Friday, June 9, 2017

Man Messages

Hot on the trail of Levi Furbush -- who may or may not have been the same man as the union activist and regular correspondent in the Boston papers in the 1890's -- I stumbled upon James W. Elliott. When it comes to forgetting to remember, or remembering to forget, Mr. Elliott -- an avuncular advice-giver of the early twentieth century -- seems to have been something of a pioneer. He was known for his weekly pamphlets, which he dubbed "Man Messages," in which he sought to exhort the common man to avoid self-indulgence,  embrace gratitude, and employ his natural gifts. The exact angle from which Elliott's pamphlets came -- temperance? -- religious feeling? -- socialism -- is a bit unclear, but his gift for memorable phrases was a singular one. Who would have imagined that, way back in 1915, he would have coined the phrase "keep on keeping on"? His pamphlets today are notably obscure; they rarely appear in library catalogues or online scans, and the only hits I could find for his titles led to auctions on eBay. And so, for the modest sum of six dollars, I obtained a copy of The Song of Ingratitude, a 1914 leaflet in which a tale is told of one "Bill Williams," a totally average man who manages to miss the bus of his own life.

Each of these leaflets was emblazoned on the back with
Elliott's trademark -- though it's a bit unclear how he financed the production of these Man-messages, which were printed in letterpress and said to be "published weekly." It sounds a little bit like some early 20th-century version of EST or perhaps the "Rainbow Gatherings" where a 'talking stick' was employed to give the cue for men to speak. But whatever his motivations, the phrases he chose, which were echoed in many of these pamphlets, seem to me as though they may well be a source for Levi Furbush's poem, which uses nearly identical language.