Another victim sinks into the tomb,
Struck by Consumption,s dire
unering dart again fond friends
are call,d to bewail the doom of
one whom love had link,d to
many a hart.
This was the epitaph on the tombstone of a young man who died in 1830 at the age of nineteen. Our friend Father Pitt found it in the old Bethel Cemetery, and it immediately struck him that it was probably not an original composition. It looks like a semiliterate transcription of a published poem. But where was the poem published? asked old Pa Pitt. It took exactly twenty seconds to type the first line into Google and come up with the answer:
It is from The Casket, a popular American magazine of the day; click on the image above to be taken to the full volume in Google Books.
Twenty seconds, and we have the answer. Think about that for a moment. How long would it have taken a mere quarter-century ago? Dr. Boli suspects that it literally could not have been done. The poem was, as far as he knows, never reprinted after its initial appearance; it can be found only in the June, 1830, issue of The Casket. Probably half a dozen libraries in the world, at the very most, have copies of that magazine in dusty bound volumes somewhere. The odds are pretty well stacked against stumbling across one of them by accident. It might occur to one in a brilliant flash of insight that the poem had come from a current magazine; but even then, to search through all the extant magazines published in 1830 in all the libraries in North America would have been such a daunting project that one would almost certainly not have begun it.
Every once in a while, when we wonder whether the Internet is good for anything but YouTube comments and quack cancer cures, we can remind ourselves that it makes whole species of knowledge possible that were not possible before.