Humorous Masterpieces from American Literature
By Various

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Public Domain Books

William Allen Butler

(BORN, 1825.)



A Legend of the Lower Hudson.

  The days were at their longest,
  The heat was at its strongest,
    When Brown, old friend and true,
  Wrote thus: “Dear Jack, why swelter
  In town when shade and shelter
    Are waiting here for you?
  Quit Bulls and Bears and gambling,
  For rural sports and rambling
    Forsake your Wall Street tricks;
  Come without hesitation,
  Check to Dobbs’ Ferry Station,
    We dine at half-past six.”

  I went,–a welcome hearty,
  A merry country party,
    A drive, and then croquet,
  A quiet, well-cooked dinner,
  Three times at billiards winner,–
    The evening sped away;
  When Brown, the dear old joker,
  Cried, “Come, my worthy broker,
    The hour is growing late;
  Your room is cool and quiet,
  As for the bed, just try it,
    Breakfast at half-past eight.”

  I took Brown’s hand, applauded
  His generous care, and lauded
    Dobbs’ Ferry to the skies.
  A shade came o’er his features,
  “We should be happy creatures,
    And this a paradise,
  But, ah! the deep disgrace is,
  This loveliest of places
    A vulgar name should blight!
  But, death to Dobbs! we’ll change it,
  If money can arrange it,
    So, pleasant dreams; good night!”

  I could not sleep, but, raising
  The window, stood, moon-gazing,
    In fairyland a guest;
  “On such a night,” et cetera–
  See Shakespeare for much better a
  Description of the rest,–
  I mused, how sweet to wander
  Beside the river, yonder;
    And then the sudden whim
  Seized my head to pillow
  On Hudson’s sparkling billow,
    A midnight, moonlight swim!

  Soon thought and soon attempted;
  At once my room was emptied
    Of its sole occupant;
  The roof was low, and easily,
  In fact, quite Japanese-ily,
    I took the downward slant,
  Then, without stay or stopping,
  My first and last eaves-dropping,
    By leader-pipe I sped,
  And through the thicket gliding,
  Down the steep hillside sliding,
    Soon reached the river’s bed.

  But what was my amazement,–
  The fair scene from the casement,
    How changed! I could not guess
  Where track or rails had vanished,
  Town, villas, station, banished,–
    All was a wilderness.
  Only one ancient gable,
  A low-roofed inn and stable,
    A creaking sign displayed,
  An antiquated wherry,
  Below it–"DOBBS HIS FERRY"–
    In the clear moonlight swayed.

  I turned, and there the craft was,
  Its shape ’twixt scow and raft was,
    Square ends, low sides, and flat,
  And standing close beside me,
  An ancient chap who eyed me,
    Beneath a steeple-hat;
  Short legs–long pipe–style very
    I bow, he grimly bobs,
  Then, with some perturbation,
  By way of salutation,
    Says I, “How are you, Dobbs!”

  He grum and silent beckoned,
  And I, in half a second,
    Scarce knowing what I did,
  Took the stern seat, Dobbs throwing
  Himself ’midships, and rowing,
    Swift through the stream we slid;
  He pulled awhile, then stopping,
  And both oars slowly dropping,
    His pipe aside he laid,
  Drew a long breath, and taking
  An attitude, and shaking
    His fist towards shore, thus said:–

  “Of all sharp cuts the keenest,
  Of all mean turns the meanest,
    Vilest of all vile jobs,
  Worse than the Cow-Boy pillagers,
  Are these Dobbs’ Ferry villagers
    A going back on Dobbs!
  ’Twould not be more anom’lous
  If Rome went back on Rom’lus
    (Old rum-un like myself),
  Or Hail Columbia, played out
  By Southern Dixie, laid out
    Columbus on the shelf!

  “They say ’Dobbs’ ain’t melodious,
  It’s ’horrid,’ ’vulgar,’ ’odious,’
    In all their crops it sticks;
  And then the worse addendum
  Of ’Ferry’ does offend ’em
    More than its vile prefix.
  Well, it does seem distressing,
  But, if I’m good at guessing,
  Each one of these same nobs,
  If there was money in it,
  Would ferry in a minute,
    And change his name to Dobbs!

  “That’s it, they’re not partic’lar,
  Respecting the auric’lar,
    At a stiff market rate;
  But Dobbs’ especial vice is,
  That he keeps down the prices
    Of all their real estate!
  A name so unattractive
  Keeps villa-sites inactive,
    And spoils the broker’s jobs;
  They think that speculation
  Would rage at ’Paulding’s Station,’
    Which stagnates now at ’Dobbs.’

  “’Paulding’s!"–that’s sentimental!
  An old Dutch Continental,
    Bushwhacked up there a spell;
  But why he should come blustering
  Round here, and filibustering,
    Is more than I can tell;
  Sat playing for a wager,
  And nabbed a British major.
    Well, if the plans and charts
  From Andre’s boots he hauled out,
  Is his name to be bawled out
    Forever, round these parts?

  “Guess not! His pay and bounty
  And mon’ment from the county
    Paid him off, every cent,
  While this snug town and station,
  To every generation,
    Shall be Dobbs’ monument;
  Spite of all speculators
  And ancient-landmark traitors,
    Who, all along this shore,
  Are ever substitutin’
  The modern, highfalutin’,
    For the plain names of yore.

  “Down there, on old Manhattan,
  Where land-sharks breed and fatten,
    They’ve wiped out Tubby Hook.
  That famous promontory,
  Renowned in song and story,
    Which time nor tempest shook,
  Whose name for aye had been good,
  Stands newly christened ’Inwood,’
    And branded with the shame
  Of some old rogue who passes
  By dint of aliases,
    Afraid of his own name!

  “See how they quite outrival,
  Plain barnyard Spuytenduyvil,
    By peacock Riverdale,
  Which thinks all else it conquers,
  And over homespun Yonkers
    Spreads out its flaunting tail!
  There’s new-named Mount St. Vincent,
  Where each dear little inn’cent
    Is taught the Popish rites,–
  Well, ain’t it queer, wherever
  These saints possess the river
    They get the finest sites!

  “They’ve named a place for Irving,
  A trifle more deserving
    Than your French, foreign saints,
  But if he has such mention,
  It’s past my comprehension
    Why Dobbs should cause complaints;
  Wrote histories and such things,
  About Old Knick and Dutch things,
    Dolph Heyligers and Rips;
  But no old antiquary
  Like him could keep a ferry,
    With all his authorships!

  “By aid of these same showmen,
  Some fanciful cognomen
    Old Cro’nest stock might bring
  As high as Butter Hill is,
  Which, patronized by Willis,
    Leaves cards now as ’Storm-King!’
  Can’t some poetic swell-beau
  Re-christen old Crum Elbow
    And each prosaic bluff,
  Bold Breakneck gently flatter,
  And Dunderberg bespatter,
    With euphony and stuff!

  “’T would be a magnum opus  To bury old Esopus
    In Time’s sepulchral vaults,
  Or in Oblivion’s deep sea
  Submerge renowned Poughkeepsie,
    And also ancient Paltz;
  How it would give them rapture
  Brave Stony Point to capture,
    And make it face about;
  Bid Rhinebeck sound much smoother
  Than in the tongue of Luther,
    And wipe the Catskills out!

  “Well, DOBBS is DOBBS, and faster
  Than pitch or mustard-plaster
  Shall it stick hereabouts,
  While Tappan Sea rolls yonder,
  Or round High Torn the thunder
    Along these ramparts shouts.
  No corner-lot banditti,
  Or brokers from the City–
    Like you–” Here Dobbs began
  Wildly both oars to brandish,
  As fierce as old Miles Standish,
    Or young Phil Sheridan.

  Sternwards he rushed,–I, ducking,
  Seized both his legs, and chucking
    Dobbs sideways, splash he went,–
  The wherry swayed, then righted,
  While I, somewhat excited,
    Over the water bent;
  Three times he rose, but vainly
  I clutched his form ungainly,
    He sank, while sighs and sobs
  Beneath the waves seemed muttered,
  And all the night-winds uttered
    In sad tones, “Dobbs! Dobbs! Dobbs!”

  Just then some giant boulders
  Upon my head and shoulders
    Made sudden, fearful raids,
  And on my face and forehead,
  With din and uproar horrid,
    Came several Palisades;
  I screamed, and woke, in screaming,
  To see, by gaslight’s gleaming,
    Brown’s face above my bed;
  “Why, Jack, what is the matter?
  We heard a dreadful clatter
    And found you on the shed!

  “It’s plain enough, supposing
  You sat there, moon-struck, dozing,
    Upon the window’s edge,
  Then lost yourself, and falling,
  Just where we found you, sprawling,
    Struck the piazza ledge;
  A lucky hit, old fellow,
  Of black and blue and yellow
    It gives your face a touch,
  You saved your neck, but barely;
  To state the matter fairly,
    You took a drop too much!”

  I took the train next morning,
  Some lumps my nose adorning,
    My forehead, sundry knobs,
  My ideas slightly wandering,
  But, as I went, much pondering
  Upon my night with Dobbs;
  Brown thinks it, dear old sinner,
  A case of “after dinner,"
    And won’t believe a word,
  Talks of “hallucination,"
  “Laws of association,"
    And calls my tale “absurd.”

  Perhaps it is, but never,
  Say I, should we dissever
    Old places and old names;
  Guard the old landmarks truly,
  On the old altars duly
    Keep bright the ancient flames.
  For me the face of Nature,
  No luckless nomenclature
    Of grace or beauty robs;
  No, when of town I weary,
  I’ll make a strike in Erie,
    And buy a place at DOBBS!



Bayard Taylor  •  William Allen Butler  •  John William De Forest  •  John Townsend Trowbridge  •  Oliver Bell Bunce  •  Charles Dudley Warner  •  Frances Lee Pratt  •  Louisa May Alcott  •  William Wirt Howe  •  Artemus Ward  •  Frank R. Stockton  •  Andrew Scoggin  •  Samuel Langhorne Clemens  •  Fitz Hugh Ludlow  •  Thomas Bailey Aldrich