When My Ship Comes In
by Robert Burdette (1844-1914)
One room I’ll have that’s full of shelves,
For nothing but books; and the books themselves
Shall be of a sort that a man will choose
If he loves that good old word “peruse,”
The kind of book that you open by chance
To browse on the page with a leisurely glance,
Certain of finding something new,
Although you have read it ten times through.
I don’t mean books like “Punch” in series,
Or all the volumes of “Notes and Queries.”
But those wherein, without effort, your eyes
Fall where the favorite passage lies,
Knowing the page and exact position —
It’s never the same in another edition!
“The Vicar of Wakefield,” and “Evelina,”
“Elia,” “The Egoist,” “Emma,” “Catriona,”
Fuller and Malory, “Westward Ho!”
And the wonderful story of Daniel Defoe,
And Izaak Walton, and Gilbert White,
And plays and poetry left and right!
No glass doors, and no “fumed oak” —
Plain deal and fumed by myself with smoke;
Stained, if at all, to a pleasant brown,
With ledges and places for putting books down,
And there I’ll sit by a blazing log
With a sweet old briar and a glass of grog,
And read my “Pickwick,” “Pendennis,” “Huck Finn,”
Cosily there — when my ship comes in.
The Rev. Robert Burdette (1844-1914), a noted humorist in his time, was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Peoria, Illinois. After graduating from Peoria High School in December 1861, he enlisted in the 47th Illinois Infantry the following August, just five days after his 18th birthday. According to this website, the Rev. Burdette’s early life also
included experience as a a Cuban Revolution blockade-runner.
His career was journalism. His humorous columns for the Burlington Daily Hawk Eye earned this paper a national circulation. He extended his success to the lecture platform, where he was compared to his popular contemporary, Mark Twain. By 1888, he was still traveling the lecture circuit, but as a Baptist preacher.
In 1907, he came to California and became the first minister at the Temple Baptist Church, where he contributed substantially to the popularity of that organization. He is remembered as “the physician of the merry heart.”
I found the Rev. Burdette’s poem in The Desk Drawer Anthology: Poems for the American People, compiled by Alice Roosevelt Longworth and her brother Theodore (“Ted Jr.”) Roosevelt (1887-1944) and published in 1937. I ran across mention of the anthology in the new biography my parents gave me for Christmas, Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker by Stacy A. Cordery; they were apparently inspired by ARL’s quote over on the sidebar at left and my fondness for the way she viewed the world with what she called “detached malevolence”. As Ms. Cordery explains,
Alexander Woollcott was the inspiration [for the poetry collaboration between brother and sister]. Sunning themselves at Woollcott’s lakefront home in Vermont, Ted and Woollcott idly discussed all the poets whose works were good but “somehow escaped the accident of fame,” and how most anthologies were little more than the favorite poems of the editor. They wondered whether an anthology could be created for which all of America did the selecting. If Ted and Alice would edit the entries, Woollcott promised to use his popular Town Crier radio show to ask listeners to send in their favorite pomes for consideration — the ones they’d cut out and tucked in wallets or desk drawers so they’d have them to read again and again. More than forty thousand poems appeared as a result of his plea. It took Alice and Ted many months to read through and compile the poems, and the book was published by Doubleday, Doran just in time for Christmas 1937.
Alice, and I don’t think she’d mind me calling her that, not once we got to be friends, has proved to be a delightful companion for the past month. From Ms. Cordery’s preface,
Like all Roosevelts, Alice had wide-anging interests. An autodidact with a lifelong passion for knowledge, she taught herself Greek at age eighty. Filling her bookshelves were tomes historical, philosophical, literary, and scientific — theories of evolution were a particular interest. She retained a fascination for subjects that had grabbed her as a girl: Romany culture, fairies, poetry. In common with all her clan, Alice could and did quote liberally great passages from Alexander Pope, William Shakespeare, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Lamb, Niccolò Machiavelli, Sir Thomas Browne, and others. And the amount and type of poetry she cherished and recited from memory was staggering — from Ogden Nash’s limericks to G.K. Chesterton’s “Lepanto.” Alice Longworth’s extensive library contained battered and marked copies of anthologies such as The Oxford Book of English Verse, Burton Stevenson’s Home Book of Verse, The Modern Library edition of Anthology of Famous European and American Poetry, and volumes from poets like E.A. Robinson, Ezra Pound, and Alfred Austin, usually inscribed to her by the authors. … She loved words and word games; dog-eared and annotated in her angular handwriting were Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, The Oxford Book of Green Verse in Translation, and Aesop’s Book of Fables.