did chase the first of sires and mothers,
Shines dear Tabitha’s flaming face, surrounded by the others:
Shining it threatens there on high, above the gates of heaven,
And faster at the sight we fly, in naked shame, forth-driven.
Nothing of all my worldly store I take, ’twould be improper,
I go a pilgrim, strong and poor, without a single copper.
Unto my Widows I outreach my property completely.
There’s modest competence for each. if it is managed neatly.
That, Brother, is a labour left to your sagacious keeping;—                          150
Comfort them, comfort the bereft! I’m good as dead and sleeping!
A fallen star, a shooting light, a portent and an omen,
A moment passing on the sight, thereafter seen by no men!
I go, with backward-looking face, and spirit rent asunder.
O may you prosper in your place, for you’re a shining wonder!
So strong, so sweet, so mild, so good!—by Heaven’s dispensation,
Made Husband to a multitude and Father to a nation!
May all the saintly life ensures increase and make you stronger!
Humbly and penitently yours,
                               A. CLEWSON (Saint no longer).










STILL the saintly City stands,
Wondrous work of busy hands;
Still the lonely City thrives,
Rich in worldly goods and wives,
And with thrust-out jaw and set
Teeth, the Yankee threatens yet—
Half admiring and half riled,
Oft by bigger schemes beguiled,
Turning off his curious stare
To communities elsewhere,
Always with unquiet eye
Watching Utah on the sly.

Long the City of the Plain                                                         154
Left its image on my brain:
White kiosks and gardens bright
Rising in a golden light;
Busy figures everywhere
Bustling bee-like in the glare;
And from dovecots in green places,
Peep’d out weary women’s faces,
Flushing faint to a thin cry
From the nursery hard by.
And the City in my thought
Slept fantastically wrought,
Till the whole began to seem
Like a curious Eastern dream,
Like the pictures strange we scan
In the tales Arabian:
Tales of magic art and sleight,
Cities rising in a night,
And of women richly clad,
Dark-eyed, melancholy, sad,


Ever with a glance uncertain,                                                    155
Trembling at the purple curtain,
Lest behind the black slave stand
With the bowstring in his hand;—
Happy tales, within whose heart
Founts of weeping eyes upstart,
Told, to save her pretty head,
By Scheherazad in bed!

All had faded and grown faint,
Save the figure of the Saint
Who that memorable night
Left the Children of the Light,
Flying o’er the lonely plain
From his lofty sphere of pain
Oft his gentle face would flit
O’er my mind and puzzle it,
Ever waking up meanwhile
Something of a merry smile,
Whose quick light illumined me                                                 156
During many a reverie,
When I puffed my weed alone.

Faint and strange the face had grown,
Tho’ for five long years or so
I had watched it come and go,
When, on busy thoughts intent,
I into New England went,
And one evening, riding slow
By a River that I know,
(Gentle stream! I hide thy name,
Far too modest thou for fame!)
I beheld the landscape swim
In the autumn hazes dim,
And from out the neighbouring dales
Heard the thumping of the flails.

All was hush’d; afar away
(As a novelist would say)


Sank the mighty orb of day,                                                      157
Staring with a hazy glow
On the purple plain below,
Where (like burning embers shed
From the sunset’s glowing bed,
Dying out or burning bright,
Every leaf a blaze of light)
Ran the maple swamps ablaze;
Everywhere amid the haze,
Floating strangely in the air,
Farms and homesteads gather’d fair;
And the River rippled slow,
Thro’ the marshes green and low,
Spreading oft as smooth as glass
As it fringed the meadow grass,
Making ’mong the misty fields
Pools like golden gleaming shields.

Thus I walked my steed along,
Humming a low scrap of song,
Watching with an idle eye                                                          158
White clouds in the dreamy sky
Sailing with me in slow pomp.
In the bright flush of the swamp,
While his dogs bark’d in the wood,
Gun in hand the sportsman stood;
And beside me, wading deep,
Stood the angler half asleep,
Figure black against the gleam
Of the bright pools of the stream;
Now and then a wherry brown
With the current drifted down
Sunset-ward, and as it went,
Made an oar-splash indolent;
While with solitary sound,
Deepening the silence round,
In a voice of mystery
Faintly cried the chickadee.


Suddenly the River’s arm                                                           159
Rounded, and a lonely Farm
Stood before me blazing red
To the bright blaze overhead;
In the homesteads at its side,
Cattle lowed and voices cried,
And from out the shadows dark
Came a mastiff’s measured bark.
Fair and fat stood the abode
On the path by which I rode,
And a mighty orchard, strown
Still with apple-leaves wind-blown,
Raised its branches gnarl’d and bare
Black against the sunset air,
And with greensward deep and dim,
Wander’d to the River’s brim.

Close beside the orchard walk
Linger’d one in quiet talk
With a man in workman’s gear.                                                160
As my horse’s feet drew near,
The labourer nodded rough “good-day,”
Turned his back and loung’d away.
Then the first, a plump and fat
Yeoman in a broad straw hat,
Stood alone in thought intent,
Watching while the other went,
And amid the sunlight red
Paused, with hand held to his head.

In a moment, like a word
Long forgotten until heard,
Like a buried sentiment
Born again to some stray scent,
Like a sound to which the brain
Gives familiar refrain,
Something in the gesture brought
Things forgotten to my thought;


Memory, as I watched the sight,                                                161
Flashed from eager light to light.
Remember’d and remember’d not,
Half familiar, half forgot,
Stood the figure, till at last,
Bending eyes on his, I passed,
Gazed again, as loth to go,
Drew the rein, stopt short, and so
Rested, looking back; when he,
The object of my scrutiny,
Smiled and nodded, saying, “Yes!
Stare your fill, young man! I guess
You’ll know me if we meet again!”

In a moment all my brain
Was illumined at the tone,
All was vivid that had grown
Faint and dim, and straight I knew him,
Holding out my hand unto him,
Smiled, and called him by his name.

Wondering, hearing me exclaim,                                               162
Abraham Clewson (for ’twas he)
Came more close and gazed at me.
As he gazed, a merry grin
Brighten’d down from eyes to chin:
In a moment he, too, knew me,
Reaching out his hand unto me,
Crying “Track’d, by all that’s blue!
Who’d have thought of seeing you?”

Then, in double quicker time
Than it takes to make the rhyme,
Abe, with face of welcome bright,
Made me from my steed alight;
Call’d a boy, and bade him lead
The beast away to bed and feed;
And, with hand upon my arm,
Led me off into the Farm,
Where, amid a dwelling-place
Fresh and bright as her own face,


With a gleam of shining ware                                                     163
For a background everywhere,
Free as any summer breeze,
With a bunch of huswife’s keys
At her girdle, sweet and mild
Sister Annie blush’d and smiled,—
While two tiny laughing girls,
Peeping at me through their curls,
Hid their sweet shamefacëdness
In the skirts of Annie’s dress.

     *         *          *         *          *

That same night the Saint and I
Sat and talked of times gone by,
Smoked our pipes and drank our grog
By the slowly smouldering log,
While the clock’s hand slowly crept
To midnight, and the household slept.
“Happy?” Abe said with a smile,                                                164
“Yes, in my inferior style,
Meek and humble, not like them
In the New Jerusalem.”
Here his hand, as if astray,
For a moment found its way
To his forehead, as he said,
“Reckon they believe I’m dead!
Ah, that life of sanctity
Never was the life for me.
Couldn’t stand it wet nor dry,
Hated to see women cry;
Couldn’t bear to be the cause
Of tiffs and squalls and endless jaws;
Always felt amid the stir
Jest a whited sepulchre;
And I did the best I could
When I ran away for good.
Yet, for many a night, you know
(Annie, too, would tell you so),


Couldn’t sleep a single wink,                                                    165
Couldn’t eat, and couldn’t drink,
Being kind of conscience-cleft
For those poor creatures I had left.
Not till I got news from there,
And I found their fate was fair,
Could I set to work, or find
Any comfort in my mind.
Well (here Abe smiled quietly),
Guess they didn’t groan for me!
Fanny and Amelia got
Sealed to Brigham on the spot;
Emmy soon consoled herself
In the arms of Brother Delf;
And poor Mary one fine day
Packed her traps and tript away
Down to Fresco with Fred Bates,
A young player from the States;
While Sarah, ’twas the wisest plan,
Pick’d herself a single man—
A young joiner fresh come down                                               166
Out of Texas to the town—
And he took her with her baby,
And they’re doing well as maybe.”

Here the Saint with quiet smile,
Sipping at his grog the while,
Paused as if his tale was o’er,
Held his tongue and said no more.
“Good,” I said, “but have you done?
You have spoke of all save one—
All your Widows, so bereft,
Are most comfortably left,
But of one alone you said
Nothing. Is the lady dead?”

Then the good man’s features broke
Into brightness as I spoke,
And with loud guffaw cried he,
“What, Tabitha? Dead! Not she.


All alone and doing splendid—                                                167
Jest you guess, now, how she’s ended!
Give it up? This very week
I heard she’s at Oneida Creek,
All alone and doing hearty,
Down with Brother Noyes’s party.
Tried the Shakers first, they say,
Tired of them and went away,
Testing with a deal of bother
This community and t’other,
Till she to Oneida flitted,
And with trouble got admitted.
Bless you, she’s a shining lamp,
Tho’ I used her like a scamp,
And she’s great in exposition
Of the Free Love folk’s condition,
Vowing, tho’ she found it late,
’Tis the only happy state. . . .

“As for me,” added the speaker,
“I’m lower in the scale, and weaker;
Polygamy’s beyond my merits,                                                 168
Shakerism wears the spirits,
And as for Free Love, why you see
(Here the Saint wink’d wickedly)
With my whim it might have hung
Once, when I was spry and young;
But poor Annie’s love alone
Keeps my mind in proper tone,
And tho’ my spirit mayn’t be strong,
I’m lively—as the day is long.”

As he spoke with half a yawn,
Half a smile, I saw the dawn
Creeping faint into the gloom
Of the quickly-chilling room.
On the hearth the wood-log lay,
With one last expiring ray;
Draining off his glass of grog,
Clewson rose and kick’d the log;


As it crumbled into ashes,                                                         169
Watched the last expiring flashes,
Gave another yawn and said,
“Well! I guess it’s time for bed!”













     St. Abe and his Seven Wives was written in 1870, at a time when all the Cockney bastions of criticism were swarming with sharpshooters on the look-out for “the d——d Scotchman” who had dared to denounce Logrolling. It was published anonymously, and simultaneously The Drama of Kings appeared with the author’s name. The Drama was torn to shreds in every newspaper; the Satire, because no one suspected who had written it, was at once hailed as a masterpiece. Even the Athenæum cried “all hail” to the illustrious Unknown. The Pall Mall Gazette avowed in one breath that Robert Buchanan was utterly devoid of dramatic power, while the author of St. Abe was a man of dramatic genius. The secret was well kept, and the bewildered Cocknies did not cease braying their hosannahs even when another anonymous work, White Rose and Red, was issued by the same publisher. St. Abe went through numerous editions in a very short space of time.
     To one familiar with the process of book-reviewing, and aware of the curious futility of even honest literary judgments, there is nothing extraordinary in the facts which I have just stated. Printed cackle about books will always be about as valuable as spoken cackle about them, and the history of literature is one long record of the march of genius through regions of mountainous stupidity. But there were some points about the treatment of St. Abe which are worth noting, as illustrating the way in which reviewing “is done” for leading newspapers. Example. The publisher sent out “early sheets” to the great dailies, several of which printed eulogistic reviews. The Daily Telegraph however, was cautious. After receiving the sheets, the acting or sub-editor sent a message round to the publisher saying that a cordial review had been written and was in type, but that “the Chief” wanted to be assured, before committing himself to such an advertisement, about the authorship of the work. “Is it by Lowell?” queried the jack-in-office; “only inform us in confidence, and the review shall appear.” Mr. Strahan either did not reply, or refused to answer the question. Result—the cordial review never appeared at all!
     The general impression, however, was that the poem was written by James Russell Lowell. One or two kind critics suggested Bret Harte, but these were in a minority. No one suspected for one moment that the work was written by a Scotchman who, up to that date, had never even visited America. The Spectator (A Daniel come to judgment!) devoted a long leading article to proving that humour of this particular kind could have been produced only in the Far West, while a leading magazine bewailed the fact that we had no such humourists in England, since “with Thackeray our last writer of humour left us.”
     In America itself, the success of the book was less remarkable, and the explanation was given to me in a letter from a publisher in the States, who asserted that public feeling against the Mormons was so fierce and bitter that even a joke at their expense could not be appreciated. “The very subject of Mormondom,” wrote my friend, “is regarded as indecent, unsavoury, and offensive.” In spite of all, the satire was appreciated, even in America.
     Already, however, its subject has ceased to be contemporary and become historical. Mormonism, as I depicted it, is as dead as Slavery, for the Yankee—as I foreshadowed he would do, in this very book—has put down Polygamy. Future generations, therefore, may turn to this book as they will turn to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for a record of a system which once flourished, and which, when all is said and done, did quite as much good as harm. I confess, indeed, that I am sorry for the Mormons; for I think that they are more sinned against than sinning. Polygamy is abolished in America, but a far fouler evil. Prostitution, flourishes, in both public and private life. The Mormons crushed this evil and obliterated it altogether, and if they substituted Polygamy, they only did openly and politically what is done, and must be done, clandestinely, in every country, under the present conditions of our civilisation.
     The present is the first cheap edition of the book, and the first which bears the author’s name on the title page. It will be followed by a cheap edition of White Rose and Red. I shall be quite prepared to hear now, on the authority of the newspapers, that the eulogy given to St. Abe on its first appearance was all a mistake, and that the writer possesses no humour whatsoever. I was informed, indeed, the other day, by a critic in the Daily News that most of my aberrations proceeded from “a fatal want of humour.” The critic was reviewing the Devil’s Case, and his suggestion was, I presume, that I ought to have perceived the joke of the Nonconformist Conscience and latterday Christianity. I thought that I had done so, but it appears that I had not been funny at all, or not funny enough. But my real misfortune was, that my name was printed on the title page of the work then under review.
     I cannot conclude this bibliographical note without a word concerning the remarkable artist who furnished St. Abe and his Seven Wives with its original frontispiece. The genius of the late A. B. Houghton is at last receiving some kind of tardy recognition, chiefly through the efforts of Mr. Pennell, whose criticisms on art have done so much to free the air of lingering folly and superstition. When I sought out Mr. Houghton, and persuaded him to put pencil to paper on my behalf, he was in the midst of his life-long struggle against the powers of darkness. He died not long afterwards, prematurely worn out with the hopeless fight. One of the last of the true Bohemians, a man of undoubted genius, he never learned the trick of wearing fine linen and touting for popularity; but those who value good work hold him in grateful remembrance, and I am proud to think that so great a master in black and white honoured me by associating himself with a book of mine.
                                                                                                                                 ROBERT BUCHANAN.








I. FROM P———T G——T, U. S.

     Smart. Polygamy is Greek for Secesh. Guess Brigham will have to make tracks.



     Adequate expression is rare. I had fancied the oracles were dumb, and had returned with a sigh to the enervating society of my friends in Boston, when your book reached me. To think of it! In this very epoch, at this very day, poetry has been secreting itself silently and surely, and suddenly the whole ocean of human thought is illumined by the accumulated phosphoresence of a subtle and startling poetic life. . . . Your work is the story of Polygamy written in colossal cipher the study of all forthcoming ages. Triflers will call you a caricaturist, empty solemnities will deem you a jester. Fools! who miss the pathetic symbolism of Falstaff, and deem the Rabelaisan epos fit food for mirth. . . . I read it from first page to last with solemn thoughts too deep for tears. I class you already with the creators, with Shakespere, Dante, Whitman, Ellery Channing, and myself.



1    Our own feuillage;
       A leaf from the sweating branches of these States;
       A fallen symbol, I guess, vegetable, living, human;
       A heart-beat from the hairy breast of a man.

2    The Salon contents me not;                                                                                                                 2
       The fine feathers of New England damsels content me not;
       The ways of snobs, the falsettos of the primo tenore, the legs of Lydia Thomson’s troupe of blondes, content me not;
       Nor tea-drinking, nor the twaddle of Mr. Secretary Harlan, nor the loafers of the hotel bar, nor Sham, nor Longfellow’s Village Blacksmith.

3    But the Prairies content me;
       And the Red Indian dragging along his squaw by the scruff of the neck;
       And the bones of mules and adventurous persons in Bitter Creek;
       And the oaths of pioneers, and the ways of the unwashed, large, undulating, majestic, virile, strong of scent, all these content me.

4    Utah contents me;
     The City by the margin of the great Salt Lake contents me;
     And to have many wives contents me;
     Blessed is he who has a hundred wives, and peoples the solitudes of these States.

5    Great is Brigham;
       Great is polygamy, great is monogamy, great is polyandry, great is license, great is right, and great is wrong;
       And I say again that wrong is every whit as good as right, and not one jot better;
       And I say further there is no such thing as wrong, nor any such thing as right, and that neither are accountable, and both exist only by allowance.

6    O I am wonderful;
       And the world, and the sea, and joy and sorrow, and sense and nonsense, all content me;
       And this book contents me, with its feuillage from the City of many wives.



     An amusing attempt to show that polygamy is a social failure. None can peruse it without perceiving at once that the author secretly inclines to the ascetic tenets of Shakerism.



     After perusing this subtle study, who can doubt that Free Love is the natural human condition? The utter selfishness of the 3 wretched monogamist-hero repels and sickens us; nor can we look with anything but disgust on the obtusity of the heroine, in whom the author vainly tries to awaken interest. It is quite clear that the reconstruction of Utah on O——a C——k principles would yet save the State from the crash which is impending.



     If Polygamy is to continue, then, I say, let Polyandry flourish! Woman is the sublimer Being, the subtler Type, the more delicate Mechanism, and, strictly speaking, needs many pendants of the inferior or masculine Type to fulfil her mission in perfect comfort. Shall Brigham Young, a mere Man, have sixteen wives; and shall one wretched piece of humanity content me, that supreme Fact, a perfect Woman, highest and truest of beings under GOD? No; if these things be tolerated, I claim for each Woman, in the name of Light and Law, twenty ministering attendants of the lower race; and the day is near when, if this boon, or any other boon we like to ask, be denied us, it will be taken with a strong hand!



     The titanic humour of the Conception does not blind me to the radical falseness of the Teaching, wherein, as I shall show you presently, you somewhat resemble the miserable Homunculi of our own literary Wagners; for, if I rightly conceive, you would tacitly and by inference urge that it is expressly part of the Divine Thought that the Ewigweibliche, or Woman-Soul, should be happy. Now Woman’s mundane unhappiness, as I construe, comes of her inadequacy; it is the stirring within her of the Infinite against the Finite, a struggle of the spark upward, of the lower to the higher Symbol. Will Woman’s Rights Agitators, and Monogamy, and Political Tomfoolery, do what Millinery has failed to do, and waken one Female to the sense of divine Function? It is not happiness I solicit for the Woman-Soul, but Identity; and the prerogative of Identity is great work. Adequacy, pre-eminent fulfilment of the Function; woman, in this country of rags and shams, being buried quick under masses of Sophistication and Upholstery, oblivious of her divine duty to increase the population and train the young masculine Idea starward. I do not care if the wives of Deseret are pale, or faint, or uncultured, or unhappy; it is enough for me to know that they have a numerous progeny, and believe in Deity or the Divine Essence; and I will not conclude this letter without recording my conviction that yonder man, Brigham Young by name, is perhaps the clearest Intellect now brooding on this planet; that Friedrich was royaller but not greater, and that Bismarck is no more than his equal; and that he, this American, few in words, mark you, but great in deeds, has decided a more stupendous 4 Question than ever puzzled the strength of either of those others,—the Question of the Sphere and Function in modern life of the ever-agitating FEMININE PRINCIPLE. If, furthermore, as I have ever held, the test of clearness of intellect and greatness of soul be Success, at any price and under any circumstances, none but a transcendental Windbag or a pedantic Baccalaureus will doubt my assertion that Young is a stupendous intellectual, ethical, and political Force—a Master-Spirit—a Colossal Being, a moral Architect of sublime cunning—as such to be reverenced by every right-thinking Man under the Sun.



     I am not generally appreciated in my own country, because I frequently change my views about religion, art, architecture, poetry, and things in general. Most of my early writings are twaddle, but my present opinions are all valuable. I think this poem, with its nervous Saxon Diction, its subtle humour, its tender pathos and piteousness, the noblest specimen of narrative verse of modern times; and, indeed, I know not where to look, out of the pages of Chaucer, for an equally successful blending of human laughter and ethereal mystery. At the same time, the writer scarcely does justice to the subject on the æsthetic side. A City where the streets are broad and clean and well-watered, the houses surrounded by gardens full of fruit and flowers; where the children, with shining, clean-washed faces, curtsey to the Philosophers in the public places; where there are no brothels and no hells; where life runs fresh, free, and unpolluted, —such a City, I say, can hardly be the symbol of feminine degradation. More than once, tired of publishing my prophetic warnings in the Daily Telegraph, I have thought of bending my weary footsteps to the new Jerusalem; and I might have carried out my intention long ago, if I had had a less profound sense of my own unfitness for the duties of a Saint.



     Your poem possesses a certain rough primitive humour, though it appears to me deficient in the higher graces of sweetness and light. St. Paul would have entirely objected to the monogamical inference drawn in your epilogue; and the fact that you draw any such inference at all is to me a distressing proof that your tendency is to the Philistinism of those authors who write for the British Matron. I fear you have not read “Merope.”




A Tale of Salt Lake City.



From the “GRAPHIC.”

     “Such vigorous, racy, determined satire has not been met with for many a long day. It is at once fresh and salt as the sea. . . . The humour is exquisite, and as regards literary execution, the work is masterly.”



     “Although in a striking address to Chaucer the author intimates an expectation that Prudery may turn from his pages, and though his theme is certainly a delicate one, there is nothing in the book that a modest man may not read without blinking, and therefore, we suppose, no modest woman. On the other hand, the whole poem is marked with so much natural strength, so much of the inborn faculties of literature—(though they are wielded in a light, easy, trifling way)—that they take possession of our admiration as of right. The chief characteristics of the book are mastery of verse, strong and simple diction, delicate, accurate description of scenery, and that quick and forcible discrimination of character which belongs to men of dramatic genius. This has the look of exaggerated praise. We propose, therefore, to give one or two large samples of the author’s quality, leaving our readers to judge from them whether we are not probably right. If they turn to the book and read it through, we do not doubt that they will agree with us.”



  “The tale, however, is not to be read from reviews. . . . The variety of interest, the versatility of fancy, the richness of description with which the different lays and cantos are replete, will preclude the possibility of tediousness. To open the book is to read it to the end. It is like some Greek comedy in its shifting scenes, its vivid pictures, its rapidly passing ‘dramatis personæ’ and supernumeraries. . . . The author of ‘St. Abe,’ who can write like this, may do more if he will, and even found a new school of realistic and satirical poetry.”


From the “DAILY NEWS.”

     “If the author of a ‘Tale of Salt Lake City’ be not a new poet, he is certainly a writer of exceedingly clever and effective verses. They have the ring of originality, and they indicate ability to produce something still more remarkable than this very remarkable little piece. It merits a place among works which every one reads with genuine satisfaction. It is a piece which subserves one of the chief ends of poetry, that of telling a tale in an unusually forcible and pleasant way. . . If it be the author’s purpose to furnish a new argument against polygamous Mormons, by showing the ridiculous side of their system, he has perfectly succeeded. The extracts we have given show the varied, fluent, and forcible character of his verse. None who read about Saint Abe and his Seven Wives can fail to be amused and to be gratified alike by the manner of the verse and the matter of the tale.”


From the “SCOTSMAN.”

     “This book does not need much commendation, but it deserves a great deal. The author of ‘The Biglow Papers’ might have written it, but there are passages which are not unlike Bret Harte; and him we suspect. The authorship, however, may be left out of notice. Men inquire who has written a good book, that they may honour him; but if his name never be heard, the book is none the less prized. In design and construction this work has high merit. It is a good story and it is good poetry. The author is a humourist and a satirist, and he has here displayed all his qualities lavishly.”



     “Amazingly clever. . . . Besides its pure tone deserves warm recognition. The humour is never coarse. There is a high delicacy, which is sufficient to colour and sweeten the whole, as the open spring breeze holds everything in good savour.”


From the “SPECTATOR.”

     “We believe that the new book which has just appeared, ‘St. Abe and His Seven Wives,’ will paralyze Mormon resistance far more than any amount of speeches in Congress or messages from President Grant, by bringing home to the minds of the millions the ridiculous-diabolic side of the peculiar institution. The canto called ‘The Last Epistle of St. Abe to the Polygamists,’ with its humorous narrative of the way in which the Saint, sealed to seven wives, fell in love with one, and thenceforward could not abide the jealousy felt by the other six, will do more to weaken the last defence of Mormonism—that after all, the women like it—than a whole ream of narratives about the discontent in Utah. Thousands on whom narrative and argument would make little or no impression, will feel how it must be when many wives with burning 7 hearts watch the husband’s growing love for one, when the favourite is sick unto death, and how ‘they set their lips and sneered at me and watched the situation,’ and will understand that the first price paid for polygamy is the suppression of love, and the second, the slavery of women. The letter in which the first point is proved is too long for quotation, and would be spoiled by extracts; but the second could hardly be better proved than in these humorous lines. . . . The descriptions of Saint Abe and his Seven Wives will be relished by roughs in California as much as by the self- indulgent philosophers of Boston. . . . Pope would have been proud, we fancy, of these terrible lines, uttered by a driver whose fiancée has just been beguiled away by a Mormon saint.”


From the “ATHENÆUM.”

     “ ‘Saint Abe and his Seven Wives’ has a freshness and an originality, altogether wanting in Mr. Longfellow’s new work, ‘The Divine Tragedy.’ In quaint and forcible language—language admirably suited to the theme—the author takes us to the wondrous city of the saints, and describes its inhabitants in a series of graphic sketches. The hero of the story is Saint Abe, or Abraham Clewson, and in giving us his history the author has really given us the inner life of the Mormon settlement. In his pages we see the origin of the movement, the reasons why it has increased, the internal weakness of the system, and the effect it produces on its adherents. We are introduced to the saints, whom we see among their pastures, in their homes, in their promenades, and in their synagogue.”


From the “FREEMAN.”

     “A remarkable poem. . . . The production is anonymous, but whoever the author may be there can be no question that he is a poet, and one of vast and varied powers. The inner life of Mormondom is portrayed with a caustic humour equal to anything in ‘The Biglow Papers’; and were it not for the exquisite elegance of the verse we should think that some parts of the poem were written by Robert Browning. The hero of the poem is a Mormon, who fares so badly as a polygamist that he elopes with one of his seven wives—the one whom he really loves; and the story is a most effective exposure of the evils which necessarily attach to polygamy.”



     “There can be no doubt that it is worthy of the author of ‘The Biglow Papers.’ Since that work was published, we have received many humorous volumes from across the Atlantic, but nothing equal to ‘St. Abe.’ As to its form, it shows that Mr. Lowell has been making advances in the poetic art; and the substance of it is as strong as anything in the entire range of English satirical literature.”



     “The writer has an easy mastery over various kinds of metre, and a felicity of easy rhyming which is not unworthy of our best writers of satire. . . . The prevailing impression of the whole is of that easy strength which does what it likes with language and rhythm. . . . The style is light and playful, with admirable touches of fine discrimination and rich humour; but the purpose is earnest. . . . The book is a very clever and a very wholesome one. It is one of those strong, crushing, dramatic satires, which do more execution than a thousand arguments.”



     “It is said to be by Lowell. Truly, if America has more than one writer who can write in such a rich vein of satire, humour, pathos, and wit, as we have here, England must look to her laurels. . . . This is poetry of a high order. Would that in England we had humourists who could write as well. But with Thackeray our last writer of humour left us.”



     “ ‘Saint Abe and his Seven Wives’ may lay claim to many rare qualities. The author possesses simplicity and directness. To this he adds genuine humour and intense dramatic power. Lastly, he has contrived to give a local flavour, something of the salt of the Salt Lake to his characters, which enables us to thoroughly realise them. . . . We will not spoil the admirable canto ‘Within the Synagogue’ by any quotation, which, however long, cannot possibly do it justice. We will merely say that this one bit is worth the price of the whole book. In the author we recognise a true poet, with an entirely original vein of humour.”



     “It is thoroughly American, now rising into a true imaginative intensity, but oftener falling into a satirical vein, dealing plainly enough with the plague-spots of Salt Lake society and its wily, false prophets. . . . Like most men capable of humour, the author has command of a sweeter and more harmonious manner. Indeed, the beautiful descriptive and lyrical fragments stand in vivid and refreshing relief to the homely staple of the poem.”



     “It is impossible to deny that the praises bestowed on ‘St. Abe and his Seven Wives’ as a work of literary power are deserved.”



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