The following was in the April 1894 issue of THE ORGAN, a short-lived journal published in Boston. They apparently got it from another publication called the YANKEE BLADE. No author is credited, but a google search turns up an interesting history...various versions of it are attributed to assorted people. Some claim it is based on lyrics to an early American or English ballad. The American Film Institute says the song was written by Wm. B. Glenroy and Henry Lamb, then became a "temperance play," then a novel (!) by Wm. B. Gray (some authorities say Glenroy was a pen-name for Gray, or vice versa), and finally was made into a silent movie in 1913...and wouldn't the theater organists have had a field day with it!! You'll note it is written in "olde English" or more likely turn-of-the-century Boston Irish...imagine yourself to be Charles Laughton, probably three sheets to the wind, as you read it.
THE VOLUNTEER ORGANIST
|The gret big church wuz crowded full uv broadcloth and uv silk, |
An' satins rich as cream thet grows on our ol' brindle's milk;
Shined boots, biled shirts, stiff dickeys, and stove-pipe hats were there,
An' doods 'ith trouserloons so tight they couldn't kneel down in prayer.
|The elder in his poolpit high, said, as he slowly riz: |
"Our organist is kep' to hum, laid up 'ith roomatiz,
An' as we hev no substitoot, as Brother Moore ain't here,
Will some 'un in the congregation be so kind's to volunteer?"
|An' then a red-nosed, drunken tramp, of low-toned, rowdy style, |
Give an introductory hiccup, an' then staggered up the aisle.
Then thro' thet holy atmosphere there crep' a sense er sin,
An' thro' thet air of sanctity the odor uv ol' gin.
|Then Deacon Purington, he yelled, his teeth all sot on edge: |
"This man purfanes the House er God! W'y this is sacrilege!"
The tramp didn't hear a word he said, but slouched 'ith stumblin' feet,
An' sprawled an' staggered up the steps, an' gained the organ seat.
|He then went pawrin' thro' the keys, an' soon there rose a strain |
Thet seemed to jest bulge out the heart, an' 'lectrify the brain;
An' then he slapped down on the thing 'ith hands an' head an' knees,
He slam-dashed his hull body down kerflop upon the keys.
|The organ roared, the music flood went sweepin' high an' dry, |
It swelled into the rafters, and bulged out into the sky;
The ol' church shook an' staggered, an' seemed to reel an' sway,
An' the elder shouted "Glory!" an' I yelled out "Hooray!"
|An' then he tried a tender strain thet melted in our ears, |
Thet brought up blessed memories, an' drenched 'em down 'ith tears;
An' we dreamed uv ol'-time kitchens, 'ith Tabby on the mat,
Uv home an' luv an' baby-days, an' mother, an' all that!
|An' then he struck a streak uv hope - a song from souls forgiven - |
Thet burst from prison-bars uv sin, an' stormed the gates uv heaven;
The mornin' stars they sung together - no soul was left alone -
We felt the universe wuz safe, an' God wuz on his throne!
|An' then a wail uv deep despair an' darkness come again, |
An' long, black crape hung on the door uv all the homes uv men;
No luv, no light, no joy, no hope, no songs of glad delight,
An' then - the tramp he staggered down an' reeled into the night!
|But we knew he'd tol' his story, tho' he never spoke a word, |
An' it wuz the saddest story thet our ears hed ever heard;
He hed tol' his own life history, and no eye was dry thet day,
W'en the elder rose an' simply said: "My brethren, let us pray."
|Noel Heinze, Asheville, NC |
St. Giles Chapel, Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community