LITERATURE OF TIOGA.
Josiah Emery’s English Grammar--Lydia Jane Pierson, the Forest Minstrel--Mary Emily Jackson, a Native Poetess--M.H. Cobb, Printer and Poet--"Nessmuk," The Lover and Poet of Nature-- His Rambles, Travels, and Writings
It is scarcely known that Tioga has a literature of which any county might feel proud. The first publication was an English Grammar, made as early as 1829. it was by Josiah Emery, a teacher in the old Academy at that time. The grammar, which was a small work, was "designed as a first book for children commencing the study." It was copyrighted March 9, 1829, and was entitled "An Abridgment of English Grammar, by J. Emery, A. B." The certificate of copyright is signed by James Armstrong, clerk of the Western District of Pennsylvania, at Williamsport. The little grammar has long since passed out of print and it is almost impossible at this day to find a copy. In fact there are few living who have any knowledge of it.
LYDIA JANE PIERSON. [See also Lydia's Letter to 1851 Woman's Rights Convention]
Mrs. Lydia Jane Pierson, for many years a resident of Tioga county, attained great distinction as a poetess, and for years ranked with the best female poets of America. Her maiden name was Wheeler, and she was born in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1802. When sixteen years of age her parents removed to Madison county, New York, where she was employed in teaching school until 1821, when she married Oliver Pierson, a widower, of Cazenovia, twenty-four years her senior, and the father of five children. Her biographer, Mr. Goodrich, says that about the time of their marriage Mr. Pierson traded a farm for one thousand acres of wild land lying in the western part of Liberty and the eastern part of Morris townships, Tioga county, and in the following year he moved with his young wife, accompanied by two of his married daughters and their husbands, to this land. The country was then (1822) in such a wilderness condition that they were obliged to cut a road nearly the whole distance from the Block House settlement (five miles) to his land, and then make an old log cabin their temporary abode until lumber could be hauled a long distance to construct a better dwelling.
It was here, under these adverse and trying circumstances—so unlike what she had been used to—contending with stern fate, yet holding "sweet converse with nature and with nature’s charms," that she began to write poetry. To a spirit like hers, in a wilderness home, surrounded by so many sore trials—both domestic and pecuniary—life would have been a great burden had she not been inspired by an intense religious zeal, which not only found expression in her daily work and life, but was also the chief theme of her songs, which bear a strong resemblance to the poems of Mrs. Hemans.
Soon after the establishment of The Pioneer, at Wellsboro, she began writing for that paper, and many fine pieces not found in her published volumes, appeared in its columns.
Some time in 1833, Mr. Pierson, who had by that time cleared a farm, rented it and removed with his family to Jersey Shore, when his wife became a contributor to the Lycoming Gazette, then a weekly paper of some prominence, published at Williamsport. At the end of two years Mr. Pierson purchased a bill of merchandise on credit, returned with his family to his old home, and attempted to carry on a mercantile business, but disastrously failed, and his farm of 400 acres was sold by the sheriff to satisfy his creditors. The property was bid off by Judge Ellis Lewis and A. V. Parsons, and deeded to Thaddeus Stevens in trust for Mrs. Pierson during her life, and at her death to be divided among her children.
Her good luck came about in this wise. At the time, Mr. Stevens, as a member of the legislature, was advocating the free school system, she wrote a poem complimentary of both him and the system, which pleased him so much that he sent her fifty dollars, subsequently made her acquaintance, became the trustee of the property of herself and children, and educated one of her sons. And through his aid, and some kind friends in Philadelphia, she had her first volume of poems—Forest Leaves—published in 1845. The following year her second volume—The Forest Minstrel—was published. Each of these volumes comprise 264 pages, and they include from seventy-five to eighty poems each. Of the longest and best sustained poems of a high order of merit, may be mentioned "The Wandering Spirit," "The White Thorn and Lennorah," and "Elijah on Mount Horeb," all contained in Forest Leaves; and in the Forest Minstrel such as "The Three Marys," "Old Letters," "The Shipwreck," "The Battle Field," etc., may be found.
There is high authority for saying that some of the compositions here mentioned, and many others of less extent contained in these two volumes, "will bear comparison with the productions of the most popular and gifted American poets." N. P. Willis, a high and recognized authority in literature, once said of Mrs. Pierson that in sacred and Christian themes she bore away from him the palm.
During a part of 1849 and 1850 Mrs. Pierson edited the Lancaster Intelligencer. In 1853 she and her husband, with two daughters and five sons of the second marriage, went to Adrian, Michigan, leaving one daughter, Mrs. Emmick, on the old homestead. In this latter place she died in 1862, aged sixty years, and is there buried. Her widowed husband returned to Liberty, and died at Mrs. Emmick’s house in 1865, aged eighty-seven years. Of this large family not more than one or two are now living.
Her trials and tribulations were great, but in the midst of her sorrows her genius shown resplendant and made her name immortal. One of the most pathetic of her poems, not usually found in her published collections, is on the departure from her forest home in Tioga county. It is as follows:
THE LONG FAREWELL.
Farewell ! ye woody wilds, a long farewell,
With aching heart I bid this fond adieu;
Ye verdant hills and every lonely dell,
And silver streams that glide the forest thro’;
Ye bowers of ever verdant laurel wreathes,
And shades where florid health forever breathes,
Perhaps the last gaze now rests on you.
I saw ye first with agonizing breast,
And tear drops from the heart’s recesses wrung,
And friendships severed bonds my soul distrest,
And every hand that late to mine had clung,
And every eye illum’d with light divine,
Whose tearful lingering gaze was fix’d on mine,
Seemed present to my heart by absence stung.
Yet soon I found in the unbroken calm
Of nature’s uninvaded deep repose,
A sacred rest, a tranquilizing balm,
A half oblivion of the keenest woes—
I found a solemn joy amid the gloom,
As mourners find o’er virtue’s grass-grown tomb,
And saw "the desert blossom like the rose."
I’ve seen industry fill the forest’s pride,
And cultivation bring her magic wand,
And holy friendship near to bliss allied,
Presented me again her faithful hand—
Contentment beamed upon the calm retreat,
And peace and half blown joys with incense sweet,
Combined to chain my heart with firmest band.
Yet now I go—perhaps no more to trace
The foot path winding thro’ the dewy glade,
Or gaze with rapture on the beaming face
Of lov’d companion thro’ the chequer’d shade,
Or sit and rest upon the fallen tree,
While nature’s truth in open converse free,
Unveiled the heart and fitting time betray’d,
Farewell ye woods—farewell ye cultur’d fields,
Ye infant fruit trees and ye cherish’d flowers,
Some other shall enjoy your ripen’d yields,
And ye shall soothe some other’s twilight hours;
Will friendship sometimes as it passes by,
Bend on your early buds a tearful eye,
And think of her who lov’d your balmy bowers ?
Farewell my friends—heaven wills that we shall part,
But absence cannot break affection’s chain,
And while remembrance clings around my heart,
Your idea ever cherish’d shall remain—
Oft shall I weep amid the bustling scene,
For those with whom I rov’d the wild wood green,
Or live by memory’s light with them again.
O ! can I say we shall not meet again—
No, hope forbids that fear to be exprest ;
Yet, ah ! what bitter days, what months of pain,
What cruel pangs may wring each absent breast;
What tears may fall above affection’s tomb;
What cherish’d hopes may wither in their bloom,
Before these hands in mine again are prest.
O ! hide my errors in oblivion’s wave,
And twine my friendship with the laurel wreath.
I have no foes—that name I never gave
To erring mortal on this world beneath—
Remember me, and while heaven’s light I view,
In sacred truth I’ll breathe a prayer for you,
‘Till this warm heart is cold and still in death.
|Note: In 1835 Thaddeus Stevens was able to defeat a bill to abolish the recently established common school system partly due to a poem written by Lydie Wheeler Pierson.|
MARY EMILY JACKSON.
Mary Emily Jackson early in life evinced a talent for writing verse of a high order, and became distinguished for her talent. She was born in 1821, in Wellsboro, and was reared by her grandfather, Ebenezer Jackson. Her mother was one of his (Ebenezer’s) daughters. Miss Jackson was a pupil in the "Old Academy," and it was while attending school that her poetic genius began to develop, and between 1830 and 1840 she was at the height of her fame.
Mr. Henry H. Goodrich, in a brief sketch of her, published several years ago, says that she contributed poems to the Wellsboro Phoenix, and subsequently to the Saturday Evening Post, and the New Yorker, obtaining from them such a high appreciation of her talent that Horace Greeley, the principal editor of the latter paper, invited her to become a member of his household and write regularly for his paper. This flattering offer she declined.
It is regretted that her poems were not collected and published in a volume. All were fugitive pieces, and few can be found at this day. Her poetry was marked by much harmony of expression, versatility of thought, and delicacy of sentiment, combined with a calm, gentle and appreciative love of nature; but imbued with that spirit of sadness instinctive in and characteristic of the true poet. She was possessed of more than ordinary personal charm and beauty, which joined to her amiable disposition and adorned by her literary talent, made her society esteemed, and won for her many admiring friends. She was of medium height, with hair and eyes dark, complexion pale and delicate, and manner of exceeding grace. In 1842 she married Isaac Cleaver, of Covington, and went there to reside, when she discontinued her contributions to the press. She died at the residence of her son Isaac, at Troy, Bradford county, in 1869, and is buried by the side of her husband at Covington, who preceded her to the grave. They had two sons and one daughter. The latter, named for her mother, married H. F. Long.
Tradition says that her finest poem was entitled "My Mountain Home," but diligent search has failed to develop a copy. The only poem that could be found at the present time was discovered in a stray copy of the Phoenix, printed many years ago. It is entitled "The Parting," and from the tone of sadness which seems to crop out in every stanza, it is inferred that it was written about the time she became a bride and left the home of her childhood at Wellsboro. It is as follows:
One look, one passionate parting word,
And the pang of the heart is o’er;
One tear for the yearning which grief hath stirred,
For the deep, low tones of the farewell heard,
And we shall meet no more.
And yet as the lingering ray of eve
Fades over the distant sea—
As twilight’s shadows the wild flowers leave,
And the winds thro’ the leaves of the lotus grieve,
Will ye have no thought for me?
I am leaving the whispers of bud and bough,
Ere the summer’s wild flowers fade;
Yet a furrow is deep on my darkened brow,
That has worn in its sorrowless pride till now,
The garland ye have made.
And as the winds of the cold north come
With a tone more sad and deep ;
Will ye not meet at our childhood’s home
For the weary feet that are doomed to roam
In their fragile strength, to weep?
Ye have been the fountain in life’s young hour,
Of affection’s wealth to me ;
And now when the tempests of noonday lower
And fate frowns dark with a fiendish power,
Will ye not think of me?
Ye will think of me, ye will think of me
As ye think of the soulless dead;
Ye will meet at the haunts of our childish glee,
Where all bright things of the earth are free,
But not as in days now fled.
Ye will know that a shadow has passed away,
That broken is love’s deep spell;
That hushed are the breathings of Love’s young lay,
And dark is the close of its summer day—
Home, friends of my youth, farewell!
--Mary Emily Jackson.
M. H. COBB, PRINTER AND POET.
One of the sweetest singers of Tioga’s poets was M. H. Cobb, for some time editor and publisher of the Wellsboro Agitator. So highly appreciated were his poetic effusions, that on the eve of his departure for another field of labor, his friends collected a "small number of the many excellent fruits of his own genius," printed them in a beautiful little volume and presented it to him as "a memento of friendship."
Mr. Cobb was born in Litchfield county, Connecticut, April 20, 1828, and became a printer and editor in early life. His connection with the Agitator will be found described in the chapter on the press of Wellsboro.
Harpel’s elegant volume, entitled "Poets and Poetry of Printerdom," refers to that exquisite gem, "The World Would Be the Better for It," in these words: "It took form in his mind almost unbidden early one December morning in 1854, and rising he transcribed it, and sent it to the New York Tribune, and it has been everywhere read since. He obeyed the poetic impulse then, under the influence of love for humanity." Here is the poem:
THE WORLD WOULD BE THE BETTER FOR IT.
If men cared less for wealth and fame,
And less for battlefields and glory’
If, writ in human hearts, a name
Seemed better than in song and story;
If men, instead of nursing pride,
Would learn to hate and to abhor it;
If more relied
On love to guide,
The world would be the better for it.
If men dealt less in stocks and lands,
And more in bonds and deeds fraternal;
If love’s work had more willing hands
To link this world with the supernal;
If men stored up love’s oil and wine,
And on bruised human hearts would pour it;
If "yours" and "mine"
Would once combine,
The world would be the better for it.
If more mould act the play of Life,
And fewer spoil it in rehearsal;
If bigotry would sheathe its knife
Till good became more universal;
If custom, gray with ages grown,
Had fewer blind men to adore it;
If talent shone
In truth alone,
The world would be the better for it.
If men were wise in little things—
Affecting less in all their dealings;
If hearts had fewer rusted strings
To isolate their kindly feelings;
If men, when wrong beats down the right,
Would strike together to restore it;
If right made might
In every fight,
The world would be the better for it.
George W. Sears, poet, editor, traveler and woodsman, was born in Massachusetts, December 2, 1821, and died at his home in Wellsboro, May 1, 1890. He early developed a liking for outdoor life, and in his youth spent much of his time with the remnant of a tribe of Nepmug Indians living near his home. He took a fancy to their chief, Nessmuk, and in after life signed that name to his poetic effusions.
When he grew to manhood his love for the woods did not forsake him and he spent much of his time in the solitude of the forest, and there many of his finest poems were written on birch bark. Mr. Sears came to Wellsboro in 1848, preceding his father’s family several years. He learned the trade of a shoemaker, which he pursued when not enjoying the solitude of the forest. When a young man he shipped aboard a whaler for a three years’ cruise, but the vessel put in at Fayal Islands, and, as he was sick with the fever, he was taken ashore and left in the hospital. When convalescent he was sent home by the United States government.
Some time in the fifties he contributed to the Spirit of the Times a serial romance under the nom de plume Nessmuk, which was widely read and commented on. From that time on he became a valued correspondent of Forest and Stream, Outing, American Angler, etc.
When the call for 75,000 volunteers was made by President Lincoln, he was one of the first to respond and became a member of the original Bucktails; but meeting with an accident while in camp at Harrisburg, by which his right instep was broken, he was discharged and reluctantly returned home.
In 1867 his love of travel led him to South America, and he spent most of his time at Para, Brazil, carefully watching the workings of the rubber industry and corresponding for the Philadelphia Press. He remained in Brazil nearly a year.
Mr. Sears was a true lover of nature. Unaccompanied he would go to the wildest nooks with rod, dog and gun, and pass weeks in solitude. In this way he explored the Adirondack region, and the log of his canoe, Nessmuk, a boat which only weighed seventeen pounds, shows a cruise for 1880 of over 550 miles. In 1894 he cruised in the same region a distance of 250 miles, but the voyage was cut short by failing health.
In order to escape the rigors of the winter in this northern latitude he went to Florida in 1886. The climate agreed with him and he was greatly benefited. He returned in 1887 and remained during the summer. This was a fatal mistake. He contracted malaria, and this coupled with his lung trouble wore his life away. He faded like the maple leaves he loved so well and died as stated in 1890. It was his request to be buried in his own dooryard under the lilacs that he planted, and the six hemlocks which he had carefully nurtured were to be sentinels over his graves. But his wish was not carried out. In the cemetery his remains rest and a granite tablet marks the spot, reared to his memory by the Forest and Stream publishing company. And sunken in the stone is a bronze likeness of the poet in relief, which is said to be excellent.
A contemporary says that he was somewhat of a recluse. Early in life he made up his mind that the vanities of the world were not worth the struggle. That marts were but places where "man cheats his fellow man, or robs the workman of his wage." The trumpet of Fame sounded not in his ear, urging him to higher aspirations. Prosperity, fortune and position lured him not with their seductive smiles, and for the pomp and vain glory of the world he had no wish or desire. Leaving all the vexations of life, he sought solitude in the peaceful woods. In mountain path, by sylvan brook, alone, he loved to stray. The appended gem, written while buried in one of the wildest nooks of Tioga county, shows the thought which moved his mind:
CRAGS AND PINES
Who treads the dirty lanes of trade
Shall never know the wondrous things
Told by the rugged forest kings
To him who sleeps beneath their shade.
Only to him whose coat of rags
Has pressed at night their royal feet
Shall come the secrets, strange and sweet,
Of regal pines and beetling crags.
For him the Wood-nymph shall unlock
The mystic treasures which have lain
A thousand years in frost and rain,
Deep in the bosom of the rock.
For this and these he must lay down
The things that wordlings most do prize,
Holding his being in her eyes,
His fealty to her laurel crown.
No greed of gold shall come to him,
Nor strong desire of earthly praise;
But he shall love the silent ways
Of forest aisles and arches dim.
And dearer hold the open page
Of nature’s book than shrewdest plan
By which man cheats his fellow man,
Or robs the workman of his wage.
As a writer of prose and poetry Mr. Sears ranked far above mediocrity. In 1884 he published a modest little volume under the nom de plume of Nessmuk, entitled "Woodcraft," giving his experiences of fifty years in the woods, with instructions to hunters and fishermen how to camp out and enjoy the sport. The book proved very popular with sportsmen and ran through several editions. It forms one of the "Forest and Stream" series, and is still much sought after by lovers of the chase.
But the crowning poem of his life, which gave him reputation and fame in spite of his seclusiveness, was "John O’ the Smithy," first published in the Atlantic Monthly. It is given herewith:
JOHN O’ THE SMITHY.
Down in the vale where the mavis sings
And the brook is turning an old-time wheel,
From morning till night the anvil rings
Where John O’ the smithy is forging steel.
My lord rides out at the castle gate,
My lady is grand in bower and hall,
With men and maidens to cringe and wait,
And John O’ the Smithy must pay for all.
The bishop rides in his coach and four,
His grooms and horses are fat and sleek;
He has lackeys behind and lackeys before,
He rides at a hundred guineas a week.
The arivil is singing its "ten pound ten,"
The mavis pipes from its birken spray,
And this is the song that fills the glen,
John O’ the Smithy has all to pay.
The smith has a daughter, rosy and sweet,
My lord has a son with a wicked eye;
When she hears the sound of his horses’ feet
Her heart beats quicker—she knows not why.
She will know very well before the end;
She will learn to detest their rank and pride,
When she has the young lord’s babe to tend,
While the bishop’s daughter becomes his bride.
There will be the old, old story to tell
Of wrong and sorrow in places high,
A bishop glazing the deeds of hell,
The Priest and the Levite passing by.
And the father may bow his frosted head
When he sees the young bride up at the hall,
And say ‘twere better his child were dead,
But John O’ the Smithy must pay for all.
The smith and his daughter will pass away,
And another shall make the anvil ring
For his daily bread and the hodden gray;
But the profits shall go to the priest and king.
And over the wide world, day by day,
The smiths shall waken at early morn
Each to his task in the old dull way,
To tread a measure of priestly corn.
And the smith shall live on the coarsest fare
With little that he may call his own,
While the idler is free from work or care;
For the best of all must go to the drone.
And the smith complains of the anvil’s song,
Complains of the years he has wrought and pined,
For priests and rulers are swift to wrong
And the mills of God are slow to grind.
But a clear, strong voice from over the sea
Is piercing the murk of the moral night!
Time is, time was; and time shall be
That John O’ the Smithy will have his right.
And they who have worn the mitre and crown,
Who have pressed him sore in body and soul,
Shall perish from earth when the grist is ground
And the mighty miller has claimed his toll.
His best poems have been collected and published in a handsome volume by Forest and Stream, so that they will not perish, but form a part of the permanent literature of Tioga county—a literature that will last as long as the beetling crags and dashing rivulets of his adopted county.
While this chapter is termed the "Literature of Tioga," much in the line of history, both civil and military, has been written at later dates, which is not regarded as belonging to this department.