Alice Lawson, Aracoma, assistant postmaster, Ben Bolt, Charleston Gazette, Edgar Allan Poe, George T. Swain, George Washington, Guyandotte River, history, Karl Myers, Logan, Logan Banner, Logan County, logging, mayor, New York Mirror, Pennsylvania, poems, poetry, postmaster, rafting, Rafting on the Guyandotte, Savage Grant, St. Albans, Thomas Dunn English, timbering, Vicie Nighbert, Walt Whitman, West Virginia, writers
Thomas Dunn English (1819-1902) was a Pennsylvania-born writer who lived briefly in present-day Logan, WV, before the Civil War. At one time, many Loganites believed he wrote his famous work titled “Ben Bolt” while a resident of Logan, then called Aracoma. For more information about his biography, follow this link: https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/2205
The following story appeared in the Logan Banner on November 23, 1926:
“Logan gains quite a bit of notoriety from the fact that the song ‘Ben Bolt’ was written here,” said G.T. Swain in his short history of Logan county, published in 1916. Dr. English wrote “Ben Bolt” for the New York Mirror about 10 years before he ever came to Logan. So here explodeth another nice literary myth–if a myth concerning “Ben Bolt” may be called a literary one. They even tell how Dr. English laid aside his law and medicine practice, his novel writing, and his duties as assistant postmaster and politician and dreamily to go to the shades of certain elm trees overlooking the Guyandotte and there wrote the poem to a sweetheart of other days. The truth is that English wrote the poem while in the east at the request of “The Mirror” and while trying to compose a sea song he suddenly hit upon the sentimental mood and dashed it off, tacking the first four lines of the sea song-in-the-making onto the one in question. He sent it to the editor and told him the story and remarked that if it was not worth using to burn it. It was always a matter of chagrin to Dr. English that it was the best received piece he ever wrote and his prestige in congress was largely due to his fame from the song.
“For information relating to Dr. English we are indebted to Mrs. Vicie Nighbert, who gave us the information as told to her by her mother, and to Mr. Bryan [who] was personally acquainted [with English, now in his] 80th year and living at present in Straton street,” said Mr. Swain. “Mr. Bryan was personally acquainted with Dr. English, having at one time been postmaster of the town and employed Dr. English as assistant postmaster.”
English was mayor of Logan, according to Swain, in 1852. Mr. Swain said that Dr. English suddenly disappeared while living in Logan and showed up again with a woman and two children. Dr. English announced at the time that he had married a widow but rumors around the Logan chimney corners had it that the versatile gentleman had added that of wife stealing to his accomplishments. He did not permit the woman to visit or receive but a few friends “and she always carried a look of apprehension.” It is known that English, by act of the general assembly, had the names of the children changed to his own.
Although the whole thing is not worth refuting or proving, English did not write his “Ben Bolt” as told in Logan county. Mrs. Nighbert told the author of this historical sketch that “Dr. English used to often visit the large elm trees that stood by the bank of the Guyandotte near the woman’s residence. It was beneath the shade of the elm that stands today by the railroad bridge that he composed the song ‘Ben Bolt.'” Dr. English was a frequent visitor to the home of the Lawson’s, but the story to the effect that this song was dedicated to Alice Lawson is only imaginary for there was at that time none of the Lawson children bearing the name of Alice, nor were any of the girls at that time large enough to attract the attention of Dr. English.
The “Ben Bolt” myth is comparable to the story around Charleston that Poe wrote some of his works at St. Albans. Poe was never at St. Albans. It is like that pet tradition of the Huntington D.A.R. that George Washington surveyed lands in the Savage grant, the first grants involving the present site of Huntington.
Dr. English wrote a thousand rimes and jingles and couplets but no poems. “Ben Bolt” is a spurt of sentimentality of which the author was ashamed. Its popularity began when the German air was adapted to it, and has lived only on the strength of the music which is a sort the folk will not forget.
Don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt…
Sweet Alice whose hair was so brown.
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile.
And trembled with fear at your frown?
In the old churchyard in the valley, Ben Bolt.
In a corner obscure and alone,
They have fitted a slab of the granite so grey,
And Alice lies under the stone.
And so forth. English was at a loss how to open the verses when he hit upon the idea of tacking the first four lines of a sea song he was trying to compose for Willis, editor of “The Mirror,” and his last lines reflect the influence of the idea:
Your presence a blessing, your friendship a truth.
Ben Bolt, of the salt sea gale.
English wrote “Rafting on the Guyandotte” and two other “poems” while waiting on the return of a friend he was visiting, taking about an hour to [write] the poem. The opening to his poem is:
Who at danger never laughed,
Let him ride upon a raft
Down Guyan, when from the drains
Pours the flood from many rains,
And a stream no plummet gauges
In a furious freshet rages
With a strange and rapturous fear
Rushing water he will hear;
Woods and cliffsides darting by,
These shall terribly glad his eye.
He shall find his life blood leaping
Feel his brain with frenzy swell;
Faster with the current’s sweeping;
Hear his voice in sudden yell…
And so on for a 100 lines or more he describes the thrills of rafting. It would be interesting to have the collectors of West Virginia verse to rise up [illegible] now and tell exactly their reaction to this “beautiful verse” and why they like it, or why they attach importance to the scribbling pastimes of Dr. English, politician, physician, and lawyer.
Although he went to congress on “Ben Bolt,” there is no legitimate claims to list him as a West Virginia poet. Karl Myers writes much better verse than English ever achieved. A sixth grade pupil of native brightness a notch or two above his classmates can write pages of rhymes as good as the rafting poem. It is the sort of rhyme that is easier to do than not to do, once you establish the swing of it. Youngsters have been known to turn in history examination papers done in rhyme as good as this. But West Virginia is so anxious to claim some poets. Why this should worry the state is a mystery, for European critics say that the whole of America has produced but a poet and a half… Edgar Allan Poe the poet and Walt Whitman the half poet. So why should we feel sensitive about it?
Source: Charleston Gazette via the Logan Banner, 23 November 1926.
C. Russell Christian, a poor country teacher and poet who died at the age of twenty-nine years, authored 151 poems, mostly about his native Logan County, West Virginia. This poem, titled “The Loganite,” was published as part of Mr. Christian’s Rambling Rhymes in 1888.
To live devoid of want and fear;
To dress in jeans when winter comes;
To labor just three months a year,
And spend the nine around our homes.
To sleep two feather beds between,
Whose oaken stead adorns the scene;
If I’ve surveyed the scenes aright,
This is to be a Loganite!
To shoulder up the gun at morn,
And start in quest of deer or bear;
To hunt at night through the fields of corn
To find the ‘coons and ‘possums there;
To chase the boar thru many a ‘scald’
Where long and loud the sengers called–
If I’ve surveyed the scenes aright,
This is to be a Loganite.
To have our friends around the door,
When Sabbath brings the welcome day;
To have no knowledge of the poor
Whom Sunday brings no Sabbath day!
To feast, and laugh, and sing, and chat
And talk of This, and hint at That–
This is the way we took delight,
When I myself a Loganite!
The pawpaws in the wooded dell.
The chestnuts on the mountain top;
The huckleberries, loved so well;
The various fruits–a various crop.
This land is rich in nature’s store,
And fruits that nature always bore,
And all who will, may share the sights.
Presented to the Loganites.
I know there are impressions made
Against the genius of this land;
The homely manners, oft arrayed,
Speak-horror to the great and grand;
But Logan lives at home, the same,
Unmindful of the voice of Fame,
And shares her pleasures and delights,
With her own sons–the Loganites!
The day will come, nor far remote,
When palaces shall take the place
Of hovels that offend the sight,
And lend a proverb to the race;
A glorious future now appears.
The fruit of all our hopes and fears;
And prophecy reveals the sight
Of many a cultured Loganite!
And thou, Guyan! — clear, placid stream,
When future Bards thy beauties sing,
O let them think, as in a dream,
My humble Muse there tried her wing!
I ask no glory but to stand,
In memory of my native land,
And be, when Logan’s name is bright,
Remembered as a Loganite!
Sunrise With You
(Life In The Woods)
Soft yellow sunshine
Breaks atop the rolling peaks
Of West Virginia mountains.
Together we sit
On the banks of a muddy river,
Gazing sheepishly upon
The scenery before us.
It is dawn —
The beginning of a new day.
For some it’s the beginning of a new life.
It can be regarded
As a reminder
That we were created for each other.
See the great golden orb rising
Up into the violet sky,
Glowing brighter and stronger with each second.
Many creatures stir in the forest
Beneath the light of the rising sun
And give life to woody slopes and brown riverbanks.
Such is our love…
It brightens a dull life
And warms a chilly heart.
Fate, perhaps coincidence, managed to uite
Two paths which began
So far apart.
Here at this wonderful
We are where we should
Have always been:
An image of us
Captured in yesterday’s mist:
Two innocents snuggle close
With only love betwixt.
With an arm about your shoulder
I offer you a sweet gift:
I lean toward your cheek —
A kiss, which you shyly resist.
Although disheartened at this refusal,
My inclination does not disappear.
I console myself in realizing that
There’s always us next year.
December 8, 1995
A Time to Love
Though I did not think it possible,
I feel myself growing fond of someone.
It is a scary feeling —
One of uncertainty and curiosity.
I can feel myself ebbing toward you.
Is it time to love?
Though our eyes seldom behold each other,
Though we never have brushed lips or hands,
I can feel me loving you.
You are the girl I have dreamed of.
I have wanted you for years.
Nothing can change that.
I can not make these feelings go away.
I could conceal them longer
But I do not wish to do that.
I have wanted you for so long.
I know that it is time to love.
Do not be frightened or uncomfortable.
It is not the occasion for such negativity.
Frolic in the meadows God has created for us.
Laugh with the joy that you will finally know contentment.
I will make you happy.
I will make you love.
Have you ever truly?
O’ it is time to love.
The Spririt is everywhere around me.
It is our time to love.
Bless me with an opportunity to prove myself.
“Shew forth thy loving kindness in the morning.”
It is morning.
It’s our morning.
Let us grip hands
And love each other throughout the days.
Our sun will shine a little brighter, I think.
May 7, 1991
Missing You This Day
Never have I felt so lonely,
As I have today.
Never have I cried for another
As I have today.
Never have I longed for one’s company
As I have today.
Today is the day
I miss you.
I am alone
And for the first time in my life,
I do not want to be.
I want my love to be here
Or I to be there.
So long as we are together.
I want to hear you laugh,
See you smile.
I want to smell your beautiful aroma
And feel your touch.
I want to love you in deed,
As well as in thought.
I want you to understand how
Lonely, helpless, frustrated, longing.
This should convince you of my love.
See me as I weep like a child
At his dead mother’s grave.
See me as I stand alone,
Reaching for you.
In the muddy mound for what can not be had.
In this cold, desolate autumn wasteland
See me drowning in my lake of self-pity
Screaming at an unanswered echo,
Being bashed against a rocky shore,
Bleeding in the churning waters,
Mingling with its fury —
The fury of my turmoil.
Only memories and future optimism
Keep me alive.
How I yearn for you,
Oh how I wish we could be together,
So these separations would not be.
Oh how I want to sweep you from your
Home and run the winds
With your love, leaving rules behind.
I dream of the day we can finally be
You and I,
Until then, I will
As I do on this day.
October 10, 1990
‘Twas a summer day
In the meadow
When I spied her.
She was a beauty,
And I loved her.
She trod toward me,
And I could feel my leaves
Grow in pride.
She was to pick me
As her flower,
As she neared me,
And I loved her.
She gently reached for me
And my eagerness to be hers
As she caressed my proud stem,
She quickly pulled away
And I wept.
A drop of blood ran down my petals,
And the angel ran from the meadow.
“Take no heed to my black petals.
Only my sharp, brazen thorn.
Is it always the harmless rose
Which is chosen to adorn?”
July 11, 1990