Part 1 out of 5
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[Illustration: ORIGINAL TEXT OF "LITTLE BOY BLUE"
_With drawings in colors by Eugene Field._
The little toy dog is covered with dust
But sturdy and stanch he stands,
And the little toy soldier is red with rust
And his musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new
And the soldier was passing fair,
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
Kissed them and put them there.
"Now, don't you go till I come," he said,
"And don't you make any noise!"
So, toddling off to his trundle-bed,
He dreamt of the pretty toys.
And, as he was dreaming, an angel song
Awakened our Little Boy Blue--
Oh! the years are many--the years are long--
But the little toy friends are true!
Aye, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand--
Each in the same old place,
Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
The smile of a little face.
And they wonder--as waiting the long years through
In the dust of that little chair--
What has become of our Little Boy Blue
Since he kissed them and put them there.]
A STUDY IN HEREDITY AND CONTRADICTIONS
By SLASON THOMPSON
With Portraits, Views and Fac-Simile Illustrations
Published, December, 1901
Charles Scribner's Sons
I. OUR PERSONAL RELATIONS 1
II. INTRODUCTION TO COLORED INKS 15
III. SOME LETTERS 44
IV. MORE LETTERS 71
V. PUBLICATION OF HIS FIRST BOOKS 107
VI. HIS SECOND VISIT TO EUROPE 138
VII. IN THE SAINTS' AND SINNERS' CORNER 169
VIII. POLITICAL RELATIONS 198
IX. HIS "AUTO-ANALYSIS" 234
X. LAST YEARS 261
XI. LAST DAYS 297
DRAWINGS IN COLORS AND IN FAC-SIMILE PAGE
ORIGINAL TEXT OF "LITTLE BOY BLUE" _Frontispiece_
_With drawings in colors by Eugene Field._
THE LITTLE DRESS-MAKER 23
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._
A PROPER SONET 26
_From a drawing in colors by Eugene Field._
FIELD AND BALLANTYNE AWAITING THE ARRIVAL OF A
BISCUIT FROM NEW BRUNSWICK 27
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._
THE GOOD KNIGHT SLOSSON'S CASTLE 29
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._
A TRAGEDY IN FIVE ACTS 30, 31
_From drawings by Eugene Field._
HOW MARY MATILDA WON A PRINCE:
_From drawings by Eugene Field._
THE PRINCE ASKING EDDIE MARTIN ABOUT THE
FAIR MARY MATILDA 38
THE PRINCE'S COAT-OF-ARMS--FLIGHT OF THE
FAIR MARY MATILDA--THE AGGRAVATING MIRAGE 40
BROTHER SLOSSON AND HIS OTHER FRIEND
EN ROUTE TO THE WEDDING 42
A STAMP ACCOUNT 57
AN ECHO FROM MACKINAC ISLAND 58
_With drawings by Eugene Field._
A BOWLING CHALLENGE FROM EUGENE FIELD 75
A LETTER FROM EUGENE FIELD CONTAINING
THREE DRAWINGS 78
FIELD'S PORTRAIT OF HIMSELF 88
_"As I would have looked but for the
refining influence of Old Nompy."_
A SCENE IN THE DAILY NEWS OFFICE 99
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._
PAGE OF ADVERTISEMENTS FROM "CULTURE'S GARDEN" 111
"THE ALLIAUNCE" 124
SKETCH AND EPITAPH 168
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._
OFF TO SPRINGFIELD 201
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._
HALF-TONE PLATES FACING PAGE
ROSWELL FIELD 142
FIELD THE COMEDIAN 254
EUGENE FIELD WITH HIS DUTCH RING 302
OUR PERSONAL RELATIONS
In the loving "Memory" which his brother Roswell contributed to the
"Sabine Edition" of Eugene Field's "Little Book of Western Verse," he
says: "Comradeship was the indispensable factor in my brother's life.
It was strong in his youth: it grew to be an imperative necessity in
later life. In the theory that it is sometimes good to be alone he had
little or no faith." From the time of Eugene's coming to Chicago until
my marriage, in 1887, I was his closest comrade and almost constant
companion. At the Daily News office, for a time, we shared the same
room and then the adjoining rooms of which I have spoken. Field was
known about the office as my "habit," a relationship which gave point
to the touching appeal which served as introduction to the dearly
cherished manuscript copy, in two volumes, of nearly one hundred of
his poems, which was his wedding gift to Mrs. Thompson. It was
entitled, in red ink, "Ye Piteous Complaynt of a Forsooken Habbit; a
Proper Sonet," and reads:
_Ye boone y aske is smalle indeede
Compared with what y once did seeke--
Soe, ladye, from yr. bounteous meede
Y pray you kyndly heere mee speke.
Still is yr. Slosson my supporte,
As once y was his soul's delite--
Holde hym not ever in yr. courte--
O lette me have hym pay-daye nite!
One nite per weeke is soothly not
Too oft to leese hym from yr. chaynes;
Thinke of my lorne impoverisht lotte
And eke my jelous panges and paynes;
Thinke of ye chekes y stille do owe--
Thinke of my quenchlesse appetite--
Thinke of my griffes and, thinking so,
Oh, lette me have hym pay-daye nite!_
Along the border of this soulful appeal was engrossed, in a woful
mixture of blue and purple inks: "Ye habbit maketh mone over hys sore
griffe and mightylie beseacheth the ladye yt she graunt hym ye lone of
her hoosband on a pay-daye nite."
Through those years of comradeship we were practically inseparable
from the time he arrived at the office, an hour after me, until I bade
him good-night at the street-car or at his own door, when, according
to our pact, we walked and talked at his expense, instead of supping
late at mine. The nature of this pact is related in the following
verse, to which Field prefixed this note: "While this poem is printed
in all the 'Reliques of Ye Good Knights' Poetrie,' and while the
incident it narrates is thoroughly characteristic of that Knightly
Sage, the versification is so different from that of the other ballads
that there is little doubt that this fragment is spurious. Prof. Max
Beeswanger (Book III., page 18, old English Poetry) says that these
verses were written by Friar Terence, a learned monk of the Good
_THE GOOD KNIGHT TO SIR SLOSSON
The night was warm as summer
And the wold was wet with dew,
And the moon rose fair,
And the autumn air
From the flowery prairies blew;
You took my arm, ol' Nompy,
And measured the lonely street,
And you said, "Let's walk
In the gloom and talk--
'Tis too pleasant to-night to eat!"
And you quoth: "Old Field supposin'
Hereafter we two agree;
If it's fair when we're through
I'm to walk with you--
If it's foul you're to eat with me!"
Then I clasped your hand, ol' Nompy,
And I said: "Well, be it so."
The night was so fine
I didn't opine
It could ever rain or snow!
But the change came on next morning
When the fickle mercury fell,
And since, that night
That was warm and bright
It's snowed or it's rained like--well.
Have you drawn your wages, Nompy?
Have you reckoned your pounds and pence?
Harsh blows the wind,
And I feel inclined
To banquet at your expense!_
The "Friar Terence" of Field's note was the Edward J. McPhelim to
whom reference has already been made, who often joined us in our
after-theatre symposiums, but could not be induced to walk one block
if there was a street-car going his way.
As bearing on the nature of these "banquets," and the unending source
of enjoyment they were to both of us, the following may throw a
_Discussing great and sumptuous cheer
At Boyle's one midnight dark and drear
Two gentle warriors sate;
Out spake old Field: "In sooth I reck
We bide too long this night on deck--
What, ho there, varlet, bring the check!
Egad, it groweth late!"
Then out spake Thompson flaming hot:
"Now, by my faith, I fancy not,
Old Field, this ribald jest;
Though you are wondrous fair and free
With riches that accrue to thee,
The check to-night shall come to me--
You are my honored guest!"
But with a dark forbidding frown
Field slowly pulled his visor down
And rose to go his way--
"Since this sweet favor is denied,
I'll feast no more with thee," he cried--
Then strode he through the portal wide
While Thompson paused to pay._
Speaking of "the riches that accrued" to Field it may be well to
explain that when he came to Chicago from Denver he was burdened with
debts, and although subsequently he was in receipt of a fair salary,
it barely sufficed to meet his domestic expenses and left little to
abate the importunity of the claims that followed him remorselessly.
He lived very simply in a flat on the North Side--first on Chicago
Avenue, something over a mile from the office, later on in another
flat further north, on La Salle Avenue, and still later, and until he
went to Europe, in a small rented house on Crilly Place, which is a
few blocks west of the south end of Lincoln Park.
By arrangement with the business office, Field's salary was paid to
Mrs. Field weekly, she having the management of the finances of the
family. Field, Ballantyne, and I were the high-priced members of the
News staff at that time, but our pay was not princely, and two of us
were engaged in a constant conspiracy to jack it up to a level more
nearly commensurate, as we "opined," with our respective needs and
worth. The third member of the trio, who personally sympathized with
our aspirations and acknowledged their justice, occupied an executive
position, where he was expected to exercise the most rigorous economy.
Moreover, he had a Scotsman's stern and brutal sense of his duty to
get the best work for the least expenditure of his employer's money.
It was not until Field and I learned that Messrs. Lawson & Stone were
more appreciative of the value of our work that our salaries gradually
rose above the level where Ballantyne would have condemned them to
remain forever in the sacred name of economy.
I have said that Field's weekly salary--"stipend," he called it--was
paid regularly to Mrs. Field. I should have said that she received all
of it that the ingenious and impecunious Eugene had not managed to
forestall. Not a week went by that he did not tax the fertility of his
active brain to wheedle Collins Shackelford, the cashier, into
breaking into his envelope for five or ten dollars in advance. These
appeals came in every form that Field's fecundity could invent. When
all other methods failed the presence of "Pinny" or "Melvin" in the
office would afford a messenger and plan of action that was always
crowned with success. "Pinny" especially seemed to enter into his
father's schemes to move Shackelford's sympathy with the greatest
success. He was also very effective in moving Mr. Stone to a
consideration of Field's requests for higher pay.
In his "Eugene Field I Knew," Francis Wilson has preserved a number of
these touching "notes" to Shackelford, in prose and verse, but none of
them equals in the shrewd, seductive style, of which Field was master,
the following, which was composed with becoming hilarity and presented
with befitting solemnity:
_A SONNET TO SHEKELSFORD
Sweet Shekelsford, the week is near its end,
And, as my custom is, I come to thee;
There is no other who has pelf to lend,
At least no pelf to lend to hapless me;
Nay, gentle Shekelsford, turn not away--
I must have wealth, for this is Saturday.
Ah, now thou smil'st a soft relenting smile--
Thy previous frown was but a passing joke,
I knew thy heart would melt with pity while
Thou heardst me pleading I was very broke.
Nay, ask me not if I've a note from Stone,
When I approach thee, O thou best of men!
I bring no notes, but, boldly and alone,
I woo sweet hope and strike thee for a ten.
December 3d, 1884._
There is no mistaking the touch of the author of "Mr. Billings of
Louisville" in these lines, in which humor and flattery robbed the
injunction of Mr. Stone against advancing anything on Field's salary
of its binding force. Having once learned the key that would unlock
the cashier's box, he never let a week go by without turning it to
some profitable account. But it is only fair to say that he never
abused his influence over Mr. Shackelford to lighten the weekly
envelope by more than the "necessary V" or the "sorely needed X."
I have dwelt upon these conditions because they explain to some extent
our relations, and why, after we had entered upon our study of early
English ballads and the chronicles of knights and tourneys, Field
always referred to himself as "the good but impecunious Knight,
_sans peur et sans monnaie_," while I was "Sir Slosson," "Nompy,"
or "Grimesey," as the particular roguery he was up to suggested.
It was while I was visiting my family in the province of New
Brunswick, in the fall of 1884, that I received the initial evidence
of a particular line of attack in which Field delighted to show his
friendship and of which he never wearied. It came in shape of an
office postal card addressed in extenso, "For Mr. Alexander Slason
Thompson, Fredericton, New Brunswick"--the employment of the baptismal
"Alexander" being intended to give zest to the joke with the postal
officials in my native town. The communication to which the attention
of the curious was invited by its form read:
CHICAGO, October 6th, 1884.
Come at once. We are starving! Come and bring your wallet with you.
JOHN F. B----E.
Of course the postmaster at Fredericton read the message, and I was
soon conscious that a large part of the community was consumed with
curiosity as to my relations with my starving correspondents.
But this served merely as a prelude to what was to follow. My visit
was cut short by an assignment from the Daily News to visit various
towns in Maine to interview the prominent men who had become
interested, through James G. Blaine, in the Little Rock securities
which played such a part in the presidential campaigns of 1876 and
1884. For ten days I roved all over the state, making my headquarters
at the Hotel North, Augusta, where I was bombarded with postal cards
from Field. They were all couched in ambiguous terms and were well
calculated to impress the inquisitive hotel clerk with the impecuniosity
of my friends and with the suspicion that I was in some way responsible
for their desperate condition. Autograph hunters have long ago stripped
me of most of these letters of discredit, but the following, which has
escaped the importunity of collectors of Fieldiana, will indicate their
CHICAGO, October 10th, 1884.
If you do not hasten back we shall starve. Harry Powers has come to
our rescue several times, but is beginning to weaken, and the
outlook is very dreary. If you cannot come yourself, please send
The same postal importunities awaited me at the Parker House while in
Boston, and came near spoiling the negotiations in which I was engaged,
for the News, for the, till then, unpublished correspondence between
Mr. Blaine and Mr. Fischer, of the Mulligan letters notoriety. My
assignment as staff correspondent called for visits to New York,
Albany, and Buffalo on my way home, and wherever I stopped I found
proofs that Field was possessed of my itinerary and was bound that I
should not escape his embarrassing attentions.
There is no need to tell that of all anniversaries of the year
Christmas was the one that appealed most strongly to Eugene Field's
heart and ever-youthful fancy. It was in his mind peculiarly the
children's festival, and his books bear all the testimony that is
needed, from the first poem he acknowledged, "Christmas Treasures," to
the last word he wrote, that it filled his heart with rejoicings and
love and good will. But there is an incident in our friendship which
shows how he managed to weave in with the blessed spirit of Christmas
the elfish, cheery spirit of his own.
We had spent Christmas Eve, 1884, together, and, as usual, had expended
our last dime in providing small tokens of remembrance for everyone
within the circle of our immediate friends. I parted from him at the
midnight car, which he took for the North Side. Going to the Sherman
House, I caught the last elevator for my room on the top floor, and it
was not long ere I was oblivious to all sublunary things.
Before it was fairly light the next morning I was disturbed and finally
awakened by the sound of voices and subdued tittering in the corridor
outside my door. Then there came a knock, and I was told that there was
a message for me. Opening the door, my eyes were greeted with a huge
home-knit stocking tacked to it with a two-pronged fork and filled with
a collection of conventional presents for a boy--a fair idea of which
the reader can glean from the following lines in Field's handwriting
dangling from the toe:
_I prithee, gentle traveller, pause
And view the work of Santa Claus.
Behold this sock that's brimming o'er
With good things near our Slason's door;
Before he went to bed last night
He paddled out in robe of white,
And hung this sock upon the wall
Prepared for Santa Claus's call.
And said, "Come, Santa Claus, and bring
Some truck to fill this empty thing."
Then back he went and locked the door,
And soon was lost in dream and snore.
The Saint arrived at half-past one--
Behold how well his work is done:
See what a wealth of food and toy
He brought unto the sleeping boy:
An apple, fig, and orange, too,
A jumping-jack of carmine hue,
A book, some candy, and a cat,
Two athletes in a wrestling spat,
A nervous monkey on a stick,
And honey cake that's hard and thick.
Oh, what a wealth of joy is here
To thrill the soul of Slason dear!
Touch not a thing, but leave them all
Within this sock upon the wall;
So when he wakes and comes, he may
Find all these toys and trinkets gay,
And thank old Santa that he came
Up all these stairs with all this game._
If I have succeeded in conveying any true impression of Eugene Field's
nature, the reader can imagine the pleasure he derived from this game,
in planning it, in providing the old-fashioned sock, toys, and
eatables, and in toiling up six flights of stairs after he knew I was
asleep, to see that everything was arranged so as to attract the
attention of the passing traveller. The success of his game was fully
reported to him by his friend, the night clerk--now one of the best
known hotel managers in Chicago--and mightily he enjoyed the report
that I had been routed out by the early wayfarer before the light of
Christmas broke upon the slumbering city.
INTRODUCTION TO COLORED INKS
My room in the Sherman House, then, as now, one of the most
conveniently located hotels in the business district of Chicago, was
the scene of Eugene Field's first introduction to the use of colored
inks. His exquisitely neat, small, and beautifully legible handwriting
has always been the subject of wondering comment and admiration. He
adopted and perfected that style of chirography deliberately to reduce
the labor of writing to a minimum. And he succeeded, for few pen-men
could exceed him in the rapidity with which he produced "copy" for the
printer and none excelled him in sending that copy to the compositor in
a form so free from error as to leave no question where blame for
typographical blunders lay. In over twenty years' experience in
handling copy I have only known one regular writer for the press who
wrote as many words to a sheet as Field. That was David H. Mason, the
tariff expert, whose handwriting was habitually so infinitesimal that
he put more than a column of brevier type matter on a single page,
Strange to say, the compositors did not complain of this eye-straining
copy, which attracted them by its compactness and stretched out to
nearly half a column in the "strings" by which their pay was measured.
From this it may be inferred that there was never any complaint of
Field's manuscript from the most exacting and captious of all newspaper
departments--the composing room.
However, I set out to relate the genesis of Field's use of the colored
inks, with which he not only embellished his correspondence and
presentation copies of his verse, but with which he was wont to
illuminate his copy for the printer. It came about in this way:
In the winter of 1885 Walter Cranston Larned, author of the "Churches
and Castles of Mediaeval France," then the art critic for the News,
contributed to it a series of papers on the Walters gallery in
Baltimore. These attracted no small attention at the time, and were the
subject of animated discussion in art circles in Chicago. They were
twelve in number, and ran along on the editorial page of the News from
February 23d till March 10th. At first we of the editorial staff took
only a passing interest in Mr. Larned's contributions. But one day
Field, Ballantyne, and I, from a discussion of the general value of art
criticism in a daily newspaper, were led to question whether it
conveyed an intelligible impression of the subject, and more
particularly of the paintings commented on, to the ordinary reader. The
point was raised as to the practicability of artists themselves
reproducing any recognizable approach to the original paintings by
following Mr. Larned's verbal descriptions. Thereupon we deliberately
set about, in a spirit of frolic to be sure, to attempt what we each
and all considered a highly improbable feat.
Armed with the best water colors we could find in Abbott's art store,
we converted my bachelor quarters in the Sherman House into an amateur
studio, where we daily labored for an hour or so in producing most
remarkable counterfeits of the masterpieces in Mr. Walters's gallery
as seen through Mr. Larned's text. We were innocent of the first
principles of drawing and knew absolutely nothing about the most
rudimentary use of water colors. Somehow, Field made a worse botch in
mixing and applying the colors than did either Ballantyne or I. They
would never produce the effects intended. He made the most whimsical
drawings, only to obliterate every semblance to his original conception
in the coloring. To prevent his going on a strike, I ransacked Chicago
for colored inks to match those required in the pictures that had been
assigned to him. This inspired him with renewed enthusiasm, and he
devoted himself to the task of realizing Mr. Larned's descriptions in
colored inks with the zest that produces the masterpieces over which
artists and critics rave.
His first work in this line was a reproduction--or shall I call it a
restoration--of Corot's "St. Sebastian." In speaking of this as one of
the noteworthy paintings in the Walters gallery, Mr. Larned had said
that it was a landscape in which the figures were quite subordinate and
seemed merely intended to illustrate the deeper meaning of the painter
in his rendition of nature. According to the critic's detailed
description, it was a forest scene. "Great trees rise on the right to
the top of the canvas. On the left are also some smaller trees, whose
upper branches reach across and make, with the trees on the right, a
sort of arch through which is seen a wonderful stretch of sky. A rocky
path leads away from the foreground beneath the overhanging trees,
sloping upward until it reaches the crest of a hill beneath the sky.
Just at this point the figures of two retreating horsemen are seen.
These are the men who have been trying to kill St. Sebastian, and have
left him, as they thought, dead in the depth of the forest. In the
immediate foreground lies the figure of the half dead saint, whose
wounds are being dressed by two women. Hovering immediately above this
group, far up among the tree branches, two lovely little angels are
seen holding the palm and crown of the martyr. All the figures are
better painted than is usual with Corot, and the angels are very light
and delicate, both in color and form." Mr. Earned quoted from a
celebrated French authority that this was "the most sincerely religious
picture of the nineteenth century." I leave it to the reader if Mr.
Larned's description conveys any such impression. To Field's mind, it
only suggested the grotesque, and his reproduction was a _chef
d'oeuvre_, as he was wont to say. He followed the general outline of
the scene as described above, but made the landscape subordinate to the
figures. The retreating ruffians bore an unmistakable resemblance to
outlawed American cowboys. The saint showed carmine ink traces of
having been most shamefully abused. But the chief interest in the
picture was divided between a lunch-basket in the foreground, from
which protruded a bottle of "St. Jacob's" oil, and a brace of vividly
pink cupids hopping about in the tree-tops, rejoicing over the magical
effect of the saintly patent medicine. His treatment of this picture
proved, if it proved anything, that Corot had gone dangerously near the
line where the sublime suggests the ridiculous.
In Fortuny's "Don Quixote" Field found a subject that tickled his fancy
and lent itself to his untrammelled sense of the absurd. According to
Mr. Larned, Fortuny's picture--a water-color--in the Walters gallery
was one which represents the immortal knight in the somewhat
undignified occupation of searching for fleas in his clothing. He has
thrown off his doublet and his under garment is rolled down to his
waist, leaving the upper portion of his body nude, excepting the
immense helmet which hides his bent-down head. Both hands grasp the
under garment, and the eyes are evidently turned in eager expectancy
upon the folds which the hands are clasping, in the hope that the
roving tormentor has at last been captured. "What an astonishing freak
of genius!" exclaimed Mr. Larned. "For genius it certainly is. The
color and the drawing of the figure are simply masterly, and the entire
tone of the picture is wonderfully rich; indeed, for a water-color, it
is quite marvellous. This is one of Fortuny's celebrated pictures, but
how the 'Ecole des Beaux Arts' would in the old days have held up its
hands and closed its eyes in holy horror! Possibly an earnest disciple
of Lessing, even, might have a rather dubious feeling about such a
choice of subjects."
But it suited Field's pen and colored inks to a T. He entered into
Fortuny's spirit as far as he dared to go and helped it over the edge
of the merely dubious to the unmistakably safe grotesque. His own Don
Quixote was clad in modern costume, from the riding-boots and monster
spurs up to the belt. From that point his emaciated body--a fearfully
and wonderfully articulated semi-skeleton--was nude save for one or two
sporadic hairs. In the place of the traditional helmet, the Don's head
was encased in a garden watering-pot, on the spout of which, and
dominating the entire canvas, as artists say, poised on one foot and
evidently enjoying the sorrowful knight's discomfiture, was the
pestiferous _pulex irritans_.
In the Walters gallery were several pictures of child-life by Frere, in
which, according to Mr. Lamed, "every little figure is full of
character"--a fact about which there is no doubt in the accompanying
reproduction of Frere's "The Little Dressmaker," which by some chance
was preserved from those "artist days."
The completed results of our many off-hours of artist life were bound
in a volume which was presented to Mr. Larned at a formal lunch given
in his honor at the Sherman House. The speech of presentation was made
by our friend, "Colonel" James S. Norton, in what the rural paragrapher
would have described as "the most felicitous effort of his life," and
the wonderful collection was commended to Mr. Larned's grateful
preservation by the judgment of Mr. Henry Field, whose own choice
selection of paintings is the most valued possession of the Chicago Art
Institute. Mr. Field testified that he recognized everyone of the
amazing reproductions from their resemblance, grotesque in the main, to
the originals in the Walters gallery, with which he was familiar.
[Illustration: THE LITTLE DRESS-MAKER.
(Hand-drawn "SINGER" sewing machine.)
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._]
It was for this occasion that Field composed and recited his remarkable
German poem, entitled "Der Niebelrungen und der Schlabbergasterfeldt."
From the manuscript copy in my scrap-book I give the original version
of this extraordinary production, which was copied in the Illinois
Staats Zeitung and went the rounds of the German press in all the
dignity of German text and with a variety of serious criticisms truly
_DER NIEBELRUNGEN UND DER SCHLABBERGASTERFELDT
Ein Niebelrungen schlossen gold
Gehabt gehaben Richter weiss
Ein Schlabbergasterfeldt un Sold
Gehaben Meister treulich heiss
"Ich dich! Ich dich!" die Maedchein tzwei
"Ich dich!" das Niebelrungen drei.
Die Turnverein ist lieb und dicht
Zum Fest und lieben kleiner Geld,
Der Niebelrungen picht ein Bricht--
Und hitt das Schlabbergasterfeldt!
"Ich dich! Ich dich!" die Maedchein schreit
Und so das Schlabbergaster deit!
Ach! weh das Niebelrungen spott
Ach! weh das Maedchein Turnverein
Und unser Meister lieben Gott--
Ach! weh das Weinerwurst und Wein!
Ach! weh das Bricht zum kleiner Geld--
Ach! weh das Schlabbergasterfeldt!_
Ever after this Walters gallery incident it was my duty, so he thought,
to keep Field's desk supplied with inks, not only of every color of the
rainbow, but with lake-white, gold, silver, and bronze, and any other
kind which his whim deemed necessary to give eccentric emphasis to some
line, word or letter in whatever he chanced to be composing. His
peremptory requests were generally preferred in writing, addressed "For
the Lusty Knight, Sir Slosson Thompson, Office," and delivered by his
grinning minion, the office factotum. Sometimes they were in verse, as
in the following:
_"Who spilt my bottle of ink?" said Field,
"Who spilt my bottle of ink?"
And then with a sigh, said Thompson, "'Twas I--
I broke that bottle of ink,
And wasted the beautiful ink."
"Who'll buy a bottle of ink?" asked Field,
"Who'll buy a bottle of ink?"
With a still deeper sigh his friend replied, "I--
I'll buy a bottle of ink
I'll buy a bottle of ink!"
"Oh, isn't this beautiful ink!" cried Field,
"Beautiful bilious ink!"
He shook the hand of his old friend, and
He tipped him a pleasant wink,
And a blink,
As he went to using that ink._
While Field insisted on a variegated assortment of inks he did not
demand a separate pen for each color. In lieu of these he possessed
himself of an old linen office coat, which he donned when it was cool
enough for a coat and used for a pen-wiper. When the temperature
rendered anything beyond shirt-sleeves superfluous, this linen affair
was hung so conveniently that he could still use it for what he
regarded as its primary use. In warm weather I wore a presentably clean
counterpart of Field's Joseph's coat of many colors. As often as
necessary this went to the laundry. One day when it had just returned
from one of these periodical visits, I was startled, but not surprised,
to find that Field had appropriated my spotless linen duster to his own
inky uses and left his own impossible creation hanging on my hook in
its stead. Field's version of what then occurred is beautifully, if not
truthfully, portrayed in the accompanying "Proper Sonet" and life-like
If the reader will imagine each mark on the coat, of which "Nompy"
bootlessly complains, done in different colors, he will have some idea
of the infinite pains Field bestowed on the details of his epistolary
Out of the remarkable series of postal appeals which Field sent to me
when I was visiting in New Brunswick grew an animated correspondence
between Field and my youngest sister. She bore the good old-fashioned
Christian names of Mary Matilda--a combination that struck a responsive
chord in Field's taste in nomenclature, while his "come at once, we are
starving" aroused her sense of humor to the point of forwarding an
enormous raised biscuit two thousand miles for the relief of two
Chicago sufferers. The result was an exchange of letters, one of which
has a direct bearing on his whimsical adoption of many-colored inks in
his writing. It read as follows:
[Illustration: A PROPER SONET.
_From a drawing in colors by Eugene Field._
Then Kriee 3 times his breast he smote,
And gruesome oaths swore he;
"Oh, bring back _mine_, and take _your_ coat--
Your painted coat, the which I note
Full ill besemmeth me!"
But swere and plede he as he mote,
Old Field said "No, ol' Nompy, no!
You'll get your coat not none no mo!"]
[Illustration: FIELD AND BALLANTYNE AWAITING THE ARRIVAL OF A BISCUIT
FROM NEW BRUNSWICK.
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._]
[red ink] CHICAGO, May the 7th, 1885.
[blue ink] Dear Miss:
I make bold to send herewith a diagram of the new rooms in which your
brother Slason is now [brown ink] ensconced. The drawing may be bad
and the perspective may be out of plumb, but the motif is good, as
you [green ink] will allow. All that Brother Slason needs now to
symmetrize his new abode is a box from home--a box filled [purple
ink] with those toothsome goodies which only a kind, loving,
indulgent sister can make and donate to an absent [black ink]
brother. Having completed my contribution to the Larned gallery, and
having exhibited the pictures in the [red ink] recent salon, I have a
large supply of colored inks on hand, which fact accounts for that
appearance of an [blue ink] Easter necktie or a crazy quilt which
this note has. In a few days I shall take the liberty of sending
[brown ink] you the third volume of the "Aunt Mary Matilda" series--a
tale of unusual power and interest. With [green ink] many reverential
obeisances and respectful assurances of regard, I beg to remain,
[lilac ink] Your obedient servant,
[purple ink] EUGENE FIELD,
[red ink] per
[blue ink] William Smith,
[brown ink] Secretary.
This epistle did indeed look like a crazy quilt. There was a change of
color at the beginning of each line, as I have endeavored to indicate.
It is beautifully written and in many respects besides its variegated
aspect is the most perfect specimen of Field's painstaking epistolary
handiwork I know of.
The "diagram of Mr. Slason Thompson's New Rooms" accompanying this
letter was entirely worthy of it, and must have afforded him hours of
boyish pleasure. No description can do it justice. He gave a ground
plan of two square rooms with the windows marked in red ink, the doors
in green, the bed, with a little figure on it, in blue, the fireplace
in yellow, chairs and tables in purple, and the "buttery," as he
insisted on calling the bathroom, in brown. As these apartments were in
the Pullman Building, on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams
Street, and commanded a glimpse of the lake, Field's diagram included a
representation of Lake Michigan by zigzag lines of blue ink, with a
single fish as long as a street-car, according to his scale, leering at
the spectator from the billowy depths of indigo blue. Everything in the
diagram was carefully identified in the key which accompanied it. An
idea of the infinite attention to detail Field bestowed on such
frivoling as this may be gathered from the accompanying cut of the
Pullman Building, from the seventh story of which I am shown waving a
welcome to the good but "impecunious knight." The inscription, in
Field's handwriting, tells the story.
[Illustration: THE GOOD KNIGHT SLOSSON'S CASTLE.
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._
The good knight Slosson from a watch tower of his castle desenith and
salutith the good Knight Eugene, sans peur et sans monie.]
[Illustration: A TRAGEDY IN FIVE ACTS.
_From drawings by Eugene Field._
The fair Mary Matilda skimming over the hills and dales of New
Lovelorn Eddie Martin in hot pursuit of same.
Lone pine in the deserted vale where the musquash watches for his
Horrible discovery made by the fair Mary Matilda upon her return to
the lone pine in the secluded vale.
All that is left of poor Eddie.]
Early in the spring of 1885 Field was inspired, by an account I gave
him of a snow-shoeing party my sister had described in one of her
letters, to compose the series of pen-and-ink tableaux reproduced on
pages 30 and 31.
An inkling as to the meaning of these weird pictures may be gleaned
from the letter I sent along with them to my sister, in which I wrote:
I was telling Field the story of your last snow-shoeing party when he
was prompted to the enclosed tragedy in five acts. He hopes that you
will not mistake the stars for mosquitoes, nor fail to comprehend the
terrible fate that has overtaken Eddy Martin at the mouth of the
voracious musquash, whose retreating tail speaks so eloquently of his
toothsome repast. The lone pine tree is a thing that you will enjoy;
also the expression of horror on your own face when you behold the
empty boots of Eddy. There is a tragedy too deep for tears in the
silent monuments of Field's ignorance of moccasins.
In explanation of the final scene in this "sad, eventful history" it
should be said that "poor Eddie" was a harmless, half-witted giant who
sawed the cord wood and did odd chores about my father's place. This
gives significance to the pendant buck-saw and the lonely wood-horse.
His lance rusts upon the wall and his steed stands silent in the stall.
The reader should not pass from these examples of Field's humor with
pen and ink without marking the changes that come across the face of
the moon as the tragedy unfolds.
That Field found a congenial spirit and correspondent in my sister is
further evidenced in the following letter written in gamboge brown:
CHICAGO, July the 2d, 1885.
In order that you may no longer groan under the erroneous impression
which you appear to harbor, touching my physique, I remit to you a
photograph of a majority of myself. The photograph was made last
December, when I was, so to speak, at my perihelion in the matter of
avoirdupois. You may be gratified to know that I have not shrunken
much since that time. I have taken the timely precaution to label the
picture in order that none of your Fredericton people thumbing over
your domestic album shall mistake me for either a young Episcopal
rector or a rising young negro minstrel.
The several drawings and paintings I have sent you ever and anon at
your brother's expense are really not the best samples of my art. Mr.
Walter Cranston Larned, a wealthy young tennis player of this city,
has most of my _chef d'oeuvres_ in his private gallery. I hope
to be able to paint you a landscape in oil very soon. There is no
sacrifice I would not be willing to make for one whom I esteem so
highly as I do you. It might be just as well not to read this line to
the old folks. Your brother Slosson has recently developed an
insatiate passion for horse racing, and in consequence of his losses
at pools I find him less prone to regale me with sumptuous cheer than
he was before the racing season broke out. The prince, too, has
blossomed out as a patron of the track, and I am slowly becoming more
and more aware that this is a bitter world. I think I may safely say
that I look wholly to such noble, generous young women as you and
your sisters to preserve in me a consciousness that there is in life
such a boon as generosity.
You will observe (if you have any eye for color) that I pen you these
lines in gamboge brown; this is because Fourth of July is so near at
hand. This side of the line we are fairly reeking with patriotism
just now; even that mugwump-alien--your brother--contemplates
celebrating in a fitting manner the anniversary of our country's
independence of _British Tyranny_!
Will you please slap Bessie for me--the pert minx! I heard of her
remarks about my story of Mary Matilda and the Prince.
Believe me as ever,
The story of "How Mary Matilda Won a Prince" was the third in what
Field called his "Aunt Mary Matilda Series." The first of these was
"The Lonesome Little Shoe" (see "The Holy Cross and Other Tales" of his
collected works), which, after it was printed in the Morning News, was
cut out and pasted in a little brown manila pamphlet, with marginal
illustrations of the most fantastic nature. The title page of this
precious specimen of Fieldiana is characteristic:
THE LONESOME LITTLE SHOE:
BEING A WONDERFUL NARRATIVE CULLED FROM
THE POSTHUMOUS PAPERS OF EUGENE FIELD
DEDICATED TO AUNT MARY MATILDA'S PRESENT
AND FUTURE NEPHEWS AND NIECES,
THEIR HEIRS, ASSIGNS AND ASSIGNEES
CANADIAN TRACT SOCIETY
What became of the second of this wonderful series no one knows. The
third, "How Mary Won a Prince," is the only instance that has come
under my notice where Field put any of his compositions in typewriter.
This was done to make the first edition consist of a single copy. The
prince and hero of this romantic tale was our associate, John F.
Ballantyne, and the story itself was "Inscribed to the beautiful,
accomplished, amiable and ever-to-be-revered, Miss Mary Matilda
Thompson, of Frederickton, York County, New Brunswick, Dominion of
Canada, 1885." It was said to be "elegantly illustrated," of which the
reader may judge from the accompanying reproductions.
HOW MARY MATILDA WON A PRINCE.
A gypsy had told Mary Matilda that she would marry a prince. This was
when Mary Matilda was a little girl. She had given the gypsy a nice,
fresh bun, and the gypsy was so grateful that she said she would tell
the little girl's fortune, so Mary Matilda held out her hand and the
old gypsy looked at it very closely.
"You are very generous," said the gypsy, "and your generosity will
cause a prince to fall in love with you; the prince will rescue you
from a great danger and you will wed the prince."
Having uttered these strange words, the gypsy went away and shortly
after was sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary for having
robbed a hen-roost.
Mary Matilda grew from childhood to be the most beautiful maiden in
all the province; none was so beautiful and so witty as she. Withal
she was so amiable and benevolent that all loved her, even those who
envied her the transcendent charms with which she was endowed. As the
unfortunate gypsy had predicted, Mary Matilda was the most generous
maiden on earth and the fame of her goodness was wide-spread.
Now Mary Matilda had an older brother who had gone to a far-off
country to become rich, and to accomplish those great political
reforms to which his ambition inclined him. His name was Slosson, and
in the far-off country he fell in with two young men of his own age
who were of similar ambition. But they were even poorer than Slosson,
and what particularly grieved them was the fact that their lineage
was obscured by dark clouds of doubt. That is to say, they were
unable to determine with any degree of positiveness whether they were
of noble extraction; their parents refused to inform them, and
consequently they were deeply distressed, as you can well imagine.
Slosson was much charmed with their handsome bearing, chivalric ways,
and honorable aspirations, and his pity was evoked by their poverty
and their frequent sufferings for the very requirements of life.
Freely he shared his little all with them, in return for which they
gave him their gratitude and affection. One day Slosson wrote a
letter to his sister Mary Matilda, saying: "A hard winter is coming
on and our store of provisions is nearly exhausted. My two friends
are in much distress and so am I. We have accomplished a political
revolution, but under the civil service laws we can hardly expect an
Mary Matilda was profoundly touched by this letter. Her tender heart
bled whenever she thought of her absent brother, and instinctively
her sympathies went out toward his two companions in distress. So in
her own quiet, maidenly way she set about devising a means for the
relief of the unfortunate young men. She made a cake, a beautiful
cake stuffed with plums and ornamented with a lovely design
representing the lost Pleiad, which you perhaps know was a young lady
who lived long ago and acquired eternal fame by dropping out of the
procession and never getting back again. Well, Mary Matilda put this
delicious cake in a beautiful paper collar-box and sent it in all
haste to her brother and his two friends in the far-off country.
Great was Slosson's joy upon receiving this palatable boon, and great
was the joy of his two friends, who it must be confessed were on the
very brink of starvation. The messages Mary Matilda received from the
grateful young men, who owed their rescue to her, must have pleased
her, although the consciousness of a noble deed is better than words
But one day Mary Matilda got another letter from her brother Slosson
which plunged her into profound melancholy. "Weep with me, dear
Sister," he wrote, "for one of my companions, Juan, has left me. He
was the youngest, and I fear some great misfortune has befallen him,
for he was ever brooding over the mystery of his lineage. Yesterday
he left us and we have not seen him since. He took my lavender
trousers with him."
As you may easily suppose, Mary Matilda was much cast down by this
fell intelligence. She drooped like a blighted lily and wept.
"What can ail our Mary Matilda?" queried her mother. "The roses have
vanished from her cheeks, the fire has gone out of her orbs, and her
step has lost its old-time cunning. I am much worried about her."
They all noticed her changed appearance. Even Eddie Martin, the
herculean wood-sawyer, observed the dejection with which the
sorrow-stricken maiden emerged from the house and handed him his
noontide rations of nutcakes and buttermilk. But Mary Matilda spoke
of the causes of her woe to none of them. In silence she brooded over
the mystery of Juan's disappearance.
[Illustration: THE PRINCE ASKING EDDIE MARTIN ABOUT THE FAIR MARY
When the winter came and the soft, fair snow lay ten or twelve feet
deep on the level on the forest and stream, on wold and woodland,
little Bessie once asked Mary Matilda if she would not take her out
for a walk. Now little Bessie was Mary Matilda's niece, and she was
such a sweet little girl that Mary Matilda could never say "no" to
anything she asked.
"Yes, Bessie," said Mary Matilda, "if you will bundle up nice and warm
I will take you out for a short walk of twenty or thirty miles."
So Bessie bundled up nice and warm. Then Mary Matilda went out on the
porch and launched her two snow-shoes and got into them and harnessed
them to her tiny feet.
"Where are you going?" asked Eddie Martin, pausing in his work and
leaning his saw against a slab of green maple.
"I am going to take Bessie out for a short walk," replied Mary
"Are you not afraid to go alone?" said Eddie Martin. "You know the
musquashes are very thick, and this spell of winter weather has made
them very hungry and ferocious."
"No, I am not afraid of the musquashes," replied Mary Matilda. But
she _was_ afraid of them: only she did not want to tell Eddie
Martin so, for fear he would want to go with her. This was the first
and only wrong story Mary Matilda ever told.
Having grasped little Bessie by the hand, Mary Matilda stepped over
the fence and was soon lost to view. Scarcely had she gone when a
tall, thin, haggard looking young man came down the street and leaned
over the back gate.
"Can you tell me," he asked in weary tones, "whether the beautiful
Mary Matilda abides hereabouts?"
"She lives here," replied Eddie Martin, "but she has gone for a walk
with little Bessie."
"Whither did they drift?" queried the mysterious unknown.
"They started toward the Nashwaaksis," said Eddie Martin. "And I
sadly fear the deadly musquash will pursue them."
The stranger turned pale and trembled at the suggestion.
"Will you lend me your saw for a brief period?" he asked.
"Why?" inquired Eddie Martin.
"To rescue the fair Mary Matilda from the musquashes," replied the
stranger. Then he seized the saw, and with pale face started in the
direction Mary Matilda had gone.
Meanwhile Mary Matilda had crossed the Nashwaaksis and was speeding
in a southerly course toward the Nashwaak. The gentle breeze favored
her progress, and as she sailed along, the snow danced like frozen
feathers around her.
"Oh, how nice!" cried little Bessie.
"Yes, this clear, fresh, cold air gives one new life," said Mary
They now came to the Nashwaak, on the farther bank of which were
crouched a pack of hungry musquashes eagerly awaiting the approach of
Mary Matilda and little Bessie.
"Hush," whispered the old big musquash. "Make no noise or they will
hear us and make good their escape." But just then another musquash
carelessly trod on the big musquash's tail and the old musquash
roared with pain.
"What was that?" cried little Bessie.
Mary Matilda had heard the strange cry. She paused to listen. Then
she saw the pack of musquashes in the snow on the farthest bank of
the Nashwaak. Oh, how frightened she was! but with a shrill cry she
seized Bessie in her arms, and, turning swiftly about, fled in the
direction of McLeod hill. The musquashes saw her retreating, and with
a howl of commingled rage and disappointment they started in hot
pursuit. They ran like mad, as only starving musquashes can run.
Every moment they gained on the maiden and her human charge until at
last they were at her very heels. Mary Matilda remembered she had
some beechnuts in her pocket. She reached down, grasped a handful of
the succulent fruit and cast it to her insatiate pursuers. It stayed
their pursuit for a moment, but in another moment they were on her
track again, howling demoniacally. Another handful of the beechnuts
went to the ravenous horde, and still another. By this time Mary
Matilda had reached McLeod hill and was crossing the Nashwaaksis. Her
imagination pictured a scuttled brigantine lying in the frozen
stream. On its slippery deck stood a pirate, waving a gory cutlass.
[Illustration: THE PRINCE'S COAT-OF-ARMS--FLIGHT OF THE FAIR MARY
MATILDA--THE AGGRAVATING MIRAGE.]
"Ha, ha, ho, ho!" laughed the gory and bearded pirate.
"Save me!" cried Mary Matilda. "My beechnuts are all gone!"
"Throw them the baby!" answered the bearded pirate, "and save
yourself! Ha, ha, ho, ho!"
Should she do it? Should she throw little Bessie to the devouring
musquashes? No, she could not stoop to that ungenerous deed.
"No, base pirate!" she cried. "I would not so demean myself!"
But the scuttled brigantine had disappeared. Mary Matilda saw it was
a mirage. Meanwhile the musquashes gained on her. The beechnuts had
whetted their appetite. It seemed as if they were sure of their prey.
But all at once they stopped, and Mary Matilda stopped, too. They
were confronted by a haggard but manly form. It was the mysterious
young stranger, and he had a saw which Eddie Martin had lent him. His
aspect was so terrible that the musquashes turned to flee, but they
were too late. The mysterious stranger laid about him so vigorously
with his saw that the musquashes soon were in bits. Here was a tail,
there a leg; here an ear, there a nose--oh, it was a rare potpourri,
I can tell you! Finally the musquashes all were dead.
"To whom am I indebted for my salvation?" inquired Mary Matilda,
"Alas, I do not know," replied the wan stranger. "I am called Juan,
but my lineage is enveloped in gloom."
At once Mary Matilda suspected he was her brother's missing friend,
and this suspicion was confirmed by the lavender trousers he wore.
She questioned him closely, and he told her all. Bessie heard all he
said, and she could tell you more particularly than I can about it. I
only know that Juan confessed that, having tasted of Mary Matilda's
cake, he fell deeply in love with her and had come all this distance
to ask her to be his, indissolubly.
"Still," said he, sadly, "'tis too much to ask you to link your
destiny with one whose lineage is not known."
By this time they had reached the back-yard gate. Eddie Martin was
sitting on the wood-pile talking with a weird old woman. The weird
old woman scrutinized Mary Matilda closely.
"Do you know me?" she asked.
"No," said Mary Matilda.
"I have been serving ten years for a mild indiscretion," said the old
woman, sadly. "I am the gypsy who told your fortune many years ago."
Then the old gypsy's keen eyes fell on Juan, the stranger. She gave a
"I have seen that face before!" she cried, trembling with emotion.
"When I knew it, it was a baby face; but the spectacles are still the
[Illustration: BROTHER SLOSSON AND HIS OTHER FRIEND EN ROUTE TO THE
Juan also quivered with emotion.
"Have you a thistle mark on your left arm?" demanded the old gypsy,
"Yes," he answered, hoarsely; and pulling up the sleeve of his linen
ulster he exposed the beautiful emblem on his emaciated arm.
"It is as I suspected!" cried the old gypsy. "You are the Prince of
Lochdougal, heir presumptive to the estates and titles of the
Stuarts." And with these words the old gypsy swooned in Eddie
When she came to, she explained that she had been a stewardess in the
Lochdougal castle at Inverness when Juan's parents had been exiled
for alleged conspiracy against the queen. Juan was then a prattling
babe; but even then he gave promise of a princely future. Since his
arrival at maturity his parents had feared to impart to him the
secret of his lineage, lest he might return to Scotland and attempt
to recover his estates, thereby incurring the resentment of the
Of course when she heard of his noble lineage, Mary Matilda could do
naught but accept the addresses of the brave prince. He speedily
regained his health and flesh under the grateful influences of her
cuisine. The wedding day has been set, and little Bessie is to be one
of her bridesmaids. The brother Slosson is to be present, and he is
to bring with him his other friend, whose name he will not mention,
since his lineage is still in doubt.
"There's no art," said the doomed Duncan, "to find the mind's
construction in the face," nor after a somewhat extensive acquaintance
with men and their letters am I inclined to think there is very much
to be found of the true individuality of men in their letters. All
men, and especially literary men, seem to consider themselves on dress
parade in their correspondence, and pose accordingly. Ninety-nine
persons out of a hundred are more self-conscious in writing than they
are in talking. Even the least conscious seem to imagine that what
they put down in black and white is to pass under some censorious eye.
The professional writer, whether his reputation be international,
like that of a Lowell or a Stevenson, or confined to the circle of
his village associates, never appears to pen a line without some
affectation. The literary artist does this with an ease and grace that
provokes comment upon its charming naturalness, the journeyman only
occasions some remark upon his effort to "show off." If language was
given us to conceal thoughts, letter writing goes a step further and
puts the black-and-white mask of deliberation on language.
Eugene Field was no exception to the rule that literary men scarcely
ever write letters for the mere perusal or information of the
recipient. He almost always wrote for an ulterior effect or for an
ulterior audience. But he seldom wrote letters deliberately for
reproduction in his "Memoirs." If he had done so they would have been
written so skilfully that he would have made himself out to be pretty
much the particular kind of a character he pleased. For obvious
reasons most of the communications that passed between Field and
myself were verbal, across a partition in the office, or by notes that
were destroyed as soon as they had served their purpose. That Field
had other correspondents the following request for a postage stamp
_THE GOOD KNIGHT'S DIPLOMACY.
One evening in his normal plight
The good but impecunious knight
Addressing Thompson said:
"Methinks a great increasing fame
Shall add new glory to thy name,
And cluster round thy head.
"There is no knight but he will yield
Before thy valor in the Field
Or in exploits of arms;
And all admit the pleasing force
Of thy most eloquent discourse--
Such are thy social charms.
"Alike to lord and vassal dear
Thou dost incline a pitying ear
To fellow-men in pain;
And be he wounded, sick, or broke,
No brother knight doth e'er invoke
Thy knightly aid in vain.
"Such--such a gentle knight thou art,
And it is solace to my heart
To have so fair a friend.
No better, sweeter boon I pray
Than thy affection--by the way,
Hast thou a stamp to lend?"
"Aye, marry, 'tis my sweet delight
To succor such an honest knight!"
Sir Thompson straight replied.
Field caught the proffered treasure up,
Then tossing off a stirrup-cup
From out the castle hied.
July 2d, 1885._
 In this specimen of Field's privately circulated verse, as in
his letters, his own punctuation and capitalization are followed.
He had a system of his own which, when complicated with the
office style of the News, resulted in most admirable confusion
Was ever request for so small a "boon" couched in such lordly pomp of
phrase and in such insinuating rhyme?
It was shortly after Field secured this boon that he had his first
opportunity to waste postage stamps on me. With a party of friends I
went up to Mackinac Island to spend a few days. By the first mail that
reached the island after I had registered at the old Island House, I
received a letter bearing in no less than five different colored inks
the following unique superscription:
For that Most Illustrious and Puissant Knight Errant,
_Sir Slosson Thompson_,
Erstwhile of Chicago, but now illumining
_Mackinac Island, Michigan,_
Where, under civic guise, he is accomplishing prodigious slaughter
among the fish that do infest that coast.
It may be taken for granted that the clerks and the hotel guests were
consumed with curiosity as to the contents of an envelope over which
they had a chance to speculate before it reached me. These were:
CHICAGO, July 19th, 1885.
Heedful of the promise I made to thee prior to thy setting out for
the far-distant province of Mackinac, I am minded to temporarily lay
aside the accoutrements of war and the chase, and pen thee this
missive wherein I do discourse of all that has happened since thy
departure. Upon Saturday I did lunch with that ill-tempered knight,
Sir P----, and in the evening did I discuss a goodly feast with Sir
Cowan, than whom a more hospitable knight doth not exist--saving only
and always thyself, which art the paragon of courtesy. This day did I
lunch at my own expense, but in very sooth I had it charged, whereat
did the damned Dutchman sorely lament. Would to God I were now
assured at whose expense I shall lunch upon the morrow and the many
days that must elapse ere thy coming hence.
By this courier I send thee divers rhymes which may divert thee.
Soothly they are most honest chronicles, albeit in all modesty I may
say they do not o'erpraise me.
The good Knight Melville crieth it from the battlements that he will
go into a far country next week. Meanwhile the valorous Sir
Ballantyne saweth wood but sayeth naught. That winsome handmaiden
Birdie quitteth our service a week hence; marry, I shall miss the
The fair lady Julia doth commend thy prudence in getting out of the
way ere she reproaches thee for seducing the good Knight into that
Milwaukee journey, of the responsibility of which naughtiness I have
in very sooth washed my hands as clean as a sheep's liver.
By what good fortune, too, hast thou escaped the heat and toil of
this irksome weather. By my halidom the valor trickleth down my
knightly chin as I pen these few lines, and my shirt cleaveth to my
back like a porous plaster. The good knight of the Talking Cat
speaketh to me of taking his vacation in the middle of August,
whereat I much grieve, having a mind to hie me away at that sweet
One sumptuous feast have we already had at thy expense at Boyle's, as
by the check thou shalt descry on thy return. Sir Harper did send me
a large fish from Lake Okeboji to-day, which the same did I and my
heirdom devour triumphantly this very evening. I have not beheld the
Knight of the Lawn since thy departure. Make fair obeisance to the
sweet ladies who are with thee, and remember me in all courtesy to
Sir Barbour, the good Knight of the Four Winds.
Kissing thy hand a thousand times, I sign myself
Thy loyal and sweet servant,
The Good and Honest Knight.
Under another cover addressed ostentatiously:
"For the Good and Generous Knight, Sir Slosson Thompson, now summering
amid rejoicings and with triumphant cheer at Mackinac Island, Michigan,"
came the following poem, entitled:
_THE GOOD SIR SLOSSON'S EPISODE WITH THE GARRULOUS SIR BARBOUR
Sir Slosson and companions three--
With hearts that reeked with careless glee--
Strode down the golden sand,
And pausing on the pebbly shore,
They heard the sullen, solemn roar
Of surf on every hand.
Then Lady Florence said "I ween"--
"Nay, 'tis not half so grand a scene,"
Sir Barbour quickly cried,
"As you may see in my fair state,
Where swings the well-greased golden gate
Above the foamy tide."
Sir Slosson quoth, "In very sooth"--
"Nay, say not so, impetuous youth,"
Sir Barbour made his boast:
"This northern breeze will not compare
With that delicious perfumed air
Which broods upon our coast."
Then Lady Helen fain would say
Her word, but in his restless way
Sir Barbour nipped that word;
The other three were dumb perforce--
Except Sir Barbour's glib discourse,
No human sound was heard.
And even that majestic roar
Of breakers on the northern shore
Sank to a murmur low;
The winds recoiled and cried, "I' sooth,
Until we heard this 'Frisco youth,
We reckoned we could blow!"
Sir Slosson paled with pent-up ire--
His eyes emitted fitful fire--
With rage his blood congealed;
Yet, exercising sweet restraint,
He swore no vow and breathed no plaint--
But pined for Good Old Field.
The ladies, too, we dare to say,
(If they survived that fateful day),
Eschew all 'Frisco men,
Who, as perchance you have inferred,
Won't let a person get a word
In edgewise now and then._
The subject of the good-natured and clever satire was our mutual
friend, Barbour Lathrop, with whom I had been associated in journalism
in San Francisco and who is famous from the Bohemian Club literally
around the globe and in many of its most out-of-the-way islands as a
most entertaining, albeit incessant, story-teller and conversationalist.
Pretty nearly all subjects that interest humanity have engaged his
attention. He could no more rest from travel than Ulysses; and he
brought to those he associated with all the fruits that faring forth
in strange lands could give to a mind singularly alert for education
and experience under any and all conditions. His fondness for
monologue frequently exposed him to raillery, like the above, in the
column where Field daily held a monopoly of table talk.
But the episode with the "Garrulous Sir Barbour" was not the rhyme of
chief interest (to Field and me) forwarded by "this courier."
This was confided to a third envelope even more elaborately addressed
and embellished than either of the others, as follows:
For the valorous, joyous, Triumphant and Glorious Knight,
The ever gentle and Courteous Flower of Chivalry,
Cream of Knight Errantry and Pole Star of Manly virtues,
_Sir Slosson Thompson_,
who doth for the nonce sojourn at
_Mackinac Island, Michigan_,
Where under the guise of a lone Fisherman he is
regaled with sumptuous cheer and divers rejoicings,
wherein he doth right merrily disport.
The rhyme under this cover in which the impecunious knight did not
"overpraise" himself bore the title "How the Good Knight protected Sir
Slosson's Credit," and was well calculated to fill me with forebodings.
It ran in this wise:
_One midnight hour, Sir Ballantyne
Addressed Old Field: "Good comrade mine,
The times i' faith are drear;
Since you have not a son to spend
I would to God our generous friend
Sir Slosson now were here!"
Then spake the Impecunious Knight,
Regardful of his piteous plight:
"Odds bobs, you say the truth;
For since our friend has gone away,
It doth devolve on thee to pay--
Else would I starve i' sooth."
Emerging from their lofty lair
This much bereaved but worthy pair
Proceeded unto Boyle's,
Agreed that buttered toast would do.
Although they were accustomed to
The choicest roasts and broils.
"Heyday, sir knights," a varlet cried
('Twas Charlie, famous far and wide
As Boyle's devoted squire);
"Sir Slosson telegraphs me to
Deliver straightway unto you
Whatever you desire."
The knights with radiant features saw
The message dated Mackinaw--
Then ordered sumptuous cheer;
Two dollars' worth, at least, they "cheered"
While from his counter Charlie leered
An instigating leer.
I wot poor Charlie did not dream
The telegram was but a scheme
To mulct Sir Slosson's pelf;
For in the absence of his friend
The Honest Knight made bold to send
That telegram himself.
Oh, honest Field I to keep aright
The credit of an absent Knight--
And undefiled his name!
Upon such service for thy friends
Such knightly courtesies depends
Thy everlasting fame!_
Two days later I received a postal written in a disguised hand by
Ballantyne, I think, and purporting to come from "Charlie," showing
the progress of the conspiracy to mulct Sir Slosson's pelf. It read:
Fields and Ballantyne gave me the telegram tonight ordering one
supper. But they have been eating all the week at your expense. Is
it all right?
And by the same mail came this comforting epistle from the arch
CHICAGO, July the 22d, 1885.
DEAR SIR KNIGHT:
I have been too busy to reply to your many kind letters before this.
On receipt of your telegram last night, we went to Boyle's and had
sumptuous cheer at your expense. Charlie has begun to demur, and
intends to write you a letter. Browne wrote me a note the other day.
I enclose it to you. Please keep it for me. I hope your work will
pan out more successfully.
I had a long talk with Stone to-night, and churned him up about the
paper. He agreed with me in nearly all particulars. He is going to
fire W---- when D---- goes (August 1). He said, "I am going to have a
lively shaking up at that time." One important change I am not at
liberty to specify, but you will approve it. By the way, Stone spoke
very highly of you and your work. It would be safe for you to strike
him on the salary question as soon as you please. The weather is
oppressively warm. Things run along about so so in the office.
Hawkins told me he woke up the other night, and could not go to sleep
again till he had sung a song. The Dutch girls at Henrici's inquire
tenderly for you.... Hastily yours,
The note from Mr. Browne here mentioned related to the proposed
publication of a collection of Field's verse and stories. The Browne
was Francis F., for a long time editor of The Dial, and at that time
holding the position of principal reader for A.C. McClurg & Co. As I
remember, Mr. Browne was favorably disposed toward putting out a
volume of Field's writings, but General McClurg was not enamoured of
the breezy sort of personal persiflage with which Field's name was
then chiefly associated. This was several years before Field made the
Saints' and Sinners' Corner in McClurg's Chicago book-store famous
throughout the bibliomaniac world by fictitious reports relating to it
printed occasionally in his "Sharps and Flats" column. It was not
until 1893 that McClurg & Co. published any of Field's writings.
My work to which Field refers was the collection of newspaper and
periodical verse entitled "The Humbler Poets," which McClurg & Co.
Enclosed in the letter of July 22d was the following characteristic
account, conveying the impression that while he was willing to waste
all the resources of his colored inks and literary ingenuity on our
friendship, I must pay the freight. I think he had a superstition that
it would cause a flaw in his title of "The Good Knight, _sans peur
et sans monnaie_" if he were to add the price of a two-cent postage
stamp to that waste.
[Illustration: A STAMP ACCOUNT.
Mr. Slosson Thompson.
to Eugene Field, Dr.
To 4 stamps at 2 cts--July 20--.08
To 1 stamp --July 22--.02
[Illustration: AN ECHO FROM MACKINAC ISLAND.
_With drawings by Eugene Field._]
Shortly after my return from Mackinac, Field presented me with the
following verses, enlivened with several drawings in colors, entitled
"An Echo from Mackinac Island, August, 1885":
_A Thompson went rowing out into the strait--
Out into the strait in the early morn;
His step was light and his brow elate,
And his shirt was as new as the day just born.
His brow was cool and his breath was free,
And his hands were soft as a lady's hands,
And a song of the booming waves sang he
As he launched his bark from the golden sands.
The grayling chuckled a hoarse "ha-ha,"
And the Cisco tittered a rude "he-he"--
But the Thompson merrily sang "tra-la"
As his bark bounced over the Northern Sea._
_A Thompson came bobbling back into the bay--
Back into the bay as the Sun sank low,
And the people knew there was hell to pay,
For HE wasn't the first who had come back so.
His nose was skinned and his spine was sore,
And the blisters speckled his hands so white--
He had lost his hat and had dropped an oar,
And his bosom-shirt was a sad sea sight.
And the grayling chuckled again "ha-ha,"
And the Cisco tittered a harsh "ho-ho"--
But the Thompson anchored furninst a bar
And called for a schooner to drown his woe._
During the fall of 1885 I was again sent East on some political work
that took me to Saratoga and New York. As usual, Field was unremitting
in his epistolary attentions with which I will not weary the reader.
But on the journey back from New York they afforded entertainment and
almost excited the commiseration of a young lady travelling home under
my escort. When we reached Chicago I casually remarked that if she was
so moved by Field's financial straits I would take pleasure in
conveying as much truage to the impecunious knight as would provide
him with buttered toast, coffee, and pie at Henrici's. She accordingly
entrusted me with a quarter of a dollar, which I was to deliver with
every assurance of her esteem and sympathy. As I was pledged not to
reveal the donor's name, this tribute of silver provided Field with
another character, whom he named "The Fair Unknown," and to whom he
indited several touching ballads, of which the first was:
_THE GOOD KNIGHT AND THE FAIR UNKNOWN
Now, once when this good knight was broke
And all his chattels were in soak,
The brave Sir Thompson came
And saith: "I' faith accept this loan
Of silver from a fair unknown--
But do not ask her name!"
The Good Knight dropped his wassail cup
And took the proffered bauble up,
And cautiously he bit
Its surface, but it would not yield,
Which did convince the grand old Field
It was not counterfeit.
Then quoth the Good Knight, as he wept:
"Soothly this boon I must accept,
Else would I sore offend
The doer of this timely deed,
The nymph who would allay my need--
My fair but unknown friend.
"But take to her, O gallant knight,
This signet with my solemn plight
To seek her presence straight,
When varlets or a caitiff crew
Resolved some evil deed to do--
Besiege her castle gate.
"Then when her faithful squire shall bring
To him who sent this signet ring
Invoking aid of me--
Lo, by my faith, with this good sword
Will I disperse the base-born horde
And set the princess free!
"And yet, Sir Thompson, if I send
This signet to my unknown friend,
I jeopardize my life;
For this fair signet which you see,
Odds bobs, doth not belong to me,
But to my brawny wife!
"I should not risk so sweet a thing
As my salvation for a ring,
And all through jealous spite!
Haste to the fair unknown and say
You lost the ring upon the way--
Come, there's a courteous Knight!"
Eftsoons he spake, the Good Knight drew
His visor down, and waving to
Sir Thompson fond farewell,
He leapt upon his courser fleet
And crossed the drawbridge to the street
Which was ycleped La Salle._
Another bit of verse was inspired by this incident which is worth
preserving: One night I was dining at the house of a friend on the
North Side where the "Fair Unknown" was one of the company--a fact of
which Field only became possessed when I left the office late in the
afternoon. The dinner had not progressed quite to the withdrawal of
the ladies when, with some confusion, one of the waiting-men brought
in and gave to me a large packet from the office marked "Personal;
deliver at once." Thinking it had something to do with work for the
Morning News, I asked to be excused and hastily tore the enclosure
open. One glance was enough to disclose its nature. It was a poem from
Field, neatly arranged in the form of a pamphlet, with an illustration
by Sclanders. The outside, which was in the form of a title page, ran
HOW THE GOOD KNIGHT ATTENDED UPON SIR SLOSSON:
BEING A WOEFUL TALE
THE MOST JOYOUS AND DIVERTING DAYS
KNIGHTS ERRANT DID COURTEOUSLY
AND ACHIEVE PRODIGIES OF VALOR,
MARVELS OF SWEET FRIENDSHIP.
And inside the plaintive story was told in variegated ink in the
_One chilly raw November night
Beneath a dull electric light,
At half-past ten o'clock,
The Good Knight, wan and hungry, stood,
And in a half-expectant mood
Peered up and down the block.
The smell of viands floated by
The Good Knight from a basement nigh
And tantalized his soul.
Keenly his classic, knightly nose
Envied the fragrance that arose
From many a steaming bowl.
Pining for stews not brewed for him,
The Good Knight stood there gaunt and grim--
A paragon of woe;
And muttered in a chiding tone,
"Odds bobs! Sir Slosson must have known
'Twas going to rain or snow!"
But while the Good and Honest Knight
Flocked by himself in sorry plight,
Sir Slosson did regale
Himself within a castle grand--
of the Good Knight and
His wonted stoup of ale.
Mid joyous knights and ladies fair
He little recked the evening air
Blew bitterly without;
Heedless of pelting storms that came
To drench his friend's dyspeptic frame,
He joined the merry rout.
But underneath the corner light
Lingered the impecunious Knight--
Wet, hungry and alone--
Hoping that from Sir Slosson some
Encouragement mayhap would come,
Or from the Fair Unknown._
The drawing in this verse marks the beginning of the transfer of our
patronage from the steaks and gamblers' frowns of Billy Boyle's to
the oysters and the cricket's friendly chirps of the Boston Oyster
House. The reference to Field's "dyspeptic frame" is not without its
significance, for it was about this time that he became increasingly
conscious of that weakness of the stomach that grew upon him and
began to give him serious concern.
How Field seized upon my absence from the city for the briefest visit
to bombard me with queer and fanciful letters, found another
illustration during Christmas week, 1885, which I spent with a house
party at Blair Lodge, the home of Walter Cranston Larned, whom I have
already mentioned as the possessor of Field's two masterpieces in
color. Each day of my stay was enlivened by a letter from Field. As
they are admirable specimens of the wonderful pains he took with
letters of this sort, and the expertness he attained in the command
of the archaic form of English, I need no excuse for introducing them
here. The first, which bears date "December 27th, 1385," was written
on an imitation sheet of old letter paper, browned with dirt and
ragged edged. In the order of receipt these letters were as follows:
Soothly, sweet Sir, by thy hegira am I brought into sore distress and
grievous discomfiture; for not only doth that austere man, Sir
Melville, make me to perform prodigies of literary prowess, but all
the other knights do laugh me to scorn and entreat me shamelessly
when I be an hungered and do importune them for pelf whereby I may
compass victual. Aye, marry, by my faith, I swear't, it hath gone ill
with me since you strode from my castle in the direction of the
province wherein doth dwell Sir Walter, the Knight of the Tennis and
Toboggan. I beseech thee to hie presently unto me, or at least to
send silver or gold wherewith I may procure cheer--else will it go
hard with me, mayhap I shall die, in which event I do hereby name and
constitute thee executor of my estates and I do call upon the saints
in heaven to witness the solemn instrument. Verily, good Sir, I do
grievously miss thee and I do pine for thy joyous discourse and
triumphant cheer, nor, by my blade, shall I be content until once
more thou art come to keep me company.
Touching that varlet Knight, Sir Frank de Dock, I have naught to say,
save and excepting only that he be a caitiff and base-born dotard
that did deride me and steal away unto his castle this very night
when I did supplicate him to regale me with goodly viands around the
board of that noble host, the gracious Sir Wralsy of Murdough. I
would to heaven a murrain would seize the hearts of all such craven
caitiffs who hath not in them the sweet courtesy and generous
hospitality that doth so well become thee, O glorious and
ever-to-be-mulcted Sir Knight of the well-stored wallet. I do beseech
thee to have a care to spread about in the province wherein thou dost
sojourn a fair report of my gentleness and valor. Commend me to the
glorious and triumphant ladies and privily advise them to send me
hence guerdons of gold or silver if haply they are tormented by base
enchanters, cruel dragons, vile hippogriffins, or other untoward
monsters, and I do swear to redress their wrongs when those guerdons
do come unto me. For it doth delight me beyond all else to avenge
foul insults heaped upon princesses and lorn maidens. If so be thou
dost behold that incomparable pearl of female beauty and virtue, the
Fair Unknown, prithee kiss thou her bejewelled hand for me and by thy
invincible blade renew my allegiance unto her sweet cause. Methinks
her sunny locks and azure orbs do haunt my dreams, and anon I hear
her silvery tones supplicating me to accept another arms. And I do
lustily beshrew fate that these be but dreams.
Now in very sooth do I pray ye may speedily come unto me. Or if you
abide in that far-off province, heaven grant ye prosperity and
happiness such as surely cannot befall the Good Knight till thou dost
uplift his arms again.
I do supplicate thee to make obeisance unto all in my name and to
send hither tidings of thy well-being. How goeth the jousts and
tourneys with the toboggan, and hath the cyclonic Sir Barbour wrought
much havoc with his perennial rhetoric in the midst of thee? I do
kiss thy hand and subscribe myself,
Thy sweet and sorry slave,
THE GOOD KNIGHT.
All of this exercise in the phraseology of chivalry was written on a
single sheet of note-paper with such generous margins that the text
only covered a space of two and one-half by four inches on each page.
Next day I received the second of this knightly series:
While I addressed thee fair and subtile words on yester even, O
sweet and incomparable knight! there did enter into my presence a
base enchanter who did evilly enchant and bewitch me, making me to
do dire offence unto the mother tongue. Soothly this base born
enchanter did cause me to write "arms," when soothly I did mean an
"alms," and sore grievousness be come upon me lest haply thou dost
not understand this matter ere this missive reach thee. I do beseech
thee have a care to tell the fair princesses and glorious ladies
that I am in very truth a courteous knight and learned eke, and that
I shall neither taste food nor wine until I have slain the evil
enchanter that did so foully bewitch me. Odds bobs, I trow it was
that varlet dotard, Sir Frank de Dock, who hath entreated me most
naughtily since thou art departed unto that far-off province. By
this courier do I dispatch certain papers of state unto thee, and
faith would I have dispatched thy wages eke, but that caitiff
in minion, Sir Shekelsford, did taunt and revile me when I did
supplicate him to give up.
The incomparable Sir Melville hath all the good knights writing
editorials this eve, from the hoary and senile Dock down to the
knavish squire that sweeps out the castle.
May peace bide with thee in thy waking hours and brood o'er thy
slumbers, good gentle sir, and may heaven speed the day when in fair
health and well-walleted thou shalt return unto
Thy pining and sweet slave,
THE GOOD KNIGHT.
December 28th, 1885.
Before another day elapsed I received the third, and, in some respects,
most interesting of this series, addressed to me by my knightly title
at "Blair Lodge Castle, Lake Forest," which is less than thirty miles
Joyous and merry knight:--Soothly I wot this be the last message you
shall have from me ere you be come again hence, since else than the
stamp hereupon attached have I none nor ween I whence another can be
gotten. By the bright brow of Saint Aelfrida, this is a sorry world,
and misery and vexation do hedge us round about! A letter did this
day come unto the joyous and buxom wench, the lady Augusta, wherein
did Sir Ballantyne write how that he did not believe that the poem
"Thine Eyes" was printed in Sir Slosson's book. Now by St. Dunstan!
right merrily will he rail when so he learneth the whole truth.
Sir Melville hath not yet crossed the drawbridge of the castle,
albeit it lacketh now but the length of a barleycorn till the tenth
hour. Sir Frank de Dock hath hied him home for he is truly a senile
varlet and when I did supplicate him to regale me with a pasty this
night he quoth, "Out upon thee, thou scurvy leech!" "Beshrew
thyself, thou hoary dotard!" quoth I, nor tarried I in his presence
the saying of a pater noster, but departing hence did sup with that
lusty blade, Sir Paul of Hull, and verily he did regale me as well
beseemeth a good knight and a gentle eke.
Now, by my sword I swear't, all this venal and base-born rabble
shall rue their folly when thou art returned, O nonpareil of all the
brave and hospitable! I pray thee bring rich booty from that
province wherein thou dost now tarry--crowns, derniers, livres,
ducats, golden angels, and farthings. Then soothly shall we make
merry o'er butts of good October brewing. Commend me to the discreet
and beauteous ladies after the manner of that country, for I have
heard their virtues highly praised, it being said that they do sing
well, play the lute and spinet and work fair marvels with the
needle. I do beseech thee bespeak me fair unto the grand seneschal,
Sir Barbour, and thy joyous and courteous host, Sir Walter. In sooth
it is a devilry how I do miss you. Thy friend and slave in sweetness
THE GOOD KNIGHT.
December 29th, 1885.
In the fall and winter of 1885-86 I succeeded in inducing Field to
take the only form of exercise he was ever known voluntarily to
indulge. While his column of "Sharps and Flats" to the end bore
almost daily testimony to his enthusiastic devotion to the national
game and of his critical familiarity with its fine points and
leading exponents, he was never known to bat or throw a ball. He
never wearied of singing the praises in prose and verse of Michael
J. Kelly, who for many years was the star of the celebrated "White
Stockings" of Chicago when it won the National League pennant year
after year. Nor did he cease to revile the Chicago base-ball
management when it transferred "King Kel" to the Boston club for the
then unheard-of premium of $10,000. When the base-ball season was at
its height his column would bristle with the proofs of his vivid
interest in it. I have known it on one day to contain over a score
of paragraphs relating to the national game, encouraging the home
nine or lampooning the rival club with all the personal vivacity of
a sporting reporter writing for a country weekly. Interspersed among
these notes would be many an odorous comparison like this, printed