Dr. Boli makes no claims for yesterday or tomorrow; but this is the worst poetry you will read today, because after it you will have no more appetite for poetry for at least another twenty-four hours.
The Souvenir; or, Satan at Large is an anti-Democratic tirade put into allegorical verse by a resident of Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1885. Although there is no author credited on the title page (which is dated 1887), the copyright page claims an 1885 copyright in the name of George W. Corey, who (from scattered references in books of Western travels, &c.) seems to have been one of the leading citizens of Cheyenne, which nevertheless somehow escaped being known as the Athens of the West for its thriving literary culture.
A look at the “Prelude,” which takes up only two pages, gives us such a wealth of failed rhymes that we are tempted to go no further. “Artful” is rhymed with “startle,” “pelf” with “wealth,” “earth” with “forth,” “mankind” with “whirlwinds,” “plans” with “schemes,” “station” with “politician”—to pass over many other examples.
The fun continues on every page—“hate” rhymes with “spite,” “spears” with “war”, and so on—so that we begin to wonder whether Mr. Corey’s understanding of rhyme came exclusively from political broadsides.
Aside from rhyming, our poet’s greatest difficulty seems to be in getting anywhere from anywhere else. He spends whole pages stuck in the mud, spinning in circles as he tries to reach the next idea.
“In sacred history we must search
For proof of much of Satan’s work;
Where those inspir’d by power divine
Were shown the things from earliest time.
Thus St. John the Revelator
Face to face with his Creator,
Talked of heaven, earth and hell
And the beings that in them dwell;
And saw things earthly and divine
Of past, present and future time.”
Well, it has taken us a while to arrive at the idea that St. John the Divine saw the past, present, and future, hasn’t it? But wait! There’s more! We continue with the next line:
“This old prophet, this great divine,
Who lived way back in ancient time,
While he was on the isle of Patmos
Saw grand views of heaven’s greatness;
In visions strange, weird and sublime
View’d the long vista of all past time.”
For those who gave up several lines ago, the idea our poet struggles mightily to express is that the book of Revelation tells us what happened to Satan in the distant past.
All political satire is doomed to irrelevance when the political map changes. In 1885, the Democratic Party was the party of states’ rights, the Solid South, and the Ku Klux Klan—two out of three of which are now identified with the Republicans. (It would be not only slanderous but also incorrect to identify either current party with the Ku Klux Klan, which, on our usual principle of exposing bigots to derision, can only be identified with the Funny Hats Party.) Nevertheless, some political satires achieve immortality by means of virtues that reach beyond the mere issues of the day to touch on something universal. Jonathan Swift and W. S. Gilbert satirized the politics of their day, but they pulled back the curtain of temporary political alliances to expose the universal human motivations that power politics. And Mr. George W. Corey has also reached beyond the particular to the universal. In The Souvenir; or, Satan at Large, he has given us an encyclopedia of every mistake a poet ought to avoid.