Poems by a Uranian from the American heartland, inscribed to a favorite

Poems by a Uranian from the American heartland, inscribed to a favorite

Bellamy, Orlando Rollin (1856 – 1911). Poems, 1892-1894. Two volumes. 295 + 295 pp. Collecting a total 352 poems in holograph, with indexes, copied in two ledgers bound in burlap and leather. Volume 1 is inscribed: “For My Dear Boy, Charlie L. Helbrank, with the unchanging love and best wishes of his friend and teacher, The author. 8-9th-1892.” Light wear, very good. [WITH]Songs of the Wayside. Buffalo: Charles Wells Moulton, 1891. 19 cm; 349 pp. Frontispiece portrait. First edition. Front hinge cracked, initial signature loose; a good copy only. 


     Two volumes totaling almost 600 pages with fair copies of 352 poems, the majority of which are unpublished, and presented to the teenage boy who was the object of Bellamy’s particular affection.

     Born in Vevay, Indiana, Bellamy attended DePauw University, where he received his A.M. and Ph.B. After his graduation in 1881, he pursued an itinerant career in education, with posts in Pierce City, Missouri; Brenham, Texas; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Independence, Oswego, and Cherryvale, Kansas. Bellamy turned to poetry when he was twenty-eight. published verse in magazines and newspapers, and published one volume of poetry, Songs of the Wayside (1891).


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Orlando Rollin Bellamy, from Songs of the Wayside, frontispiece


     While there is no incontrovertible evidence regarding Bellamy’s sexuality, there are several suggestive indicators.  First is a notice in a newspaper from Independence, Kansas following his death which appears to be laden with veiled language. Bellamy’s death, the paper noted “will bring sorrow and deep regret to … young men scattered throughout the United States, who learned years ago to overlook the idiosyncrasies of the poet-teacher because of the warm heart that beat beneath his coat and his abiding affection for his friends.” While in Independence, Bellamy “organized a number of ‘his boys’ into a Latin association called the ‘O. R. C.’ the purpose being study and recreation.” Newspapers referred to certain students as Bellamy’s “friends,” and occasionally reported on their social activities:


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Independence Daily Reporter, 8 June 1892, p. 3


As his obituary notes, Bellamy’s activities with young men got him fired: “a tendency towards favoritism for his best pupils caused him to lose his [teaching] position.”

     Bellamy’s poems offer further indication of the vectors of his romantic imagination. His work includes some patriotic verse (“Columbia receiving the States,” “The Siege of Harlem”) and sentimental hymns. There is the customary gamut of historical poems, including works in praise of Abraham Lincoln and William Tecumseh Sherman, as well as humorous ballads (“The Exploding Euchre Deck”) and reflections on popular culture both wry and sentimental (“Baseball in Girard,” “Chewing Gum,” “At the Stereopticon,” etc.).  But his particular métier was algolagnia: elegies to dead women and variations on the theme of the belle dame sans merci. Loneliness, death, and lost love are his principal themes. Indeed, the overall tone is so melancholic that one reviewer complained that the volume “is full of a sorrow that weighs like a pall.” 

     The love poems here either leave the sex of the beloved ambiguous, or are told from the perspective of a woman pining for her lover, as in “Three Kisses”:


Love paused a moment ere the fatal kiss

     Was given. Her brown lashes are close-drawn

O’er azure eyes whose mournful hidden tears

     Will fall in after years when he is gone.


And there are poems of a secret devotion that evoke a “love that dare not speak its name.” For example, from “Ask Me No More”:


Ask me no more, dear Love, for Night has come,

     Her flaming torches o’er the hill shine clear;

Her dusky presence makes the lips grow dumb

     And words unspoken are the words more dear.

The fairest islands fringe an unknown shore

     And hidden firest their heat the longest hold,

So I will live my love forevermore,

     Its power and passion can never be told.


Or this from “Parting,” an aubade which imagines a youth “in life’s December” longing for the speaker:


When the wine of life is clearest

And your new friends, fondest dearest,

And you pass, a laureled victor

     Cheered by thousands in the street;

Will you say, “If he were by me,

Though no foe can here defy me

Nor his true heart shield me from danger,

     Would my triumph be complete.


“He was closer than a brother,

Was this friend,” then say, “no other

Foot shall press with mine the pathway

     Where we walked so long ago.

Terrible, O God in Heaven,

Is this human love that’s given,

Crowning with its endless blessing

    Or its curse this life of ours.

When His silence settles o’er you

As the road grows plain before you,

And the room is filled with angels

    And their brightness dims the light;

May my soul be first to meet you,

And my lips the first to greet you,

May you hold, for aye, the fingers

     Clasped around your own to-night.


And perhaps most suggestively there is the poem “My Punishment,” which begins:


I wear no badge of infamy or shame,

I walk unfettered through the ways of men.

No blot has fallen yet upon my name …


And yet a love that cannot be revealed has colored everything:


To see in every commonplace of life,

The hidden meaning of the Master lie …

           

He is consumed with a desire that he dare not consummate:


         To see your face forevermore in sight

         While from my slightest touch you must lie;

My heart cries out so for you, day and night,

I dare not stop to hearken to its cry.

For aye, I love you and you love me not,

And this, my friend, this is my punishment.


     Bellamy’s poems offer substantial indication of the specific objects of his affection. Many take the form of encomia to named individuals, chiefly the boys who were his students in Independence, Kansas. Here is an acrostic, one of several poems invoking a favorite named George Meade Booth:


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     Because the pool was small and localized, the later careers of many of these young men are relatively easy to trace. These volumes were presented to Charles L. Hebrank (1875 – 1965), who was one of the dedicatees of Songs of the Wayside.  Hebrank was 16 when Songs of the Wayside was published, and 17 when Bellamy presented him with the first of these volumes. Bellamy gave Hebrank the second volume on 4 May 1894, the date of his graduation from high school. Copying out over 600 pages of verse for a teenage boy is an extraordinary act of devotion, and the fact that these manuscripts survived suggests that they were cherished. Hebrank appears in several poems here, including:


   To Charles L. Hebrank


Clasped round with memories of friends and home

How bright these first years of your life will shine!

Age brings, in fuller measure, joy and pain,

Remain, for aye, our dreams of youth divine.

Linger, O Time, with lagging feet and slow!

Enjoy the present. Wisely meet the years,

Sowing in love, you will not reap with tears.

Heir of all ages, be the peer of kings.

Endowed with truth and honor’s high estate,

Born in the purple, born to liberty,

Royal in manhood, be the truly great.

            And as your teacher and your first, best friend,

Not lost when here no more my face you see,

Keep in your heart fond memories of me.


By the time Hebrank graduated, Bellamy was no longer teaching in Independence. He had lost his position the previous year and in September 1893 had moved to Texas. The date of the second volume suggests that he returned to Kansas to attend Charlie's graduation.

     As Lillian Faderman and many other historians of sexuality have noted, love and romantic friendships between members of the same sex in Victorian America could reach profound depths of emotion without physical consummation. Yet it does appear that Bellamy had earlier occasionally skirted the line. In Independence, Kansas, the principals of the several schools were elected by a Board. In May 1890, Bellamy was up for reelection as principal of the Fourth Ward when a series of rumors circulated that gave the members of the Board doubts. Bellamy secured his position after several women organized a petition. But at the School Board meeting in June 1890, another teacher, T. W. Conway, raised an alarm:

Prof. Conway made his report, during the course of which he set forth very forcibly the reason why Prof. Bellamy should not have been selected as one of the principals. The result of Prof. Conway’s statement was such that a committee of five was appointed to investigate the charges against Mr. Bellamy.

After hearing Conway's presentation some people said they regretted signing the petition to elect Bellamy. But the committee was disinclined to interview witnesses, and after two weeks of inaction the matter was allowed to drop. It was not forgotten, however. In September 1892, the South Kansas Tribune attacked Bellamy over another incident, noting that he was employed after the past scandals only “after a lot of crying and whining, and getting of the mothers to circulate petitions.” He left Independence in April, 1893, before the term was over.

     After losing his position, Orlando Bellamy moved first to Texas to take another teaching position, and then to Oklahoma. In 1897 he married Naomi Pearl Cunningham (1874 – 1953), about twenty years his junior. The couple returned to Texas, where in 1898 they produced a son, who died in infancy, and in 1901 a daughter, who lived until 1973. But they appear to have parted ways shortly after. By 1908, Bellamy was back in Kansas, living alone. After graduating high school, Charles Hebrank moved first to Chicago before settling in Oakland, California. There he got married and embarked on a long and successful career as a car salesman with a lucrative dealership in the East Bay. 

     The life and work of Orlando Bellamy will make for an interesting study in contrast with the British "Uranians" who were his rather more cosmopolitan contemporaries. This tragic poet from the heartland presents a worthy subject for further research on the history of sexuality in the United States.


Selected References

  • Cherryvale Republican, 1911-12
  • Evening Star, 1911
  • Independence Daily Reporter, 1890-94, 1911
  • Olanthe News Herald, 1900
  • South Kansas Tribune, 1889-1912
  • Topeka Daily Capital, 1891
  • Weekly Republican, 1891-1892, 1912
  • Weekly Star and Kansan, 1891-92
  • Mrs. A. B. “Orlando R. Bellamy,” Magazine of Poetry 3 (1891), p. 95.
  • d’Arch Smith, Timothy. Love in earnest: Some notes on the lives and writings of English 'Uranian' poets from 1889 to 1930. London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1970.
  • Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the love of men: romantic friendship and love between women from the Renaissance to the present. New York: William Morrow, 1981.
  • Herringshaw, Thomas William. Local And national poets of America with interesting biographical sketches and choice selections from over one thousand living American poets (Chicago: Amer. Pub. Ass, 1892), p. 667
  • Thoburn, Joseph B. A standard history of Oklahoma: an authentic narrative of its development from the date of the first European exploration down to the present time, including accounts of the Indian tribes, both civilized and wild, of the cattle range, of the land openings and the achievements of the most recent period. Chicago: The American Historical Society, 1916. V: 1794

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    Poems by a Uranian from the American heartland, inscribed to a favorite