Sunday, September 2, 2018

1907 postcard with mice and Robert Burns poetry

This postcard from 111 years ago (the year John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn and Burgess Meredith were born) features an illustration (by someone with the initials M.D.S.) of two mice and a half-loaf of bread. That caption on this 1907 card states:


Those are essentially lines from Robert Burns'1 1782 poem "Comin' Thro' the Rye." I write "essentially" because the poem comes in multiple versions and was later used for a popular song, with the lyrics becoming further modified and tangled over the decades. Some versions contain varying levels of sexual imagery, some of them even rising to the level of what we might today consider an R rating. The poem's lyrics also inspired the title of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, more than 150 years after Burns had shed this mortal coil.

This card was postmarked on June 19, 1908, and mailed with a green, one-cent Benjamin Franklin stamp. It was mailed to a Miss Coakley in Broadway, Virginia, a small town in the northern part of the state. It was mailed from Nokesville, Virginia, which is about 80 miles east of Broadway (but that's if you go straight over a pair of mountain ranges).

The message, in fading pencil and cursive, states:
Nokesville, Va.
June 18, 08
Dear Friend —
How is times over there in "Rotten-Ham"2
You ask me who Una's fellow is. it is John King.
The king and the queen ha.
Who is yours? I haven't got any.
Come over and see us.
From a Friend.

1. Robert Burns had some cool nicknames, including Rabbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet. He also fathered at least 10 children before his death at age 37. His multiple affairs certainly led to children whose true parentage was never recorded.
2. "Rotten-Ham" must refer to Rockingham County, which is where Broadway is located. It certainly seems like a pejorative, in this usage.

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