DESCRIPTION: Jim Bludso(e) was foul-mouthed, keeping more than one girl (wife?), and often found near a fight. But he is a good man underneath. When the Prairie Belle catches fire, he keeps the engine running long enough that every passenger lives although he dies
AUTHOR: John Hay (1838-1905)
EARLIEST DATE: 1871 (Pike County Ballads; see NOTES)
KEYWORDS: death ship disaster fire
FOUND IN: US(MW)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Peters-FolkSongsOutOfWisconsin, pp. 240-241, "Jim Bludsoe" (1 text)
Johnson-BawdyBalladsAndLustyLyrics, pp. 94-96, "Jim Bludso" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Martin Gardner, editor, _Famous Poems from Bygone Days_, Dover, 1995, pp. 85-87, "Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle" (1 text)
Michael R. Turner, _Victorian Parlour Poetry: An Annotated Anthology_, 1967, 1969 (page references are to the 1992 Dover edition), pp. 167-168, "Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle" (1 text)
ST Pet240 (Partial)
cf. "Grouchy Bill" (theme of a dead rescuer)
NOTES [498 words]: Some readers may have heard this sung rather than recited, perhaps by Cathy Barton and Dave Para, but all tunes are modern (e.g. Para supplied the melody for the Barton/Para recording). It is properly a poem -- probably the best-known work of John (Milton) Hay, a sort of a latter-day Chaucer in that he was both statesman and poet.
Jameson, p. 298, sums up the early part of Hay's career as follows: he was "born in 1838, was assistant secretary to President Lincoln in 1861. He served several months in the Civil War, and from 1865 to 1867 was secretary of legation to Paris, charge d'affairs at Vienna until 1868, and secretary at Madrid until 1870. He became associated with the New York Tribune, and from 1879 to 1881 was First Assistant Secretary of State. He is widely known for his dialect sketches and poems, and for Nicolay and Hay's life of Lincoln."
Nicolay is John Nicolay, Lincoln's other private secretary; it was he who convinced Lincoln to hire Hay in 1861 (CDAB, p. 415). Their joint work, published 1890, was Abraham Lincoln: A History (Boatner, p. 388); it ran to ten volumes (Hart, p. 358).
Hay's literary output was modest: "He is known for his Pike County Ballads... (1871), frontier poems in dialect, and The Breadwinners (1884), a novel published anonymously" (Benet, p. 486). CDAB, p. 416, described the latter as "a satirical novel which attacked labor unions and defended economic individualism." This poem is from Pike County Ballads, and is based on the story of an actual engineer named Oliver Fairchild (Benet, p. 560).
Julian, p. 1646, reports that Hay was "an office bearer in the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Washington, D.C." Julian adds that several of his poems have come into use as hymns: "From Sinai's Cloud of Darkness," "Lord, from Far-Severed Climes We Come," and "Not in Dumb Resignation." They don't sound very singable to me....
Sources cannot seem to agree on whether the original poem called the hero "Jim Bludso" or "Jim Bludsoe."
Hart, p. 358, describes Pike County Ballads as "dialect poems about the Illinois frontier"; Hay himself had been born in Indiana and headed west. His other well-known poem is "Little Breeches."
According to Hofstadter, p. 164, it was Hay who described the Spanish-American conflict of 1898 as "our splendid little war," which both tells you about his imperialist tendencies and shows that he never spent much time among the troops.
In 1898, Hay was appointed Secretary of State, during the McKinley administration (CDAB, p. 416), and held the post into the Theodore Roosevelt administration (Morison, p. 818) until his death in 1905. In that post, he created the Open Door Policy with China (Morison, p. 807) and helped negotiate the treaties which allowed for the building of the Panama Canal (Boatner, p. 388; Morison,pp. 824-825) as well as promptly recognizing the independence of Panama (Morison, p. 825).
Tyler Dennett wrote a biography of Hay in the 1930s; I have not seen it. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.0
- Benet: William Rose Benet, editor, The Reader's Encyclopdedia, first edition, 1948 (I use the four-volume Crowell edition but usually check it against the single volume fourth edition edited by Bruce Murphy and published 1996 by Harper-Collins)
- Boatner: Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 1959 (there are many editions of this very popular work; mine is a Knopf hardcover)
- CDAB: Concise Dictionary of American Biography, based on the Dictionary of American Bibliography, Charles Scribners' Sons, 1964
- Hart: James D. Hart, The Oxford Companion to American Literature, fourth edition, Oxford, 1965
- Hofstadter: Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform, Vintage, 1955
- Jameson: J. Franklin Jameson's Dictionary of United States History 1492-1895, Puritan Press, 1894
- Julian: John Julian, editor, A Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892; second edition 1907 (I use the 1957 Dover edition in two volumes)
- Morison: Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, Oxford, 1965
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