Elocutionary Arts

Exploring the lost practices and performers of recitation

"Nobody’s Child" by Phila Case, in The New Century Perfect Speaker: a Complete Encyclopedia of Elocution, Oratory and Etiquette, Including After Dinner Wisdom and Humor (1901), edited by John Coulter

"Nobody’s Child" (Suggestion for tableau for the poem by Phila Case) in in The American Speaker by Henry Davenport Northrop
Flier for The Boston Entertainment Company, 1908-9, featuring Kate Morse Henderson (violin, violoncello, soprano), Ruth Burt Henderson (piano, reader, sketch artist) and Frank LeRoy Beck (reader, impersonator, and manager).  “The program will at once appeal to the lovers of good music and literature.”
"A Delsartean Plea" in The American Speaker by Henry Davenport Northrop
Pose for “Grief” in The Modern Elocutionist or Popular Speaker (1900), by Guy Steeley

The Usual Way, in The Elocutionist’s Annual: Comprising The Latest and Best Selections for Reading or Recitation, number 17 (1889) edited by Mrs. J. W. [Rachel] Shoemaker

Chicago composer Phyllis Fergus performed her own works, which she called “story poems,” speaking text to piano accompaniment.  She published about sixty of these musical works, many of them humorous, on topics such as courtship and marriage, grandmothers, and children; she also made several psalm settings and produced an extended musical rendition of Alfred Noyes’s The Highwayman.  One of her most popular pieces was The Usual Way (1914).  Fergus was the first musician to be president of the National League of American Pen Women, and she was active in organizing concerts of music by women composers.
The Moo-Cow-Moo
My pa held me up to the moo-cow-moo So close I could almost touch, En I fed him a time or two, En I wasn’t a ‘fraid-cat, much.
But if my papa goes into the house, En mamma, she goes in, too, I jest keep still, like a little mouse For the moo-cow-moo might moo.
The moo-cow’s tail is a piece of rope All raveled out where it grows; En it’s just like feeling a piece of soap All over the moo-cow’s nose.
En the moo-cow-moo has lots of fun Just switching his tail about, But if he opens his mouth, why, then I run, For that’s where the moo comes out.
The moo-cow-moo has deers on his head, En his eyes stick out of their place, En the nose of the moo-cow-moo is spread All over the moo-cow’s face.
En his feet are nothing but fingernails, En his ma don’t keep them cut, En he gives folks milk in water pails, When he don’t keep his handles shut.
But if you or I pull his handles, why The moo-cow-moo says it hurts, But the hired man sets down close by En squirts, en squirts, en squirts!
–Edmund Vance Cooke first published in the Saturday Evening Post, November 21, 1903

The Moo-Cow-Moo

My pa held me up to the moo-cow-moo
So close I could almost touch,
En I fed him a time or two,
En I wasn’t a ‘fraid-cat, much.

But if my papa goes into the house,
En mamma, she goes in, too,
I jest keep still, like a little mouse
For the moo-cow-moo might moo.

The moo-cow’s tail is a piece of rope
All raveled out where it grows;
En it’s just like feeling a piece of soap
All over the moo-cow’s nose.

En the moo-cow-moo has lots of fun
Just switching his tail about,
But if he opens his mouth, why, then I run,
For that’s where the moo comes out.

The moo-cow-moo has deers on his head,
En his eyes stick out of their place,
En the nose of the moo-cow-moo is spread
All over the moo-cow’s face.

En his feet are nothing but fingernails,
En his ma don’t keep them cut,
En he gives folks milk in water pails,
When he don’t keep his handles shut.

But if you or I pull his handles, why
The moo-cow-moo says it hurts,
But the hired man sets down close by
En squirts, en squirts, en squirts!

–Edmund Vance Cooke
first published in the Saturday Evening Post, November 21, 1903

Poet Edmund Vance Cooke, in the program for the Iowa City, Iowa, Chautauqua, 1909.
[Courtesy of Traveling Culture, Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century, University of Iowa Libraries, Special Collections]
Cover of the Iowa City, Iowa, Chautauqua program, August 1909, showing a reader and musician.
[Courtesy of Traveling Culture, Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century, University of Iowa Libraries, Special Collections]

Cover of the Iowa City, Iowa, Chautauqua program, August 1909, showing a reader and musician.

[Courtesy of Traveling Culture, Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century, University of Iowa Libraries, Special Collections]