Connoisseurs of bad verse will know of Amanda McKittrick Ros, Julia Moore or William McGonagall, but how many have heard of Alexander B. Beard? Though he may have been forgotten for a century his work surely does not deserve such neglect.
Beard was born in Maine in 1852, one of seven children. His formal education was limited to a single year of school. As an adult, now living in New Hampshire, he worked at various menial jobs including a spell at the Amoskeag Mills, where he first discovered his talent for poetry. As the mill work was proving ruinous to his already poor health he decided to quit his job and take to the road, travelling from town to town selling his verses.
'Choice Poems' is one of the volumes he used to sell (priced at 15 cents), a hand-sewn pamphlet containing twenty-seven pieces of verse. Most are about death in some form: disasters, fatal illnesses or homicides - all subjects popular with the great artists of doggerel - here used by Beard to make subtle moral points. Although he was not in the first rank of bad poets he displayed a notable capability for bathos, and surely only one possessed of a rare inspiration could have written a line like:
Within the shops of Meriden they manufacture combs
or the couplet:
Other buildings around in that region,
Some badly, some slightly were burned.
Here then is a small selection of the best of his verses, issued in the expectation that, as he says in his preface, “they will be pleasing to all who read them”.
The Crimes of Thomas W. Piper
I'll now begin in my brief way, and of Tom Piper tell;
For human blood his thirst was great, like a demon sent from hell;
His poor old mother's heart is broke, his friends are in distress,
For they have heard that bloody tale which Piper did confess.
He was sexton of the church and feigned to love his God;
Yet a greater hypocrite than he has never this earth trod.
His crimes cannot be well described by any pen or tongue;
But worst of all was when he killed poor little Mabel Young.
This innocent and prattling child Tom Piper he did see;
He said within his wicked heart, my victim she shall be;
So he enticed her to the church, he saw the coast was clear,
He sent her up the belfry stairs and followed in the rear.
There, with a ball bat in his hand, he struck her on her head;
He dealt a second fiercer blow e'er Mabel Young was dead.
He then locked up the tower door and staggered down the stairs.
To cover up his guilty act a story he prepares.
He told a tale quite glib and smooth as any lie could be;
He thought he would be well believed and go from justice free.
But God who saw him strike that blow reach'd down a mighty hand;
Suspicion soon on Piper fell and brought him to a stand.
Soon he was in the Criminal Court, before the Judge was tried,
There to the face of God and man his wickedness he denied.
In spite of all that he could say and of his counsel's plea,
That he was guilty of that crime the jury did agree.
And so the Judge the sentence passed that Piper should be hung,
Thus suffer for that awful crime of killing Mabel Young;
And when he saw that hope was past, confession then he made.
Two maidens he had slain before and one he had betrayed.
Oh fiend, to kill a prattling child who never had done harm;
And fool to think you could escape Jehovah's mighty arm.
Let all who read these few short lines from your humble servant's pen
Reflect that God who reigns above, deals justice to all men.
The Great Boiler Explosion at Hodge's
Took place in Manchester, N.H., May 8, 1888.
My story is appalling as everyone will say,
'Tis of events that happened one sunny morn in May;
At Hodge's shop, on Elm Street, the working hour drew near,
Just then a loud explosion reached every listening ear.
Out from the bursting boiler in many a scalding stream,
All through the ruined building there rushed the hissing steam.
It threw the debris skyward like a cyclone of the west,
On an errand of destruction and bound to do its best.
Some dwellings were demolished by the iron hurled afar,
And in the valley graveyard some tombstones it did scar.
The work of devastation had apparently no bounds,
A few good faithful workmen received some fearful wounds
The case of Hardy Atwood I briefly will relate,
Though words fail to describe it or William Tyler's fate.
They found poor William Tyler, his crushed and bruised remains.
Wedged in among the fragments, wide scattered were his brains.
But Atwood he was living, though life was ebbing fast,
And scarcely was he rescued ere he had breathed his last.
Life is at best uncertain, yet few there are that think,
Of death, though seeming distant, we stand upon its brink.
But then our Heavenly Father, He knows about the whole,
He loves his erring children, He cares for every soul.
Let every breathing mortal for the day of death prepare,
And of procrastination, dear brother do beware.
The Nutmeg State
Let's speak of old Conecticut, 'tis called the Nutmeg State,
Ev'ry kind of Yankee notion its workshops do create:
From Waterbury we will start, where watches fine are made,
Then visit both the Capitals, large cities of brisk trade.
First Hartford with its iron works, none better so they say;
Then at New Haven let us call and view New Haven Bay;
Cromwell's marble works we'll now remark, and of its sculptors speak,
Surpassing those of ancient days, the Roman or the Greek.
Then Bridgeport with its foundries great, near the golden hill is found;
New London is a seaport town, close by Long Island Sound;
Within the shops of Meriden they manufacture combs,
Its organ and piano works give life to many homes.
The woollen mills of Norwalk and of Middleton likewise,
And the Willimantic thread works, we ne'er should fail to prize,
New Britain it can ever boast of its finest works in brass;
A word for Danbury hat shops as through the state we pass.
Other villages and places, with deep regret I slight,
They are far too many for my poor pen to write;
Collectively I'll praise them, though I should mention all,
'Twould swell into a volume, this poem brief and small.
Of its Puritanic people, we truthfully can say,
That they most strict and faithful keep the holy Sabbath day;
Its inhabitants still honor the state wherein they dwell,
And so to old Connecticut, we'll bid a long farewell.
The Great Conflagration at Dover, N.H.
Happened March 22, 1889
Kind friends will you listen a moment
To the tale which I have for to tell,
Of the great conflagration at Dover,
'Though many do know it quite well.
The people one morning were startled
By the firebell's fearful loud clang,
To see what had caused the commotion,
To the doorways and windows they sprang.
'Twas long ere the hour of daylight,
The sun was not yet in the sky;
But darkness was banished from Dover
By the flames streaming brightly on high,
Police Station, City Hall and Court House
In charred smoking ruins were lain;
Those three I have named were one building
I would to all strangers explain.
The burning of valuable papers
Was felt the most keenly of all,
'Though the loss unto Dover was dreadful,
Were it only there old City Hall.
On a church both the roof and the steeple,
To ashes were speedily turned.
Other buildings around in that region,
Some badly, some slightly were burned.
Through it all went fireman Hanna,
Midst the danger he bravely did work,
No thought had he for a moment,
One bit of his duty to shirk.
But alas for our plans or our prospects,
So it proved in that fireman's case.
The bricks were there falling like hailstones,
One shattered a bone in his face.
James Varney he also was injured
By timber which fell on his neck.
Dave Hammond, the foreman, brave fellow
Had his foot badly crushed in the wreck.
The wounds of those brave men were many,
While striving their duty to do;
I can't give them all in full detail,
So I briefly have mentioned a few.
Their efforts would all have succeeded
But for their scant water supply:
Their tanks gave out unexpected
Until everyone was quite dry.
No soldier ere won better laurels,
Though fighting his country to save;
So flowers I think should be planted
Above every fireman's grave.
But do not forget this, dear reader,
While under the chastening rod,
That no lives were lost at that fire,
And 'twas through the mercy of God.