January 25, 2011

It is better far to rule by love than fear

David Bates died January 25, 1870; though born in Ohio, he made his career in Pennsylvania as a businessman. On the side, he was a published poet. The story goes that, one day, his young son was playing with a friend a bit too loudly, disturbing his wife. Mrs. Bates, according to one account, "rushed to her feet" and almost "had their ears boxed," if not for the gentle intervention of David Bates, who urged his wife to "speak gently." The incident inspired a poem, written on the spot, "Speak Gently." It was published by Godey's Lady's Book, allegedly for a massive $100. It was soon set to music and became hugely popular (though all critics admitted none of Bates's other works were nearly as good).

Speak gently! it is better far
  To rule by love than fear.
Speak gently—let no harsh words mar
  The good we might do here.

Speak gently! Love doth whisper low
  The vows that true hearts bind;
And gently friendship's accents flow;
  Affection's voice is kind.

Speak gently to the little child;
  Its love be sure to gain;
Teach it in accents soft and mild—
  It may not long remain.

Speak gently to the young, tor they
  Will have enough to bear;
Pass through this life as best they may
  'Tis full of anxious care!

Speak gently to the aged one,
  Grieve not the care-worn heart,
The sands of life are nearly run,
  Let such in peace depart.

Speak gently, kindly, to the poor;
  Let no harsh tone be heard;
They have enough they must endure
  Without an unkind word!

Speak gently to the erring—know
  How frail are all! how vain!
Perchance unkindness made them so,
  Oh! win them back again.

Speak gently—He who gave his life
  To bend man's stubborn will,
When elements were in fierce strife,
  Said to them—" Peace, be still."

Speak gently! 'tis a little thing
  Dropped in the heart's deep well;
The good, the joy, which it may bring,
  Eternity shall tell. 

The poem was parodied by Lewis Carroll with lines like "Speak roughly to your little boy."

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