That Wonderful One-hoss Shay


And then comes the great finale:

First of November, ‘Fifty-five! This morning the parson takes a drive. Now, small boys, get out of the way! Here comes the wonderful one-hoss shay, Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay. “Huddup! ” said the parson.—Off went they. The parson was working his Sunday ‘s text,— He got to fifthly, and s topped perplexed At what the—Moses—was coming next. All at once the horse stood still, Close by the meet’n’-house on the hill. First a shiver, and then a thrill, Then something decidedly like a spill,— And the parson was sitting upon a rock, At half-past nine by the meet’n’-house clock,— Just the hour of the Earthquake shock! What do you think the parson found, When he got up and stared around? The poor old chaise m a heap or mound, As if it had been to the mill and ground! Tou see, of course, if you ‘re not a dunce, How it went to pieces all at once,— All at once and nothmgfirst,— Just as bubbles do when they burst. End of the wonderful one-hoss shay. Logic is logic. That’s all I say.

Holmes demonstrated in the poem that he knew a great deal about the construction of carriages; but the modern reader is still left to guess at just what the one-horse chaise looked like. Mr. Charles R. Morris, president of the historical society of Milton, Massachusetts, has done some research on this point and has sent us the picture shown on the opposite page—an authentic “reconstruction “of the wonderful one-hoss shay. It seems that a carriage-builders’ trade journal, The Hub , republished Dr. Holmes’s poem in March, 1871, together with this illustration. The editor, George W. Houghton, had sent a preliminary sketch to Holmes for his approval. After some discussion the sketch was made into an engraving for the trade journal, where it drew much interest from professional readers.

Holmes followed this up with a complimentary letter to the editor, which was published on May 15, 1871:

Dear Sir:

I have often looked over the numbers of The Hub with much interest, and been struck with the intelligence brought to bear, in the literary form, on a calling at first sight belonging to the workshop rather than the editor’s table. The last number you sent me, with the Deacon’s remarkable one-horse vehicle, illustrates still further the taste and skill brought to bear in your publication. I may be pardoned for saying a word in favor of the old “shay,” which is evidently a careful and conscientious study from past fabrics of aspect similar to that which I have described. The parson’s horse is not exactly ewe-necked , as I described him, and is a little below the clerical standard which I had in my head, but I am afraid that very good men have sometimes been drawn by animals not much better to look at, nor much better groomed. …

I am, yours very truly, O. W. H OLMES