Fugitive Verses
Popular Reprinted Poetry from Nineteenth Century Newspapers

A Fragment Found in a Skeleton Case

Source of witness transcribed: The Carroll Free Press (Carrollton, Ohio)

Date of witness transcribed: 26 February 1836

Notes about this poem: "A Fragment Found in a Skeleton Case" was printed in at least 236 newspapers during the nineteenth century. It can be found using ID 831102 in this table of most widely-reprinted poems.


From the N.Y. Statesman, of 1821.

The following beautiful stanzas were handed to us by a friend a few days since. He did not know the author; nor do we recollect ever to have read them before. The note of the transcriber remarked that these lines are the production of no ordinary mind, to which every one will assent. The picture was undoubtedly suggested by one of the finest passages in Hamlet; but the thoughts are happily conceived and elegantly expressed.

  • BEHOLD this ruin!—’twas a scull,
  • Once of athereal spirit full!
  • That narrow cell was life’s retreat!
  • This space was thought’s mysterious seat!
  • What beauteous pictures fill’d this spot?
  • What dreams of pleasure long forgot?
  • Not love, nor joy, nor hope, nor fear,
  • Has left one trace or record here!

  • Beneath this mouldering canopy
  • Once shone the bright and busy eye—
  • But start not at the dismal void!
  • If social love that eye employ’d,
  • If with no lawless fire it gleam’d,
  • But through the dew of kindness beam’d,
  • That eye shall be forever bright,
  • When stars and suns have lost their light!

  • Here, in this silent cavern, hung
  • That ready, swift, and tuneful tongue,
  • If falsehood’s honey it disdain’d,
  • And where it could not praise, was chain’d
  • If bold in virtue’s cause it spoke,
  • Yet gentle concord never broke,
  • That tuneful tongue shall plead for thee,
  • When death unveils eternity!

  • Say, did these fingers delve the mine,
  • Or with its envied rubies shine?
  • To hew the rock or wear the gem,
  • Can nothing now avail to them:
  • But if the page of truth they sought,
  • Or comfort to the mourner brought,
  • These hands a richer meed shall claim
  • Than all that waits on wealth or fame.

  • Avails it whether, bare or shod,
  • These feet the path of duty trod?
  • If from the bowers of joy they fled,
  • To soothe affliction’s humble bed.
  • If grandeur’s guilty bribe they spurn’d,
  • And home to virtue’s lap return’d,
  • These feet with angel’s wings shall vie,
  • And tread the palace of the sky!