Famous Single Poems/There Is No Unbelief

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3249998Famous Single Poems — There Is No Unbelief1924Lizzie York Case


There is no unbelief;
Whoever plants a seed beneath the sod
And waits to see it push away the clod,
He trusts in God.

There is no unbelief;
Whoever says, when clouds are in the sky,
“Be patient, heart; light breaketh by and by,”
Trusts the Most High.

There is no unbelief;
Whoever sees, ’neath winter’s field of snow,
The silent harvest of the future grow—
God’s power must know.

There is no unbelief;
Whoever lies down on his couch to sleep,
Content to lock each sense in slumber deep,
Knows God will keep.

There is no unbelief;
Whoever says “to-morrow,” “the unknown,”
“The Future,” trusts that power alone
He dares disown.

There is no unbelief;
The heart that looks on when dear eyelids close,
And dares to live when life has only woes,
God’s comfort knows.

There is no unbelief;
For thus by day and night unconsciously
The heart lives by the faith the lips deny.
God knoweth why.


Eugene Bulmer, of “somewhere in Illinois”—was he a myth? Or was he really an industrious plagiarist, copying other people’s verses and signing his name to them, with the result that they were all, in the end, attributed to Bulwer-Lytton because, sooner or later, some proofreader took it for granted that Bulmer was a misprint for Bulwer and changed it accordingly?

It was in that way, so John Luckey McCreery averred, that his poem, “There Is No Death,” came to be attributed to Bulwer.

And years later Mrs. Lizzie York Case made precisely the same explanation with respect to another poem, “There Is No Unbelief,” of which she claimed to be the author, but to which Bulwer’s name was usually signed.

In the story of McCreery’s struggle for recognition as the author of “There Is No Death,” the remark was hazarded that, for some reason, Bulmer, the villain of the piece, was not altogether convincing. There was about him a certain puzzling elusiveness and insubstantiality. All that McCreery knew about him was his name and that he lived “somewhere south of Dixon, Illinois.”

Mrs. Case, apparently, knew even less; but really the only way to have her tell her story is to resort to the deadly parallel:

John Luckey McCreery in Songs of Toil and Triumph, 1883: Lizzie York Case in the Detroit Free Press, August 1, 1905:
One E. Bulmer, of Illinois, copied it [“There Is No Death”], signed his own name to it, and sent it as his own to the Farmer’s Advocate, Chicago. The editor of some Wisconsin paper, whose name I have forgotten, if I ever knew, clipped it from the Farmer’s Advocate for his own columns; but supposing that there was a misprint in the signature, changed the m therein to a w, and thus the name of “Bulwer” became attached to the poem. But then began the strange appropriation by others and false ascribing of my little poem [“There Is No Unbelief”]. A man named Bulmer, of Illinois, copied the poem and sent it under his own name to the Farmer’s Advocate of Chicago. A Wisconsin paper copied it, changing the name to Bulwer, assuming that “Bulmer” was a misprint. That accounts, I suppose, for its being accredited to Bulwer-Lytton.

Poor Bulmer! What sins were committed in thy name!

Or perhaps the real villain of the piece is that Wisconsin editor who, whenever he came across Bulmer’s name attached to a poem, seems to have taken a fiendish delight in changing it to Bulwer. It may even be that Bulmer wrote some poems of his own which were reft from him in the same way and added to his British rival’s already plethoric list.

Consider, too, the trusting nature of the editor of the Farmer’s Advocate, who apparently never suspected that his favorite contributor was a thief, in spite of the activities of that other editor in Wisconsin.

Consider, finally, the impossibility of both the above stories being true; and yet, in spite of them, there is every reason to believe both that McCreery wrote “There Is No Death,” and that Mrs. Case wrote “There Is No Unbelief.”

Their mistake seems to have been that they were overeager to prove it; or perhaps it was only Mrs. Case who was overeager, for McCreery promulgated the story first. It was originally told by him in 1869, and repeated ad infinitum until he died. Whether he invented Bulmer will never be known. Perhaps not, since the thing might have happened once. But it is inconceivable that it should have happened twice in exactly the same way. Undoubtedly Mrs. Case had read McCreery’s story somewhere and adopted it, consciously or unconsciously, as her own. She was nearly seventy years old when her story was published in the Free Press, and perhaps her mind had failed a little.

Biographical data about Lizzie York Case are exceedingly scant. In 1905 she visited at Oak Park, Illinois, at the home of a Mrs. M. L. Rayne, with whom she apparently had a friendship of long standing, since Mrs. Rayne included one of her poems in a book entitled What Can a Woman Do? published twenty years previously. Mrs. Rayne’s daughter, Mrs. Lulu G. Niles, of Oak Park, gives the following information:

I do not know when or where Mrs. Case was born. She died when she was a little over seventy years old, and I am quite sure it was in Baltimore. In a short introduction before a poem among others in my mother's book, What Can a Woman Do? [Detroit, 1884], my mother wrote:

“Mrs. Lizzie York Case is a Southern lady, a resident of Baltimore and vicinity for many years, and at present living at Mobile, Alabama, where her husband, Lieutenant Madison J. Case, is stationed in the service of the United States navy. Mrs. Case is descended from Quaker ancestry, and much of the grace and versatility of character she possesses is derived from that source. Many of her poems have been published in household collections and school readers, and are much admired for their high educational standard.”

The poem under the foregoing was “Faith and Reason.” This was in 1884, and her poem, “There Is No Unbelief,” was written many years later, I believe. Mrs. Case had it printed on cards that were sent out to many of her friends. I cannot believe that she would have done this if she had not been the author. To hear Mrs. Case talk was like listening to a poem—she certainly was capable of writing “There Is No Unbelief.”

One of these cards above referred to, autographed by Mrs. Case, is now in the possession of Mr. Vincent Starrett, of Chicago, and it is from this that the version of the poem herewith given is taken.

A little further information about Mrs. Case is contained in a letter from one of her friends, Mr. Daniel Gibbons, of Brooklyn, N. Y.:

Mrs. Case was the wife of Chief Engineer James Madison Case, U. S. Revenue Marine—now known as the Revenue Cutter Service. He was stationed on inspection duty, overseeing the construction of the U. S. Fish Commission steamer Fish Hawk, at the yards of the Pusey & Jones Co., Wilmington, Delaware, in 1881, and it was there that I knew him. He was a little bit of a man not much if any above five feet in height, making up by a large manner for his deficiency in inches. I never heard that Mrs. Case was a Friend. She was an uncommonly fine and refined woman.

A letter from Mrs. Mary E. Marshall, of New York City, adds the following:

During the winter of 1870, my husband and I boarded in a hotel in Cleveland, Ohio, and at this time Mrs. Case was there. Her husband, Lieutenant Case, was on a revenue cutter on Lake Erie. I remember her telling me she was married during the Civil War and did not see her husband for months at a time. Mrs. Case was very blond and exceedingly pretty. I know she was a Southerner, but do not remember whether she was from Baltimore or somewhere in Virginia. I have always remembered vividly her vivacity, wit and charm.

It was presumably while Mrs. Case was visiting at Oak Park in 1905 that she wrote her story for the Free Press, and she also at that time met Dr. William E. Barton, pastor of the First Congregational Church there. Dr. Barton was to become one of her most redoubtable champions. He drew from her the story of “There Is No Unbelief,” together with a few facts about her life, which he embodied in an article published in the Advance, a Congregationalist paper printed in Chicago, in its issue of April 1, 1915.

Dr. Barton did not learn from Mrs. Case either the date or place of her birth. She had been a widow for many years and was quite old when he met her in 1905. From a portrait of that date, which accompanies his article, she appears to be somewhere between sixty-five and seventy. It is not really a portrait—it is just a snap-shot showing her seated beneath some palms in California, where she had been living. The face is decidedly prepossessing, though a little pathetic, and there is pathos in the way she holds her head. Mrs. Case stated to Dr. Barton that in 1878 she was on the staff of the Detroit Free Press, and had been for several years. About 1880, her husband was transferred to Wilmington, Delaware, and later to California. Mrs. Case lived in California for a number of years, but finally came east again, and died, presumably in Baltimore, in 1911.

For many years “There Is No Unbelief” went the rounds of the press, and was read from hundreds of pulpits, and included in scores of compilations. It was usually accredited to Bulwer-Lytton, but sometimes Elizabeth Barrett Browning was named as its author, sometimes Charles Kingsley—sometimes even John Luckey McCreery! Finally, on August 1, 1905, Mrs. Lizzie York Case told, in the Detroit Free Press, the whole story of how she was inspired to write the poem.

Briefly, her story was this:

One morning, “about twenty-seven years ago”—that is to say, about 1878—she was breakfasting with a zealous young clergyman, who questioned her as to her religious belief. She told him that she had always clung to the faith of her fathers and was a Quakeress. Upon which her companion hastened to assure her that she was an unbeliever and would undoubtedly be damned.

“I am not afraid of that,” Mrs. Case replied, “for there is no unbelief. The thing is unthinkable. I believe in everything that is good and beautiful and true; in God and man and nature; in love and life and joy. There is no unbelief.”

The clergyman’s rejoinder is not recorded. Probably he was vanquished by this eloquence. That night, Mrs. Case tossed upon a sleepless pillow and next morning, instead of preparing the regular weekly article which she states she was at that time contributing to the Free Press, she “dashed off the poem that had been framing in my mind all night.”

“The Free Press published it,” Mrs. Case continues, “and soon after letters came pouring in to me from all over the country thanking me for the verses and for the consolation which had been induced in many cases by them. They were copied by numberless newspapers and magazines. They were translated into many foreign languages. I heard of them being read from pulpits and quoted far and wide. Frances E. Willard and others set the verses to music. In short, the little poem which had been dashed off under the sting of a cruel word had touched a responsive chord in thousands of human hearts.”

And then she tells the story of the mythical Bulmer, as quoted above, adding that she had always bitterly resented the fact that she was robbed of credit for the poem, which she cherished “with the fondness of a mother for her offspring.” And she showed Dr. Barton, with much pride, a book of poems by James Whitcomb Riley which he had sent her after inscribing it:

Mrs. Lizzie York Case,

Who lit the lone world’s darkness, doubt and grief,
With truth’s own song—“There Is No Unbelief.”

There was one obvious way to confirm Mrs. Case’s story. That was to make a search of the files of the Detroit Free Press. This bit of bibliographical service was courteously undertaken by the custodian of the Burton Historical Collection in the Detroit Public Library, and the poem was discovered in the issue for August 18, 1878. It is signed with Mrs. Case’s name, and of course settles the controversy.

It is interesting to compare the first version with the later one. Both consist of seven stanzas, and the first three are the same in both. The earlier version then continues:

There is no unbelief,
Whoever says to-morrow, the unknown,
The future, trusts that power alone
He dare disown.

There is no unbelief,
O skeptic proud! light comes but from on high,
And so in grief, like faith, you turn your eye
Upward unconsciously.

There is no unbelief,
The heart that looks on when dear eyelids close
And dares to live when life has only woes,
Some comfort knows.

There is no unbelief,
The soul survives though all its loves may die;
The heart lives by the faith the lips deny,
God knoweth why.

It will be seen that, for once, revision was also improvement.

Eight other poems by Mrs. Case were found in the columns of the Free Press, as follows:

“God as a Thinker,” in the issue of July 7, 1878.
“The Balance Sheet,” in the issue of January 1, 1879.
“The Year’s Immortality,” in the issue of January 1, 1880.
“Florence,” in the issue of September 29, 1880.
“We All Do Fade as a Leaf,” in the issue of October 29, 1880.
“Mysterious Message,” in the issue of October 29, 1880.
“Silence,” in the issue of January 3, 1881.
“The Last Skylark,” in the issue of January 19, 1881.

Three of these, it will be noted, are New Year’s poems, their subject-matter being the usual banal moralizing, without any hint of poetic thought. The others show some skill at versification, and a happy phrase or two, but the only one which possesses even a germ of what may truly be termed poetry is the shortest of all:


You leaves that through the summer long
Such vernal beauty made,
It is your time for fading now:
O! leaves, how do you fade?

Why, in gold and crimson splendor
Ye flutter from the trees.
Great God, we thank Thee evermore
That we do fade like these.

And does such radiant glory
Go with us to the tomb?
Fade! Why if this it is to fade,
God, what is it to bloom?

The earliest discoverable book publication of “There Is No Unbelief” is in a little volume called Flowers by the Wayside, which appeared at Columbus, Ohio, in 1892. Two poems signed by Mrs. Case are included. One is “No Unbelief,” of which only five stanzas are given, and the other is fourteen lines of doggerel entitled “A Persian Fable,” telling the story of a mythical bird with one wing which could fly only when its mate came along and hooked on to the wingless side!

Flowers by the Wayside is an octavo volume of 194 pages, gorgeously bound in crimson morocco, and was published by The Co-operative Publishing Co.—which probably means that the contributors paid for the privilege of having their poems included, and were perhaps to divide the profits, if any. At least the volume has all the earmarks of a book of that sort, and the verses which adorn its pages are almost without exception incredibly bad. “No Unbelief” is easily the best of the lot, and this was, perhaps, its first appearance between the covers of a book.

Six poems by Mrs. Case in addition to those which appeared in the Free Press are listed in Granger’s Index to Poetry and Recitations, so that her complete works as they now survive consist of sixteen poems. “No Unbelief” is the only one which ever became widely known, and that of course was due not to its poetic merit but to its sentimental appeal. It has traveled hand in hand with McCreery’s “There Is No Death.” The two poems are spiritual twins.

It should be noted in passing that Mrs. Case never signed her first name Elizabeth, but always Lizzie.

Mrs. Case’s article in the Free Press in 1905 by no means settled the question of the poem’s authorship, and she was kept busy defending her claim until the day of her death. This she always did most vigorously. In 1908 she had a spirited controversy with a magazine which credited her poem to Bulwer and which refused to make any correction until she employed a lawyer and threatened to bring suit for damages.

And the controversy has outlived her. On January 15, 1915, the Chicago Record–Herald printed the poem, crediting it to Mrs. Case. Some readers objected, and a few days later the paper apologized for its mistake and explained that the poem was really written by Owen Meredith. Then Mrs. Case’s friends unlimbered their batteries, and in the end a second apology was forthcoming and the credit restored to Mrs. Case. This is but one example of the merry dance which the question of the poem’s authorship has led anthologists and editors for many years. Even in so recent and carefully edited a collection as Songs of Challenge, published in 1922, it is credited to Owen Meredith!

Let it be hoped that the discovery of the poem in the Free Press, under Mrs. Case’s name, will settle the controversy once for all, and that her child will never again be snatched from its fond mother’s arms.