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Mocking Maud Muller

Maud Muller on Miles Premium Baking Powder /

In the poem "Maud Muller", a beautiful maiden meets a handsome judge riding along the road from South Berwick to York, Maine. Both are smitten, but neither acts. They are from two different social classes. Among the best known poems of the late 1800s, the fictional Maud Muller inspired a host of parodies. Here is the best of all. (Continued below)



Whittier Parody by Bret Harte

READ THE ORIGINAL on this site

What if the Maine maiden seen by the spring had actually married the judge after their brief encounter by South Berwick spring? That’s the source of Bret Harte’s dead-aim parody of the romantic poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. According to Whittier, the saddest words are "it might have been", when two lovers fail to seize the moment. Harte, however, imagines the judge returning to Maud Muller’s spring, the couple marry, have twins and do what married couples do – grow fat and old together. Instead of regretting their missed opportunity, Harte says, the couple moans -- "It is, but hadn’t ought to be."

Even George Orwell found this poem funny. Among the greatest literary critics of the 20th century, Orwell quoted Bret Harte’s parody as an example of slightly racy (ver slightly by today’s standards) Victorian humor. It was "funny, but not vulgar" he wrote in 1945. In "Mrs. Judge Jenkins" Harte even manages to make fun of Whittier’s slightly off-kilter grammar and the rustics of south coastal Maine, all in one poem.

Although he was born in New York, gained fame in New England and died in England, Harte (1836 – 1902) is best known for his writing about the making of the American West, especially "The Luck of Roaring Camp". Thomas Bailey Aldrich, then assistant editor of the Atlantic Monthly under James T. Fields of Portsmouth, recalled meeting Harte as he returned triumphantly from the West just as his fame as a writer was gaining national fame. Harte stayed with Aldrich in Cambridge for a week before moving on to New York. Harte was offered a princely publishing contract of $10,000 in advance for whatever he might write, a little or a lot, in the coming year. -- JDR


ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATION: This caricature is from a series of four illustrations given away in every 1-3 pound can of Miles' premium Backing Powder. Whittier's :Maud Muller" was seriealized in four parts in the early 20th century. In an example of early "product placement", cans of the product were painted in to every scene. -- ( Image Collection)


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