- Historic Sites
That Wonderful One-hoss Shay
December 1972 | Volume 24, Issue 1
And then comes the great finale:
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:
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