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Lawyers and Poetry

George Washington Cruikshank


The following biographical sketch of George W. Cruickshank, and a selection of his poetry, is excerpted from George Johnston, The Poets and Poetry of Cecil County, Maryland (Elkton, Maryland: The editor, 1887):

George W. Cruikshank was born in Fredericktown, Cecil county, Md., May 11th, 1838. He received his early education in the common school of Cecilton, and was afterwards sent to a military academy at Brandywine Springs, in New Castle county, Delaware, and graduated at Delaware College in 1858.

He is among the very best classical and literary scholars that his
native county has produced. Mr. Cruikshank studied law for about a year in the office of Charles J.M. Gwinn, of Baltimore, but was compelled by the threatened loss of sight to relinquish study until 1865, when he completed the prescribed course of reading in the office of Colonel John C. Groome, in Elkton, and was admitted to the Elkton Bar on September 18th, 1865, and on the same day purchased an interest in The Cecil Democrat, and became its editor, a position he still continues to fill.

In 1883 Mr. Cruikshank became connected with the Baltimore Day, which he edited while that journal existed.

Mr. Cruikshank, in 1869, married his cousin Sarah Elizabeth Cruikshank. They are the parents of five children . . . .

Mr. Cruikshank is one of the most forcible and brilliant editorial
writers in the State, and the author of a number of chaste and erudite poems written in early manhood, only two or three of which have been published.




Bury the mighty dead--
Long, long to live in story!
Bury the mighty dead
In his own shroud of glory.

Question not his purpose;
Sully not his name,
Nor think that adventitious aid
Can build or blight his fame,
Nor hope, by obloquizing what
He strove for, glory's laws
Can be gainsaid, or he defiled
Who'd honor any cause.

Question not his motives,
Ye who have felt his might!
Who doubts, that ever saw him strike,
He aimed to strike for right?
His was no base ambition;--
No angry thirst for blood.
Naught could avail to lift his arm,
But love of common good.
Yet, when he deigned to raise it,
Who could resist its power?
Or who shall hope, or friend, or foe,
E'er to forget that hour?

His life he held as nothing.
His country claimed his all.
Ah! what shall dry that country's tears
Fast falling o'er his fall?
His life he held as nothing,
As through the flame he trod;
To duty gave he all of earth
And all beyond to God.
The justness of his effort
He never lent to doubt.
His aim, his arm, his all was fix'd
To put the foe to rout.
Mistrusting earth's tribunals,
Scorning the tyrant's rod,
He chose the fittest Arbiter,
'Twixt foe and sword, his God.
And doubted not, a moment,
That, when the fight was won,
Who rules the fate of nations
Would bid His own:--Well done!
And doubted not, a moment,
As fiercest flashed the fire,
The bullet's fatal blast would call:--
Glad summons!--Come up higher!

And who would hence recall thee?--
Thy work so nobly done!
Enough for mortal brow to wear
The crown thy prowess won:--
Grim warrior, grand in battle!
Rapt christian, meek in prayer!--
Vain age! that fain would reproduce
A character as rare!

The world has owned its heroes;--
Its martyrs, great and good,
Who rode the storm of power,
Or swam the sea of blood:--
Napoleons, Caesars, Cromwells,
Melancthons, Luthers brave!
But, who than Jackson ever yet
Has filled a prouder grave?

The cause for which he struggled,
May fall before the foe:
Stout hearts, devoted to their trust,
All moulder, cold and low.
The land may prove a charnel-house
For millions of the slain,
And blood and carnage mark the track
Where madmen march amain,--
Fanatic heels may scourge it,
Black demons blight the sod;
And hell's foul desolation
Mock Liberty's fair God.--
The future leave no record,
Of mighty struggle there,
Save hollowness, and helplessness,
And bitter, bald despair.--
Proud cities lose their names e'en;
Tall towers fall to earth.--
Mount Vernon fade, and Westmoreland
Forget illustrious birth;--
And yet, upon tradition,
Will float the name of him
Whose virtues time may tarnish not,
Eternity not dim.
Whose life on earth was only,
So grand, so free, so pure,
For brighter realms and sunnier skies,
A preparation sure.
And whose sweet faith, so child-like,
Nor blast, nor surge nor rod,
One moment could avert from
The bosom of his God.

Bury the mighty dead!
Long, long to live in story!
Bury the hero dead
In his own shroud of glory!




Frank is dead! The mournful message
Comes gushing from the ocean's roar.
Frank is dead! His mortal passage
Has ended on the heavenly shore.
In earthly agony he died
To join his Saviour crucified.

Frank is dead! Time's bitter trials
Drove him a wanderer from home,
To meet life's lot, share its denials,
Or gain a rest where cares ne'er come.
His frail form sinking, his grand spirit
Careered to realms the blest inherit.

Frank is dead! In life's young morning,
When heavenly promise lit his day,
His smitten spirit, homeward turning,
Forsook its tenement of clay.
No more to battle here with sin;
No more to suffer mid earth's din.

Frank is dead! By fever stricken,
How long he suffered, and how deep!
With none to feel his hot blood quicken,
No loved one near to calm his sleep.
No mother's presence him to gladden:
Naught, naught to cheer--all, all to sadden.

Frank is dead! His pangs are over.
His gentle spirit hence has flown.
Strangers, with earth, his body cover,
Strangers attend his dying moan.
On stranger forms his eyes last close,
To meet A FRIEND in their repose.

Frank is dead! Aye! weep, fond mourner!
The grand, the beautiful is lost.
Too pure for earth, the meek sojourner,
On passion's billows tempest-tossed,
Has found a source of sweeter bliss
In realms that sunder wide from this.

Frank is dead! Yes, dead to sorrow,
Dead to sadness, dead to pain.
Dead! Dead to all save the tomorrow
Whose light eternally shall reign.
He's dead to young ambition's vow
And the big thought that stamped his brow.

Frank is dead! Dead to the labors
He'd staked his life to triumph in:--
To win his friends, his dying neighbors,
And fellows all from death and sin.
With steady faith he toiled to fit
Christ's armor on and honor it.

Frank is dead! Omniscient pleasure
Has closed his bright career too soon
To realize how rich a treasure
The ranks had entered ere high noon.
His brilliant promise, dashed in youth,
One less is left to fight for truth.

Frank is dead! Yes, dead to mortals.
No more we'll see his noble brow
Or flashing eye; but in the portals
Above, by faith I see him now
With gladden'd step and fluttering heart,
Marching to share the better part.

Frank is dead!! No, never, never!
Not dead but only gone before.
Back,--back! Thou tear-drop, rising ever;
Nor Heaven's fiat now deplore.
Wail not the sorrows earth can lend
To banish spirits that ascend.

And fare thee well, my noble brother!
'Tis hard to think that thou art not;
To realize that never other
Footstep like thine shall share my cot,
And think of all thy heart endured,
By sore besetments often tried.
But,--Heaven be thanked,--all now is cured
And thou, fair boy, art glorified.




Let the bier move onward.--Let no tear be shed.
The midnight watch is ended: The grim old year is dead.
His life was full of turmoil. In death he ends his woes.
As fraught with toil his pilgrimage, may peaceful be its close.

Let the bier move onward.--Let no tear drop fall.
The couch of birth is waiting the egress of the pall.
Haste! Hasten the obsequies:--the natal hour is nigh.
Waste not a moment weeping when expectation's high.

* * * * *

Draw back the veil; the curtain lift.
Ho! Thirsting hearts, rejoice!
The new-born is no puny gift:--
Time's latest, grandest choice.

Nurseling and giant! Infant grown!
Majestic even now!
'Tis well that such a restless throne
Descends to such as thou.

* * *

Dame nature's travail bore thee;
Her pangs a world upheaved.
A world now bending o'er thee
Awaits those pangs relieved.
A world is waiting for thee:
And shall it be deceived?

Ah no! Such pangs were never
To mother giv'n in vain.
Rise, new-born! Rise and sever
Tyranny's clanking chain.
Rise, Virtue! Rise forever!
The New-Year comes amain!
O! Give him welcome ever!
Can bleeding hearts refrain?

* * *

All hail! Oh beautiful New-Year!
Full, full of promise fraught with cheer.
Bright promise of the glad return
Of glowing fires that erst did burn
On hearths long desolate!
Hail! Great deliverer from wrath,
Brave pioneer upon the path
That leads to better fate!
Joy be to thee thy natal day,
As dawns Aurora's earliest ray,
While youth is fresh and faith is clear
And hope is bright with coming cheer!
Thou promisest eventful life
As, giant-like, thou leap'st to earth,
Robed in full majesty at birth;
With power to do and will to dare
And arm to shield from threat'ning care,
And eye to ken the dead past's strife.

Thy young life's hand knows yet no stain
Of blood, or greed, or guilt, or gain.
But, know, Oh Friend! thou'rt ushered in
To feel the jar and note the din
Of war-blast's rude alarms.
Thy elder brother, gone before,
Has left upon this nether shore
A burden for thine arms.

'Tis thine to choose the part thou'lt take,
Oh giant mighty! Thine to make
An early choice; lose not an hour.
'Tis crime to waste prodigious power.
Great, vast, appalling, is the task
By fate assigned to thee. No mask
Of indecision now is given.
The bolt of Mars the rock has riven.
The hour is dark:--the danger nigh.
The ravens caw: the eagles cry.
The breakers dash--the chasm yawns:
The skies are lurid:--chaos dawns.
Thunder with thunder-peal is riven
As if to shake earth's faith in heaven!
All, all is wild! No sun! No moon!
Earth, air and sky, in dire commune,
Demand--what hand shall guide them now?

New-Year, stand forth and bide the call
To thee address'd.
We stand or fall
As thou decree'st.
Frown, and we perish. Smile, we rise
To joys that savor of the skies.
Bid lethargy depart thy brow
And strike for right and truth.
Young, thou; but hast no youth.
No hours are thine for sportive mirth.
Minerva-like, mature from birth,
Great deeds and valiant thine must be,
In wisdom guided, fair and free.--
Deeds that no year hath known before;
Fraught not with strife;--drenched not in gore.
Free from old taint of fell disease
And ancient forms of party strife.
Rich in the gentler modes of life
With sweeter manners, purer laws,
Forerunner of those years of ease

That token a sublimer cause!

What say'st thou? Giant, young and strong,
What impulse heaves thy throbbing breast?
Shall warrior plumes bedeck thy crest?
Wilt whisper peace? Or shout for war?
Wilt plead for right, or bleed for wrong?
Wilt peal the bugle-blast afar
And urge the cannon's madd'ning roar?
Or wing the note through vale and glen:--
Hail! Peace on earth! Good-will to men!
Reason return:--let strife be o'er?

Thou speak'st not, giant, but I feel
Hope's roseate flush upon my brow.
Thy deeds will seal thy silent vow.
New aims thy glory will reveal.
Thou heed'st the anguished bosom's smart,
And thou wilt choose the better part.
Thou'lt live on hist'ry's brightest page
A monarch mighty, gentle sage:
Great, great for what thou wilt have done
And blest in all the course thou'lt run:--
Thy crown not carved in brass or wood,
To crumble or decay;
But be in endless day,
Emblem of grandeur, shrined in good.
And truth and peace will round thee weave
An amaranthyne wreath of love,
Its blessed motto ... trust--believe.
And thou wilt share the realm above,
Where bleeding hearts shall triumph meet,
Around one common mercy-seat.

All hail, then, beautiful New-Year!
Hero of promise, fraught with cheer!
Bright promise of the glad return
Of glowing fires that erst did burn
On hearths long desolate!
Thy stainless youth supports our faith
That thou wilt break the bonds of death
And snap the web of hate.

* * *

And thou farewell, grim tyrant old!
Who, who would call thee back!
Thou cam'st with bloody footstep, bold;
Thou leav'st a blood-stained track.

Go! Find a grave in the billowy surge
That ne'er can wash thee clean;
The wail of millions be thy dirge--
Thy judge--the Great Unseen!

And when the resurrection morn
Shall seek thy name to blot,
Ho! Heed the voice that asks in scorn,--
Thou liv'dst and reign'dst for what?

Passion unbridled, stubborn pride,
Avengers, thine to rue,
Of outraged virtue, truth defied,
Shall 'balm in blood thy due,
Lost eighteen sixty-two.



TO S---- 1864.

The night is strangely, wildly dark;
The thunders fiercely roll,
And lightnings flash their angry spark;
But thou absorb'st my soul.
I have no care for storm-king's cloud,
How black soe'er it be;--
No truant thought for earth's dark shroud:
I'm thinking, love, of thee.

To-night the God of battles views,
With deprecating eye,
A scene where demons wild infuse
A thirst for victory.
'Tis His, not mine to guide the storm;
'Tis His to calm the sea:
My spirit hovers 'round thy form.
I'm thinking, love, of thee.

Time's cycle once again has wrought
Its round:--I'm twenty six.
Another mile-stone's gained--sad thought--
Toward deep, silent Styx.
I count no laurels I have won;
Years bring no joy to me,
While yet alone I wander on
In timid thought of thee.

Years six and twenty have been mine
To journey on alone:
Shall I as many more repine,
Before I am undone?
Or shall the journey henceforth take
A brighter phaze for me?
Shall I next six-and-twenty make
My journey, love, with thee?

If so, good-bye grim doubt and fear:
Adieu to arid sand.
All Hail! Oh prospect bright and clear!
All Hail, oasis grand!
Hand joined in hand, heart linked with heart,
Come joy, come hope, come glee!
United, ne'er on earth to part,
I'll always think of thee.

If not, Good-bye! The spirit breaks;
The fountain soon must dry.
If not, good God! The temple shakes;
It totters! What am I?
A wreck of hope!--An aimless thing!
A helmless ship at sea
To whose last spar love still must cling,
And sigh:--Alas!--for thee.