Caleb Bingham, the Columbia Orator in 19th Century Schoolbooks Collection

The Columbian orator: containing a variety of original and selected pieces, together with rules, calculated to improve youth and others in the ornamental and useful art of eloquence
Practical Pieces for Speaking

The book that Frederick Douglass used to teach himself oratory.

Bill Morrissey "Birches"

(Bill Morrissey)

They sat at each end of the couch, watched as the fire burned down,
So quiet on this winter's night, not a house light on for miles around.
Then he said, "I think I'll fill the stove. it's getting time for bed."
She looked up, "I think I'll have some wine. how 'bout you?" She asked and he de

"Warren," she said, "maybe just for tonight,
Let's fill the stove with birches and watch as the fire burns bright.
How long has it been? I know it's quite a while.
Pour yourself half a glass. Stay with me a little while."

And Warren, he shook his head, as if she'd made some kind of joke.
"Birches on a winter night? no, we'll fill the stove with oak.
Oak will burn as long and hot as a July afternoon,
And birch will burn itself out by the rising of the moon.

"And you hate a cold house, same as me. Am I right or not?"
"All right, all right, that's true," she said. "It was just a thought,
'Cause," she said, "Warren, you do look tired. Maybe you should go up to bed.
I'll look after the fire tonight." "Oak," he told her. "Oak," she said.

She listened to his footsteps as he climbed up the stairs,
And she pulled a sweater on her, set her wineglass on a chair.
She walked down cellar to the wood box -- it was as cold as an ice chest --
And climbed back up with four logs, each as white as a wedding dress.

And she filled the stove and poured the wine and then she sat down on the floor.
She curled her legs beneath her as the fire sprang to life once more.
And it filled the room with a hungry light and it cracked as it drew air,
And the shadows danced a jittery waltz like no one else was there.

And she stood up in the heat. She twirled around the room.
And the shadows they saw nothing but a young girl on her honeymoon.
And she knew the time it would be short; the fire would start to fade.
She thought of heat. She thought of time. She called it an even trade.

Sung by Bill Morrissey on "Night Train," Philo, PH 1154, 1993.


Comments on the Song "Birches"

Subject: Re: A 3-minute movie...
From: (Peggy Bertsch)
Date: 18 Nov 1995
MessageID: 48jmff$
references: <48asqd$> <48gmj9$>
organization: Hewlett Packard Cupertino Site

JEricL ( wrote:
: While story songs are great. Good ones are few and far between. It is a
: real challenge to write a great one. My point it, that you probably should
: write some of the other types of songs also. The ones that deal with
: things in a short time frame, without a loger story line.

Absolutely.  Variety is important.  Not all songs are meant to be chock full
of dialogue or metaphor or other elements that are so crucial to, say,
short story writing.  But by the same token, some songwriters *never* think
of their songs as short stories, and I was trying to show that sometimes
the two forms of writing can overlap very effectively.

Most story songs seem to hand-hold the listener through the passage of time,
telling the story from beginning to end, not leaving anything to the
imagination.  It's like each verse starts out with a line that tells you
exactly how much time has passed, or which particular significant milestone
this verse is going to cover (e.g., verse 1: meeting your true love, verse 2:
getting married, verse 3: having a child, etc.)  Some do this *much* more
effectively than others -- I personally think "Something In Red" did this
in a very unique and special way; I wasn't, on the other hand, impressed with
"Don't Take The Girl" and the way that *two* of the verses started with the
line "Same old boy, same sweet girl, (X) years down the road"...I felt like
I was being force-fed the scene, instead of being drawn into it. (That is,
of course, only my opinion -- obviously tons of people liked that song a *lot*
more than I did :-)

What I found unique to "Birches" is the way the writer (Bill Morrissey) just
drops us down in the middle of this couple's living room, no introduction,
no background on what has transpired before, and manages to paint the most
vivid picture of what their relationship has come to by letting us eavesdrop
on one simple scene.  It's a skill that writers of great short fiction have,
but which songwriters too often neglect, IMO.  But of course, I obsess over
lyrics to a point that sometimes goes beyond rational :-)

Fado: "Casa Portuguesa" by Amalia Rodriquez

This is an absolute classic. The sound doesn't begin for a few moments. If you search Youtube on "Fado" and you can explore the whole tradition.

The first stanza might be translated
In a Portuguese household, it is a good thing to have bread and wine on the table. When someone humbly knocks on the door, he or she takes a seat at our table. Such a frankness is a good thing to have, there is no denial about that. Poor people's happiness lies on the great wealth of giving, and being satisfied.

Here are the lyrics:

Numa casa portuguesa fica bem

pão e vinho sobre a mesa.

Quando à porta humildemente bate alguém,

senta-se à mesa co'a gente.

Fica bem essa fraqueza, fica bem,

que o povo nunca a desmente.

A alegria da pobreza

está nesta grande riqueza

de dar, e ficar contente.


Quatro paredes caiadas,

um cheirinho á alecrim,

um cacho de uvas doiradas,

duas rosas num jardim,

um São José de azulejo

sob um sol de primavera,

uma promessa de beijos

dois braços à minha espera...

É uma casa portuguesa, com certeza!

É, com certeza, uma casa portuguesa!


No conforto pobrezinho do meu lar,

há fartura de carinho.

A cortina da janela e o luar,

mais o sol que gosta dela...

Basta pouco, poucochinho p'ra alegrar

uma existéncia singela...

É só amor, pão e vinho

e um caldo verde, verdinho

a fumegar na tijela.


Quatro paredes caiadas,

um cheirinho á alecrim,

um cacho de uvas doiradas,

duas rosas num jardim,

um São José de azulejo

sob um sol de primavera,

uma promessa de beijos

dois braços à minha espera...

É uma casa portuguesa, com certeza!

É, com certeza, uma casa portuguesa!


Here is a translation, from a computer:

In a portuguese home, it looks good

to have bread and wine on the table.

and if someone humildly knocks at the door,

we invite them to sit at the table with us

This frankness looks good, so good ,

the frankness which people never deny

the joy of poverty

is this great richness

of being generous and feeling happy


Four whitewashed walls,

a sweet smell of rosemary,

a bunch of golden grapes

two roses in a garden,

a statue of St. Joseph in ceramics

and the sun of the spring in addiction ...

a promise of finding kisses

two open arms waiting for me

This is a portuguese home, for sure!

This is, surely, a portuguese home!


In the humild comfort of my home,

there is the plenty of affection.

and the curtain of the window is the moonlight,

and also the sun, that shines on it ...

Just a little is enough to cheer

such a simple existence

It's simply love, bread and wine

and the cabbage soup, so greenish

leaving trails of hot smoke from the bowl.

Forgiveness in Judaism and in Christianity with Hewitt and Prager

Talk show host, lawyer, and Christian Hugh Hewitt interviews talk show host, doctor of philosophy, and Jew Denis Prager on the first "Ask a Jew" program, in which Hewitt questions Praeger before a live audience. The two men are old friends and can discuss things openly. Prager attended Yeshiva until he was 18, and can speak with authority about Judaism.  In this snippet, repentance and forgiveness are at issue.  Readers of The Scarlet Letter may wonder how these ideas might apply. 


Overall rating

§3. Early Popular Song. XXVII. Oral Literature. Vol. 18. Later National Literature, Part III. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature: An Encyclopedia in Eighteen Volumes. 1907–21

XXVII. Oral Literature.

§ 3. Early Popular Song.

An early mention of popular song in America occurs in an entry in the diary of Cotton Mather for 27 September, 1713:   3
  “I am informed, that the Minds and Manners of many people about the Countrey are much corrupted by foolish Songs and Ballads, which the Hawkers and Peddlars carry into all parts of the Countrey. By way of antidote, I would procure poetical Composures full of Piety, and such as may have a Tendency to advance Truth and Goodness, to be published, and scattered into all Corners of the Land. There may be an extract of some, from the excellent Watt’s Hymns.”   4
  Doubtless many legendary and romantic ballads were brought from England by the colonists, but probably Mather’s “foolish songs and ballads” did not refer to these but rather to convivial, sentimental, or humorous ditties, the street pieces or broadsides popular in the mother country. These he would like to see replaced by religious and moralizing songs. Most songs, of either type, in the period before the Revolution, were probably imported, either orally or in broadside versions; but there were also historical pieces that were indigenous. Professor Tyler, writing in 1878, mentions as ballads popular in New England The Gallant Church, Smith’s Affair at Sidelong Hill, and The Godless French Soldier. These pieces do not appear in printed collections, however, and, in general, little has been done in the way of an attempt to recover songs from the period before the Revolution. The oldest remaining historical ballad composed in America of which texts are available is Lovewell’s Fight, recording a struggle with the Indians in Maine, 8 May, 1725. It was composed not long after the event, and was long popular in New England. A text reduced to print almost a century later begins:
What time the noble Lovewell came,
With fifty men from Dunstable,
The cruel Pequa’tt tribe to tame
With arms and bloodshed terrible.
Longfellow chose the same subject for his early poem The Battle of Lovell’s Pond.
  Greater effort has been made toward collecting songs and ballads of the Revolution, though the work should be done again more exhaustively and more critically. Frank Moore printed in 1856 a collection of verse, brought together from newspapers, periodicals, broadsides, and from the memory of surviving soldiers. Most of these pieces are semi-literary in character, to be sung to familiar tunes imported from England. That oftenest quoted as having the best poetical quality is Nathan Hale. 1  Many express the discontent of the colonists, and many are burlesques. Sometimes they were based on older pieces, as Major André’s The Cow Chace, which is built on The Chevy Chase. Of better quality is A Song for the Red-coats, on the defeat of Burgoyne.
Give ear unto my story,
And I the truth will tell
Concerning many a soldier
Who for his country fell.
Some of the most popular pieces of the Revolutionary period, mostly satirical verses by known authors, have been treated in an earlier chapter. 2 
  From the War of 1812 remain James Bird, a ballad of a hero shot for desertion, texts of which have drifted as far inland as the Central states, and a camp song in ridicule of General Packingham. Some verses beginning
Then you sent out your Boxer to beat us all about;
We had an enterprising Brig to beat the Boxer out,
and some stanzas preserved as a marching song for children—
We’re marching down to old Quebec
While the drums are loudly beating—
may also date back this far. The Texas Rangers, widely current through the South and the West, and modelled on the British Nancy of Yarmouth, sounds like an echo of the fight with the Mexicans at the Alamo in 1835.
  Songs surviving from the Civil War are frequently sentimental in character, like When this Cruel War is Over and The Blue and the Gray. 3  These are of traceable origin, yet they have passed widely into oral tradition. There were numerous camp songs on sieges or battles, but these have not shown vitality. Best remembered in popular literature from the time of the Civil War are many negro, or rather pseudonegro songs, given diffusion by the old-time itinerant negro minstrels. Many are the work of composers like Stephen C. Foster 4  or Henry C. Work. 5  These persist in popular memory side by side with songs like Juanita or Lorena, or the later After the Ball. Every collector of folk-song comes upon pieces of this type far oftener than upon songs commemorating battles or political events. In similar manner, the popular song given currency by the Cuban War, A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight, modelled on a Creole song, does not reflect directly the war that “floated” it. Nor do the songs universalized for England and America by the war of 1914—Tipperary, Keep the Home Fires Burning, Over There, The Long, Long Trail—commemorate its leading events.   8

Note 1. See Book I, Chap. IX. [ back ]
Note 2. See Book I, Chap. IX. [ back ]
Note 3. See Book III, Chaps. II. and III. [ back ]
Note 4. See Book III, Chap. V. [ back ]
Note 5. See Book III, Chap. II. [ back ]


A branch of American Literature too often ignored.

American Transcendentalism Web

the web of



What's New on the Site

Authors & Texts


Roots & Influences

Ideas & Thought



Resources &



This interlinked hypertext was first created in Spring 1999 by Virginia Commonwealth University graduate students studying in Professor Ann Woodlief's class in Studies in American Transcendentalism. It is a work in progress, and submissions of papers, texts and notes on them, and links are welcomed; full credit will be given to papers selected for the site. Professor Woodlief [now emeritus] may also be contacted at by people interested in doing serious independent study of these writers.
[Article on the site in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 6, 2002]


Well worth exploring. You could write a whole term paper just using this site and its links.

Elegance and freedom

The ballroom dancing of the baroque era is restrained and rational.  It is as far remove as can be from the dancing that results from the injunction to "let it all hang out, baby" that insinuated itself in the sixties.  Here is a move from that dancing.  The move is called doing a reverence, or bowing.  Note that it is mutual: both partners must participate. And what they participate in is an art form where nature is constrained and restrained and forced by human will to conform to ideal patterns. A complicated reverence requires presence of mind and self-control.  It cannot be performed by, say, someone in the grip of road rage. 

In such a move we see tradition, order, rules, restraint and training at work.  Indeed, at the end of the video we hear the voice of the teacher, the dancing master of those days.  Dancing was something you learned how to do, not something that was inside you automatically and merely needed a steady rhythm and a few pops to come out. It was the epitome of being civilized.  The puritans could sniff at dancing but society, both high and low, enjoyed it in a good spirited way.  Whether in the manor house or in the barn, the dancers, the musicians, the dancing-masters, the onlookers knew good form when they saw it.

Romanticism smashed all that.

Macauley on the Puritans with reading by JV

The Whig historian Thomas Babington Macauley explains why the Puritans, ridiculous and ridiculed, deserve our respect and admiration. You may notice the irony of his attacking the Catholics for lack of tolerance, when he treats them to very little of it himself.  This is an excerpt from his essay on Milton, the greatest of Protestant poets.