May 28, 2012

Harte: game for the famous Emeu!

The first issue of The Californian was published on May 28, 1864, under the editorship of Charles Henry Webb. Contributors to the San Francisco-based newspaper included Charles Warren Stoddard, Bret Harte and, occasionally, Mark Twain. William Dean Howells remarked that they were an "extraordinary group of wits and poets."

Generally, The Californian aimed to be both light-hearted and local. For the first issue, Harte contributed "Neighbourhoods I have Moved From, by a Hypochondriac" and the poem "The Ballad of Emeu" — both were unsigned. The subject of the latter, an emu, was just as un-Californian as Harte himself (he was born in New York, after all, and spent much of his later life in Europe):

Oh, say, have you seen at the Willows so green—
    So charming and rurally true—
A singular bird, with a manner absurd,
    Which they call the Australian Emeu?
            Have you
    Ever seen this Australian Emeu?

It trots all around with its head on the ground,
    Or erects it quite out of your view;
And the ladies all cry, when its figure they spy,
    "Oh! what a sweet pretty Emeu!
            Oh! do
    Just look at that lovely Emeu!"

One day to this spot, when the weather was hot,
    Came Matilda Hortense Fortescue;
And beside her there came a youth of high name,—
    Augustus Florell Montague:
            The two
    Both loved that wild, foreign Emeu.

With two loaves of bread then they fed it, instead
    Of the flesh of the white Cockatoo,
Which once was its food in that wild neighborhood
    Where ranges the sweet Kangaroo,
            That too
    Is game for the famous Emeu!

Old saws and gimlets but its appetite whets,
    Like the world-famous bark of Peru;
There's nothing so hard that the bird will discard,
    And nothing its taste will eschew
            That you
    Can give that long-legged Emeu!

The time slipped away in this innocent play,
    When up jumped the bold Montague:
"Where's that specimen pin that I gayly did win
    In raffle, and gave unto you,
    No word spoke the guilty Emeu!

"Quick! tell me his name whom thou gavest that same,
    Ere these hands in thy blood I imbrue!"
"Nay, dearest," she cried, as she clung to his side,
    "I'm innocent as that Emeu!"
    He replied, "Miss M. H. Fortescue!"

Down she dropped at his feet, all as white as a sheet,
    As wildly he fled from her view;
He thought 'twas her sin,—for he knew not the pin
    Had been gobbled up by the Emeu;
            All through
    The voracity of that Emeu!

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