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Lot Skinners Elegy

Lot Skinner

Forget the Grinch and Mr. Scrooge. The meanest cheapest man in the world is – or was – Lot Skinner. He was so cheap he would bite a raisin in half when weighing out a pound. Portsmouth-born poet James T. Fields went on to make his fortune in Boston. One has to wonder if Lot Skinner was fashioned on the owner of a Portsmouth grocery store.



MORE Seacoast Poetry

James T. Fields from portrait in Portsmouth Public LibraryLITERARY LIONS

The don’t make them worse than old Lot Skinner, a man who hated to exhale because he couldn’t spare the air. When he discovered it cost him 20 cents a day to live – he died. Always nostalgic for his hometown of Portsmouth, NH, James T. Fields went on to manage one of the most important publishing houses in American history. Tichor and Fields, while publishing the likes of Whittier, Loingfellow, Hawthorne, Holmes and Pow, also brought the key British authors like Charles Dickens to the American public. His wife Annie Fields was a close friend of Seacoast poets Celia Thaxter and Sarah Orne Jewett.


By James T, Fields

LOT SKINNER was the meanest man
That ever saved his neck;
He grudged the very breath he drew,
As if it were a check.

When he was in the grocer line,
And turning fruit to gold,
He'd bite a raisin straight in halves
To make the weight he sold.

Day in and out, through heat and cold,
For thirty years or more,
He well observed the copper-mean,
And something blessed his store.

He never gave a dime away,
He never lost a pin;
A ninepence saved rejoiced him more
Than taking ninepence in.

Of counterfeited bills he used
The best of every kind,
Which in the way of trade he kept,
To swap off on the blind.

The poor came round his counter's edge,
And raised a feeble cry:
"Don't speak so loud," the rogue exclaimed,
"For I am always nigh."

'T is little things that make a pile," --
(This maxim he could trust.)
So, when he sawed his pile of wood,
He always saved the dust.

He had but one book in the house,
And that he never read!
'Twas called "Economy of Life," --
And did him good, he said.

He welcomed in the rising moon,' --
Twas such a cheerful sight;
For then he'd blow the candle out,
And use the gratis light..

He liked in other people's pews
To settle meekly down,
And steal his preaching, here and there,
By sneaking round the town.

Sometimes we saw a greenish smile
Coil up his bony face:
'Twas when the parson chose a theme
That spoke of saving grace.

At last it cost so much to live, --
(Per day some twenty cents,)
"I won't stand this! " he inly groaned,
And died to save expense.

Now, having gone where all his means
Are shut up in a box,
He cannot lift that heavy lid
The careful sexton locks.

Adieu! thou scrap of lifeless clay!
Thou pale-ink human blot!
This line shall be thine epitaph, --
"An unproductive Lot !"

Reprinted in Poets of Portsmouth, 1865

 The Lucky Horseshoe

  Celia Thaxter section

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