Ben Bolt
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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Lyrics
The poem Ben Bolt was written by Thomas Dunn English in 1842. It was set to music by Nelson Kneass (1823-1868 or 1869), a composer from Philadelphia. Ben Bolt was first sung in Pittsburgh in 1848. It achieved great popularity, and many parodies were written.

Burl Ives notes that it is "a famous example of the new sentimental type of song that became so popular after the 1830s."*

Dr. English was born in Philadelphia in 1819. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1839 and was a physician at Fort Lee New Jersey. He was also known as an author, editor and contributor to periodicals. His poem, The Gallows-Goers, was very popular in 1845.**

The poem Ben Bolt was immediately popular and Dominick M. H. Hay wrote and air for it, as did Dr. English. Neither became popular. In 1948 a the play The Battle of Buena Vista introduced the song Ben Bolt, with the air by Nelson Kneass. Kneass adapted a German melody to the words.**

Nelson Kneass was a music teacher in New York and a singer in the Park Theatre. He married a Mrs. Sharpe, who drowned after falling off a Mississippi riverboat. He never recieved compensation for the tune.** He went on to found the Kneass Opera Troupe. In addition to performing classical music, the troupe performed minstrel shows of "sentimental or comic tunes."***

Original sheet music of Ben Bolt (and parodies) can be found at the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music.

Oh don't you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt
Sweet Alice whose hair was so brown
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile
And trembled with fear at your frown.
In the old church yard in the valley, Ben Bolt
In a corner obscure and alone
They have fitted a slab of granite so gray
And sweet Alice lies under the stone
They have fitted a slab of granite so gray
And sweet Alice lies under the stone

And don't you remember the school, Ben Bolt
And the master so kind and so true,
And the little nook by the clear running brook,
Where we gathered the flowers as they grew?
On the masters grave grows the grass, Ben Bolt,
And the running little brook is now dry,
And of all the friends who were schoolmates then,
There remain, Ben but you and I,
And of all the friends who were schoolmates then,
There remain, Ben but you and I,

Related Links
*Burl Ives Songbook and
**Our Familiar Songs and Those Who Made Them
See Bibliography for full information.