Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4
Complete Issue: National Anti-Slavery Standard (5 December 1863)
[Unsigned], "The Reverend Mr. Treacle" National Anti-Slavery Standard (5 December 1863): [1]View Poem Image
Full size in new window

THE REVEREND MR. TREACLE.

Mr. Beecher, Yankee preacher, Is, just now, a London feature,[1] Sent, we're thinking, By Abe Lincoln, To become Brittania's teacher.
Execrations; Ululations; Yankee yelling; Pat's[2] orations; Menace frantic, O'er the Atlantic Stir not this most bland of nations.
Try new order, Use soft sawder,[3] Praise Brittania, hymn her, laud her, Reverend brother, Call her Mother, Soothe her, pat her, and applaud her.
From his master Comes the pastor, Casts aside the pepper-castor, And stands cooing, Suing, wooing, Blister, bless you—poor man's plaister.[4]
Wheedle, Beecher, Gentle preacher, All your wiles won't over-reach her, Give instruction, In egg-suction,[5] Granny knows all you can teach her.
Punch.[6]

Notes

  1. Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887) joined Brooklyn's Plymouth Church in 1847. Over the next sixteen years, his commitments increased with his fame. When his exertions as a celebrity lecturer and "star" contributor began to tell in mid-1863, his concerned congregation sponsored a recuperative tour of Europe (Clifford E. Clark, Henry Ward Beecher: Spokesman for a Middle-Class America [Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1978], 157). At the end of this tour (June–October 1863), Beecher returned to Britain and took to the platform as an advocate for the Union in Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, and London: cities with vested interests in the American struggle, where Union and Confederate groups were active. Commentators in Britain and America regarded Beecher's short tour as an embassy—though the pro-South Punch showed its disdain for his "Yankee" brand of diplomacy by likening him to a professional entertainer ("a feature").
     
    During the war, Beecher was "a power within the Republican party" (Clifford E. Clark, "Beecher, Henry Ward," in American National Biography Online), but there is no evidence that Lincoln "sent" him to Britain, as Punch suggested. He refused invitations to speak for the Union prior his arrival in England, claiming that he cared little for British opinion and intended to enjoy his rest. Theodore Tilton praised his friend's tactful silence during the first leg of his tour: friends "without exception" thought Beecher had "managed sensibly and wisely" in England (letter dated August 7, 1863, quoted in Clark, Henry Ward Beecher, 157). Yet the role of national spokesman must have held attractions for a famous orator who interpreted the war as a moral contest and possessed the skills to score a Union victory in the ongoing struggle for British hearts and minds.
     
    "The Reverend Mr. Treacle" appeared in the October 31, 1863, issue of Punch, as a poetic commentary on a cartoon captioned "Beecher's American Soothing Syrup." The illustration shows Beecher, smooth-faced and spruce to the point of slickness; he offers a spoonful of treacle to a disinterested British lion, a spilled keg labeled "brimstone" discarded behind his back. Lines from Beecher's Exeter Hall speech, emphasizing Anglo-American like-mindedness, gave Punch readers a taste of Beecher's sweet words: "I feel that the two nations are still one in the cause of civilisation, of religion, and I trust we shall continue to be one in international policy, and one in every enterprise." Punch was not convinced. As historian R. J. M. Blackett has observed, "[t]he war reignited nationalist passions that had lain dormant for more than a decade" (Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001], 19). For Punch, Beecher's "remedy" to neutrality was as ineffectual as any quack nostrum.
    Go back
  2. A contemporary slang term for an Irishman (A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words [London: Hotten, 1859], 71). Frequently derogatory, as here. With imperial arrogance, Punch dismisses the speeches of American and Irish nationalists as so much noise.Go back
  3. From "sawder" or "solder"; "flattery, blarney" (Oxford English Dictionary).Go back
  4. A "blister" was a medical term for anything applied to blister the skin; irritants were often spread on material to form a kind of plaster. Punch likens this harsh treatment to the aggressive nationalist rhetoric that Beecher avoided during his 1863 tour. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "blister" was also nineteenth-century slang for an annoying person: the echo of "Beecher" in "Blister" invites Punch readers to identify Beecher himself as a blessed annoyance ("Blister, bless you . . ."). The implication is that, in spite of his change of tactics, Beecher still irritates where he would soothe.Go back
  5. "Egg-suction" refers to the saying, "to teach one's grandmother how to suck eggs"—that is, "to tell somebody how to do something that they already know" (Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 17th edition [London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2005]). Punch uses the phrase to cast Britannia as (Old World) "Granny," wiser than wiley American Beecher.Go back
  6. Punch, or the London Charivari, a richly illustrated comic journal established by Mark Lemon and Henry Mayhew in 1841. Lemon edited the title until his death in 1870. Punch's clever combination of images and text offered readers a mixture of political and social commentary and humor fit for a drawing room, which proved popular on both sides of the Atlantic. "In the [1840s] Punch was radical-humanitarian, anti-aristocratic, anti-clerical"—but on the eve of the Civil War, it occupied a more conservative position (Oscar Maurer, "Punch on Slavery and Civil War in America, 1841–1865," Victorian Studies 1 [1957]: 6). During the war itself, imperialist Punch bristled at Northern newspapers' anti-British reaction to Queen Victoria's proclamation of neutrality, and foamed in response to the US Navy's seizure of Confederate agents aboard the British steamer Trent (November 8, 1861). As a result, "[f]rom late in 1861 until nearly the end of the war, Punch prophesied the defeat of the North in terms which reflected wishful thinking" (Maurer, 14). For Punch, Henry Ward Beecher's soothing words came too late.
     
    As far as Punch was concerned, Northern defeat did not mean the defeat of abolition, because Lincoln's administration fought for the Union, not for the destruction of slavery. Cartoons and poems presented the Emancipation Proclamation as an act of "cynical opportunism" on Lincoln's part—which is not to say that all Punch contributors concurred with such a view, or with the currents of popular opinion that seem to have influenced the journal's stance on Civil War issues (Maurer, 23, 28). Unlike Punch, the editors of the National Anti-Slavery Standard associated a pro-Southern position with a proslavery attitude: Oliver Johnson or one of his associates reprinted "The Reverend Mr. Treacle" at the head of the Standard's occasional front page "Pro-Slavery" column. Lengthy transcriptions of Beecher's speeches at Manchester, Edinburgh, and London featured prominently in three Standard issues (October 31, 1863, [1]; November 7, 1863, [1–2]; November 14, 1863, [1–2]). After Beecher's last appearance at Exeter Hall, the Standard applauded his tour as "a great and noble work for his country and for liberty" ("Mr. Beecher in Exeter Hall," November 7, 1863, [2]).
    Go back