Very little has been written about the 19th century American poet David Bates whose writing output was relatively modest. What he did write, however, was translated into other languages and sold worldwide. He started his adult life as a lowly clerk but, through hard work and determination, made his way in the business and eventually became a full member and chief buyer for an Indianapolis mercantile house. Apart from that Bates had a talent for writing easy going, gentle poetry and, at the age of 40, he had a collection of poems published under the title Eolian. One of the best known poems in this collection – Speak Gently – has become something of a universal hymn for people all over the world.
David Bates was born on the 6th March 1809 in the small town of Indian Hill, Ohio. He was educated in Buffalo, New York though not to any advanced standard. He began his working like in Indianapolis and progressed steadily up the corporate ladder while writing poetry in his spare time. He eventually took his family to Philadelphia, where they became happily settled. Publication of his written pieces was initially restricted to various journals until finally, in 1849, he collected the best of his work so far and his first book, Eolian, was published.
The best known poems from this collection are Childhood and Speak Gently and this work was considered commercially viable enough to be translated into a number of languages. The result of this was that the book sold well around the world, as did a further collection that was compiled and published by his son, Stockton, after Bates died in 1870.
His poem Speak Gently contains simple but valuable messages for all of mankind. The author believes that we should treat people well, whether they be young or old, rich or poor. We should talk to them in a gentle manner rather than in a confrontational way. In doing so we will show them compassion and consideration and will receive the same in return. It’s an admirable concept but one which, unfortunately, has not travelled well from the time the poem was written to these modern times. The poem is reproduced below:
It was a very popular poem at the time it was written and was soon to receive even more attention when, in 1865, the writer Lewis Carroll wrote his famous fantasy story for children which was called Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In the story he parodied Bates’s “speak gently to your children” sentiment thus:
David Bates died on the 2th January 1870. He was 60 years old.