Autograph Manuscript, signed, fair copy, of the lyrics to “Ben Bolt”, with an Autograph Note of explanation. Thomas Dunn English.

Author of “Ben Bolt”, New Jersey Congressman, and Enemy of Poe

Autograph Manuscript, signed, fair copy, of the lyrics to “Ben Bolt”, with an Autograph Note of explanation.

N.p: n.d. [probably ca. 1895].

5 stanzas of verse with 7-line note. 2 pp., on two sheets of blank stantionery. 8vo. Author of “Ben Bolt”, New Jersey Congressman, and Enemy of Poe. Fine Item #247634

Thomas Dunn English (1819-1902) was a proilific author of poems, ballads, and novels; he also server two terms in the U.S. Congress as a Representative from New Jersey; but his fame as a writer rests on the ballad in wrote in 1843, “Ben Bolt.” First published in Nathaniel Parker Willis’ magazine, NEW YORK MIRROR, “Ben Bolt” was set to music many times and became very popular, especiallly in the version set to a tune by Nelson Kneass. In his note appended to this transcription of the poem, English writes:

“The foregoing stanzas are as they originally appeared in Willis & Morris’s NEW YORK NEW MIRROR, in the year 1843. Though they have been set to music eight tiimes, the only popular melody was the one take from a German air, by Kneass. The words there — three stanzas only being taken — are very much mutilated.”

“It was hugely successful at the time, but had a new lease of life as the song that Trilby O'Ferrall sings in the novel TRILBY (1894) by George du Maurier. It is described in the novel as an ‘unsophisticated little song,’ but when Trilby performs it under the influence of the sinister hypnotist Svengali it reawakens a ‘cosmic vision of the beauty and sadness of things’ in her former lover Little Billee.” (Derek B. Scott, THE SINGING BOURGEOIS: SONGS OF THE VICTORIAN DRAWING ROOM AND PARLOUR. Aldershot, Hampshire; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2001).

Ironically, “Ben Bolt” being a tribute to a long-lasting friendship, English is also remembered as the bitter foe of his former friend, Edgar Allan Poe. The two had a falling out which resulted in a fist fight, as well as a long running literary feud.

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