A Vindication of the Claim of Alexander M. W. Ball, of Elizabeth, N. J., to the Authorship of the Poem, "Rock Me to Sleep, Mother"

By A. O. MORSE, of Cherry Valley, N. Y. New York : M. W. Dodd.
IT is no great while since Miss Peck proved to her own satisfaction her claim to what Mr. Morse would style the “ maternity” of “Nothing to Wear,” and now hardly has Judge Holmes of Missouri determined that the paternity of Shakespeare is due to Bacon, when the friends of Mr. Ball of New Jersey spring another trouble upon mankind by declaring him the author of Mrs. Akers’s very graceful and touching poem, “ Rock me to Sleep, Mother,” which we all know by heart. In the present pamphlet they give what evidence they can in Mr. Ball’s behalf, and, to tell the truth, it is not much. It appears from this and other sources that Mr. Ball is a person of independent property, and a member of the New Jersey Legislature, who has written a great quantity of verses first and last, but has become all but “proverbial” in his native State for his carelessness of his own poetry ; so that we suppose people say there of a negligent parent, “ His children are as unkempt as the Hon. Alexander M. W. Ball’s poems ” ; or of a heartless husband, “ His wife is about as well provided for as Mr. Ball’s Muse.’’ Still Mr. Ball is not altogether lost to natural feeling, and he has not thrown away all his poetry, but has even so far shown himself alive to its claims upon him as to read it now and then to friends, who have keenly reproached him with his indifference to fame. To such accidents we owe the preservation in this pamphlet of several Christmas Carols and other lyrics, tending to prove that Mr. Ball could have written “ Rock me to Sleep ” if he had wished, and the much more important letters declaring that he did write it, and that the subscribers of the letters heard him read it nearly three years before its publication by Mrs. Akers. These letters are six in number, including a postscript, and it is not Mr. Ball’s fault if they all read a good deal like the certificates of other days establishing the identity of the Old Original Doctor Jacob Townsend. Two only of the six are signed with the writers’ names ; but these two have a special validity, from the fact that the writer of one is a very old friend, who has more than once expressed his wish to be Mr. Ball’s literary executor, while the writer of the other is evidently a legal gent, for he begins with “ Relative to the controversy in re the authorship,” etc., like a legal gent, and he concludes with the statement that he is able to FIX the date when he heard Mr. Ball read “ Rock me to Sleep” by the date of a paper which he thinks he called to draw up at Mr. Ball’s residence some time in the autumn of 1859. This is Mr. J. Burrows Hyde. Mr. Lewis C. Grover, who would like to be Mr. Ball’s literary executor, is more definite, and says, that he heard Mr. Ball read the contested poem with others in 1857, during a call made to learn where Mr. Ball bought his damask curtains. H. D. E. is sorry that he or she cannot remember where he or she first heard Mr. Ball read it, but he or she distinctly remembers that it was in 1857 or 1858. L. P. and I. E. S.
witness that they heard Mr. Ball read it in his study in 1856 or 1857, and state that the date may be fixed by reference to the time “when Mrs. Ball took Maria to Dr. Cox’s, and placed her in the school in Leroy,” and the pamphleteer, turning to a bill rendered by the principal of the Leroy school, “fixes the date called for by the writers in February, 1857,” at which time, according to the pamphleteer himself, Mr. Ball was on his way to California, in an ocean steamer! The postscript mentioned among the letters is said to be dated at Brooklyn in 1858, and merely asks Mr. Ball to "send by the doctor ” — not a dozen more bottles of his invaluable Sarsaparilla, but — the poem entitled “ Rock me to Sleep,” and this postscript has no signature, and is therefore worthless.
It appears, then, that these letters do not establish a great deal ; the legal gent fixes the time when he heard the poem by the date of a paper which he thinks was drawn up at a certain period ; H. D. E. is sorry that he or she cannot remember, and then distinctly remembers ; the postscript is without signature ; two other friends declare that they heard Mr. Ball, in his own study, read “ Rock me to Sleep, Mother,” at the moment when the poet was probably very sea-sick on a California steamer. Mr. Grover alone remains to persuade us, and we respectfully suggest to that enthusiast whether it was not “ Rock-a-by Baby” that he heard Mr. Ball read ? We do not think that he or the other writers of these letters intend deceit ; but we know the rapture with which people listen to poets who read their own verses aloud, and we suspect that these listeners to Mr. Ball were carried too far away by their feelings ever to get back to their facts. They are good folks, but not critical, we judge, and might easily mistake Mr. Ball’s persistent assertion for an actual recollection of their own. We think them one and all in error, and we do not believe that any living soul heard Mr. Ball read the disputed poem before 1860, for two reasons : Mrs. Akers did not write it before that time, and Mr. Ball could never have written it after any number of trials.
Let us take one of Mr. Ball’s “Christmas Carols,” — probably the poem which his friends now recall as “ Rock me to Sleep, Mother,” — for all proof and comment upon this last fact: —
“ CHRISTMAS, 1856.
“ And as time rolls us backward, we feel inclined to weep,
As the spirit of our mother comes, to rock our souls to sleep.
It raised my thoughts to heaven, and in converse with them there
I felt a joy unearthly, and lighter sat world’s care;
For it opened up the vista of an echoless dim shore,
Where my mother kindly greets me, as in good days of yore. ”
Here, then, is that quality of peculiarly hopeless poetasting which strikes cold upon the stomach, and makes man turn sadly from his drivelling brother. Do we not know this sort of thing? Out of the rejected contributions in our waste-basket we could daily furnish the inside and outside of a dozen Balls. It is saddening, it is pathetic ; it has gone on so long now, and must still continue for so many ages ; but we can just bear it as a negative quality. It is only when such rubbish is put forward as proof that its author has a claim to the name and fame of a poet, that we lose patience. The verses given in this pamphlet would invalidate Mr. Ball’s claim to the authorship of Mrs. Akers’s poem, even though the Seven Sleepers swore that he rocked them asleep with it in the time of the Decian persecution. But beside the irrefragable internal evidence afforded by the specimens given of Mr. Ball’s poetry, and by his “first draft” of the disputed poem, and by his “completed copy” of the poem, there is the well-known fact that Mr. Ball is a self-confessed plagiarist in one case, and a convicted plagiarist in several others. He has lately allowed in a published letter that he used a poem by Mrs. Whitman in “concocting” one of his own. It was some years since proven that he had plagiarized other poems, — even one from Mrs. Hemans.
Mr. Ball has some claims to forbearance and interest as a curious psychological study. Kleptomania is a well-known disorder. The unhappy persons affected steal whatever they can, wherever they can, and come home from evening parties with their pockets full of silver spoons, which are usually sent home with the apologies of mortified friends. We believe, however, this is the first instance of kleptomania of which the victim not only steals, but turns upon the person plundered and makes accusation that the stolen goods had been first filched from him. Mr. Ball is phenomenal, but is a legislative assembly the place for this sort of curiosity ? If he is of sound mind, he is guilty of a very cruel and shameless wrong, meriting expulsion from any body that makes laws against larceny. If sane, let him go be elected to the New York Common Council.
Of this pamphlet, aside from Mr. Ball, we have merely to say that it appears to be written by the most impudent and the most absurd man in America.