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“Old Grimes”

You wouldn’t starve to death on Ma’s whey, like old Grimes did on his wife’s,’ Pa said. – Laura begged him to tell her about Old Grimes. So, though Pa was tired, he took his fiddle out of its box and played and sang for Laura. — Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 10, “Summertime”

Old Grimes was originally a poem by Albert Gorton Greene (1802-1866). Born in Providence, Rhode Island, as an adult Greene was a lawyer, poet, and judge in Rhode Island. While he was a student at Brown University, Greene borrowed a verse from Mother Goose and added almost a dozen more of his own. His poem was first published in the Providence Gazette on January 16, 1822.

Originally sung to the tune “John Gilpin was a Citizen,” it lends itself equally well to “Auld Lang Syne.” We know that Pa sang it to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” because in both manuscript and published Little House in the Big Woods, Wilder wrote that “Pa began to play the song about Old Grimes. But he did not sing the words he had sung when Ma was making cheese…” (see Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 13, “The Deer in the Wood”). Pa’s lyrics aren’t in Greene’s poem; their origin is unknown.

(by Albert Gorton Greene)

Old Grimes is dead, that good old man, we never shall see no more;
He used to wear a long black coat all button’d down before.

His heart was open as the day, his feelings all were true;
His hair was some inclined to gray- he wore it in a queue.

Whene’er he heard the voice of pain, his breast with pity burn’d;
The large round head upon his cane from ivory was turn’d.

Kind words he ever had for all; he knew no base design;
His eyes were dark and rather small, his nose was aquiline.

He lived at pease with all mankind, in friendship he was true;
His coat had pocket-holes behind, his pantaloons were blue.

Unharm’d, the sin which earth pollutes he passed securely o’er,
And never wore a pair of books for thirty years or more.

But good old Grimes is not at rest, nor fears misfortune’s frown:
He wore a double-brested vest- the stripes ran up and down.

He modest merit sought to find, and pay it its dessert:
He had no malice in his mind, no ruffles on his shirt.

His neighbors he did not abuse- he was sociable and gay:
He wore large buckles on his shoes and changed them every day.

His knowledge hid from public gaze, he did not bring to view,
Nor made a noise town-meeting days, as many people do.

His worldly goods he never threw in trust to fortune’s chances,
But lived (as all his brothers do) in easy circumstances.

Thus undisturb’d by anxious cares, his peaceful moments ran;
And everybody said he was a fine old gentleman.

(from Little House in the Big Woods)

Old Grimes is dead, that good old man,
We ne’er shall see him more.
He used to wear an old gray coat,
All buttoned down before.

Old Grimes’s wife made skim-milk cheese,
Old Grimes, he drank the whey,
There came an east wind from the west,
And blew old Grimes away.

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Click on the above images to view a copy of 1877 sheet music of “Auld Lang Syne.”


Click on the above images to view a copy of original sheet music of “John Gilpin.”    


“Old Grimes” (BW 10)
     “Old Grimes is dead, that good old man”