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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

The Soldier’s Return

  • A Second Letter from B. Sawin, Esq.

    From “The Biglow Papers”
  • [In the following epistle, we behold Mr. Sawin returning a miles emeritus, to the bosom of his family. Quantum mutatus….]

  • I SPOSE you wonder ware I be; I can’t tell, fer the soul o’ me,

    Exacly ware I be myself,—meanin’ by thet the holl o’ me.

    Wen I left hum, I hed two legs, an’ they worn’t bad ones neither,

    (The scaliest trick they ever played wuz bringin’ on me hither,)

    Now one on ’em’s I dunno ware;—they thought I wuz adyin’,

    An’ sawed it off because they said ’twuz kin’ o’ mortifyin’;

    I’m willin’ to believe it wuz, an’ yit I don’t see, nuther,

    Wy one should take to feelin’ cheap a minnit sooner ’n t’other,

    Sence both wuz equilly to blame; but things is ez they be;

    It took on so they took it off, an’ thet’s enough fer me:

    There’s one good thing, though, to be said about my wooden new one,—

    The liquor can’t git into it ez ’t used to in the true one;

    So it saves drink; an’ then, besides, a feller couldn’t beg

    A gretter blessin’ then to hev one ollers sober peg;

    It’s true a chap’s in want o’ two fer follerin’ a drum,

    But all the march I’m up to now is jest to Kingdom Come.

    I’ve lost one eye, but thet’s a loss it’s easy to supply

    Out o’ the glory thet I’ve gut, fer thet is all my eye;

    An’ one is big enough, I guess, by diligently usin’ it,

    To see all I shall ever git by way o’ pay fer losin’ it;

    Off’cers, I notice, who git paid fer all our thumps an’ kickins,

    Du wal by keepin’ single eyes arter the fattest pickins;

    So, ez the eye’s put fairly out, I’ll larn to go without it,

    An’ not allow myself to be no gret put out about it.

    Now, le’ me see, thet isn’t all; I used, ’fore leavin’ Jaalam,

    To count things on my finger-ends, but sutthin’ seems to ail ’em:

    Ware’s my left hand? Oh, darn it, yes, I recollect wut’s come on ’t;

    I haint no left arm but my right, an’ thet’s gut jest a thumb on ’t;

    It aint so hendy ez it wuz to cal’late a sum on ’t.

    I’ve hed some ribs broke,—six (I b’lieve),—I haint kep’ no account on ’em;

    Wen pensions git to be the talk, I’ll settle the amount on ’em.

    An’ now I’m speakin’ about ribs, it kin’ o’ brings to mind

    One thet I couldn’t never break,—the one I lef’ behind;

    Ef you should see her, jest clear out the spout o’ your invention

    An’ pour the longest sweetnin’ in about an annooal pension,

    An’ kin o’ hint (in case, you know, the critter should refuse to be

    Consoled) I aint so ’xpensive now to keep ez wut I used to be;

    There’s one arm less, ditto one eye, an’ then the leg thet’s wooden

    Can be took off an’ sot away wenever ther’ ’s a puddin’.

    I spose you think I’m comin’ back ez opperlunt ez thunder,

    With shiploads o’ gold images an’ varus sorts o’ plunder;

    Wal, ’fore I vullinteered, I thought this country wuz a sort o’

    Canaan, a reg’lar Promised Land flowin’ with rum an’ water,

    Ware propaty growed up like time, without no cultivation,

    An’ gold wuz dug ez taters be among our Yankee nation,

    Ware nateral advantages were pufficly amazin’,

    Ware every rock there wuz about with precious stuns wuz blazin’,

    Ware mill-sites filled the country up ez thick ez you could cram ’em,

    An’ desput rivers run about abeggin’ folks to dam ’em;

    Then there were meetinhouses, tu, chockful o’ gold an’ silver

    Thet you could take, an’ no one couldn’t hand ye in no bill fer;—

    Thet’s wut I thought afore I went, thet’s wut them fellers told us

    Thet stayed to hum an’ speechified an’ to the buzzards sold us;

    I thought thet gold mines could be gut cheaper than china asters,

    An’ see myself acomin’ back like sixty Jacob Astors;

    But sech idees soon melted down an’ didn’t leave a grease-spot;

    I vow my holl sheer o’ the spiles wouldn’t come nigh a V spot;

    Although, most anywares we’ve ben, you needn’t break no locks,

    Nor run no kin’ o’ risks, to fill your pocket full o’ rocks.

    I guess I mentioned in my last some o’ the nateral feeturs

    O’ this all-fiered buggy hole in th’ way o’ awfle creeturs,

    But I fergut to name (new things to speak on so abounded)

    How one day you’ll most die o’ thust, an’ ’fore the next git drownded.

    The clymit seems to me jest like a teapot made o’ pewter

    Our Prudence hed, thet wouldn’t pour (all she could du) to suit her;

    Fust place the leaves ’ould choke the spout, so’s not a drop ’ould dreen out,

    Then Prude ’ould tip an’ tip an’ tip, till the holl kit bust clean out,

    The kiver-hinge-pin bein’ lost, tea-leaves an’ tea an’ kiver

    ’ould all come down kerswosh! ez though the dam broke in a river.

    Jest so ’tis here; holl months there aint a day o’ rainy weather,

    An’ jest ez th’ officers ’ould be alayin’ heads together

    Ez t’ how they’d mix their drink at sech a milingtary deepot,—

    ’T ’ould pour ez though the lid wuz off the everlastin’ teapot.

    The cons’quence is, thet I shall take, wen I’m allowed to leave here,

    One piece o’ propaty along,—an’ thet’s the shakin’ fever;

    It’s riggilar employment, though, an’ thet aint thought to harm one,

    Nor ’taint so tiresome ez it wuz with t’other leg an’ arm on;

    An’ it’s a consolation, tu, although it doosn’t pay

    To hev it said you’re some gret shakes in any kin’ o’ way.

    ’Tworn’t very long, I tell ye wut, I thought o’ fortin-makin’,—

    One day a reg’lar shiver-de-freeze, an’ next ez good ez bakin’,—

    One day abrilin’ in the sand, then smoth’rin’ in the mashes,—

    Git up all sound, be put to bed a mess o’ hacks an’ smashes.

    But then, thinks I, at any rate there’s glory to be hed,—

    Thet’s an investment, arter all, thet mayn’t turn out so bad;

    But somehow, wen we’d fit an’ licked, I ollers found the thanks

    Gut kin’ o’ lodged afore they come ez low down ez the ranks;

    The Gin’rals gut the biggest sheer, the Cunnles next, an’ so on,—

    We never gut a blasted mite o’ glory ez I know on;

    An’ spose we hed, I wonder how you’re goin’ to contrive its

    Division so’s to give a piece to twenty thousand privits;

    Ef you should multiply by ten the portion o’ the brav’st one,

    You wouldn’t git more’n half enough to speak of on a grave-stun;

    We git the licks,—we’re jest the grist thet’s put into War’s hoppers;

    Leftenants is the lowest grade thet helps pick up the coppers.

    It may suit folks thet go agin a body with a soul in ’t,

    An’ aint contented with a hide without a bagnet hole in ’t;

    But glory is a kin’ o’ thing I shan’t pursue no furder,

    Coz thet’s the off’cers parquisite,—yourn’s on’y jest the murder.

    Wal, arter I git glory up, thinks I at least there’s one

    Thing in the bills we aint hed yit, an’ thet’s the GLORIOUS FUN;

    Ef once we git to Mexico, we fairly may presume we

    All day an’ night shall revel in the halls o’ Montezumy.

    I’ll tell ye wut my revels wuz, an’ see how you would like ’em;

    We never gut inside the hall: the nighest ever I come

    Wuz stan’in’ sentry in the sun (an’, fact, it seemed a cent’ry)

    A ketchin’ smells o’ biled an’ roast thet come out thru the entry,

    An’ hearin’, ez I sweltered thru my passes an’ repasses,

    A rat-tat-too o’ knives an’ forks, a clinkty-clink o’ glasses:

    I can’t tell off the bill o’ fare the Gin’rals hed inside;

    All I know is, thet out o’ doors a pair o’ soles wuz fried,

    An’ not a hundred miles away frum ware this child wuz posted,

    A Massachusetts citizen wuz baked an’ biled an’ roasted;

    The on’y thing like revellin’ thet ever come to me

    Wuz bein’ routed out o’ sleep by thet darned revelee.

    They say the quarrel’s settled now; fer my part I’ve some doubt on ’t,

    ’T’ll take more fish-skin than folks think to take the rile clean out on ’t;

    At any rate, I’m so used up I can’t do no more fightin’,

    The on’y chance thet’s left to me is politics or writin’;

    Now, ez the people’s gut to hev a milingtary man,

    An’ I aint nothin’ else jest now, I’ve hit upon a plan;

    The can’idatin’ line, you know, ’ould suit me to a T,

    An’ ef I lose, ’twunt hurt my ears to lodge another flea;

    So I’ll set up ez can’idate fer any kin’ o’ office,

    (I mean fer any thet includes good easy-cheers an’ soffies;

    Fer ez to runnin’ fer a place ware work’s the time o’ day,

    You know thet’s wut I never did,—except the other way;)

    Ef it’s the Presidential cheer fer wich I’d better run,

    Wut two legs anywares about could keep up with my one?

    There ain’t no kin’ o’ quality in can’idates, it’s said,

    So useful ez a wooden leg,—except a wooden head;

    There’s nothin’ aint so poppylar—(wy, it’s a parfect sin

    To think wut Mexico hez paid fer Santy Anny’s pin;)—

    Then I haint gut no principles, an’, sence I wuz knee-high,

    I never did hev any gret, ez you can testify;

    I’m decided peace-man, tu, an’ go agin the war,—

    Fer now the holl on ’t ’s gone an’ past, wut is there to go for?

    Ef, wile you’re ’lectioneerin’ round, some curus chaps should beg

    To know my views o’ state affairs, jest answer WOODEN LEG!

    Ef they aint settisfied with thet, an’ kin’ o’ pry an’ doubt

    An’ ax fer sutthin’ deffynit, jest say ONE EYE PUT OUT!

    Thet kin’ o’ talk I guess you’ll find’ll answer to a charm,

    An’ wen you’re druv tu nigh the wall, hol’ up my missin’ arm;

    Ef they should nose round fer a pledge, put on a vartoous look

    An’ tell ’em thet’s percisely wut I never gin nor—took!

    Then you can call me “Timbertoes,”—thet’s wut the people likes;

    Sutthin’ combinin’ morril truth with phrases sech ez strikes;

    Some say the people’s fond o’ this, or thet, or wut you please,—

    I tell ye wut the people want is jest correct idees;

    “Old Timbertoes,” you see, ’s a creed it’s safe to be quite bold on,

    There’s nothin’ in ’t the other side can any ways git hold on;

    It’s a good tangible idee, a sutthin’ to embody

    Thet valooable class o’ men who look thru brandy-toddy;

    It gives a Party Platform, tu, jest level with the mind

    Of all right-thinkin’, honest folks thet mean to go it blind;

    Then there air other good hooraws to dror on ez you need ’em,


    Them’s wut takes hold o’ folks thet think, ez well ez o’ the masses,

    An’ makes you sartin o’ the aid o’ good men of all classes.

    There’s one thing I’m in doubt about; in order to be Presidunt,

    It’s absolutely ne’ssary to be a Southern residunt;

    The Constitution settles thet, an’ also thet a feller

    Must own a nigger o’ some sort, jet black, or brown, or yeller.

    Now I haint no objections agin particklar climes,

    Nor agin ownin’ anythin’ (except the truth sometimes),

    But, ez I haint no capital, up there among ye, may be,

    You might raise funds enough fer me to buy a low-priced baby,

    An’ then, to suit the No’thern folks, who feel obleeged to say

    They hate an’ cuss the very thing they vote fer every day,

    Say you’re assured I go full butt fer Libbaty’s diffusion

    An’ made the purchis on’y jest to spite the Institootion;—

    But, golly! there’s the currier’s hoss upon the pavement pawin’!

    I’ll be more ’xplicit in my next.