William B. Greene, “Song of Espousal” (1840)

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Contr’un Revisited: In picking the “best” of the Contr’un posts, I’m focusing on the theoretical articles, much more than the historical spadework that dominated the Libertarian Labyrinth project for quite a few years. But there is no doubt in my mind that much of the important work to be done in rectifying and advancing anarchist theory will involve a significant recovery of those aspects of the anarchist past that have not yet really been addressed in the stories we tell ourselves about the tradition.


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A note in the 1849 “first edition” William Batchelder Greene’s essay “Transcendentalism” states that “the substance of this tract was originally published in the third and ninth numbers of the American Review.” The American review; a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science is also known as the American Whig Review, and can be found under that title in the Making of America collection. Sure enough, the essay “Mr. Emerson and Transcendentalism” was followed in the September 1845 issue (V.2, #3) by The Bhagvat Geeta, and the Doctrine of Immortality. I’ll get to work on scanning and collating the various versions of the essay soon. Like the versions of Mutual Banking, there are some very interesting differences between them. I currently have access to copies of the 1849 1st edition, published by the “Power Press of Oliver S. Cooke & Co.” in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, and the 1871 4th edition, by Lee and Shepard, Boston. If anyone has access to the 2nd, 3rd, or any other editions, please let me know.

It is quite possible that there are other pieces by Greene in the American Whig Review. (More on that, and on his father’s literary output, later.) It also appears that he may have been writing for New England educational journals, again as “W. B. G.” A couple of articles have surfaced that appear to be in the same vein as Greene’s work on the calculus. (Again, more as I am able to verify things.) What is clear, after today’s researches, is that one of Greene’s earliest published efforts was a poem (first published in the “Token,” then noted in the Boston Evening Gazette, and reprinted in the Army and Navy Chronicle, November 19, 1840.) There is considerable confusion in the sources about the authorship of several volumes of poetry either by Greene or by his son, also William Batchelder Greene, but here the author is so clearly identified we can’t have much doubt that it is our WBG.

We find in the “TOKEN” for 1841, the following beautiful poem from the pen of Lieut. GREENE, son our our esteemed Postmaster, Nathaniel Greene, Esq. It breathes the very soul of martial poesy, and resembles in spirit the celebrated “Sword Song” of Kerner, which once rung through the German forces, calling them to valiant deeds.–Boston Eve. Gazette


Oh, bright is the glance from a lady’s eye,
And soft is the tint of her rosy cheek,
And sweet are the tones of love’s minstrelsy,
When the hopes of the bard in his numbers speak ;
But dearer, far dearer, art thou my bride,
Than the throbbings of love or the measures of hope ;
Far brighter thy flash than the glances of pride ;
Thy language more melting than bard ever spoke.

Then hail to my SWORD! to my own fair bride !
To my first, to my last, to my only love !
In the darkness of death thou shalt dwell by my side,
O my first and my only love.

When the banner shall droop on the broken lance,
And the heart shall beat low to the fleeting breath,
Our loves shall be sung, with a wild measured dance,
Where havoc keeps time to the harpings of death,
The couch of our bridal shall be the damp ground,
With the blue cannon-smoke for a canopy spread,
While the drum with the bugle shall mingle its sound,
For a wild serenade to the fair one I wed.

Then hail to my SWORD! to my own fair bride !
To my first, to my last, to my only love !
In the darkness of death thou shalt dwell by my side,
O my first and my only love !

FORT RUSSELL, East Florida, Feb. 9 1840.

Oh, well. Not exactly an anarchist sentiment, but full of the slightly over-the-top intensity we expect from Greene. This was, recall, written during his first military career, fighting in the Second Seminole War, prior to the religious conversion and crisis of conscience that led him to join the ministry and undertake a career of political radicalism.

NOTE (JANUARY 23, 2006): I’ve been able to verify that William B. Greene’s first published work, the poem “Song of Espousal,” did in fact appear in the Moss Rose holiday gift annual for 1847. The annual is apparently a renamed reprint of the Atlantic Token for 1841, where the poem initially appeared.

The poem is accompanied by an engraving (see sidebar). Most of the engravings in the annual appear to be stock cuts. This probably is as well, but I was immediately struck by the fact that it looks much like the descriptions of Greene in his youth. The R. Woodman credited may well be the English Richard Woodman, who did portraits and engravings. However, Greene’s circle of acquaintances included a Horatio Woodman, and it’s not hard to imagine the Nathaniel Greene, always ready to promote his son’s interests, might well have send along a portrait of his son to the publishers of the Token, with whom he had had dealings in the past, including a short translation in the same issue of the annual. The multiple reprintings of “Song of Espousal” in various papers may well have been due to the efforts of the proud father.


  • “Song of Espousal,” The Token, and Atlantic Souvenir, for 1841 (Boston: W. D. Ticknor, 1840): 190.
  • —. Boston Weekly Magazine, III, 6 (October 24, 1840), 44.
  • —. Army & Navy Chronicle, Nov. 19, 1840; 11, 21; pg. 334. (notes app. in the Boston Evening Gazette.)
  • —. Boston Evening Gazette, ????.
  • —. The Moss Rose, for 1847.


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.