February 18, 2011

Inauguration of Davis: to be let alone

Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the first (and only) President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861 — 150 years ago today. That day, the Rhode Island-born poet Henry Howard Brownell wrote "The Old Cove," with the epigraph, "All we ask is to be let alone":

As vonce I valked by a dismal svamp,
There sot an Old Cove in the dark and damp,
And at everybody as passed that road
A stick or a stone this Old Cove throwed.
And venever he flung his stick or stone,
He'd set up a song of "Let me alone."

"Let me alone, for I loves to shy
These bits of things at passers by —
Let me alone, for I've got your tin
And lots of other traps snugly in; —
Let me alone, I'm riggin' a boat
To grab votever you've got afloat; —
In a veek or so I excpects to come
And turn you out of your 'ouse and 'ome; —
I'm a quiet Old Cove," says he, vith a groan:
"All I axes is — Let me alone."

Just then he came along the self-same vay,
Another Old Cove, and began for to say —
"Let you alone! That's comin' it strong!—
You've ben let alone — a darned sight too long; —
Of all the sarce that ever I heerd!
Put down that stick! (You may well look skeered.)
Let go that stone! If you once show fight,
I'll knock you higher than ary kite.
You must hev a lesson to stop your tricks,
And cure you of shying them stones and sticks, —
An I'll hev my hardware back and my cash,
And knock your scow into tarnal smash,
And if ever I catches you 'round my ranch,
I'll string you up to the nearest branch.

"The best you can do is to go to bed,
And keep a decent tongue in your head;
For I reckon, before you and I are done,
You'll wish you had let honest folks alone."
The Old Cove stopped, and the t'other Old Cove
He sot quite still in his cypress grove,
And he looked at his stick revolvin' slow
Vhether 'twere safe to shy it or no, —
And he grumbled on, in an injured tone,
"All that I axed vos, let me alone."

Brownell witnessed several battles in what became the American Civil War and often wrote poetry of his experience. Many were collected in 1864 as Lyrics of a Day; or Newspaper-Poetry. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes called him "Our Battle Laureate." A year later, Davis was captured; that incident became a poem too.

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