The Poetry of Lew Wallace

At a dinner in the summer of 1863, Wallace, Thomas Buchanan Read, and James E. Murdoch were discussing songs for soldiers. General Wallace argued that hardly one had been written which was suited for the camps. They each agreed to write one and the best would be published.

The first appearance of "The Stolen Stars" was in Harper's Weekly newspaper on August 22, 1863. This issue of the newspaper is very scarce and highly collectible because it contains drawings rendered from the Matthew Brady photographs taken on the Gettysburg battlefield. The poem was printed on the front page:

"The Stolen Stars"
When good old Father Washington
Was just about to die
He called our Uncle Samuel
Unto his bedside nigh:
"This flag I give you, Sammy dear,"
Said Washington, said he;
"Where'er it floats, on land or wave,
My children shall be free."

And fine old Uncle Samuel
He took the flag from him,
And spread it on a long pine pole,
And prayed and sung a hymn.
A pious man was Uncle Sam
Back fifty years and more:
The flag should fly till Judgment-Day,
So, by the Lord, he swore!

And well he kept that solemn oath;
He kept it well, and more:
The thirteen stars first on the flag
Soon grew to thirty-four;
And every star bespoke a State,
Each State an empire won:
No brighter were the stars of night
Than those of Washington.

Beneath that flag two brothers dwelt;
To both 'twas very dear;
The name of one was Puritan,
The other Cavalier.
"Go build ye towns," said Uncle Sam
Unto those brothers dear;
"Build any where, for in the world
You've none but God to fear."

"I'll to the South," said Cavalier,
"I'll to the South," said he;
"And I'll to the North," said Puritan--
"The North's the land for me."
Each took a flag, each left a tear
To good old Uncle Sam;
He kissed the boys, he kissed the flags,
And, doleful, sung a psalm.

And in a go-cart Puritan
His worldly goods did lay;
With wife, and gun, and dog, and axe,
He, singing, went his way.
Of buckskin was his Sunday suit,
His wife wore linsey-jeans;
And fat they grew, like porpoises,
On hoe-cake, pork, and beans.

But Cavalier a cockney was;
He talked French and Latin;
Every day he wore broadcloth,
While his wife wore satin.
He went off in a painted ship--
In glory he did go;
A thousand niggers up aloft,
A thousand down below.

The towns were built, as I've heard said;
Their likes were never seen:
They filled the North, they filled the South,
They filled the land between.
"The Lord be praised!" said Puritan;
"Bully!" said Cavalier;
"There's room and town-lots in the West,
If there isn't any here."

Out to the West they journeyed then,
And in a quarrel got;
One said 'twas his, he knew it was;
The other said 'twas not.
One drew a knife, a pistol t'other,
And dreadfully they swore:
From Northern Lake to Southern Gulf
Wild rang the wordy roar.

And all the time good Uncle Sam
Sat by his fireside near,
Smokin' of his kinnikinick,
And drinkin' lager-beer.
He laughed and quaffed, and quaffed and laughed,
Nor thought it worth his while,
Unitl the storm in fury burst
On Sumter's sea-girt isle.

O'er the waves to the smoking fort,
When came the dewy dawn,
To see the flag he looked--and lo,
Eleven stars were gone!
"My pretty, pretty stars!" he cried,
And down did roll a tear.
"I've got your stars, Old Fogy Sam;
"Ha, ha!" laughed Cavalier.

"I've got your stars in my watch-fob;
Come take them, if you dare!"
And Uncle Same he turned away,
Too full of wrath to swear.
"Let thunder all the drums!" he cried,
While swelled his soul like Mars:
"A million Northern boys I'll get
To bring me home my stars."

And on his mare, stout Betsey Jane,
To Northside town he flew;
The dogs they barked, the bells did ring,
And countless bugles blew.
"My stolen stars!" cried Uncle Sam--
"My stolen stars!" cried he.
"A million soldiers I must have
To bring them home to me."

"Dry up your tears, good Uncle Sam;
Dry up!" said Puritan.
"We'll bring you home your stolen stars,
Or perish every man!"
And at the words a million rose,
All ready for the fray;
And columns formed, like rivers deep,
And Southward marched away.

And still old Uncle Samuel
Sits by his fireside near,
Smokin' of his kinnikinick
And drinkin' lager-beer;
While there's a tremble in the earth,
A gleaming of the sky,
And the rivers stop to listen
As the million marches by.

The poem appeared soon thereafter set to music adapted and arranged by R. Hastings. It was published by A. C. Peters & Bro. (Cincinnati) and J. L. Peters & Bro. (St. Louis) in 1863.

Its final appearance in print was as a broadside or handbill, with red and green decorations, printed for the Great Western Sanitary Fair in Cincinnati, which began on December 21, 1863. This last printing and a Nashville printing of the music in 1863 as reported by Irving McKee in Ben-Hur Wallace have not been found (see McKee, p. 281).

Wallace wrote three poems as part of the text of Ben-Hur:

"The Song" appears in Book Second, Chapter VI:

Wake not, but hear me, love!
Adrift, adrift on slumber's sea,
Thy spirit call to list to me.
Wake not, but hear me, love!
A gift from Sleep, the restful king,
All happy, happy dreams I bring.

Wake not, but hear me, love!
Of all the world of dreams 'tis thine
This once to choose the most divine.
So choose, and sleep, my love!
But ne'er again in choice be free,
Unless, unless--thou dream'st of me.

This poem was set to music composed by George L. Osgood and published in Boston by Oliver Ditson & Company in 1886. Its second appearance was as "Tirzah's Serenade" in 1888 composed by Annie M. Lyon and published in Chicago by George E. Marshall & Company. Its third appearance was as "Wake Not, But Hear Me, Love!" in 1888 composed by Harry G. Martin and published in Baltimore by Otto Sturo & Company. Its fourth appearance was as "Wake Not, But Hear Me, Love!" in 1895 composed by Lillian L. Bissell and published in Boston by Oliver Ditson Company. Its fifth appearance was as "The Song of Tirzah" in 1897 composed by C. E. Merrifield, arranged by H. D. Beissenherz and published in Indianapolis by C. E. Merrifield. It also appears as "Wake Not, But Hear Me, Love! (Slumber Song)" in an undated piece composed by Pierre Mellard (pseudonym of R. Price) and published in London by Weekes & Company.

"The Lament (Egyptian)" appears in Book Fourth, Chapter XVII:

I sigh as I sing for the story land
Across the Syrian sea.
The odorous winds from the musky sand
Were breaths of life to me.
They play with the plumes of the whispering palm
For me, alas! no more;
Nor more does the Nile in the moonlit calm
Moan past the Memphian shore.

O Nilus! thou god of my fainting soul!
In dreams thou comest to me;
And, dreaming, I play with the lotus bowl,
And sing old songs to thee;
And hear from afar the Memnonian strain,
And calls from dear Simbel;
And wake to a passion of grief and pain
That e'er I said--Farewell!

"The Lament" was set to music composed by E. R. Kroeger in 1886 and published in St. Louis by Kunkel Brothers. It appeared again in 1893 as "Egyptian Song (The Lament)" or "I Sigh As I Sing" composed by Leandro Campanari and published in Cincinnati by John Church Company. Its third appearance in 1900 was as "The Lament" composed by Victor Kemp and published in New York by Edward Schuberth & Company. Its fourth and final appearance in 1900 was as "Song of Iras" composed by Edgar Stillman Kelley and published in Cincinnati by John Church Company.

"Kapila" appears in Book Fifth, Chapter III:

Kapila, Kapila, so young and true,
I yearn for a glory like thine,
And hail thee from battle to ask anew,
Can every they Valor be mine?

Kapila sat on his charger dun,
A hero never so grave:
"Who loveth all things hath fear of none,
'Tis love that maketh me brave.

A woman gave me her soul one day,
The sould of my soul to be alway;
Thence came my Valor to me,
Go try it--try it--and see."

Kapila, Kapila, so old and gray,
The queen is calling for me;
But ere I go hence, I wish though wouldst say,
How Wisdom first came to thee.

Kapila stood in his temple door,
A priest in eremite guise:
"It did not come as men get their lore,
'Tis faith that maketh me wise.
A woman gave me her heart one day,
The heart of my heart to be alway;
Thence came my Wisdom to me,
Go try it--try it--and see."

Kapila was set to music by E. R. Kroeger and published in St. Louis by Kunkel Brothers in 1886. It also appeared in print as "From the Orient."

Wallace's last poetic venture, "Lines Addressed to the Lady Who Bandaged My Cut Finger--An Afterthought," appeared in Harper's Monthly Magazine in January 1888.

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Last modified: November 1, 2001