A Nebraska Poet?

Using poetry or reviews of poetry to satirize public figures is an old practice. The review of verses ascribed to Senator Phineas W. Hitchcock in the Omaha Weekly Bee of May 6, 1874, is an early example. A “rhyming letter” written to Hitchcock’s eleven-year-old daughter, Grace, had appeared the previous Sunday in the Omaha Republican, prompting the Bee to publish “A Nebraska Poet in the United States Senate,” which lampooned both the supposed author, Senator Hitchcock, and his lack of literary talent.

Said the Bee: “America has her Longfellow, her Bret Harte, her Walt Whitman, her Joaquin Miller, and others, who have made and are making a reputation for themselves and their country. But whom has Nebraska? She has Phineas W. Hitchcock. Should the honor of poet laureate be established in the United States to-day there would be no lack of aspirants, and if the people of Omaha and Nebraska had a voice in the selection of a poet to ‘wear the laurel’ they would unhesitatingly choose Phineas W. Hitchcock. He is the only man that would stand any chance of knocking the chip off Tennyson’s shoulder, should there ever be an International poetry writing match. We’ll wager a copy of ‘Mother Goose’s Melodies’ that he can do it.

“He [Hitchcock] is a poet of no mean order, which fact has recently been discovered by his admiring constituents, who read in Sunday’s Republican that beautiful poetical contribution dedicated ‘To Gracie Hitchcock-at School in Germany,’ and signed ‘P.W.H.’

“Yes, P.W.H. has written a poem. He has invoked the muse, mounted his Pegasus, and has made himself immortal in rhyme. . . . But let us proceed with our task-the criticism of the Senator’s ‘pome.’ The first two lines are:-‘My dear little Grace, it will make you feel better/To get from your papa a nice rhyming letter.’

“There is much contained in these two lines. They express an affection which only a father can feel, and intimate that a ‘nice, rhyming letter’-such as he, of course, is writing-will make the recipient feel better; that is, better than if she had received a dry, matter-of-fact prose epistle. No fault can be found with this beautiful and expressive opening.”

The remainder of “A Nebraska Poet in the United States Senate” lampooned Hitchcock’s complaints to his daughter about the hardships he suffered as a U.S. senator, including late hours with “visitors, business men, loungers.” The critique in the Bee concluded: “We suppose that the daughter has ere this answered her father’s letter, and should not be surprised to see it appear in the Republican next Sunday morning.”

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