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The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, April 25, 1897, Image 18

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18
A DAY WITH
JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
• Milton, Milton the majestic, made the
devil roar in his stately and stilted meas
ures till "The hollow concave of all hell
resounded," but we have done with the
devil; we have done with hell, and we
have pretty nearly done with Milton.
Burns has more readers, ten to one, than
Milton, and Riley has more readers in hi-*
own land, at least, than Burns. Why?
Heart. That is the answer in one word,
•clean, pure, single, wholesome heart
Will we ever have an American litera
ture? Yes, we will have. We have it
already and Riley is at the head of it;
not at ail because of bis dialect, but in
spite of it. Yet his dialect is genuine,
true as that of Burns is true. The secret
of it ad is the heart that is in it. Go to
the heart, go crosslots, through the
orchard, over the fence, down the
lane, anyway or anyhow, only so
you get there. Go straight, quietly
and with as few brief, baby words
as you can use, right into the
heart. Make no noise, no show of your
self, or long learned words or high-sound
ing Miltonese measure, and you will stay
in the heart when you tet there, as Rilev
stays. This is to be the American litera
ture, as against English literature of the
Milton, Byron, Macaulay school of
"words, words, words," of ruins, wars,
devils, hells. The world is weary, wearied
unto death with these old deeds and
creeds in lurid and lordly and gorgeous
garmentings of sounding and resounding
: words, words, words and words.
. American science has swept aside space
and time; American science dashes on at
fifty, sixty miles an hour. American
literature, under the lead of our littera
teurs and learned men, born of hack cen
turies, still insists on lumbering along in
the old-fashioned English stagecoach at
.the old rate of ten miles an hour, and :
oftentimes with a red-coated outrider,
and he blowing a horn! And our trained
critics insist on sitting in judgment on
American literature with the old, cold,
musty and majestic Milton; and Macau
lays as the only law and gospel.
Meantime Riley is being more widely
and heartily read than all three of them
put together.
, Why is the world turning to pictures
and turning so entirely away from the
stately writers of England? Because it is
abreast with the times. It wants ideas,
not words, words, words! If a picture
goes to the heart, tells the story at a
glance, little matter how crude or rude,
the heart prefers a square of picture to a
column of words.
If Riley can stand you "knee deep in
June," with a dozen little bits of dialect
or sawed-off Saxon words, why he is sim
ply in line with the time; the new man
and the true man. the master of the new
American literature, a man with an idea.
Great is Lowell, Longfellow, Whittier,
Whitman, Holmes great, truly great,
and great poets all; but only great as the
going Engiish poets are great, if we ex
cept some work of the first-named poet.
A jewel that depends on its setting is a
poor jewel. Poetry that leans on stately i
words and war and rage and ruin is not ■
ali poetry. I have done many books, but
I have despised big words and have not
written a word of war either in hell or out
of hell. I would starve first. French
literature? War and intrigue, hate and
lust; and so, with scarce the exception,
she has not a line of poetry, simply be
Discovery of a New Indian Poet
A few years ago, while rambling about i
in the northwestern corner of Oudh, I !
came into possession of certain bundles j
of manuscript written by one Achmet
Fazl-ood-deen, Jemadarof Aligunj, one of I
the villages of Oudh, which nestles in a
clearing of the Terai— the great jungle
that skirts the foothills of the Himalayas. !
The MS., which was written in flowing ,
ACHMET, THE BARD.
Bhagist(the Urdu caligraphy used by men
of clerkly attainments), proved on exam
ination to be the journal of the said
Achmet, who began his career as a hum
ble-acolyte of the village mosque, the
Moolah of which taught him Urdu and
Persian and Arabic. He early developed
a faculty for writing verse, some three
score specimens of which are scattered
through the MS. in my possession, for he
j cause she has no heart. Germany? Heart
!to the core. And so it is that even her
; great, clumsy, lumbering language is
i often teeming to the lips with poetry.
My love of Riley, a discovery, strange
:or new? Bless you, Lowell was his Co
| lumbus, and years ago. And Holmes
| sailed into port right along after Lowell.
j Says Holmes:
'James Whitcomb Riley is nothing
i short of a born poet and a veritable genius.
! I think he is a later Hosea Big'ow, lite
as original as the latter and more versatile
lin certain respects. I own a good deal of
| enthusiasm for this latter product of In
diana soil, this delineator of lowly hu
manity who sings with so much fervor,
pathos, humor and grace." The above
estimates seem also to be the verdict of
the reading public, as over sixty thousand
of his volumes were sold last year, and
the publication of a new book from him
bas grown, therefore, to be a literary
event both in England and America.
John Boyle O'Reilly said long ago:
"He is the poet of Nature, of Nature do-
I mesticated, so to speak, to be the back
! ground of a simple human story, the sym
■ pathetic accompaniment of unsophisti
| cated feeling and speech. The Burns of
| America."
And Howells said only the other day:
"Without the poetry of James Whit
| comb Riley our literature would be so
| much the poorer that it seems idle to
J state the fact. He has more perfectly
: mastered his instrument than any writer
I of dialect verse since Lowell, and I do not
know why one should not frankly place
I him with Lowell as equally master in that
j kind.
"What he bas said of very common
! aspects of life has endeared him; you
| feel, in reading his verse, that there is
: one of the honestest souls that ever ut
tered itself in that way, and that he is
I true to what we all know, because he has
', Known it, and not because he has just
verified it by close observation."
Yet am I in doubt if they all or any of
j them knew that this man Riley meant so
[ much as he really means. Maybe Riley
! himself don't know.
May I intrude a few lines to show what
I mean by brief, baby words in work?
Here is something said at the grave of
Burns a quarter of a century ago:
In men whom men condemn as ill
1 ti:M to much of goodness still;
In men whom men pronounce divine
1 find so much of sin and blot,
I hesitate to draw a line
Beiween the two when God has not.
The lines have lived and will live.
Why? Because the words are not bigger
than the thought, and the idea depends
on nothing but the simple truth. For
you must know that the purest truth is
the purest poetry.
The poem of all poems, whether human
or divine, is "The Sermon on the Mourn." !
There is no debatable ground there. The [
words are the purest and simplest, and
yet the solioest, ever laid down in pave
ment for the feet of truth to pass over.
Riley is not a new American, as his j
name might imply. His lather was a con- '
spicuous Judge here in the capital of In
diana, a"d here Riley read law. The old
homestead lies a dozen or more miles out
of town, at the little city ot Greenfield. ■
Here is the home in .which he was born,
and here he is, and has been since boy- ■
hood, an idol. No other prophet was ever I
more honored in hil own land or in any |
was much given to ventilating the opinion
of the "bard who stirred within him"— to
use his own expression — every possible
occasion.
The people of Aligunj seemed to have
entertained a half-amused contempt for
Achmet, which was not to be wondered
at in a community of bucolics; but in
deference to the popularity and fame that
his verses had begun to acquire in the 'i
metropolitan city of Lucknow, they gave
him rather more than the modicum of
support that a prophet obtains in his own
country, and at one time, when he snd:
denly blazed into an exhibition of courage
that was hardly to be expected from a
mere poor, he was in a fair way of earn
ing the munificent sum of 5 rupees a
month— more than a competence for a
THE SAN FRANCISCO CALL, SUNDAY, APRIL 25, 1 97.
land from the very first than Riley has
been in his, and in this Indiana entirely
and most bravely honors herself.
But Riley did not like Blackstone. He
ran away from his father and his books
and fell in love with a big dream and mar
ried it, and was glad.
Riley is a rich man, rides in a carriage
and dresses with the care and daintiness
of a "Bret Harte. These things don't
mean much of themselves as to this one
man, but they signify that right here is a
rich country and a generous people and a
refined country and a land where civiliza
tion has set foot firmly in the Indians'
path of old. Hereabout stand four great
cities — Cincinnati, Columbus, Indian
apolis and Louisville. These four cities
astonish cne with their fine carriages f
their refinement, propriety in dress, good
breeding, broad, heart life. These fforu r
frugal scrivener with simple tas'es.
At this juncture, and when his lucky
star seemed to be in the ascendant, the
pestiferous vanity which affects all poets,
more or less, and is a part of the poetical
temperament, led him to fall in love with
the daughter of the Thanadar (the chief
of police) of Aligunj, whose pride was
greatly affronted by the presumption of
the scrivener and bard. Achmet's "bub
ble reputation" soon collapsed in his
native village and he was on the verge of
starvation, when he attracted the atten
tion of a kindly Yankee who was ''tour
ing" India in search of tho secrets of
Hindoo magic. I .
By the wandering American he was
made acquainted with the fascinating, but
forbidden, savors' of swine's llesh and
strong waters, thereby becoming "an
alien to his mother's children," and from
this period many of his poems were of a
bacchanalian character. He rapid. de
veloped into an Epicurean like his great
prototype. 'Omar Khayyam, with -whose
noble poem he was well acquainted, and
on whose preserves he unconsciously en
croaches in the manuscripts before me. ■*
By his newly found friend he was taken
to San Francisco, and during the voyage
his irrepressible bardic temperament led
him to fall in love with a native daughter
ofthe Golden West, who must have had a
great deal of fun with him according to his
own naive confession.
While in San Francisco he won a con
siderable prize in a lottery, which en
abled him to return to Aligunj by way of
Mecca. The pilgrimage thus performed
made him' a Hadji; and, thus •white
washed, wilh money in his' purse,* he whs
welcomed with open arms to his native
village, where he was adopted by the
Jemadar, and was recently accepted by
the Thanadar as a suitor for his daughter's
hand. •
On the death of his adopted father he
became the Jemadarof Aligunj, a position
that he still enjoys.
Wbatever may be the fate of his verses
done into English .they .'have' already
made him famous in his native province,
although : they are of a sort that does not
appeal to such popular taste as we nave
in this country, which is caught by the
careless songs of Eugene Field and James
Whitcomb Riley. The Oriental has far
finer instincts in matters crtaining to
art than we of the Occident, with all our
science and boasted civilization.
In the following metrical translations I I
have attempted to render the spirit of !
Achmet's muse rather than his mere
words. I need hardly say that much of
the bloom of his verses is lost in the rough
handling of translation :
The following ditbyrambics were de-
I claimed directly after his first in trod uc
cities are tied together by the "Biz Four," I
a name that sounds like one of Harte's or
Hay's of old. It unites these four, big,
rich cities of this rich heart of the Union.
If you want to go from one of these big
towns to any one of these cities you tele- ;
phone to "Big Four" for tickets. All j
things by telephone, and with flowers in
the windows of the palatial farmhouses I
all along. Publishers? Bigger publishers I
JAMBS WHITCOMB RILEY.
and better than in Boston. The finest
monument to soldiers in the Union is
here; ever so much more stately and
splendid than those to Nelson and Wel
lington in Trafalgar square, London.
But to get on with Kiley. He was pale
when I met him and seemed frightened.
"What's the trouble, Jim?"
"Why, you see, the Governor's sent for
us; Legislature in session ; let's go out to
Imy old place an let them go, go to ."
tion to Bourbon and a light wine, proba"
biy hock, which he said "was sweeter than
the waters of Z-m-Zem and surpassed the
sherbets of Shiras":
Oh, sweet is the breath of the houri In Para
dise smiling and waiting.
With kohl in her eyes, and kenna staining the
miii- of her feet;
With languishing looks, and caresses, and
hand-clasps that tnrlll without sating.
But sweeter, my lord, to the hungry is the
steam of savory meat
How precious the color of amber ! the rose's
soft nils how gay! 9E-SS*39EiS(
How refreshing the sound of the brook as it
laughs o'er its murmuring task!
But yet is more precious the ros_-red Wine
with lis wit and iis play:
Aud fresher, my lord, to the thirsty is the
gurgling of long-necked flask.
Lo! Hunger and Thirst are kind demons, ap
peased with meat and with wine;
And a healthy appetite's, surely, the only
admissible priest
To make due sacrifice, and libations to pour at
their shrines;
But hearken, my lord, in yonr ear—"To
bacco'i the crown of the feast!"
The following has a quaint flavor about
it of Herrick and Horace:
God gave the gifts of youth and wine,
And frolic thoughts and love divine.
Then, spurn them not.
Before the clouds of old age lower,
Oh, let us warm us for an hour.
Whilst youth is hot. .
Come, kiss the wine-cup while you may; .
The fire of youth lasts but a day;
Too soon we're old;-.
The light goes out, the fagot burns.
And soon to dust and ashes turns.
And all is cold. jft-B
The following verses, were sung as he
sailed out of the Hoogli, with no hope of
returning to his native land:
O Aligunj, O Aligunj, * . '
Thee and thy lovely daughters, •
Still in my memory shall I bear ',
Beyond these pathless waters. "'
The tinkle of returning flocks,
The lowing* of thy klue,
Seem with the setting sun to come
Across these leagues of brine. ,
'Tis now the hour when crickets chirp
Their first uneasy stratus,
Ami lengthening shades the cattle throw
Athwart the dusty plains; -
The nigh muezzin's call is heard,
Toe faithiul turn their eyes
T'ward Mecca, soon as on the ear
"Allah— l;— dies.
The wild fowl's flying wedge is seen,
Seeking its sedgy nest: :,„ '
The birds their clamorous conclaves hold
Ere they retire to rest;
The sun has set, the pleasant eve
Now lays her dewy hand, .
O Aligunj, upon thy brow,
And on thy weary land.
He visited Stevenson at Vailima, and
fell under the spell of the mighty
master. The following tribute was writ
ten' on bearing of the great author's
death, and is not any worse than so much
of the verse that has been written, about
bim:
i
But I bad to talk that night and I had a
manager. And so we were soon on the
Senate floor and Riley pale as a ghost. I
took his hand to lead him up be.-ide the
Lieutenant-Governor and it was likeic.
He was frightened almost to death, here
in his own town, with those who nad
known him from boyhood, and every
man and woman in that densely packed
gallery or on the floor his friend. His
face was sad and his voice trembled as he !
tried to speak. Men cheered and women
waved handkerchiefs, but he could not be
heard and soon fell into a seat beside the
Speaker. Then I knew why he had sworn
never again to appear in public. Only
those who have suffered from stage fright
can guess how he felt.
j "Let's get out," he whispered. "I think
| five minutes more of tbis will kill me."
' They dragged us across the hall from
From the least of the least of all singers, to the
last of the Mighty Bead, —
Greeting, and love, and due reverence, for all
you have written and said.
Oh, had I the treasures you garnered of wor ds
and the meanings they hold,
I would crown you with jewels of utterance,
and wrap you ln verses of gold!
for Allah, who sent you, was weary; he
yearned for yourspeech and your souk:
His banquets without you were burdens, his
• houris had misled you too long;
.So, they set you a. couch by Flrdusi; great Omar
will crown you with glory;
Once more they'll be happy In heaven, as you
tell them some magical story.
He breaks into tumultuous utterance on
bearing that Golab, the Thanadar's
daughter, is still unwedded when he re
turns to Aligunj:
Go, frolic winds, and these my kisses bear
To where. ■*
In some cool, dark retreat, '.
Withdrawn from midnoon beat, „ . <
My mistress wreaths her hair
With marigold and jessamine, t ...
\And in its jetty twine'
The rose enfolds. Oh! that were mine
Your unfclt privilege to kiss her feet,
To fan her face, and mingle with her breath,
-.L.** 7 Hear all she saitn. * • <
And from her neck unfurl
And lift each dainty curl.
But do not ruffle her with wantonness,
Or with too rude caress ,
Her virgin thought distress.
' " ; And— :
When you her lips have kissed
Then swift return to me,
*.' With usury,
These kisses that I send to her by ye. I -:
He had never seen the face of bis be
loved, and this is how his fancy plays
about it:"
As falls the dew upon the rose
Unfolded to the night,
• And on each leaf a gem bestows '
• That beautifies the light, ' •
So fall my though s upon thy face '• '
And on thy sleeping eyes.
And clothe thee with a hourl's grace,
Who blooms in paradise. •*.. --iVi'iy-
The supreme -moment having arrived
when he should unveil bis bride's face,
she, fearful lest he should be disappointed
i with her, tries to persuade 'him to. leave
her veiled, and be contented with sight
only .of . her eyes, which alone he bad
looked upon. -•■-'■
• "For answer," be says, "I put forth my
hand and slowly uncovered the face of
Allah's most beautliul houri, whom he
had bestowed upon me because I loved
his ' wonderful works, and was a hadji,
and because the baid within rue bad ever
sought to find paradise in this world of
beauty." ** ■'■
The manuscript finishes with a prayer
that there should be no unchaste thoughts
in the minds of its readers! What would
some of our women writers who are pro
ducing "novels with a purpose" say to the
ambition of tbis "heathen in bis blind
ness,'' who keeps his own mind perfectly
pure, as set forth in his "short and simple
annals"? • J. Laird.
the Senate into the House. Here he hid
away behind a mass of women and was
glad for a spell. But they dragged him
up into the Speaker's desk; ond, the
same as before. We got down and out of
there into the woods, and I don't want to
st-e anyone go through that again. Long
fellow came nearer to Riley in this than
any one else that I ever saw. Whitman,
did not suffer so, and I heard a man say,
as Riley stood on the steps wiping his
face, "Why, you couldn't scare Eugene |
Field or Bill Nye that way with a dozen, |
cannon."
And now, how we walked and talked! j
Squirrels, birds, brooks, snow, red beech j
trees and yellow maple. It is a dull, level
land about here, but Riley sees wondrous
change and color and "go" in it all, and
says so in the fewest, briefest, best-chosen
words in the world.
Now I am not eager to proclaim with I
Lowell, Holmes and Howell3 that Riley
is entirely great. He is great as Warren
was great at Bunker Hill. Warren fell, we
lost tae tight and tne ground where he fell;
then a long war, Washington, and for all
[ that we were never quite emancipated till
Lincoln. We ma*,* have even a longer
and harder fight fcr freedom, emacipa
tion, than that which lasted from Warren
to Lincoln, but we will be emancipated
from words, words, sooner or later. The
greatness of Riley is in his contempt for
words; tn his showing that great men use
small words, and, by inference, that small
men use big words.
Please compare a state paper of the
Great Emancipator with a recent state
paper of a man who lately left the White
House. Why, Lincoln could and would
have put a whole column of Cleveland in
a single paragraph.
When the Messiah of American litera
ture comes he wiil come ringing, so far as !
may be, in monosyllable-. And there is j
no reason why, in this republic, a state j
paper may not be, as Lincoln indicated, as
lresh, plain and simple as a song. The
man who intrudes a big word, or a new
word, or an obsolete word when a simple,
brief word will do, is to that extent a rob- j
ber of my time. He" is doing it, too, not ;
to teach or tell me anything. He is doing j
it to air his own-vanity and fancied im
portance. ;
Riley, the law student, must have ever
had a whole army- of words at beck, but he
uses only the bare and the sharp, sharp
blade. Tho Romans fought on foot, nearly
naked and with only the short Roman
sword; the- barbarians fought on horse
back, a-gi.iier with gold and steel, and
with the long, tasseied lanes in the air.
But it was the short Roman sword that
went to the heart and won the world.
And yet sha-ll'-T say I have not adored
and do not still revel in luxuriant litera
ture? I love it, but it is the love of wine;
a delirious intoxication that is not for the
best unless it be wine of the very best.
And we have more dealers in bad words
and bad wine. I know of but one man in
California whom I would license to use
words entirely as he pleases.
When Riley and I parted that first day
it was dark. We had to dress tor the show.
I was to talk in a chuich and he was to in
troduce me. He came promptly, to the
minute, most elaborately dressed and
pale, so pale, his' black dress suit and
shining patent leathers and black silk
stockings making his. white face seem as
i white as his linen. : .
The Queen's Jubilee.
The loyal Briton who watches from a comfortable seat the passing through Lon
don's streets of the pageant that will be one of the main features of the coming
Queen's Jubilee will have to pay a pretty penny for his pleasure.
M. M. Stern, local passenger agent of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, has just re
ceived from London a schedule of prices for seat? in windows and on roofs that make
the prices charged at the ncent great fistic carnival, great as they were, pale into in
significance.
The enterprising firm' that sent out the circular bought up montbs ago hundreds
of choice locations and is now reaping the benefit of its for -though-. Think of pay
ing $25 for a seat on the roof or $500 for a window on the first fljor ! I
• Yet the circular reads thus: . - . .' . k
JJJ'J -J. "QUEEN- VICTORIA'S JUBILEE PROCESSION.? /
We are now offering some of the finest positions for viewing the procession.
Seals on first floor at £10, £12 and £15.
Seats on second floor at £8, £10 and £12.
|tffi||fl| Windows on first floor at £50. £75 aud £100.
Windows on second floor £40, £50 and £60.
Seats on upper floors and roois from £2 to £5.
Book early with remittance to secure good positions. ■'-.-'■ '
I "Let's .get out in the air and walk,'**
j sighed. After a time we turned up at the
j church. • I wanted to go into the pastor's
study. I told nim I believed we had
friends there and a fire, for it was cold.
"No; no women in there; here." He
led us into a little side door, a sort of
storeroom for the janitor, and here we sat
and shivered as the great cold church
slowly filled. Men kept coming one after
another with their bicycles. Then two
1 women came to hand their rubbers in
through tno door to the janitor. Then
one came and oanged at the door, and as
Riley shyly opened it six inches she
shoved in a poodle dog. with instructions
to the janitor. Riley without a word
promptly passed the dog out and bolted
the door. We sat down close together,
for we were shivering, shivering, au 1 it
was dark in that den of bicycles and coal
scuttles and old rubber boots, and cold, so
cold!
lt was then that he gave vent to this
lesson:
"Uh, do not touch liquor. It will hit
you hard some day; hit you hard when
you are looking the other way."
We still shivered, and I wanted to go in
where the women were, in the pastor's
comfortable study.
"No, no; no, no."
"Jim, tell me; you never married; tell
me why. Who waa she? What became
of her?''
He took my hand in his as we sat still
closer together and said, in tbe soleranest,
sweetest voice lever beard, and as if to
himself:
"She was only a little seminary girl, the
sweetest little seminary girl that ever was
seen in a dream; and she went to the,
seminary and never came back. You see
1 hardiy knew her, only saw her a little,
only two or three times, and I only held
her hands once, and then only for a sec
ond, as she got in the sleigh by her father
and then I, I leaned over and kissed her
little hands. That's all, that's all." *
And then he slowiy, lowly, so tenderly
repeated these next lines and was only
ending them when the audience impa
tiently called us from the dark and cold.
Yet mind you, these lines.while written in
his youth, are not characteristic. It is only
in dialect or baby verses that he is at his
best, is Jim Riley.
Marvelous— wonderful— beautiful hands!
They can coax roses to bloom in the strands
Of yonr brown treses: and ribbons will twine,
Under mysterious touches of thine,
Into sucb knots as entangle the sou',
And tetter tiie heart under sucb a control
As only the strength of my love understands—
My passionate love for your beautitul bands.
As I remember the first fair touch
Of tlio c beautiful hands that 1 love so much,
I saem to thrill us I then was thrilled, \
. Kissing the glove that I found unfilled— 1
When i met your gaze, and the queen y bow, J
As you sail tome. laughingly; "X op It now!"
And daze I and alone iv a dream I stand' * :
Kissing this ghost of your beautiful hand.
Wben I first loved. in the long ago,
And he'd your band as I to.d you so—
Tre-sed a. id caressed it and g, ve.lt a kiss,
And sa d, •'! could die fur a hand like this!"
' Little 1 dreamed love's fullness yet ■ •
. Had to ripen wben eyes aie wet,
And prayers wre vain In their wild demand
For one warm touch of your beautiful band.
Beautiful Hands! O Beautiful Hands!
i Could you reach out ot the alien lands
Where you are lingering, and give me, to-night,
[ Only a touch— were it cv- rso light—
i My heart were soothe*), and mv weary brain
Would lull itself into rest again;
. >or tbere is no solace the world commands
1 Like tbe caress of your beautiful hands.
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