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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)


MR.s Judge Jenkins by Bret Harte


(Being the Only Genuine Sequel to "Maud Muller")
By Bret Harte

MAUD MULLER all that summer day
Raked the meadow sweet with hay;

Yet, looking down the distant lane,
She hoped the Judge would come again.

But when he came, with smile and bow,
Maud only blushed, and stammered, "Ha-ow?"

And spoke of her "pa," and wondered whether
He’d give consent they should wed together.

Old Muller burst in tears, and then
Begged that the Judge would lend him "ten;"

For trade was dull, and wages low,
And the "craps," this year, were somewhat slow.

And ere the languid summer died,
Sweet Maud became the Judge’s bride.

But on the day that they were mated,
Maud’s brother Bob was intoxicated;

And Maud’s relations, twelve in all,
Were very drunk at the Judge’s hall.

And when the summer came again,
The young bride bore him babies twain;

And the Judge was blest, but thought it strange
That bearing children made such a change;

For Maud grew broad and red and stout,
And the waist that his arm once clasped about

Was more than he now could span; and he
Sighed as he pondered, ruefully,

How that which in Maud was native grace
In Mrs. Jenkins was out of place;

And thought of the twins, and wished that they
Looked less like the men who raked the hay

On Muller’s farm, and dreamed with pain
Of the day he wandered down the lane.

And looking down that dreary track,
He half regretted that he came back;

For, had he waited, he might have wed
Some maiden fair and thoroughbred;

For there be women fair as she,
Whose verbs and nouns do more agree.

Alas for maiden! alas for judge!
And the sentimental,—that’s one-half "fudge;"

For Maud soon thought the Judge a bore,
With all his learning and all his lore;

And the Judge would have bartered Maud’s fair face
For more refinement and social grace.

If, of all words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are, "It might have been,"

More sad are these we daily see:
"It is, but hadn’t ought to be."

From: Complete Poetic Works of Bret Harte, 1902




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