Today is the anniversary of the birth of Julia A. Moore.
I won’t say she was infamous, but she was famously bad.
Infamy generally indicates evil, wretchedness and the like.
Julia A. Moore was famously bad.
Famous for her bad poetry.
The eldest of four children, Julia grew UP on a farm in Michigan. When Julia was 10, her mother became ill and the family responsibilities fell to the poor child.
Formal education halted, but the girl determined to learn. To do so, she started writing poetry and songs.
Like Edison, she felt that Inspiration was everywhere! A fire, a death, disaster; they all awakened her muse.
For example, the Great Chicago Fire inspired this:
The great Chicago Fire, friends,
Will never be forgot;
In the history of Chicago
It will remain a darken spot.
It was a dreadful horrid sight
To see that City in flames;
But no human aid could save it,
For all skill was tried in vain.
At the age of 17, she married a farmer, Frederick Moore. The couple had ten children, more inspiration for Moore to say the least.
Her first book of verse The Sentimental Songbook was printed in 1876, sold rapidly, and earned a second printing. Winding UP in the hands of a Cleveland, Ohio publisher, it was re-published as The Sweet Singer of Michigan Salutes the Public.
Big titles were big back then.
James F. Ryder, the publisher, sent hundreds of review copies to newspapers nationwide. His review included a cover letter with mock praise.
The pet rock of its time, other newspapers’ lightheartedly negative reviews were a plenty.
One read,”Shakespeare, could he read it, would be glad he was dead…”
But, any press is good press, right?
At any rate, the book became a curious best seller – for whatever reason – and Moore’s fame grew.
So much so, that she was booked into the Opera House in Grand Rapids for a reading – complete with orchestra.
She convinced herself that the jeering was aimed at the orchestra, and booked the Opera House again when her next collection was published.
I mean, she knew good work when she way it, and after all, she was a critic as well. Her opinion of Lord Byron was one of her greatest hits.
The character of “Lord Byron”
Was of a low degree,
Caused by his reckless conduct,
And bad company.
He sprung from an ancient house,
Noble, but poor, indeed.
His career on earth was marred
By his own misdeeds.
She soldiered on.
A Few Choice Words to the Public appeared in 1878. Sales were disappointing.
With a “better” orchestra in tow, Moore realized the jeering was for her. Realizing the nationwide praise directed at her was sarcasm, she admitted her poetry was “partly full of mistakes” and “literary is a work very hard to do.”
When the poetry and jeering had mercifully come to an end, Moore told the audience, “…you have come here and paid twenty-five cents to see a fool; I receive seventy-five dollars, and see a whole houseful of fools.”
Mr. Moore put his foot down and demanded the poetry stop.
Julia published three more poems, wrote for friends, and two more short stories were issued.
One was about a farmer being rescued from bankruptcy when his wife published her secret works of fiction.
Escaping the notoriety, Moore moved his family 100 miles away where they again enjoyed success; he with an orchard and sawmill, she with a store.
Bad poetry or not, Moore had an influence on American Literature. Ogden Nash was a great admirer, as was Mark Twain; though probably for reasons she’d not like. Emmeline Grangerford of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is said to be based on the Sweet Singer of Michigan.
Mr. Moore died in 1914, the following year, Julia republished her work “Sunshine and Shadow”. Her widowhood was melancholy; much of it spent rocking on the front porch.
She died in 1920; her death was “widely reported”.
I suppose it pays to be famously bad.