First Baseball Poem?
Rummaging through old files, I came upon this, from the April 20, 1887 issue of The National Daily Baseball Gazette, O.P. Caylor’s short-lived (two weeks) and now exceedingly rare New York sporting paper: “Walter Colton Abbott, of Reading, Hillsdale county, Michigan, sends to THE GAZETTE a copy of what he believes to be the first verse of rhyme inspired by the national game. It was published in the New York News and Courier about the year 1838 [almost surely a misnomer for the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer, formed in 1829] and is as follows:
“Then dress, then dress, brave gallants all,
Don uniforms amain;
Remember fame and honor call
Us to the field again.
No shrewish tears shall fill our eye
When the ball club’s in our hand,
If we do lose we wil not sigh,
Nor plead a butter* hand.
Let piping swain and craven jay
Thus weep and puling cry,
Our business is like men to play,
Or know the reason why.
“*Hence the term “butter-fingers,” which, twenty years ago, was applied to a man or a boy who didn’t hold a ball.”
Two days later a letter to the editor (from “S. H. R.”) stated that the verse was adapted from “Song of the Cavalier” by William Motherwell (1797-1835), once a famous ditty but long since buried in the sands of time. For academicians’ possible interest, I offer it, with the Scottish poet’s antiquarian orthography, below.
If this parody indeed appeared in 1838, it would beat all the other early verse (Knickerbocker banquet ditties of 1854 and 1858) by plenty. See: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/07/18/ball-days-a-song-of-1858/.)
SONG OF THE CAVALIER
A steed! a steed! of matchlesse speed!
A sword of metal keene!
All else to noble heartes is drosse,
All else on earth is meane.
The neighyinge of the war-horse prowde,
The rowlinge of the drum,
The clangor of the trumpet lowde,
Be soundes from heaven that come;
And oh! the thundering presse of knightes,
Whenas their war-cryes swell,
May tole from heaven an angel bright,
And rouse a fiend from hell.
Then mounte! then mounte, brave gallants all,
And don your helmes amaine;
Deathe’s couriers, fame and honor, call
Us to the field againe.
No shrewish teares shall fill our eye
When the sword-hilt’s in our hand–
Heart-whole we’ll part, and no whit sighe
For the fayrest of the land;
Let piping swaine, and craven wight,
Thus weepe and puling crye;
Our business is like men to fight,
And hero-like to die!
The Motherwell poem, first published in Glasgow in 1832, was printed in the New-York Mirror of June 2, 1838, under the heading “Original Retrospective Reviews.” I suspect this may have prompted the parodist, whose production I am unable to locate in the archives.