Sunday, December 14, 2014

The original Grinch? "Mr. Neversmile: The Mayor of Honey Bee Hollow" (1880)

From the Dec., 1880 issue of the children's magazine Golden Hours comes the remarkably Seuss-like narrative poem, "Mr. Neversmile--The Mayor of Honey Bee Hollow," all about a townsboy-hating, grinch-like mayor ("the sourest old man that you ever did see") who, on Christmas Eve, declares Christmas off-limits in his village.  (So much for advance notice!)  The town's distraught mothers contact Santa Claus himself, begging for his intervention, which he gleefully supplies that very evening, flooding Bee Hollow with noise, lightworks, and presents, and depositing the mayor up a tree.  Santa predicts that the mayor, should he find his way down, will be a reformed killjoy.

Besides the misanthropic Christmas hater bent on cancelling Christmas, other details uncannily parallel How the Grinch Stole Christmas--first and foremost, there's the Seuss-esque word play and cadences (e.g., "Then the mothers arose in their just indignation And in with their tea took the whole situation," and "His eyes they were sunk, his coarse gray eyebrows under So far that the fact he could see was a wonder").  Then we have Santa Claus landing on the top of a mountain, a la the Grinch, "Preparing to slide down its side to the town Of Honey Hollow when night should come down."  And there's the last minute rescue of the holiday and the change of heart on the part of the bad guy.  Says Santa of the up-a-tree Mayor Neversmile: "But I'll venture to say, if he gets safely down, He'll be a changed person from this time and on, And never again will he seek to destroy The children's own birthright to Christmas and joy."  No mention of whether or not Neversmile's heart grew several sizes that night.

It seems unlikely that Theodor Geisel was influenced by this poem, since it predates him by 24 years, but who knows?  What we do know is that Seuss-sounding children's verse has been around for a hundred-plus years.

Scanned by me from my copy, and cleaned up with NCH Photopad. I recommend using the Zoom function on your browser (rather than clicking on each image) for best text-reading results.  I find +175 ideal.



Kwork said...

Lee, this sounds awesome. I'd love to read it. My problem is that I'm totally blind, and can't read the images. Would it be possible to OCR, or somehow provide a plain text version for me? Then my screenreader could pick it up for me to listen to. Thanks and Merry Christmas!

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Hi, Kwork.

Let me work on that! I'm trying a free OCR service on line, and I've successfully converted page 2 to plain text, with some minor corrections by me. When I get it finished, I'll put up a second post.

In fact, I'd planned to do an audio recording of this in my own voice, but looks like I won't have time.

Thanks for the OCR suggestion. Hopefully, I can get it up soon. Merry Christmas to you, too!