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Maurice Thompson

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“Let not my life be spilt for nought”

James Maurice Thompson, 1844–1901.  American novelist.  Autograph Quotation Signed, Maurice Thompson, one page, 7” x 8½”, [no place], October 23, 1895.

In this piece, which as never been offered on the autograph market before, Thompson pens a verse—a variation of a verse in his poem “A Prelude”—for inclusion in an album of autograph items of prominent people.  He writes, in full: 

Let not my life be spilt for nought;

But, in some fresher vessel caught,

Be blended into fairer forms

And fraught with sweeter aims and charms.

Thompson responded to a student from the State Normal School at Emporia, Kansas, now Emporia State University.  As a penmanship class project, students wrote to prominent people in the United States and to American consular officials around the world to request that they provide a handwritten reminiscence, a word of advice, or a favorite saying for inclusion in albums to be devoted to the handwriting of prominent people.  This short verse is a variation of the fifth verse in Thompson’s poem “A Prelude,” which he published in Poems 56–57 (1892).  The entire poem reads:

Spirit that moves the sap in spring,

When lusty male birds fight and sing,

Inform my words, and make my lines

As sweet as flowers, as strong as vines.

Let mine be the freshening power

Of rain on grass, of dew on flower;

The fertilizing song be mine,

Nut-flavored, racy, keen as wine.

Let some procreant truth exhale

From me, before my forces fail'

Or, ere the ecstatic impulse go,

Let all my buds to blossoms blow.

If quick, sound seed be wanting where

The virgin soil feels sun and air,

And longs to fill a higher state,

There let my meanings germinate.

Let not my strength be spilled for naught,

But, in some fresher vessel caught,

Be blended into sweeter forms,

And fraught with purer aims and charms.

Let bloom-dust of my life be blown

To quicken hearts that flower alone;

Around my knees let scions rise

With heavenward-pointing destinies.

And when I fall, like some old tree,

And subtile change makes mould of me,

There let earth show a fertile line

Whence perfect wild-flowers leap and shine!

The poem was popular and was reprinted in a number of publications, including The Home Book of Verse: American and English 1580–1920, at 3081–82 (Burton Egbert Stevenson ed., rev. 5th ed. 1922); The Little Book of American Poets 1787–1900,  at 201–02 (Jessie B. Rittenhouse ed., 1915); Book News, Sept. 1891–Aug. 1892, at 363; and The Magazine of Poetry, Jan.–Oct. 1892, at 361–62. 

A lawyer, Thompson achieved notoriety as a writer in articles and short stories published in the New York Tribune, Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s Monthly.  His first book, Hoosier Mosaics, published in 1875, was a collection of short stories illustrating the people and atmosphere of small-town Indiana.  He followed it with a compilation of his published essays, The Witchery of Archery, which was well received for its wit and use of common language.

In the 1880s, Thompson began to write fiction. His early works, which he drew mostly from his childhood in Georgia, featured simple Southern life.  In 1886, he returned to his Indiana roots in A Banker of Bankersville, which was a blend of fiction and autobiography.  Arguably his most successful and well-known novel was Alice of Old Vincennes, published in 1900, which vividly depicted Indiana during the Revolutionary War.

Thompson wrote the poem “To the South” that was reprinted in George Washington Cable’s influential and controversial essay, “The Freedmen’s Case in Equity,” in 1885.  The poem expressed Thompson’s reaction to emancipation and suggested that some Southerners were less angry about the abolition of slavery than Northerners presumed.

Thompson has penned this quotation in black fountain pen.  Horizontal and vertical mailing folds do not detract.  The corners are a bit thin and there is one small hole resulting from removal from an old album, but they are well removed from the text and signature.  Overall the piece is in fine condition.


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